End of the Cancer Journey

It’s way too weird to say that it’s been a joy to have cancer, but it has been. Mentally I know that God doesn’t send cancer or any sickness as a punishment. However, cancer changes you. For me, it has brought me into a closer relationship with God and with my husband and friends.

Remember when you were a kid and you did something wrong? You tried to hide it, but your parents found out and punished you. Afterward, you realized that they still loved you and you felt better.

That’s sort of how it’s been with me. I’ve been a Christian for a very long time, but it didn’t stop me from either making some terrible decisions or sinning. I was in a rut.

When you get cancer, everything else falls to the sidelines while you rush around going to doctors and hospitals trying to conquer this monster called cancer. Even those pesky bad habits that you know about and a few more that you never realized you had can’t hold a candle to the time and effort it takes to get cancer out of your system.

Like it or not. You’ve got other things on your mind. Praise God. He is merciful. Cancer has been a blessing.

But I’m exceedingly glad to be at the end of the journey – I hope. I am super tired of going in an getting my tissue expander filled with saline solution only to have it leak out before my next appointment. That doesn’t happen to everyone, so don’t panic if you have cancer and decide to do reconstructive surgery.

I complained of pain about two months ago, and to relieve the pressure, the surgeon put a needle into what he thought was the second fill port, only it wasn’t. There may be a moral of the story but I’m not sure what it is. Sometimes complaining is a good thing.

My plastic surgeon has had mercy on me, throughout the process.

  • First of all my surgery date should have been December 26, but we had friends coming from Australia on the 27th and I didn’t want to miss them. We had a big trip planned through California and then to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. So he kindly postponed the surgery to January 30th instead.
  • He offered to remove the damaged tissue expander and replace it. That would have meant an extra surgery and an additional two weeks minimum recovery. I went in for the preparatory step of removing and replacing all the fluid – a forty-five-minute appointment instead of the typical three minute one. I decided that I didn’t want to expand my breast to a normal size B or possibly a huge C cup, after all. (Pop, there went that dream) He gave me a reprieve and said I didn’t need to come in until my surgery unless I wanted a fill. Yay! Freedom!
  • By week two I had lost so much fluid that I developed two very long and deep wrinkles. Wrinkles in your breast are not like wrinkles on your face. They are not only unattractive (not that anyone is looking) but very uncomfortable. They are more like gullies or drainage ditches. Not only that, after about a month of deflation, your tissue unexpands. So you are back to flat.
  • The nurse took pity on me and slipped me into his busy schedule for an emergency fill. He filled me with 220 ml instead of the normal 60. When I sat up, I literally couldn’t breathe normally. Very weird to be stretched that tight!
  • Two weeks later, at the end of our vacation, I was on empty again and in tears, because surgery was still nearly a month away and I’d leaked out 220 instead of 60 ml of fluid. I could feel it drizzle under my arm and imagined the salty water finding all the unhealed scars when I felt burning – the proverbial pouring salt on a wound. I imagined that the $64,000 pieces of cadaver tissue that makes the implant reunite with my body so much better were dissolving by saline solution. The nurse told me was that saline solution is what hospitals give patients that are dehydrated. Nothing to worry about. I looked at my fingers – no wrinkles. I was hydrated. I felt better and he added an additional 240 ml of fluid.
  • Better than that, he told me he would move up my surgery even if he had to work late and perform the surgery at the hospital instead of next door to his office at the surgery center.
  • Fortunately for him and for me, someone canceled their surgery and he had an opening for January 13th, six days later. YAY!

So in two days, I will be on my way to Fresno for my final surgery. The cancer is gone. To the outsider, I look as normal as I ever did, and I can start living my life without weekly trips to Fresno.

Enjoying a hike on our vacation two weeks before my third surgery.

I’m so very grateful.

