Monday, December 9, 2013

Laser Tag with my Hair and Coasting with Recovery

Last I posted I talked about the hair loss I was experiencing.  It was quite a surprise to find out that hair loss is a side effect of the very drug (Arimidex) that is supposed to give me added protection from a breast cancer relapse.  I did indeed go through all the testing with the dermatologist and everything else checked out OK.  My options were to get the Laser Comb (expensive but reportedly good results) or to try Rogaine (but once you start, you need to continue forever and ever) or other more invasive treatments.

I decided to get the Laser Comb since I just didn't want another drug in or on my body.  I have been using it for only about two months, but it has helped.  I have also been taking Bioxin and a Vitamin B Complex.  While I still have thin hair and need to style my hair carefully; at least I can do so and look better than I did in the summer when it became very apparent that I needed to do SOMETHING!

My husband tells me soon my head will glow (LOL), but I am giving it the "old college try" since it appears to be helping.

I have since seen my cosmetic surgeon for one of the last check-ups.  The next one is not for six months.  I also saw my oncologist and the next appointment for her is not for another two months.  I am feeling very blessed right now.  My husband, who has had his share of medical issues since my diagnosis, is also feeling well.  So we are both just grateful for this time to be well and to celebrate another Christmas season.

I am now very used to my implants.  You always know they are there, but you become accustomed to how they feel in your body.  Sometimes when you go out into the cold air, or there is some severe weather change, your body lets you know.  I feel it in the implants and on my sides where the skin needed to be taken to support my breast tissue.  But other than that, they are now a part of me.

Sometimes I think to myself that having the breast cancer changed me in ways that were very positive and enlightening.  I walk more confidently; I don't take a lot for granted; and I appreciate many things so much more intensely.

But I do not recommend this as a way to get there!!  But I do give thanks to God for getting me this far and for the friends and family that supported me all along the way.

I am hoping there will be no more surprises in the near future, but I will continue to update my blog every couple months.  Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nipples and Back in the "Hair Loss Pool" Again

It is now September and I have had my second implants in, my nipples "created: and the tattoos around my nipples done.  I am very happy with all of it and indeed, the last two cosmetic features certainly helped to make it all feel "finished".

I was glad throughout the summer months that I could wear just athletic bras under my clothing and was very comfortable.  My cosmetic surgeon is happy too that all finally worked out and I have even gotten to this point.  There were times we both thought it would not happen.  He has said, though, that he wishes he had taken out the first extender sooner since that seemed to be the issue all along.  I am just happy to be where I am now.

In fact, at the end of this week I go back to him for the last time (at least for this) to have my final check-up and photos done.  How funny that taking the photos is my least favorite part of it all!!

So that is probably and hopefully the end of this part of the journey.

The new part of the journey is hair thinning.  Yes, I've been taking Arimidex now for about a year and a half.  When my hair first came in, it had a nice texture, and was a nice grey color and while I have never had thick hair, it certainly was a good thickness.

Now, however, I can see my scalp in places and I am finding out that hair thinning is just one of the side effects that some of us experience with Arimidex.  Unfortunately, I am one of them.  It seemed that it happened all at once, but it might have been taking place all along.  I had just started to dye my hair about three months ago so originally thought this might be it.  I visited my hairdresser and she acknowledged that I had lost quite a bit since last haircut....but that she didn't use any ammonia based products, so didn't think it should have done the damage.  I then went to a dermatologist who took a bunch of blood tests and all of the tests (thyroid, hormone, vitamin, etc) came out OK.  She will do one more test, which is for skin inflammation, but I am thinking that this is not the cause either.  Instead, I think my oncologist is already thinking that I am experiencing this particular side effect that does happen....and that this side effect plus genetics is probably my answer.

I have been reading all the breast cancer board postings and several breast cancer sites and can see that I am not the only one to be experiencing this, which helps somewhat.  People have tried a myriad of products from Nioxin, Rogaine, Vit B and Biotin, etc. and right now I am trying the natural route with the Vit B and Biotin.  I have noticed that hair is growing again right around my face....but no where else.  So I am going back to dermatologist and then oncologist to see what they will recommend for me.  I will keep you posted.

Certainly did not want this to happen and it is driving me crazy....but I have to balance it with being alive and well and that this drug is supposed to keep me safe.  But....disheartening.

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Implants and Nipples TOO!

The postings have, of course, been personal, so I don't mind sharing with you the next part of the journey.

