There are some people reading this blog who think, “Your pathology came back clean! You’re cancer-free! It’s all done now!”
Ah, what a delightful thought – that somehow chemo was a true magic wand and the past six months were just a tiny blip in the 2018 year.
Let’s get back to life as we knew it, shall we?
(We’ll come back to that rhetorical question in a bit.)
The Past Six Weeks
I’ve been in surgery recovery mode since I got home from the hospital on August 24.
Overall, the process of healing has gone well.
At five days post-op, I had my drains removed. If anything, they were just a hassle and felt really weird when being pulled out. Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of post-op fluid, which is why I was able to have them removed relatively quickly after surgery.
At one week post-op, I stopped taking my prescription pain killers. They made me foggy, and I really didn’t need them anymore.
At two weeks post-op, I was cleared to start driving and lifting my arms above my head. I started physical therapy to help regain any lost range of motion. I also started the expansion process. (I’d be expanded by 50cc each week moving forward until I said to stop.) Best part - I could stop wearing the incredibly uncomfortable compression tube top! I still couldn’t lift anything heavier than 10 lbs.
At three weeks post-op, I could finally lift my 25 lb. nugget, Halle. This was the biggest milestone for me! It was frustrating and heartbreaking not being able to do simple things like put Halle in her high chair or get her out of her crib when she was crying.
At four weeks post-op, I was disappointed to find out I’d have to wait another week to get back in the yoga studio. However, I was cleared to start LIVESTRONG at the Y, so long as I didn’t push/pull with the upper body or lift heavier than 10 lbs.
At five weeks post-op, I received my final expansion on the right side (350cc total, which will not be radiated). I was cleared to go back to yoga! (I love YoBa studio in North Raleigh.) I took one yoga class just because I could. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it and it felt good.
Today, one day shy of six weeks post-op, I received my final expansion in my left side (400cc total, which will be radiated and likely have skin shrinkage issues.) As I was leaving Dr. Carlino’s office, I called my radiation oncologist to could move up our radiation mapping date.
In order to move forward with radiation, I had to completely heal from my surgery.
Another check off on my cancer to-do list.
My treatment plan is based on my original diagnosis.
From the beginning, my oncologist was very hopeful that I would have a complete response to the chemo - and I did - but that doesn’t change our plan. My cancer was aggressive. My tumor (6 cm) was considered large. It’s impossible for surgery to collect every breast tissue cell (since they are so small), so it’s important that I follow through with the remaining action items on our plan.
Radiation mapping is October 8. I’m not sure exactly what all that entails, but, basically, I know I get tiny tattoos (my first!) and will be overanalyzed to ensure I’m lined up properly to start radiation within 1-2 weeks.
Radiation will start by the end of October. I’ll have 30 consecutive business days of radiation, targeting the where the tumor and removed lymph node were located.
I’ll continue to receive a targeted therapy infusion of Herceptin and Perjeta through March 2019 (a full year of treatment). This knocks out that pesky aggressive HER2 receptor.
My oncologist and I will look at the latest post-treatment medication options next year to see if I’m a good candidate for long-term preventative treatment.
One year after radiation is complete, I’ll have an exchange surgery with Dr. Carlino that will remove my expanders and replace with permanent implants.
We’re moving along.
This applies to you, too
When I realized that some people thought I was magically cured after the pathology report, it occurred to me that nothing magically resolves itself in life.
Nothing is “just fixed” to the point that we don’t have any additional work to do.
Fighting cancer is like that tough relationship you’re trying to repair or that new career you’re trying to get off the ground or that audacious goal you’re trying to achieve.
It’s all a process. It takes work. And that work doesn’t suddenly stop because something good happens.
No, when something good happens it motivates you to keep going. Whether a big win like a clear pathology report or a small win like you simply got out of bed today. It’s encouraging and it makes you want to do more.
The wins help you breathe a bit easier.
Days on days. Weeks on weeks.
This is cancer for me. I have a big win under my belt, but it’s not over.
So, back to my rhetorical question.
While I’ll continue to receive treatment through March of next year, this will be a lifetime of work.
I’ll continue to be seen by my surgeons, my oncology team, and others. I’ll be quick to address medical issues as they arise, but I’ll be attentive to my exercise, my stress levels, and what I consume in my mind and body.
My life will never go back to what it was, and I’m happy about that.
When we experience a major shift in our life - whether medical, relational, or something else - we can’t go back to the way things used to be. There’s too much at stake. We’ve learned things we can’t forget – things we don’t want to forget.
We’ve arrived at the other side of our obstacle and we made it - WE DID IT!
Now, we keep going.