Sunday, December 14, 2008

Somedays aren't yours at all...

I've been feeling a lot of negative emotions lately.
Ones that I'm not too proud of, but will readily admit to.
Feelings of isolation, jealousy and anger.

Let me try to explain.
The isolation I feel is pretty straightforward.
I live in a small town of 5200 people, about 2 hours from my nearest (and closest) friend. It's hard to be so far removed from everything. Its hard to sit here, in the middle of a town you detest, with what seems like nothing to keep you going.
Nothing but my parents, and the Internet to keep me company. My parents try their best, and I appreciate it more than they know.

I would love to be able to visit my friends, but I can't drive. I tried yesterday, and found it too difficult to keep my arm up. I still get tired really easily.

The Internet, while a blessing, is also a curse.
I get to see what is going on with all of my friends all over the world, whom I care for so deeply. I get to see the parties, the travel, the beauty. It's so wonderful.
I get to live vicariously through the pictures and stories for a little while.
This however, always leads me to re-examine exactly what I am doing, which seems to me like nothing.
I want to take distance classes while at home, so that I can apply to the school of social work at UVic, but I cant afford them just yet. I spent too much money while in Korea, on an abundance of medical expenses in the last year.

I want to be able to go out and have fun with my friends. I want to be able to go out for dinner. I want to be able to go away on weekend trips and laugh and meet new people. Please don't take this as me begrudging my friends happiness and freedom. I wouldn't dream of it. I'm not jealous of the fact that they can go out and do wonderful things. I'm jealous that I cannot. To me, those two things are completely different.

As for the anger, it's mostly at myself. I'm too impatient for my own good.
I know that the healing process takes time, but I hate waiting. I find it hard to fight the feeling that I should be healing faster than I am. That I should have already started my chemo. That I should be out working.
I'm not one to sit around without a job. I like to keep busy. I guess it's more a case of frustration than anger.

I know this will pass. I know the Christmas season will bring a host of visitors and trips. I know that eventually, I won't get tired and I will be able to move my arm normally again. I know that I will be able to get a job. I know that eventually I will go back to school. This brings some comfort. It's just hard to keep these things in mind some days.

It's been awhile since I last listened to Regina.
She speaks the truth though.

"Somedays aren't yours at all,
They come and go
As if they're someone else's days
They come and leave you behind someone else's face
And it's harsher than yours
And colder than yours

They come in all quiet
Sweep up and then they leave
And you don't hear a single floor board creak
They're so much stronger
Than the friends you try to keep
By your side"

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Post-op visit (Happy Birthday Melanie!!)

My best bud Melanie came to visit me right after surgery. Of course, she came bearing a beautiful tray of goodies (as seen in the pictures). It is her 27th birthday today! So, I just wanted to take a second to say "Happy Birthday Darling, we love you very very very very very very very much".*

She also sent me this picture to let me know that her and her boyfriend Andrew are always supporting me. It may or may not have made me a little misty eyed.

Tuesday I had my tubes taken out AND my hair cut.
Pictures. They are gross. I warned you.

(I did not smile like this for long)
(note the facial expression)
(...and again here)


(Yes, it really was that long)

I went to Toronto on Wednesday to have a little visit with my surgeon, Dr. Ralph George. On Tuesday, Dr. George had left a message on our machine saying that he had good reports to give me. Those of you who know me, know that I HATE waiting for things. I hate surprises. The message definitely did help to calm my nerves a little, but the curiosity was killing me.

We arrived at the hospital and went through the usual-
reception- "what is your referring physicians name?"
me- "Dr. Li Wan Po"
reception- "So, what is his last name?"
me- "well, we call him Dr. Li"
reception- "Oh, he's not in the system blah blah blah"

~ please note, this has happened EVERY TIME I've been to the hospital, and I am there A LOT. One would think that at some point, someone would have taken the time to enter him into the system, rather than harass me and make me 20 minutes late for my appointment.

Dr. George took us into the room and spoke to us at length about what was going on.
I was informed that he had been in touch with Dr. Theodore Vandenberg at the London Regional Cancer Program with regards to my case and organized an appointment for December 23 at 12:30pm to discuss my treatment with him.

His creds look pretty good, so I'm feeling confident in my decision to take my chemo in London. Here is a link to some info on Dr. Vandenberg, if you are interested-

Imma summarize the results of the mastectomy in point form to save some time:
- The top layer of muscle was removed under the breast, as the tumor was close to the chest wall. This layer was negative for cancer cells.