  • To God for healing me.
  • For my husband who stood by me, put up with my moods, drove me to appointments, and took on the extra duties that I couldn’t do after each of the three surgeries I’ve gone through.
  • To Dr. Alsalihi for referring me to the “Dream Team,” as they are called.
  • To the professionals who diagnosed and did the tests that found the tumor when it was between stage one and stage two.
  • To the Dream Team – Dr. Hadcock, cancer surgeon, Dr. Perkins, oncologist, and Dr. Askren, the ever-patient plastic surgeon who performed the only elective surgery in the process.
  • For my friends who had brought us food, prayed, visited, called and wrote to me. They showed me in so many ways how much they loved and cared about me.

I hope you never get cancer. But if you do, know that I’m praying for you. You can get through it and be better than you were when you got it.

Lots of love to you all.

New Lease on Life

Lovely bouquet from our kids. Thanks, Jason and Carrie. They are my favorite colors. 🙂

In my last post three months ago I shared that I had a successful lumpectomy to remove a stage one cancer in my left breast. Before the words had left the doctor saying that they got it all, she called back to say that the margins were not clear.

Not to worry, I was still stage two minus the lymph involvement and all I needed was a total mastectomy, but no chemo and radiation. I felt calm. Besides, I didn’t have much to lose.

I did not want to have the second surgery right away since it seemed like such a low risk and I had so much going on this fall. Friends advised me otherwise, and I’m glad they did. The cancer had riddled the breast, so waiting probably wouldn’t have been too wise.

Today I report that I have survived for over 48 hours of that procedure. My husband told the staff at the hospital that the main thing they could do for me in the hospital was to “feed me.” I want to thank the wonderful nurses at St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno. I remember Elsa and Melba, Caesar and Jen. Vince is trying to do the work of about 4 people! Pray for him.

An accidental shot of my lovely hospital gown.

I think my husband has survived but maybe not as well as I have. I want to thank the many friends who have brought food and sent well wishes. They mean more than you know unless you’ve been in this position. Or as Carol would say, “posi.”

I can do limited things. Eat, sleep, walk, play on the computer, watch tv, take the pain and antibiotic meds, repeat.

My main worries are: falling on my owie, (I did that the first time!) eating too much great food, and wearing out the welcome of my generous friends and hubby.

I still don’t know whether the stage or grade has changed, but either way, I have clear margins this time. At least so far.

Everyone asks me if I’m nervous. Honestly, I have not really worried about the surgery or outcomes thanks to my faith in God and the many, many prayers that have gone out for me. I trust that the outcome will be what He wants for me.

It has been a blessing to be in His care.

Wishing you all the best in your lives, and don’t panic if something like this or worse happens to you. God is able to comfort and care for you, too.

The Next Stage of the Journey into the Unknown

https://www.touro.com/blogs/2017/july/hidden-scar-breast-cancer-surgery-at-touro/

Stage One Diagnosis

You find out you have cancer, do all the research, schedule treatment and wait. I love my doctor in Fresno, CA, Dr. Hadcock. She moved me up so that between diagnosis and surgery there were only seventeen days!

Stage Two Treatment

For me, the beginning treatment was surgery, a lumpectomy, biopsy of two lymph nodes, nuclear medicine, a gamma probe and placement of a Biozorb.

“Intraoperative gamma detection uses gamma particles emitted by radioactive isotopes from within the body to pinpoint tissue during surgery. By targeting specific tissue, treatments and procedures can be minimally invasive, are associated with lower complication rates, and can lead to better patient outcomes. ” https://www.mammotome.com/procedures/gamma-detection/

Less is better as far as I am concerned!

Biozorb https://www.thehealthjournals.com/biozorb-leaves-mark-breast-cancer/

A Biozorb looks like a spring with metallic markers that is placed where the cancer was, a little marker. It allows the doctor to keep an eye on things, so to speak. Eventually, it deteriorates leaving only the markers behind. They promised me I won’t set off any detectors at the airport.

