Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hot Flashes, Night Sweats and Bed Head

I wish I had posted more frequently here. While there wasn't much going on, there was 'stuff' worth noting. So again, I need to catch up a bit.

I was expecting the next step to be my first mammogram since my diagnosis, scheduled for March 26th. But in the weeks leading up to it, I realized that my left breast was hot, especially compared to my right. So I called my ObGyn, who suggested I call my surgeon. After an office visit, I was put on antibiotics. We both agreed I seemed to have something like mastitis, some sort of infection. I had also had a fever, but had come down with a cold at that time. So there really weren't too many other symptoms.

Two weeks of erythromycin didn't change anything. A different antiobiotic for a shorter duration was prescribed. I had already moved up my mammogram once, which made necessary the rescheduling of my April 4 appointment with my radiation oncologist. So I kept the new April 6 diagnostic mammogram, and was scheduled to see my radiation oncologist on May 2. I was in the midst of the second round of antibiotics when I had my mammogram. Read by a radiologist while I was there, I was informed that it looked fine, and that if there was some sort of infection, it wouldn't show up on the mammogram. It was suggested that I follow up those concerns with one of my doctors and left at that.

I decided that instead of continuing with the surgeon that I would wait until my appointment with my radiation oncologist, Dr. H. My surgeon had told me that radiation can sometimes result in mastitis, so I thought I could look into this possibility further when I met with Dr. H.

I was reassured with Dr. H's explanation of healing, which can take up to a year. As when the tip of my finger can feel hot when I have a cut there, so does my left breast, occasionally. It is still healing. I have no other symptoms. Dr. H assured me that I have no infection.

I will see him in 6 months, at which time we'll decide if I should have a mammogram at that point, or wait for a year. In a recent study that Dr. H had been involved in, 87 patients with my type of bc, who had been advised to have mammograms in 6 months, saw no change at that time and no difference in the first 6 month mammogram, and the subsequent 6 month one. While I have a letter that states I should have a mammogram in 6 months (from the radiologist), so legally, that is what I should be doing, I'm comfortable making that decision after my next appointment with Dr. H.

So, back to the hot flashes. The hot flashes. They've become worse in the last month, waking me more frequently at night. I sleep on a towel, with another on my pillow. Intense enough to wake me several times a night, I go back and forth between flipping off the covers, laying spread eagle atop them, and once I've 'dried off' huddling back under the covers, chilled. Back and forth.

Daytime is similar. No turtlenecks this winter. Not even long sleeved shirts most of the time. Layers, baby, layers! Tank tops or short sleeve tees, under a light sweater. That sweater is off, then on, then off again, then on. The biggest problem during the day is that I get wet and chilled more easily than at night. Marc, the kids, and close friends just smile and nod, and if they're too close, move away til it passes. Cuz I'm hot to the touch. Hot to be around. Impossible to cuddle until it passes!

When I saw my medical oncologist, Dr. N, in January, she gave me a prescription for an antidepressant. Apparently, an unanticipated side effect of some antidepressants is that they temper the severity of hot flashes. Might mean a peaceful night's sleep, something I haven't had in several months! But when I told Marc, he thought adding another drug to the mix was unwise. I now take synthroid and tamoxifen upon waking. The antidepressant would be taken at night. Every night.

So for now, the bottle of antidepressants sits untouched. When I wake and ruffle the covers or rise to dry myself or grab an extra blanket, Marc rolls over and goes back to sleep. Sometimes, he continues snoring, seemingly unaware. I think he's become accustomed to my increased tossing and turning and is able to stay sleeping.

Wish I could. Stay sleeping that is! I rarely wake in the morning feeling well rested, and have found myself to be less productive in the evenings. I'm often dozing off before the kids are in bed. Frequently, I wake after 10, temporarily rested, and can't fall back asleep for an hour or two. I'm now realizing that I need to make the most of that time and take care of some chore, or perhaps update my blog during that time.

The combination of those soggy nights and ever changing hair length has also made for some interesting bed head looks in the morning. No more running out to the bus stop without a peek in the mirror first. Some adjustment is usually required. I'll try a bit of water and fluffing up the flat spots to even out the look. Most of the time that works, but sometimes, it just makes my hair wild, giving it a life of its own. Last week I had one of those mornings, and I'm sure my flyaway 'do' was the reason for the strange looks and stares from the windows of Gaby's bus last week.

But most days, after washing, it doesn't look too bad. Curlier than it's ever been, it is indeed easy, even though any kind of style is somewhat limited!