As I wrote in January, I was going to have the "last surgery" (always seems to be my famous last words!) as a bigger implant was going to be put in.  Well, of course my story always has a twist!  A short time after the last posting, I attended a wedding.  After congratulating the bride and groom, I turned and began to walk down the staircase.  Unfortunately, I did not hold on to the railing and....you guessed it....I fell down the entire staircase.  I ended up with some bruises and scrapes and a broken rib.  Let me tell you, that broken rib hurt more than most of what I have already gone through!  I ended up having to cancel my surgery since I was in so much pain and could not lie down flat at all.  

About 8 weeks later, I did finally reschedule and have the surgery with the larger implants.  At that time, my surgeon also took the extra skin that was hanging under my right arm.  He felt there was not a lot of skin under the left arm, so was going to leave that as it.  (Turns out, later on, he would regret that and tell me he now wants to take in some of that extra skin also.)  There were no surprises and everything took time to heal, but it all went according to plan.  Which for me, was a wonderful thing!

Once the healing process was complete, my surgeon told me I was ready to get nipples.  I told him I thought the tattoo nipples would be sufficient.  But he asked me to think it over since he found that all of his patients that had gone through this procedure were pleased.  I did some research and online found one posting that actually had me change my mind.  It was a blog from another survivor who had debated about having the nipples surgery also.  She said the reason she decided to have the surgery was because she always felt "incomplete"; but once she had nipples, it was "like a smile was put on a face"....she wasn't uncomfortable with her own naked breasts anymore.  I thought about that long and hard and realized I did feel like I was "unfinished".  So, I decided to have this surgery.  The surgery itself was a "breeze" to get through.  It is actually done by a local anesthesia, and my surgeon and I carried on a conversation the whole time.  He used my existing skin to "craft" the nipples.  It was amazing!  After it was over, they place these little screens over them to keep them protected.  I felt like Madonna!  The hardest part was finding a way to conceal the screens so I didn't look ridiculous in public!  I found these bras which were shaped like athletic bras, and had padding in them.  It wasn't perfect, but it helped.  I had to wear the screens and bra for about 10 days, and then went back to the surgeon's office.  Everything was still good, so he had me just put a loose bandage over the nipples and had me come back again two weeks later.  At that time, he took out most of the stitches, and right now I am just wearing a loose bra as everything heals further.  I go back in 6 weeks and he will tattoo around the nipple, and then this part will be completed.

He is still talking about the excess skin on the left side, so I am sure that will be next.  But let me tell you, it looks great and I really do feel SO much better about my breasts with the nipples!  I would recommend to any breast cancer patient that she/he do the same!  I will post again once I go back to the surgeon's office and let you know how the tattooing went and what's next.  A friend of mine who decided NOT to get the nipples can't wait to see mine and she thinks she might consider it also.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Long Time, No Words; But I'm Back!

Yes, it has been a long time.  Hard for me to realize that it has been over six months.  For some reason, once I finally got to the point where I had my implants, (the painful extenders gone), and chemo was done....I just needed a break.  It became a longer break than I thought, but I needed not to talk about cancer for a while.  Not that I will ever be a person who will not have cancer as a part of my life; but for just a little while, I needed to get back to me and figure out who I was.

Since I last wrote, the implants were and are wonderful.  My plastic surgeon left me alone for a while and just wanted me to feel good and heal after all the craziness I had been through.  I was glad to do that myself.  It's funny how you get so used to going and going to doctor's and appointments, that once you stop, it's hard to get going again.  I loved the time without constant appointments.  Even at the chemo center, I was now going only every three months.  Of course, each time they take your blood, you still worry that the numbers/counts will be OK.  One time when I was taking Claritin, it lowered my counts and for couple weeks, I was scared that this would be some more bad news.  But thankfully, it was not and the counts came right back once I stopped taking Claritin.  But still, each time, it's a new worry.  I now also will go to the chemo ballroom for a calcium drip twice a year.  It seems that my bone density showed that I needed support.  My oncologist recommended this drip and said it has actually proven to be of an additional protection against the cancer coming back.  So, it's a win-win.  It's just hard to sit in that seat once again and see that bottle above your head with it's long attachment into your arm.  You do what you need to do, however.

Right now, I am going to have what everyone hopes is my final reconstruction surgery.  Since my breasts were larger than the implants I have now, I have "extra skin" that is under my arms, and my plastic surgeon thinks the implants I have are actually too small for me.  He could just work at fixing all the "extra skin", but he'd rather use slightly larger implants and have to do less cutting.  I trust him, so that's what we are going to do.  It's funny because most people would rejoice over larger breasts, but having had them all my life, I like my small ones.  I did tell him "not too much larger!"