During the first step of surgery, a doctor and technician marked Dr. Hadcock did surgical area by inserting two wires on either side of the tumor. Then they took four mammograms. The numbing agents weren’t entirely successful, but it was liveable – as evidenced by the fact I am writing about it twenty-four hours after surgery.

By nine-thirty a.m. Hector was wheeling me into a bright, operating room crowded with equipment. The surgeon and anesthesiologist awaited me as Hector helped me scoot from his cart to the operating table. Since I have old twisty veins, the anesthesia entered me painfully, but within seconds I didn’t care.

The next time I saw a clock it looked like two in the afternoon, but it was actually only ten after twelve. Vince told me that I had asked to come home. (Who knows, I thought they were nuts letting me leave so soon after I woke up.)

By twelve-thirty the nurse and my husband had dressed me, bundled me in a blanket, and loaded me like a sack of potatoes into the car. Anesthesia can make you do strange things and it still had a hold on me for quite a few hours. I cried all the way home and had a panic attack when my dog came out to greet me.

Stage Three – Recovery

My advice is not to text anyone while under the influence of the anesthetic. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I moved my finger some random way and when I listened to my voicemail messages. Every message was from my brother. Then I finally got one without his voice from my surgeon. After that, every message I pressed was her voice.

When I tried to show Vince, the voicemails on my phone belonged to the correct people.

One message I received was a call from a reporter at the Visalia Times-Delta asking about the Kiwanis July Third Blast. Wisely I did not to return his phone call. Instead, I texted Linda about it, got the phone number mixed up and couldn’t figure out his name because his voicemail the second time was my brother’s voicemail. So don’t text while under the influence!

It has now been exactly twenty-four hours since surgery. I’m able to think again. I can eat and drink normally. My dog is no longer traumatized by my lack of attention and is sleeping on her chair next to the window. Vince is out running errands, and I am blogging.

Some people have to wear a drain. I was lucky. https://mastheadpink.com/product/elizabeth-surgical-bra/

Other than being totally inactive except for walking around a bit, life is back to normal. I’m wearing a cute pink velcro infested bra that holds me in rather than making me look voluptuous. I have a cute heart-shaped pillow printed with kittens under my arm at all time which I carry like a handbag filled with a million dollars in cash.

Best of all, I thought I was cancer-free for the moment.

Then the surgeon called back today and informed me of the biopsy results. The lymph nodes are clear of cancer, but the tumor was three centimeters instead of one and that the margins were not all clear.

That means that the cancer is now categorized as stage two, grade one, but slow-growing. It also means that I will have to go back into surgery and have a mastectomy.

Stage Four – Helping Others

Those of you who have had breast cancer have helped me go through this last seventeen days with calm assurance. Thank you especially to Jean Butler, Linda Hengst, and Donna Davis who have been through this before.

Thanks to Vince, for hanging in there with me and caring for me. And thanks to all my friends who have come by, called me and wished me well.

I can only hope that I will offer as much support to others when the time comes, as my many friends both with and without cancer have done for me.

A Journey into the Unknown

Only about 12 percent of women in their lifetime will take this journey. I’m one of the chosen ones.

Time for a Trip to the Beach

I’ve never gone to a nude beach or even a topless one. I’ve never even been tempted. In fact, it would be so embarrassing, I don’t think’ I’d ever recover.

For the last two years, my mammogram reports told me that I have dense breasts. I took that as a compliment. A big improvement, I thought and bragged about them to my friends. Wahoo! Time for a trip to the beach! Finally, something to show off.

A busty friend of mine laughed, “Me too!”

That was a good sign. Maybe they were finally growing after 65 years, but I wasn’t ready for the big reveal yet. They still seemed about the same to me.

A year later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went in for Brachytherapy, had a little insert and five days of intensive radiation directly on the spot and poof, all good again.

That was her, this is me. No worries.

Sometime between this year and last year’s mammogram, I noticed a dimple in my left breast. Should I have rushed back and had another mammogram??? It was just a little dimple. I love dimples, and I’ve put on a few pounds so I didn’t think a thing about it. Apparently, my decision was wrong.