My curls, last Saturday. Darker than I was wearing it, this is my own colour. And the bits of grey are so evenly distributed that they're not really noticeable. At first, my hair reminded me of my Mom's, the look she achieves with regular perms and styling. Lately, the wave in the front remind me more of my Dad's hair. The length too!

All a part of the process of recovery, healing, and moving on.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

And for the next 5 years, Tamoxifen

Because my breast cancer was Estrogen Receptor Positive, the week after Thanksgiving, I started my daily dose of tamoxifen It is supposed to block the effects of estrogen, and reduce the chances of the cancer reoccuring. As with the chemo, reading the possible side effects was scary. So far, nothing other than the hot flashes, which started after the second round of chemo, and haven't stopped. Now that's another long and negative post!

The end of Radiation

Radiation wrapped up at a perfect time -- two days before Thanksgiving!

During radiation, Elise brought ANOTHER DELICIOUS dinner.

It was a BBQ chicken skillet pizza with a cornbread crust. Yum!

To celebrate the end of radiation, I finally took what I called my radiation pass out of my purse.

When I arrived, every day, I passed it in front of a scanner that read my unique bar code and let them know that I had arrived. Pretty cool system, actually. Once I had scanned my card/pass, I donned a lovely hospital gown and waited in the Women's waiting area until I was called back. On a good day, I was in and out in 15 or 20 minutes. On a bad day, I could be there for almost an hour. On one really good day I was back in my car 10 minutes after I had left it for the parking valet!

During my last full week of radiation, the clip fell off of my pass. I had debated whether or not to request a new holder. I figured for the last few days I could get by with the old one.

It was a good feeling to take this out of my purse and know that I didn't have to make sure it found its way back for the next day.

I had Marc take a picture of the radiated area. For me, and to share. I apologize if you find it unpleasant. Just scroll on past it if you prefer.

For the first 23 days, the radiation targeted a more broad area. My entire left breast. While my skin started to look sunburnt, I was fortunate that it was no worse than that. It felt a bit dry, kind of papery, but that was it. This photo was taken a week after I had completed radiation and just over 2 weeks after the broad area radiation was done. By that time the redness had subsided and it was looking more like a weird suntan.

Under my left arm, one of the scars is visible in the photo. I had two incisions: one to remove the tumour, and one for the node biopsy. The last seven rounds of radiation target the area where the tumour had been, and that's why there's a red triangle shape in that area.

Its been about six weeks since I finished radiation, and that red triangle is now a lovely brown colour, and the brown that covered the larger area is now gone.

At the time radiation was done, I was the lucky recipient of flowers from my Mom and Dad, and sister and her family.

Aren't they beautiful?! They were delivered the day after I was done, which was the day before Thanksgiving. Beautiful fall colours, they made a gorgeous centerpiece for our Thanksgiving table.

Marc also sent flowers.

What a beautiful way to celebrate the end of radiation!

Chemo Caps

Around the time of my last lengthly post, my Aunt sent me an email with a couple of photos attached. She had crocheted several chemo caps for an organization that collects them, and was preparing to donate them in my honour.

I was moved to tears. Both she and my Mom had done this, Mom knitting and Auntie Judy crocheting.

I had saved that email with the attached photos, for this post. The first thing I did was move the photos from the email to the folder in which I keep blog photos. But they're not there, and they're no longer attached to the email. I've done several searches on my computer and have come up empty. But I did see a lot of images I didn't know were there!!

I didn't want to let Auntie Judy know beforehand,  but now that this post is up and looking quite naked without the photos, maybe I can ask her to resend them so I can share them.

Cousin Jodene to the rescue. She saw this post and forwarded the photos -- thanks Jo!!

So here they are, lovely handcrafted chemo caps ready to be given to people who will make good use of them. I certainly know how appreciated they will be!

A close up of the tag is necessary.

Now you see. I'm still moved to tears. Love you Auntie Judy.

Another one of the many kind and thoughtful gestures made during this time. I can't say enough how blessed I feel. Thanks you crafty ladies. I love you both!!

Catching Up -- Again

It's been over 2 months since I last posted here. Can't believe that! My theory is that, the combination of feeling better and Christmas approaching had me so busy trying to catch up with so many things that I had let slide. And of course, the Christmas season brings with it shopping, baking, decorating and gathering.

Finished up radation 2 days before Thanksgiving, started tamoxifen a week later, and that's about all I'm up to right now. Except for recovering from Christmas, Christmas travel and gearing up for Gaby's birthday celebration. And trying to do some catching up on my other blog .