- Of the 17 lymph nodes that were removed, only the 1 sentinel node had any trace of cancer.

- Upon further examination of the breast post-mastectomy, several more tiny spots of cancer were located in the tissue. Which means that I made the right decision to have the whole breast removed.

- The cancer was estrogen and progesterone receptor negative, meaning that these hormones were not feeding the growth of the cancer.

- The cancer was HER2 negative.

- Due to the size of the tumor (2.7 x 2 x 1.7 cm)and the fact that it had spread to one lymph node, it is Stage 2.

- The cancer is a grade III, which is the most aggressive form (there are only 3 grades).

- With regards to my left breast, I have been given the option of having it removed as well. This surgery can take place at the same time as my reconstructive surgery,so it wouldn't be quite as much of a shock.

Dr. George was positive overall and very reassuring, which of course made both my mother and me feel far better.

Here are some pictures of him removing the staples-

This is Dr. George explainin junk. Video was an accident.

The one thing that makes me somewhat uncomfortable is the fact that it is triple negative (estrogen/progesterone/HER2 negative).
Prior to my post-op appointment, I read about triple negative cancer while researching. In general, triple negative breast cancer is more aggressive, more likely to spread, and more likely to recur after treatment.
I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty disheartened by this.

This is another reason why I am considering having the left breast removed. I'm finding this choice harder than my decision to have the mastectomy in the first place. The thought of never being able to breast feed (if I am able to have children at some point after the chemo) is devastating. Luckily, I have some time before I have to chose, as completing the chemo is my first priority. Only after it is complete, would I have the other breast removed.

On another note, I'd like to thank everyone for all the support I've been shown.
Yesterday was my two week anniversary of the removal of that horrible crap from my body. The cards and flowers I've been receiving are so beautiful. They make me smile every time I look at them. Which is becoming harder to do these days. I'm finding it hard sometimes to keep up the courage and the strength.

To be brutally honest, I'm scared stiff.
I know that I have what it takes to get through it, I'm not worried about that. However, sometimes it's hard not to cry. It happens randomly, and more often than I would care to admit. It's all part of the process, I suppose. I think once I start my chemo, I will feel better overall, as I won't just be waiting around and worrying. Just the notion that I am doing something to fight this makes having it more bearable. Waiting to start my treatment is difficult (although necessary), especially knowing how aggressive my form of cancer is.

This last picture goes out to the wonderful Ms. Kelly Warner who so graciously donated this beautiful wig to me ;)

* that was stolen from Bright Eyes, for those of you who didn't know.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Part 3- Post-surgery

Adam spent the night with me at the hospital, grabbing what little sleep he could. It was difficult due to the annoying woman across the hall from me who wouldn't stop fighting with her boyfriend over the phone. Seriously, we heard her talking(read: crying) until at least 12:30am.

This crazy broad kept yellin about her dang morphine and I.V. Her pain was a pretty constant 9 on a scale of 10. I'm not really sure how that was possible, being that she wouldn't shut up, and had no problem traipsing around the flipping hospital all day and evening. I mean, I had just had my breast removed and I averaged about a 4. I guess we all feel pain differently though.

Shortly after she passed out, the woman beside me started having heart problems. This prompted doctors, nurses and x-ray techs. to be entering her little cubical every 30 minutes or so until around 5am. This poor elderly woman was about 78 and was battling colon cancer. No matter how much pain she may have been in, I barely heard a peep out of her. I really wanted to reach through the little curtain that was separating us and hold her hand, but convinced myself that it might freak the poor dear out a little too much if I did.

The next day brought more confusion. The sign on the door states that discharge will be at 9am sharp. When 9am rolled around, I asked if the nurse had any idea when I would be discharged. She said that the doctors were doing their rounds and it shouldn't be long. At about 11:00am an aid came in to give me a clean gown and towels so I could clean up. I told her that I was leaving, but she had heard no such word.

washroom break

trying to catch up on sleep



gettin puuurdy

By 12pm we were all growing rather impatient waiting for this mythical discharge that was supposed to be happening. My mother asked the nurse again, and she said it would be soon.

taking out the IV

I was finally discharged at about 12:50pm. They brought my lunch about 2 minutes before I was to be discharged. It looked a little like this-
Adam stole a wheelchair for me, as they were expecting me to walk all the way down to my car. Keep in mind I had barely eaten anything since Thursday night because of the nausea. I was so weak I could barely stand. Apparently, you are supposed to be sent home the same day as your surgery for this procedure. I am absolutely amazed at the women who manage to make it home the night of their surgery. I honestly don't think I would have made it, had I tried.

