Liberated

It’s been a while since my last post.  Things have gotten better and are, I daresay, GOOD!  I can move my arm again.  My mobility is severely compromised, which is frustrating, but it will get better over time and I can function normally.  Really, the biggest frustration is that I can’t participate fully in yoga.  Downdogs are uncomfortable, I can’t bear all of my weight on my right side and I can’t do push ups, handstands or any arm balances, and I can’t get my right arm flat to the floor in lying positions.  What huge problems to have, right?

I started taking ballet lessons a couple of weeks ago.  After over a year of taking my daughter to class and watching enviously and wishing I could get back to my dance roots, my husband took control and bought me a pair of ballet shoes and some private lessons for my birthday.  They are the nicest ballet shoes I’ve ever owned, and I have had so much fun rekindling my love affair with dance.

In July we took a family vacation on the beach, which caused me a bit of anxiety due to being breastless and needing to figure out what to wear to the beach. At this time last year I had tissue expanders so I at least had SOMETHING to put into a bikini top. I never would have imagined it would all go wrong and I’d be completely breastless this summer. Apparently, the Target swimsuit designers must have foreseen my predicament because they had bikini tops with material in the front to cover everything up, including all my dents and ridges. And, wouldn’t you know it, not a damn person was looking at my chest anyway. I’m finding that to be the case in most instances. I am really the only one thinking and obsessing about it.

I’ve been discharged from the plastic surgeon’s care.  At my last visit we discussed my re-reconstruction options (I had reconstruction after my mastectomy but radiation caused issues with healing and I had to have the implants removed).  Should I choose re-reconstruction, I would be looking at 3 surgeries (first to get tissue from my back because there is no longer enough tissue on the radiated side, a second surgery to put in tissue expanders, and a third to exchange tissue expanders for implants).  It will take a year.  Hmmmm…seems like I went down this road beginning  in January 2013 (just substitute bilateral mastectomy for back-flap surgery as the start of last year’s surgical journey).  It didn’t turn out so well for me.  After this last visit with my plastic surgeon, my attitude was that it’s something to consider, but nothing I could consider yet.  I still couldn’t imagine NOT having breasts (er, Breast Mounds), and figured I’d make a decision to do it in perhaps a year’s time after my body has fully recovered from all the trauma it’s already been through.   Recently, and I do mean recently – as in over the last couple of weeks – my attitude has changed.  I still can’t look at myself in the mirror without a shirt, but I am actually starting to feel okay about not pursuing re-reconstruction.  I am 99% sure I am not going to do it.  I don’t know what it was…one night I had a really big cry over not having breasts (the first really big cry I’ve had about this in a while) and the next day I was like, hmmmmm….do I really need to go through that crap again (not to mention what my family went through) just to have a couple of mounds full of scars, plus new scars on my back?  Not to mention the complications that could go along with 3 more surgeries.  Because I wasn’t sure if I’d want to try to re-reconstruct, my surgeon left the remaining tissue after he removed the implants, so it’s pretty messy looking what with scars and puckered skin and, ugh, it’s just icky and scary and unsightly to me.  I will at some point want to have the skin issue tidied up, but my understanding is that it is a pretty simple outpatient procedure.  So, at this point, I am set on learning to consider and love life breast-free.  Surprisingly, I feel liberated. Breast-free, cancer-free…I can dance to that.

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Just One Pill

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I think about it, but just don’t do it.  I still have an open wound, but I’m healing.  I had home health care nurses visiting every other day to tend to my wound, and then my husband took over.  The nursing folks decided I should pack the wound with calcium alginate, which comes in squares similar to a 4×4 gauze and looks/feels somewhat like gauze.  It is working, very slowly, but I am finally healing.  I’ve returned to work.  And, I’ve developed adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder, a fancy term for “frozen shoulder”.  The range of motion issues with my right shoulder began shortly after my incision first opened up, which was right before Thanksgiving.  Because of the pain from the surgeries and healing complications, I was rotating my shoulder forward and holding my arm in front of my chest — partially to protect myself but also to guard my chest and to keep from extending my arm too far and tearing the incision open any more than it was already.  Now I can’t move my arm higher than shoulder height and can only extend it outwards about 4 inches.  It hurts like a bitch and has caused even more restrictions in my activities.  I can’t even reach high enough to wash my hair.  So, every morning, I rise at 4:30 a.m. so my husband can help me shower and then do my wound care.  Again, I am grateful to have him and feel lucky to have such a wonderful caretaker.  But I am so tired of getting up at 4:30 a.m., I am tired of not being able to do things for myself.  I am just tired.  All I want to do is sleep.  It takes all I have to make it through the work day and come home with a smile and energy to interact with my kids and husband when all I want to do is go straight to bed.  The pain in my shoulder wakes me up every 3-4 hours.

I was starting to get depressed and was even considering anti-depressants.  I mentioned it to my oncologist and he said that some anti-depressants can affect the metabolism of the Tamoxifen so I needed to make sure that whoever prescribes them is aware of that.  At  a subsequent primary care appointment (for the shoulder), I received referrals for x-ray, MRI, physical therapy, orthopedic surgeon, and mental health.  I’ve moved out of the depression funk a bit, so anti-depressants are off the table now.  It was really a last resort, a hope that a pill could fix everything but I really didn’t like the idea of taking them.  I don’t begrudge anyone for taking them – I think they serve a really good purpose and can save lives.  I was on Zoloft for years to help deal with anxiety and depression, but I realized that, for me it was situational and my inability to deal was just that: poor coping skills.  The Zoloft just masked the symptoms and kept me from having to deal with my issues and move through them; rather, I just moved around them.  I stopped taking it about 3 years ago.  Getting off of it was a NIGHTMARE and I remember saying that I would never take anti-depressants again due to that.  Still, I was thinking maybe right now would be a good time to consider doing it short-term, to help me through this rough patch, but then I did some research on the drug my oncologist recommended (Effexor) and read that it is the worst one to go off of.  I’m done considering anti-depressants, for now anyway.

I also saw my OB (annual checkup) recently and she recommended I find a breast cancer support group.    I don’t think I’m brave enough to walk into a room full of strangers and talk about this, but maybe it could be helpful.  I may look into it.

I can’t help but wish there were a pill to fix everything, a pill that would have no ramifications, no side effects, just one swallow and everything would be better…man, that would be epic.