Living with Cancer: Part 2

Fast forward to July 2015. “Good news, you don’t have kidney stones, but I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but the radiologist wanted to know if there was a history of cancer and I said yes. Your cancer is back. It’s Stage 4 and it is in your C5, T3, T5,T11 and in your left ribs (8-12) and you also have a lesion on your rib. You also have 75 percent compression fracture of your T11 and you also have osteoporosis. The cancer and osteo weakened your T11 and that’s it  fractured.”

I think my first response was, “Shit.” And then I cried.

Let me back track a little bit. In 2014, my reconstructed right breast developed capsular contracture. Capsular contracture develops when internal scar tissue forms a tight or constricting capsule around a breast implant, contracting it until it becomes misshapen and hard. As a result, the breast may feel painful and stiff, and the capsule may affect the appearance or shape of the breast. And I also developed cellulitis in that “breast”.

I met with a plastic surgeon and he brought in a breast surgeon, who happened to be his wife, for a consultation. This husband and wife team is great. I wish I met them sooner. My breast surgeon is a breast cancer survivor. After a few more appointments I was scheduled to have the implant removed in August. Surgery went well. I went home later in the afternoon with a Jackson Pratt.

I went back to work on Monday and I was fine.

In November, I had another surgery on the right breast, this time to place an expander to begin reconstruction.Everything seemed okay until my incision opened. I developed seromas and an infection post-op and in December, I had surgery again to remove the expander. My plastic surgeon and breast surgeon decided to let me heal and the plan was to start again in the spring or maybe summer.

Fast forward to June 2015. My back had been bothering me for a couple of weeks. Actually, that’s not true, it was bothering me in January, but my back got better. In June it start to bother me again, mild at first. Someone recommended a chiropractor for my back and against my better judgment, I went. I went  everyday for almost three weeks. Every time I left the chiropractor my back felt worse. I could barely stand straight and it hurt like hell.

In July, while seated in the passenger seat, my husband hit a bump without warning me. My ass went up and I went down hard and I felt and heard a crunch in my back. If you want to know how it sounded, take a plastic bottle and squeeze it. Hear that sound? That’s the sound my back made. Yeah, it was bad.

Ice packs and hot packs to my back following that day. Over the counter pain meds not working. Unable to sit for long periods of time at work.

July 23, 2015; 11:10pm “Listen, when you come home you have to take me to the ER. My back is killing me. I think I have kidney stones because of all of this pain meds I’m taking. I can barely stand.”

July 24, 2015; 12:45 “You’re going to have an MRI in about half an hour. Do you want Tramadol or morphine?” “I think I’ll take the Tramadol. Morphine makes me want to vomit.” “Okay, I’ll be back to with the Tramadol.”

1:15am “How’s the Tramadol working for you?” “It’s not.” “Do you want the morphine now?” “Yeah.” “Okay, I’ll give you Tylenol, Benadryl, in case you develop a reaction and a shot of morphine.” “Okay.”

1:25am “How are you feeling?” “Fine. My back doesn’t hurt.”

I napped or tried to anyway while waiting to be admitted in the hospital. Around six, I called my eldest sister to let her know what was going on, then I called my brother, my other sister and finally my manager.

I was wheeled to my room and met with the nurse and the aide. I met the neurosurgeon physician assistant. She did a few tests like on my legs and feet. “Do you have feeling there?” “Yes.” “Can you feel this?” “Yes.” “Any numbness here?” “No” “Do you have difficulty in walking?” “No.” “Did you fall?” “No.” “Explain to me what happened.” “My back was bothering  me. My husband hit a bump, my ass went up and I landed hard on the seat and heard a crunch.” “Do you know that the fracture is pressing against your spinal cord.” “No.” “Yes, it’s actually pressing against it about 50 percent.” “Wow, really.” “Do you know how lucky you are that you still having feeling and movement?” “I do now.”

I met my doctor. Not my GYN, but my primary doctor. You know when you have to choose a doctor when you have insurance, well I chose a doctor, but that doctor was busy and by that I mean he had a lot (a lot) of patients. So he sent his partner whom I liked better. Then I met the oncologist who is really (really) a nice person and very smart. He explained what was going on and was very optimist about the outcome.

I met with the neurosurgeon about two or three days later. He told me he scheduled my surgery for August 5th. August 5th? What the fuck was I going to do while I waited. I mean, that’s seven days away. “You can go home and come back as an out patient if you want.” “I don’t think my PMD and other doctors want me going home. They’re afraid I may fall or something.”

The neurosurgeon assigned to me was supposed to be the best, but he had terrible bedside manners. I didn’t care about bedside manners. I just wanted him to be good.

