Tag Archive | pain

On a Dark and Winding Road

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's illness twins lymph nodes bilateral mastectomy stage 3c boys family stonybrook park life

This is where I have been during my absence.  On a dark and winding road.  It has taken me nowhere good.  It has been fraught with pain and stress and painful, stressful days.  And weighty revelations that come when you feel as though you just can’t handle one more thing — until one more thing comes and you begin to tell yourself that you can’t handle one more one more thing.  But still I walk this thorny path.  Or drag myself along its rough terrain.  And I wonder what choice I have.  Or if it is even a choice at all.

But I am here.  My twin boys are with me.  And though it doesn’t “feel like” summer in our world most days, summer is here.  My favorite time of year.  The little break we have from snow and cold and grey is here.  And it means more time with my growing boys and dogs.  And for that I am grateful.

I am grateful to you, too.  For continuing to “visit” even during my silence.  For continuing to leave messages or send emails.  I feel fortunate to have you.  I hope you know how fortunate…  Thank you…

p.s. My youngest sister (21…well, she turned 22 days after getting off the plane) just returned home from Alaska with her greyhound mix, Gracie.  So that is a good thing, too.  We’ve missed her and hadn’t seen her in a year and a half — and now they are living in my house!  Here’s a photo —

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's illness twins lymph nodes bilateral mastectomy stage 3c boys family stonybrook park life

A fun afternoon with my littlest sister & the boys

Thank you all…  I hope life is being kind to you…

 

 

 

Advertisements

Silence Isn’t Golden — and — Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside / Little Dog Inside Big Dog

cancer in my thirties breast cancer 30s 30's dog dogs

There have been times in my life when I have agreed with the title of that old song, “Silence is Golden,” by The Four Seasons.  But my silence here has not proven to be one of those times.  As the days following my last post crept to weeks and then to months, I couldn’t believe that so much time had passed.  But I still felt powerless to do much about it.

Call it the result of unrelenting exhaustion.  Call it the result of a muddled mixture of intense pain and a haziness induced by strong opioid painkillers.  Call it an inability to balance new/worsening symptoms with life and its demands.  Call it what you will, but whatever it was, I just wasn’t able to pull myself through “it” to find the energy and space to write to you.

I value our time together.  I value our relationship.  And I didn’t want to just pop in to do a quick, crappy post while I was in the midst of feeling as though I was caught in a tailspin.

YOU:    “So, is it over?  Are you better?  Is this going to be a terrific post that was well worth the wait?”

ME:      “No.  No.  And no.”

YOU:    “Aw man, I was hoping for something riveting and inspiring.”

ME:      “I’m sorry, this post will be neither.  But I figured that if I waited any longer, the gap would just widen and it would be even more difficult to return.  So I am here, for better or worse, with a crappy post just meant to let you know that I have missed you and that I do value our relationship — probably more than you’ll ever know.”

ME:      “And, given the nature of some of the emails I’ve received from some of you, I felt that some of you might be wondering if I’d gotten much sicker and perhaps moved on to the great blue yonder.  To be honest, I would wonder the same thing, especially because some of my “virtual” cancer friends (cancer bloggers or online breast cancer community friends) have disappeared in this way when they’ve died.  Silence.  Then, after a few days or weeks or so, a husband or best friend or mom will pop in to say, “Sorry, _______ died last month.  I know she’d want you to know.”

YOU:    “Well, I didn’t want to say it, but, um, yes, maybe “that” thought crossed my mind.  This is a cancer blog, afterall!”

Okay, all kidding aside, I wanted/needed to say hello.  I wanted you to know that you are still in my thoughts.  I wanted to respond to the kind emails and messages I’ve received.

And I wanted to apologize for such a long silence.

Sure, I’ve felt crappy.  Sure, I’m struggling to manage life and the boys and everything else while feeling so cruddy.  But you’ve come to mean a lot to me and I owe you more than this silence.  Plus, this is a cancer blog, so I should be blogging about feeling crappy and about the ins and outs and ups and downs of this whole experience.

I should.

I know I should.

