All systems go

From now on, progress is up to me

Just pausing to note that I saw my oncologist a few days ago for my once-every-4-months checkup. Got some reassurance on a few things:

As I’d read in many places, occasional twinges or stabs in my left breast are normal healing and could continue for some time. If cancer were to recur, it would be elsewhere, outside the area that was treated (ie, somewhere other than the left side of my chest).

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Say it correctly: ‘mas-TEC-tomy’

Too many people mispronounce this common procedure

Note: I first published this on my primary blog in May 2013. It occurred to me that Curves is an even more relevant venue. Unbelievably, even a lot of women who’ve had a mastectomy still mispronounce it. 

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Crap shoot

Sometimes choosing the right drug is a crap shoot

After months of indecision, I called my oncologist last week and told him I was ready to switch from exemestane (Aromasin) to letrozole (Femara). He’d suggested several months ago that if I wanted to, I could make the change because the letrozole might have fewer, milder side effects. And I’ve been wrestling with the decision ever since.

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My fight song

This song will forever be a part of my cancer story.

This song was released last year, about the time I got my cancer diagnosis. I never play music at home but I heard it occasionally on the radio going to and from the Cancer Center. And almost every time the chorus kicked in, I’d start crying and almost drive off the road. It still makes me cry. But I sit a little taller and feel a little stronger, a little more determined when I hear it.

The real anniversary

My ‘Longest Year’ is over

Despite the title of my post a few days ago, today is my real one-year anniversary. My cancer surgery was exactly one year ago, May 20, 2015, and was the first salvo in my war against the invading malignancy.

I hasten to say, however, that I’m not a “hero” for “fighting courageously.” And I’m not “brave” or deserving of praise. Few cancer patients really are, although that’s the way we’re often depicted by others. We really have only one decision to make: We decide to fight and go through whatever treatment the professionals deem necessary, or we decide not to fight and just let the cancer grow and spread until it kills us.

Fight or die. What would you do under the same circumstances? I think the choice is pretty easy, unless maybe you’re already at death’s door.

So, I am quietly marking this, the one-year anniversary of the day I declared war on cancer. It’s been a tough year, but I’m past all the surgery, chemo, and radiation, and the lung problem seems to have cleared up. It’s now pretty much up to me to continue recovering and get back to whatever is going to be “normal” from now on.

Mammograms still can’t see everything

The technology continues to improve but mammograms still can’t see everything

Thursday, May 5, I had my first post-surgery mammogram, and for the first time in my life, I was afraid of it. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d been stressing for a week. My poor left boob had already been biopsied, injected, sliced in two different places, scanned a couple of times, and radiated. It seemed logical that subjecting that abused, scarred tissue to the none-too-gentle clench of a mammogram machine was just asking for pain.

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One-year anniversary

Breast cancer, one year later

I remember my cancer was diagnosed in April, a year ago. Maybe my birthday being in April makes it even more notable. But until I looked just now, I couldn’t remember the exact date I got the diagnosis:

April 23, 2015

So, it was slightly more than a year ago. And here I am. Still alive and kicking, albeit not as energetically as back then. Sure, there are days, many days, when I fret because I’m still so tired, or unenthusiastic, or my fingers ache, or something else.

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‘Dem bones’ are A-OK

Dexa scan reveals one less thing to worry about

I had a bone density (densitometry or “dexa”) scan yesterday (you just lie on a table while the machine passes overhead). At my age (73) I was probably way overdue for such a test. The only other one I’ve had was the one required when I signed up for Medicare, and as I recall then they only looked at my wrist.

Basically a dexa is an x-ray of your pelvis, lower back, and thighs, because nobody wants to see an old person break a hip (often the beginning of the end). It’s common in old age for bones to thin and weaken, especially in postmenopausal women. In addition, corticosteroids can cause it — I’ve had more than my share of them — and it’s also more common in taller women. I’m 5’8″ (or 5’7½” now if you want to believe the nurses at the cancer center).

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Medical guessing games

Three months’ worth of details exchanged in 30 minutes

I need a secretary (er, make that “administrative professional”) to keep track of all my medical stuff — the notes, the meds, the appointments, the instructions, etc. And I needed that secretary yesterday when I saw my oncologist for the first time since mid-January. So much had happened that he wanted to know about, and I had a bunch of questions saved up for him. It all amounted to a ton of details flying back and forth. Details I wanted to remember. Needed to remember. But I didn’t take notes because I wanted to give him my full attention. Besides, it’s routine to get a four-to-six-page printout after each appointment, detailing everything.

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Yes, the catheter’s gone

Scar tissue can look just like the catheter it covered

As I reported last week, my Mediport was removed without incident. The Steri Strips haven’t come off yet but everything’s been going well, with virtually no soreness or discomfort. The bruising is gone and so is the irritation caused by the waterproof Tegaderm (or something like it) dressing. That adhesive sticks like superglue and really tears up my skin. My oncologist’s nurse knows not to use it on me, but I didn’t think to mention it to anyone last week, so there it was. As careful as I was removing it — by the book as best I could — I still ended up with a 4-inch-long blistered welt along its bottom edge. Took it about a week to heal, and it stung more than the incision.

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