My ward. I was the last room on the right.

I slept for several hours on the way home. It was a tough ride, and I was really glad to have it over with.

feeling awesome

obligitory "Adam sleeping" shot.

My dad helping out with drainage

The next day, a home care nurse came to dress my wound and teach us how to change the drainage bags. Thankfully, Adam volunteered to do this for me, as it made me want to throw up.
As of right now, I am feeling a lot better.
I am doing my physio daily and it is helping me to regain some of the movement in my shoulder. My doctor made a house call last Thursday to check up on me. He said that I am healing really well and that I can start walking on my treadmill, as long as I take it easy. The last two days I have been on the elliptical for at least 17 minutes. It feels wonderful.

I will be going back to see the surgeon on Wednesday (Dec. 3rd) at 1:15pm. I will have my staples removed and learn more information about grade/stage of my cancer and my treatment schedule. In all likelyhood, I will have to have more test run due to the cancer spreading to my lymph nodes. At the very least, I'm expecting this to include a bone scan and liver ultrasound.

I have 37 staples that close a wound that starts in the middle of my chest and ends in my armpit.
I have posted more pictures, including some graphic pictures of my chest. If you have a weak stomach or feel uncomfortable seeing my wound, I suggest you don't go to this page.

I've had a lot of people as my why I am posting pictures of what is left of my chest after the mastectomy. I guess the answer is that I really want people to know that I am not embarrassed of this. Breast cancer happened to me, and I'm beating it. This is what my body looks like now, and I don't want to be ashamed. I think it is important for people to actually see the full extent to which it affects peoples lives.
Too often we think, "Oh, that person has cancer. Dang, that sucks". We never really see how it affects the person, the scars and deformities that it leaves (both physical and emotional). It is a terrible disease. So, I guess I am doing it to help others to understand.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Part 2-surgery

After the picture taking was finished, I was taken up to day surgery. Here we encountered the rudest, least sensitive woman on the face of the planet. She was in charge of admitting me for the surgery. She started off angry because I didn't know that my doctor had reserved a ward room for me, and got more and more bitchy as time went on. I was a little afraid that my mom was going to go over the counter and strangle her. She is pictured behind the desk here... if you ever see her, throw something at her and tell her she is a bad person.

After we checked in, I was allowed to take one person into a separate waiting area before I was called back to my own personal surgery prep. room. While we were waiting, we heard one of the nurses yell down the hall at an unseen person "Oh, you're still alive?". Ha (stomach flip). This was met with several nervous giggles and shocked faces by those of us still waiting to go under the knife.

After I was brought back to my personal prep. room, my cousin came up to find me, and eventually was able to usher my parents into my private suite. I was briefed by the surgeon, the surgeons nurse, and the anesthesiologist.

Apparently someone who was schedule to go into surgery before me had committed the cardinal sin of eating after mid-night and had to be re-scheduled. Breathe. I was next on the chopping block. Keep breathing. Nurse Mary came to get me and walked me into the operating room. After I was situated on the table, the surgical team joked with me as much as possible and I continued to remind myself to breathe.

(awaiting surgery in my private room)

The resident anesthesiologist was given the opportunity to insert the IV. The first time didn't go so well, so the doctor told her to try again. The second one failed too, and the tears started to roll down my face. This is not a comfortable procedure. Looking over and seeing blood gushing out of your hand, is equally uncomfortable. One more try on my wrist also failed. Meanwhile, nurse Mary was stroking my hair and comforting me as best she could. The anesthesiologist, seeing how upset I was, decided it was time to insert it himself, and had no problems.

I wanted to tell the girl the only reason I was crying was because I was scared, but I didn't have a chance. They had a mask on me and were starting the anaesthetic before I knew what was happening. Nurse Mary told me to think about happy things so that I would have good dreams when I was out. I thought about my cottage, and within about 15 seconds, I was out.

Straining to focus my eyes, I could have sworn the clock on the opposite wall said it was 10:50pm. A little groggy and dazed, I wondered what the heck they did to me that took almost 10 bloody hours. This was followed immediately by the worst wave of nausea I have felt in years. After about 30 minutes, I regained the ability to focus my eyes and realized that it was really only about 3:30.