But I wage this positive vs. negative battle with myself all the time.  In my day-to-day life, I try to be positive and upbeat because this is what is expected of me.  So it is difficult for me to give myself permission to be “Debbie-Downer” in my day-to-day.  And sometimes that cup runneth over to my blog, too.  If you’ve been reading all along you know that this doesn’t happen often — I usually don’t have much trouble “telling it like it is” and spreading some gloom here! — but it does happen sometimes.

I’ll try to elaborate a bit more on how life has been soon.  But for now I wanted to end the silence.  Close the gap.  Get back on the horse.

And I wanted to thank you for sticking by me.

I’d also like to know how you are doing…  During my silence I have not only been a bad blogger, but a lousy blog reader.  But it isn’t because I haven’t thought of you.  In fact, I enjoy reading your blogs far more than I enjoy creating posts for my own, so I’m certain I’ve missed you much more than you’ve missed me!  So if you have a moment, please drop me a line / leave me a comment to let me know how you are — and I promise to pop over to visit your blog soon.

And I will be back soon to fill you in.  Even if I just write crappy one paragraph posts.  I’ll shoot for “quantity vs. quality” rather than the “neither” I’ve been giving you!

p.s. For old times’ sake, I’ll include a few photos that happen to be in line with The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  Okay, “on purpose” rather than “happen to be.”  But you know how I like pictures!  This week’s challenge topic?  “Inside.”  Participants are asked to photograph “something” inside “something else.”  [There’s more to it than that, but I’ll give you the skinny version in case you are tired, too!]

You know how I love my dogs, so I’m giving you photographs of “Ginger Inside Kevin.”  Or “Little Dog Inside Big Dog,” because I refer to them as “Big” and “Little.”

SONY DSC

Kevin is a Heinz 57 rescue who we brought to live with us after my dogsoulmate, Mattie, my mini schnauzer, died of cancer in 2009.  Ginger was a “Christmas/chemo/mastectomy/more chemo/radiation/and still more treatment gift” my sister gave me after I’d had a bunch of chemo and my bilateral mastectomy, and then was then destined to go through more chemo and radiation and other treatments.  My littlest sister, Laura, thought she would be a wonderful snuggler and that she’d make it easier to get through the difficult days, so she wrapped her up for Christmas…  And what a wonderful gift she was/is.

Well, ever since Ginger/Little’s arrival, she has ruled the roost.  Though significantly smaller than Kevin, she is definitely the alpha.  From the very beginning, she would climb into or onto Kevin and he wouldn’t move a muscle.  To this day, if she climbs into his curled up body, he stays in this position until she is ready to get up — mostly because she’ll bark at him if he moves an inch!  And since they are coincidentally almost identically colored, it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.  Most pictures of the two of them together look as though I’ve snapped a photo of Kevin with a small dog-like growth protruding from his neck or back.

A looong explanation for a few photos!:

breast cancer in thirties 30s 30's dog dogs ginger kevin

Can you find Ginger?

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's dog dogs

Once in a while, Kevin builds up the nerve to *attempt* to knock Little off his chair. He is never successful…

***********

***Good night and thank you for visiting.  Thank you for helping me through the dark days, even when you don’t know you are doing this…***

***********

I’ve Missed You — and Weekly Photo Challenge: Object

gator breast cancer thirties 30s 30's owl john deere gator world cancer day postaday weekly photo challenge object young twins kids

Hello dear readers,

I realized weeks ago that I had not yet posted in the New Year, but was feeling so awful that I just couldn’t force myself to do anything about it.  I decided tonight that this had to change this!

First of all, I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year.  May 2014 be filled with peace, joy, and (hopefully) health.  As I welcomed the New Year this year, my thoughts turned to family and friends rather than resolutions.  Even when it feels as though the world is crumbling around me, I know that I am fortunate in that I have good people in my life.  And I count you in that mix of important people who make my life better.  How many bloggers are fortunate enough to have readers email or leave comments to make sure they are alright?  I’m grateful to say that I am that one of those lucky people.

There is much I want to tell you and much I want to share — but I’ve been so crippled by pain and fatigue that I’m just going to have to share things in bits and pieces.  I hope you will continue to bear with me!

Until my next post, I will leave you with a couple of photos of the boys and a school owl they were asked to take care of and write about for a weekend.  These photos are from an Autumn ago.  There is far too much ice and snow on the ground for grass or light jackets or John Deere gators in the yard right now!  But the memories are nice…

All my very best to you —

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's world cancer day twins owl john deere gator

p.s. If you’d like to see other Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge photos, please click here or here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: An Eerie Feeling — Is it Cancer?