Having said that, I should get started!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thoughts On Hair

I've written this post over and over in my head, but never put it to paper, so to speak.  As time goes on and my hair starts to grow once again, I want to record as much as I can remember about this time of hairlessness.

Losing my hair as a result of chemo was not traumatic, but certainly a bit of a shock. Especially when handfuls of my long locks started falling away from my head. I was shedding more than Roxi!

But this is about more than the hair on my head. Chemo did a number on most of the hair on my body, especially that which I shaved or plucked -- it just ceased to grow.

I really didn't miss shaving my legs and pits, and loved giving the tweezers a rest. No brows or chinny chin chin hairs to rid myself of.

While the summer heat made me feel worse during chemo, it was nice to have smooth, if a bit pasty, chicken legs those times I ventured outside.

Actually, feeling crappy it was nice not to have to invest a lot of time in grooming. Showers were pretty quick. A little spot of shampoo on my scalp, nothing to shave. In and out in no time. And once I was out, I didn't have to deal with drying or styling my hair. 

I saved time and money, though the cash was redirected to headcovers.com,  a site from which I ordered several scarves and hats.

Chemo does different things to different people. I was frightened by the long list of side effects prior to starting, and relieved that, as with most drugs and medications, most don't apply.

Something else that Marc and I both noticed was how very smooth my skin was. Everywhere. My legs, my arms, my back. My elbows, which are always rough and wrinkly. Smooth. Break outs were minimal in the places that are usually problem areas.

Its been almost 2 months since I finished chemo. Besides eating and feeling more like myself, my skin has returned to its normal, and my hair is growing back. Sparse leg hairs, not much to pluck on my brows and chin, and almost a quarter inch of dark and grey on my scalp. I've gone from the soft pink puppy belly, to soft and fuzzy like new growth on a baby's head.

Sometimes, I go bare headed. Always at home, but occasionally, when I'm out. Truthfully, it's just been too cold lately to keep my head uncovered. I actually find the back of my neck even colder, as I'm used to having hair hanging down to keep it warm at this time of year.

Every night as I'm crawling into bed, the thought crosses my mind that I have to let my hair down before I lay down. It's not hanging around my face, so my first thought is that its pulled back. It happens every time. I truly forget that I don't have any hair on my head. Or at least, not much.

I may have mentioned this before, but walking around with no hair on my head draws attention, sympathetic looks, and prompts people to share stories with me. Often stories of their own status as a cancer survivor.

No one would ever wish to be battling cancer, but I must say its been an experience I don't regret. I don't wish it on anyone. But I do cherish the encounters with strangers, and the time and support of friends and family. The health care professionals. The strength and love and courage of everyone. Humankind is good.

Over the Radiation Hump!

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel -- 18 down, 12 to go. Barring any cancelations, I will be done on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

I'm having to take an hour out of every day, and work around that hour between 10:30 and 11:30 every morning. But that's it. Oh, and remembering not to apply cream or lotion of any kind 4 hours prior, to the target area.

I can eat what I want and it tastes good -- tastes like it should! My head is clear -- no chemo fog. And of course, no nausea!

Now, there is the problem of the hot flashes. Those have lingered and I expect that to continue. I've been doing a bit of research and confirmed that yes, chemo can put you into menopause. It was getting close to that time anyway, I figure! And hot flashes can be worse when chemo is the trigger. I figure I'm somewhat in the middle as far as hot flashes go. I'm painfully aware of them, and they're still waking me several times a night. But my heart rate doesn't change, and I don't think my face gets flushed. (I keep forgetting to check in the mirror when one hits) I read of women who thought they were having a heart attack as their heart rate quickens with each occurence. So while they suck, they could still be worse!

And the kindness of family and friends never stops. I appreciate the kind words, cards, emails and never tire of hearing from everyone.

I was surprised by a package a couple of weeks ago. Marc was away and it was our wedding anniversary week -- he always seems to be away that week. So I thought at first it was from Marc. But upon opening the box, which contained a vase, cut flowers, and chocolates, I discovered it was from Pier, Nate and the bubs. So sweet, so beautiful, and so delicious!


Confessing here that no member of my family saw these fancy chocolates. I ate them ALL! And not even all at once. I paced myself and ate one or two a day, so I am guilty of not sharing, and hiding them. From the kids, the dog, and the husband. I'm not proud, but they were oh so good!

The following week, our neighbor Jane, who lives around the corner, surprised me with these. In lovely pink foil and with a pink bow. Beautiful and perfect for the season.