My first week in the hospital, I had a lot of visitors. Friends and siblings. My dad, man, my dad couldn’t even speak to me. All he did was cry. My mom passed away in 2012. Complications from cancer treatment. Second week, fewer visitors, just family members.

While I waited for my surgery date, I tried to keep myself busy by knitting. I tried to watch some Korean drama (obsessed with them) and I tried to keep positive. My husband didn’t go to work and basically stayed by my side from 8:30 to 10pm when visiting hours were over. Between those times, he would drop the kids off at camp (older son was a camp counselor and younger son was a camper) and picked them up and bring them to me. They weren’t thrilled to having to spend their free time at the hospital with me.

Did I tell you morphine became my best friend while I waited for my surgery date? Well, it did. Morphine was for the lesion on my rib that would throb something fierce. It was a toothache and migraine combined. My back didn’t bother me. It seems the brain has a way of dealing with pain and it doesn’t let you experience pain in more than one area. In my case, the pain was directed to the lesion. Morphine and an ice pack was how I dealt with the lesion to my rib.





Living with Cancer

I have cancer, breast cancer to be exact. I was diagnosed in 2009. I felt the lump. I felt it during my self breast exam while showering. I had an appointment with my doctor the following week and had a breast exam. He didn’t feel anything so I kept quiet. The lump would appear and disappear during my period and I didn’t think nothing of it. One month, the lump stayed, the following month the lump was still there and it felt bigger and it was painful.

Finally, I went to have a mammogram at a breast center, while there the radiologist called my doctor with the result. I was called in and had an ultrasound and finally I had a biopsy. I was at the breast cancer for five hours. I went home with two small ice packs in my bra. I prayed on my way home during the drive back. That was a Thursday.

On Tuesday, a week before Thanksgiving, I received a call from my doctor’s office asking me to stop by. My office is in the same town as my doctor’s office and if was basically a mile and a half away. It was an easy drive. I told my manager that I had to leave and she understood. I basically told her what was going on. I left and headed straight to the doctor’s office.

When I got to the office, I was asked to wait in his office. Believe me when I say that I had all sorts of thoughts running through my head. I waited and paced back and forth. My doctor escorted me to an exam room and an intern joined us. So my first thoughts were, “Oh, man. They need to people to tell me the news.” By then, I already knew what the news as going to be. I knew deep down that it was cancer. I only thing I didn’t know was what stage it was.

My doctor sat across from me. “You have cancer.” Hearing someone tell you you have cancer is surreal. It really is. I don’t remember exactly what else he said after telling me I had cancer. He may have said, “Good news is it’s in the early stage and I can recommend come good doctors.”

As soon as I heard, “You have cancer.” my life flashed before my eyes and my thoughts were about who was going to take care of my kids, age 10 and 7 and how was I supposed to tell my parents, more importantly my mom, that I had cancer. My mom had her own cancer battle.

I left my doctor’s office and cried. Then I called my husband with the news. I wanted to wait until I got home to tell him, but he wanted to know right away. So I told him over the phone that I had cancer. I drove back to work, nose red and eyes red from crying and told my manager. I drove back to work because I left my purse in my desk. I left work with only the car key.

Telling my mom I had cancer was difficult. I called her and asked her how she was doing and feeling. Some small talk and finally I told her. “Mom,” I said,”I have something to tell you.” “Okay,” she said. “I have cancer. My doctor told me just an hour ago that I have cancer.” She was quiet then she asked if it was positive. I said yes. She was in denial and kept asking me about the biopsy results and I told her as much as I knew.

My husband didn’t want the kids to know about my cancer. I wanted to tell them right away. I didn’t want to lie to them. I told them a few days later when I knew more of what type of cancer I had. They cried. I reassured them that it was going to be okay and that we will take things one day at a time.

The following weeks and months consisted of doctors’ appointments, consultations and second and third opinions and during those weeks and months, family members and friends found out what was going on. And during those weeks and months, I cried. I cried in the early morning hours, usually around three or four. I cried in the shower. I cried while getting dressed. I cried after dropping the kids off to school. I cried on my way to work. I cried on my way to pick up the kids. I cried while making dinner.

And during those weeks and months, I read and did a lot of research. I was Stage O, Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). I met with a breast surgeon and a plastic surgeon and discussed the course of treatment: mastectomy of the right  breast and reconstruction.

I had surgery in February. It took six hours.  I stayed in the hospital for four days, not because of any complication, but because of the weather: blizzard.

Sometimes, I think my husband thinks I’m Wonder Woman or something. He was puzzled when it took long for me to recover. In all seriousness, I took about two weeks. I probably could have gone back to work, but I took eight weeks of disability.

Based on my research, I decided not to go on Tamoxifen. I was Stage O, the lymph nodes were clear. I had cancer was only in my right breast. PET scan six months and then yearly.

Fast forward to July 2015… To be continued.