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 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!