After several failed attempts to lift my arm to flag down the nurse that kept walking by, I let out a rather uncouth groan to gain her attention. She came over and asked me if I was in pain. "No", I replied, "but I do believe that I am going to throw up". She handed me a plastic kidney shaped bowl and put something into my IV.

Great, I thought, if I puke into this, it will end up all over the dressing that was applied after surgery. What a nice little mess that would make. I took a breath.

After another 15 minutes, I managed to flag down another nurse to tell her that I still felt like I was going to throw up. She went to ask a fellow nurse if I had been given anything, the nurse said no. I started having a little freak out. I said, "YES, I was", but she didn't hear me. I yelled a little louder, she finally acknowledged my reply and asked another nurse who backed up my statement.
She pumped more junk into my IV anyway.

At about 4pm, they decided that I was stable enough to be moved up to my ward. Ever so slowly, I was wheeled from the 5th floor to the 16th floor. My curiosity was momentarily aroused when I saw two police officers guarding the door of the room next to mine. I still don't know why they were there.

Adam, arrived shortly after I was wheeled into my room. He was followed by my parents, and Kyle. I'm sure it was a welcoming site, watching me gag like mad as I was moved from one bed to another. However, they assured me that I looked far better than they had expected me to.

(immediately after being moved)

(Kyle and Adam, shortly after surgery)

(My parents and me)

The remainder of my day was spent drifting in and out of sleep.



(Emptying my drainage bags)

(My drainage tubes)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Part 1~Pre-surgery

I've decided instead of overwhelming everyone with an 18 page update, Imma break it down into three parts.
Part 1-pre-surgery.
Part 2-day of surgery.
Part 3-post-surgery.

In the week leading up to my surgery, just about everything that could happen to me did. From being stuck on Queen street in Toronto with a broken rental car, to delayed flights, to cancelled, rescheduled and then uncancelled surgery, it was an interesting week, to say the least.

The weekend before my surgery, I convinced Kyle, Peter and Melanie to come to an Attack in Black show with me. Although Peter had an emergency and wasn't able to attend, I had a pleasant surprise when Ryan Miller showed up to say hello. I haven't had a chance to see Ryan since I left St. Catharines, so it was nice to catch up. The show itself was really good. It was exactly what I needed to help me forget about the upcoming week.

Adam arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Stashed away in his carry-on luggage was a wonderful surprise sent to me by his parents. A fancy box containing bright pink boxing gloves signed by everyone that was praying for me in their neck of the woods (and about a zillion Hershey's hugs and kisses). Thanks again Mr. And Mrs. Warner!!!

Shortly after arriving at our house, I put him to work helping me set up our Christmas tree.

As you can see, he was way psyched to help. As revenge for making him work, he decided to take pictures instead of helping to get the tree off me after it toppled over.

Due to disagreeable weather, we were forced to start our journey to Toronto much earlier than anticipated. After everything else I had been through, I wasn't about to let bad weather stop my surgery. So, at about 10am, my parents, Adam and I all lumbered into the van and set off.
We arrived in Toronto at about 1:30 and spent the rest of the day shopping, eating at a lovely little vegetarian restaurant that Kyle had shown me, and hanging out at a bar across the street.

We returned to the hotel to settle in for the night at about 10pm. This was probably one of the worst sleeps I've ever had. It was like when I was little and couldn't fall asleep on Christmas eve, only not as pleasurable, as presents are a lot more fun than a mastectomy.

We decided to walk to the hospital Friday morning, as it was only about 4 city blocks away from the hotel. We arrived at a little before 9:00am and checked in at nuclear medicine.

When we were lead to the back, the tech explained everything to us. In order for the doctor to find the sentinel node during the operation, they had to inject me with a radioactive substance and then take some pictures. Sounds easy enough.
The whole process would take about an hour and then I would be taken up to day surgery.

I changed and was taken into a back room that kind of resembled a closet.
The injection would sting, I was told, but would stop right after the needle was removed. Then I was to massage the sight and pump my arm for 20 minutes to get the lymphatic system working.

So, in comes the doctor and a resident. He informs me, again, that it will sting but will be over soon. In goes the needle and I brace myself. Oh, and as a side note, they don't give any anaesthetic for this. I want you to imagine a bee sting. Now, multiply that pain by about 15 and make it about 5 times longer... that is pretty close to what this needle felt like. The injection goes right under the skin, so there is a huge welt that you need to massage into the breast. fun.

This is the machine that they stuck me in. The pictures took about 5 minutes each and there were three in total. Seeing them after they were all put together was pretty cool, sadly, I don't have any photos of them.

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