After this, he tells me we can talk about "nipples".  He has told me that they now can actually reconstruct nipples from your own skin.  That is probably good for someone younger, I am OK with tattoo nipples.   

I have (since June) retired from the preschool and I now care for my nephew's adopted son from China, who is two and a half.  He is really a love and has become a real joy for my husband and I; particularly since we don't get to see our granddaughter in PA as often as we would like.  His smile lights my heart and he makes my days happy.  I thought I would really miss being at preschool; but I have changed inside and out and this is a good decision for me now.  After 35 years, it is good to be doing something different and less stressful (yes, a two and a half year old CAN be less stressful....honest!).  In the meantime, I am trying to think about what I want to be when I grow up!

So, surgery soon and I am hopeful that all will go well and I just march on from here.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Downey Softness

OK, the title is a play on words.  Of course, you probably remember the commercials for "Downy Fabric Softener" with that cuddly teddy bear.  He would just rub himself with a towel that had been in the softener and look like he was in heaven!  I always got a kick out of this commercial since my maiden name was "Downey (with the "e"), so the spelling above is not a mistake but representative of ME!  And "softness" is the subject of this blog!!

Ahhhhhhh...the relief of having implants replace the extenders!  Funny enough, my appointment to have the extenders taken out and implants put in was on my husband's birthday!  We had a good laugh over that one!  I just couldn't wait to have this done.  The extenders were just sooooo uncomfortable and sleep was hard to do since I couldn't turn over or move without pain.  Somehow, the extenders were just more painful when I was laying down.

Finally, the day arrived and I was eager to see what the implants would be like.  Would they be just as comfortable as others said?  Would I be satisfied with their feel?  

As soon as I woke up after the surgery, I couldn't wait to feel for myself.  And I was so relieved to feel that my breasts were now as soft as pillows!  And I no longer felt like I had two bowling balls on my chest!  Of course (wait for it....) it wouldn't be me without some type of issue or concern.  So, here it is:

You might not remember that the right breast had a load of problems with the extender and I had a few surgeries just to help the skin on that breast.  Also, when the extender on that side was replaced with a new extender, my plastic surgeon put it in so that it wouldn't touch the area of skin that I had so many problems with (and that area was still red as well).  So, of course, it had not been inflating the same as the other breast and during surgery he had to put in a slightly smaller implant on that side.

He told me all this after I awoke and complimented him on his work.  He told me "Not so fast...." and then gave me the details.  However, he is not leaving me like this.  He just wants me to enjoy the summer and says he does not want to "touch me" until October, when he will do a "tune-up" as he calls it and perfect the work he has already done.

I did not realize (although I should have) that he also worried about another infection until I went for my check up the other day, and he said, "Wow...this looks even better than I thought!  You are going to be OK this time."  Those were good words to hear.

He also told me I could wear a bra...not one of the underwires (and do you know how hard it is to find a bra that is NOT an underwire??), but a soft bra that stretched.  I went to get one as soon as I could and it felt so good to put one on and also to look down and see a gentle rise on my chest instead of the harsh indentation and then slope outward that the extenders created with their hardness and shape.

Today I cannot help but keep touching myself to make sure they are still soft (and I have to make sure I'm not doing this in public.  I found myself doing this in the car this morning...much to the delight of the truck driver beside me!).  It feels so wonderful to have this "Downey Softness" once again.  I also can once again wear v-necks (I couldn't with the extenders because I didn't like the look of the indentation they made), and can't wait to try a bathing suit.  

My new breasts are not as large as my old ones and that is half on purpose and half because of all the trouble with my skin and how there was a need to take some of the skin away.  But I am so happy with them!  No more blouses or shirts that open between buttons!  No more searching for something to fit on the top that is too large for the rest of my body!  No more overflow in my bra! 

Yes, Just call me a Happy Camper with my two Downey Soft Pillows!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Getting Closer to Implants!

I just looked at the last post and although I knew it had been some time since I was back here, I cannot believe it has been almost three months! Of course, once you start feeling better, life kinda takes over and your world begins to open up again.  

Since the last post, I have continued to visit my plastic surgeon (although not as often as before with all my complications) and he has continued to inflate the two implants.  Since it has taken a while to get to this point, I had been thinking, "Wow...they talk about this part being painful; but it's not too bad!"  Well, that was before the inflation kept going and let me tell you, it is indeed uncomfortable...especially at night when you want to sleep.  Turning and tossing is the norm until you can finally find a comfortable position.  The last two inflations were the most painful and right now, two weeks after the final inflation, I am still hurting although not as bad.   