IMG_9232 3

When I saw the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week — Eerie — my first thoughts weren’t of Halloween costumes or fake blood or ghouls or goblins.  No, my first thoughts were of the sore spot and the “thickening” in my chest in an area that cancer once called home.

Since my bilateral mastectomy three years ago, I have been checking the area often enough. Monthly, I suppose?  Maybe less?  It’s often enough that I would notice a change.

5 days post mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection for stage 3c breast cancer

While I rarely have trouble with my right side since the surgery, my left side has been a different story. Because of the depth/extent of my left mastectomy and the resulting nerve damage, I have been plagued with a range of unpleasant feelings, from numbness, tingling, itchiness and dull pain, to searing pain and what they term “phantom pain.”

You may have heard of phantom pain before.  Maybe you’ve known someone who has had a limb amputated.  Or you’ve watched an interview with a war veteran who lost an arm or a leg.  Or you follow Grey’s Anatomy and saw the episodes when Arizona was struggling after losing her leg in the plane crash. Or maybe you’ve never heard of it and just think it sounds kind of eerie.

Well, it is kind of eerie.  And not just because of its name.

“Sometimes after a body part has been amputated, it feels as if that part is still there. This is called phantom sensation. It…is not pain, but is a “tingly,” cramping, or itching feeling where the missing part used to be.

[Phantom pain, on the other hand, is painful.]  The pain feels as if it is in the part that is missing. Phantom pain…may feel like a burning, crushing, or stabbing sensation.”  [UPMC.com]

This is a roundabout way of explaining to you that despite the wide range of sensations I’ve experienced on the left side, none of these feelings have ever prompted me to pick up the phone and call the doctor because I’ve always accepted them as my new normal.

But what I’ve been experiencing recently does not feel like the pain or other sensations I’ve become accustomed to in the past three years.  It feels different.  It feels like the pain I felt before my surgery. Like the pain I was experiencing in my breast when my cancer diagnosis came 3 1/2 years ago.

Now maybe you are thinking that doesn’t really mean anything.  I don’t even have that (or any) breast anymore.  I was thinking this, too.  But then I reached under my shirt and felt the area.  In fact, I’ve repeatedly “checked” the area over the past week.

And it feels different.  Like a thickened “something.”

breast cancer young mom thirties 30s 30's mastectomy

At first I thought maybe it was swelling.  Swelling has been an issue for me since I received my first intervention — months of dose dense chemo meant to make my inoperable cancer operable.  When I was finally ready for surgery, it was a different kind of swelling.  Swelling in my arms from lymphedema.  And despite having surgical drains placed to collect excess fluid/blood that can accumulated following the surgery, in the space where the tumor was, there was a significant amount of swelling in my chest/underarm/shoulder area. While surgical drains are very common with this type of surgery, leaving them in for many weeks is not typical.  But there was so much fluid that it was necessary. Even still, I developed large seromas [a seroma is a collection of serous fluid in the dead space of post-mastectomy skin flap, axilla or breast] that necessitated trips to the surgeon’s office every 2-3 days so he could insert a long, wide needle and manually drain the fluid.

But it’s been a while since I’ve had a seroma or swelling in this particular area of my chest.  And it does not feel like swelling.  In fact, it doesn’t feel anything like what I’ve become accustomed to.

Normally when I touch the area where my left breast used to be, since the tissue and muscle are missing, I feel rib bones (or the spaces between them) through a thin layer of skin.

It’s odd, really, to go from feeling the squishy, rounded softness of your breasts, to feeling the hard, unforgiving rigidity of bone.

It’s a difficult adjustment to make.

And though you may con your brain into accepting the new “normal” day in and day out, your fingers never really forget.  Touching the area where your breast used to be is still just as jarring for your fingertips as it was in the beginning.

So when something is different…less chiseled…more flexible…softer, your fingers notice.

So it is easy to recognize when something is different or awry.

Maybe it’s nothing.  Maybe it will be fine.  It’s probably nothing.  It will probably be fine.  I haven’t even mentioned it to anyone in my life other than “you” because I’m almost sure it will be okay.

