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.

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Re-Opening

Monday, two days before Christmas, it became evident that I was not healing. By that I mean that my incision has re-opened. I’d known a few days earlier that something just wasn’t right, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when my husband told me on Monday morning that we needed to get me to a doctor that day. Knowing that my surgeon is out of town for two weeks and his office would be closed until after Christmas, I was feeling just a wee bit scared and hopeless. In an act of desperation, I asked my husband to call the surgeon who’d performed my mastectomy (Dr. B) to see if he might be able to see me or have some advice. Dr, B was in surgery, but his nurse got the message to him and by 9:00 a.m., he had called my plastic surgeon, who in turn called his nurse, who in turn called my husband. The recommendation was for me to see a primary care provider that afternoon, which I did, and was set up to have a home health care nurse come to do wound care for me. I had my first visit on Tuesday. The nurse packed my wound (ick) and said they’d have someone come out every other day to change all the dressings. She said that if there was a lot of drainage (i.e., if I drained through the bandage she applied), I should call for a nurse if one wasn’t scheduled. So a nurse came yesterday as well. Yes, a nurse came to my house on Christmas. So many things about this Cancer thing have been so surreal, but I have to say that right now I feel…well…OLD. Christmas caroling over the weekend at an assisted living home with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, I felt like I could identify with some of the residents. (Incidentally, the whole “caroling with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop” thing is a bit surreal itself. I was there because I somehow agreed to be a co-leader for her troop. Huh? Yeah, that is something I never would have done before Cancer. It still feels a little weird, but my daughter just loves having me be a part of if with her, and for that I am grateful I agreed to do it.) And now I have a nurse coming to my house. Weird. But I am so lucky, and wow do I have awesome insurance.

I had also been starting to worry about missing so much work this year. When I took off to have my mastectomy in January, my coworkers donated a bunch of sick leave to me. This was SUCH a gift. Unfortunately, with this fourth surgery, I have now depleted all of my sick leave and have started dipping into my vacation leave, which will go quickly. This has been nagging at me a little bit – the worry that if anything else goes wrong and I need another week or two off work, I’ll be completely out of leave. This would render me in unpaid status, which could jeopardize my health insurance. So when I realized Monday morning that I was having a situation and probably wouldn’t be able to go to work this week, I kind of freaked out. I expressed my fears to a friend at work and within an hour she and several others had donated more leave to me; she had even talked to the benefits coordinator in HR to ensure that I had enough leave to take the next couple of weeks off. Her instructions to me were that she hopes I will stay home until January 6 and just rest and get better. Meanwhile, I’d sent a text to my boss with this latest drama, and his response was, “I’m praying for you.” I’m not a religious person, but that was really touching. Here I am thinking people are rolling their eyes (“Here we go…Jennifer is out sick again…if it’s not cancer it’s something else…”). Not only are they NOT doing that, they are so concerned that they are willing to donate their leave so that I can stay home and heal. These people really care. They aren’t being nice to me because they like my tits. I really don’t feel worthy of such benevolence so I must assume they are being nice because, well, they are nice and wonderful and kind and generous. And I am so, so fortunate to have so many amazing people in my life.
Sometimes I get bogged down with the dates and details, but it hasn’t escaped me that on this day last year (right about this time of the day as I write this as a matter of fact), I went for my biopsy. I remember submitting my leave slip for that appointment and just writing in “medical procedure”. Little did I know that would be the first of many “procedures”. Little did I know a year later I’d be breastless and on my fifth medical leave. But not just breastless; it’s not just a chest without breasts – it’s a gross, scarred, open-wounded, icky, ugly, disfigured, draining, painful mess. It hurts. I can’t look at it. Despite all that, I can honestly say I feel so grateful and loved. I am home resting, not worrying about money or insurance, and being incredibly well taken care of by a most fabulous husband. I really am fortunate.