My plastic surgeon and I talked about the size I wanted and I really did not elect to go "too big".  I was one of those teens who developed early and developed well.  I wasn't interested in being there again.  So, I am content with an implant of a smaller size than my own breasts had been.  He is so happy that things are now going well that he told me at the last appointment, "OK...now get out of here and do your happy dance!"  I did just that!  And went into the room where surgery is scheduled.  And funny enough, the date open for the surgery just happens to be my husband's birthday...how funny is that?  So June 11th I will go in and FINALLY have those implants inserted and get these annoying extenders taken out.

They tell me that the implants should be softer than the extenders.  And I am glad about that.  The saline that is put in the extenders makes the area very hard.  My surgeon says the silicone implants will be softer...although of course, never like a "real" breast.

I also had my 3 month visit with my oncologist.  Just before this visit, I had horrible allergies (in this part of the country this season was bad!) and developed a sinus infection.  I was also taking Claritin D for the allergies.  At the time, thought nothing of it.  But...after they took the blood and my oncologist came in, I knew with one look at her face that things were not good.  Indeed, my white blood cells and my platelets were low.  She asked me a bunch of questions and when I told her about the sinus infection and Claritin, she said that those could be factors...but just to make sure, I needed to come back in two weeks and do the bloods again.

Now, getting my blood is not easy.  My veins are so tired with chemo and surgeries that it takes a lot to get the amount of blood they need for these tests.  So, I wasn't looking forward to doing this again.  And I was so worried during the two weeks that something was wrong.  Because, of course, now that something "has been wrong", you worry "something" could raise it's ugly head again.  Fortunately, the minute she came to the door with a big smile, I knew I was OK.  And yes, the counts were back to normal so it was just the two factors of infection and Claritin that affected the counts.

As of today, I am waiting until June 11th when the implants will be a part of me.  And I cannot wait to get to that point and will be sure to post when that happens.  Until then, stay well, everyone!   


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Good Morning Sunshine!

Each day now is such a pleasure knowing chemo is done.  I still have years of check-ups and scans before I can consider myself "cured"; but I am a survivor of all that has been! 

Once again (YAY!), at my last check-up at the plastic surgeon's, all things are still going well.  And once again, I do not have to see him until THREE weeks!  What a complete and utter pleasure to have so much time in between doctor appointments now.  I still have a month to go before my oncologist visit also.  I am now, though, in the process of playing "catch-up" with all my other doctors such as my original surgeon for the mastectomy, my dentist, my gyno doc, etc.  All things that need doing and have been neglected for the past year and a half.  I got a card from the place where I get my mammograms and ultra-sounds reminding me that I am due.  It was a bittersweet moment to see that and know those two tests won't be needed anymore; but was once again reminded that now I just look forward...one step at a time.

The right extender bothers me more than the left.  I am guessing that this is because it was more recently put back in, and that it was put in vertically rather than horizontally (plastic surgeon wanted to ensure that darn spot was not affected at all).  He is still saying that the implants will be in sometime in May.  I had a chance to talk to my friend who had the mastectomy and asked her if the implants will indeed feel better and more comfortable than the extenders.  She told me they definitely were easier...so that is something to look forward to.  Can't wait.  And can't wait to be done with surgeries.

I did have one additional surgery just last week....I GOT MY PORT OUT!  My oncologist gave the "all clear" and said I could arrange this whenever I wanted to.  Since it was beginning to press somewhat on the right extender, I decided to do it now.  While I was in there waiting for the procedure, I started thinking about the last time I was in that room (same room, same bed!) and how frightened I was for the port to be put in and overwhelmed by all that was coming.  I sat in the bed unable to hold back the tears...and the nurse came in.  She told me "Don't cry now...you have so much to go through, this will be the smallest part.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and don't look ahead.  Just take it one day at a time."  And she was right.  It indeed helped to just survive the next procedure, next chemo, next surgery; and not keep thinking about all of it at once.  God reminds us of the same thing when he said "Don't worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow will come with worries of it's own.  It is enough to just get through today." (Matt. 6:34)  And it sure helps knowing God is there every step of that day in front of you.

So I wake up today to sunshine and a beautiful spring-like day in February and remember when I so wanted to just be at this point and had so much yet to go.  With a lightened heart I can gladly say, "Good Morning, Sunshine....you brighten my day!"