Don’t Assume

On June 11 the W.I.S.H. clinic in Fresno called me with the news that I have breast cancer.

https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/facing-breast-cancer/diagnosed-breast-cancer/primary-breast-cancer

Not that it will mean anything to you and it’s TMI but I’m going to bore you anyway. Clinically I have a Stage IT1cN0M0 Grade 1ER+ (estrogen) PR+ (progesterone) and her2-

What does all that mean? The surgeon explained it as she scribbled it on my report for me but I still had to google it.

Tumor size (T)

  • T1—Smaller than 2 cm (about 1 inch) Of course, I only have about five inches by two inches of breast tissue altogether on a good day. So that’s about 10-20% for me. The surgeon said, “You might be a bit asymmetrical after surgery. Vince kindly said, “I love asymmetrical!”

Nodes (N): Lymph nodes under the arm and neck

  • N0—No lymph node involvement

Metastases (M): means whether cancer has spread outside the breast and underarm, or “metastasized”

Seriously, I thought, “No biggie. Just get it done, recuperate for a couple of weeks and get on with life. Why does everyone get so worked up about a simple lumpectomy?

A simple lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation five days a week, then an anti-hormone drug for five to seven years. Then, if I’m still alive, I’m done, unless it comes back.

Unexpected Obstacle on the Journey

Moji says, “I’m clean. I wash myself every day.”

Okay, even that’s not bad, very doable. But then I found out that I have to stay completely away from my kitties. Now that hurt! They can’t get on my lap or anywhere close to my face.

They have nasty dander.

I can’t clean litter boxes. Now that’s a shame, don’t you think?

I can’t do anything for a week after surgery. No dishes, no making the bed, no vacuuming, no watering the garden, not even walking the dog. I can work in the garden, though if I don’t lift anything. That’s easy, right?

“And you’re going to feel good,” Cindy, the adorable PA said.

“I do everything anyway,” Vince quipped. “A whole week? Really?”

“You can watch tv and read, but only spend an hour on the computer. You need to walk around every hour or so. You can’t exercise until the surgeon tells you it’s okay. Gosh, it’s like a vaca.

I can’t eat at a smorgasbord restaurant. That limits things in rural Woodlake. Vince won’t go near one anyway. Too many hands in the food for my sweet germaphobe.

One in Eight Women Will Go on this Journey

https://utswmed.org/medblog/why-breast-cancer/

My surgeon told me to tell my friends not to ignore the signs like I did. As an obedient patient, I’m telling you my story so you will be careful. Most women don’t die from breast cancer because it’s treatable. But look at how involved it is to have the lowest grade and stage of a slow-growing type of cancer.

So as I start this journey, feel free to share your experiences with me, and through me, with others that might one day have to go on the journey themselves. See you along the path.

Smorgasbord Health 2017 – Top to Toe -Female Reproductive System- OUTSHINING OVARIAN CANCER by Karen Ingalls

Attention women! You may not be at the stage you are thinking about ovarian cancer. However, cancer doesn’t respect people. If these symptoms sound familiar, have a check up.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Smorgasbord Health 2017

This was first published last year but it is a message that is important and should be repeated regularly. My thanks to Karen for sharing her story and also the symptoms all women should be aware of.

Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the reproductive system. Karen is an ovarian cancer survivor and therefore supremely qualified to write this article.. The post carries an important message about understanding how our bodies work and how we should be on the alert for anything that seems out of the ordinary.

OUTSHINING OVARIAN CANCER  by Karen Ingalls.

photo-on-2-14-16-at-139-pm-crop-u6133I am a retired registered nurse and had very limited education about gynecological diseases and cancers. From working in hospice I only knew that ovarian cancer is the deadliest one of all gynecologic cancers. My journey and initial diagnosis with ovarian cancer is not an unusual one.

I had gained a few pounds and developed…

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