But the eerie feeling I had this past week each time my fingers were drawn to my chest was enough of an incentive enough for me to call the office of the breast specialist who diagnosed my cancer.  And it was enough to make me accept (and not cancel) an appointment for 7:30 this morning so I can find out for sure.

I will leave you with my “eerie” photos…

mastectomy drains cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com blood bilateral breast cancer

Even more eerie than fake blood is real blood… These are my mastectomy drains.

SONY DSC

halloween orange

Kevin looks for ghosts amid the cobwebs this Halloween

As always, thank you for being here.  And if you would like to participate in The Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click on this link.

IMG_9632

An Update on Frank and Nancy

***

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com clouds death loss cancer stomach chemo young

Do you remember Man of Science, Man of Faith, a story about my friends Frank and Nancy?

Frank was diagnosed with a recurrence of his cancer last month.  He was given 3 months to live.

It hasn’t been a month yet.

Three weeks ago, Frank and Nancy were still kind of hopeful.  Even I am not quite sure what I mean by this.  Maybe just that they believed Frank had some good time left and that he would surpass the three month expiration date he’d been given?

Exactly three weeks ago (a couple of days after learning about Frank’s updated diagnosis), I stood in my kitchen chopping vegetables and browning chicken for homemade chicken soup.  I was making it for Frank.   When the people I care about are sick and I feel helpless, I am compelled to make chicken soup and bring food.  I certainly felt helpless when I heard about Frank’s stomach metastasis, so out came the big soup pot.

A few hours later, when the soup was finished and packaged in big, blue glass bowls, I walked next door to Frank and Nancy’s house.  I dragged my husband along so he could deliver the large bag of organic fruits and vegetables I had picked up at the grocery store for Frank and Nancy.

I knew that Nancy would understand my response to her husband’s illness.  I knew this because she has showed up on my doorstep with food a number of times since my diagnosis.

Nancy accepted the big red bag full of produce.  But she did not want me to leave the soup.  She said that three families from her church had dropped off three different kinds of soup that weekend.

I insisted that Nancy keep the soup.  I said that they didn’t need to eat it, but that I had made it just for them, so they could freeze it or toss it, but I wanted them to have it.  I needed them to accept it.  I’m usually not this forceful, so I surprised myself with my insistence.  But they had to take it, for my sake, because I had to help in some small way.

A couple of hours later, Nancy called me to tell me that she hadn’t wanted to say anything, but Frank was only eating soft foods.  She said that he had tried the other soups but couldn’t eat them (or didn’t want to).  She told me that he tried mine and enjoyed it, including the soft vegetables and mushrooms it contained.  She said that he had even managed to finish a bowl.  She was so happy that she had to call.  And I was so touched that I felt a hard lump develop in my throat.

So two weeks ago when Nancy said that the soup was gone and she asked me to make more, I was delighted.  I was just getting over pneumonia and was so tired that it took me most of the day (with rests in between!), but I was honored that Nancy had asked.

This time I decided to roast a whole chicken.  I stood in the kitchen dressing the chicken, thinking about poor Frank and Nancy.  As I placed rosemary sprigs and a freshly cut lemon into the chicken, I recalled that day two summers ago.  Nancy had arranged a surprise 50th birthday party for Frank.  As I rubbed the herbed butter I had just made onto the chicken and under it’s breast skin, I remember how excited Nancy was.  She wanted everything to be perfect.

Nancy even went so far as to plan the party in a large and lovely space in the new town hall building — in another town a half hour away.  She didn’t want him to suspect.  She told Frank that the party he was going to was a graduation party for a girl they knew.

I was now chopping vegetables, placing them in the roasting pan beneath the chicken, and dousing them with olive oil and salt and pepper.

When Frank walked into the party room, we were all there.  His closest family and friends.  Nancy had even flown Frank’s brother and sister in from out of state.  So when he walked in and saw the fake graduation girl and noticed his own friends and family behind her, I think he was just as shocked as when everyone shouted “Surprise!”

I opened the oven and slid the roasting pan in.  It was time to start working on the soup now.

Frank was clearly surprised.  So surprised and touched that he wept.  Frank is a very tall man, so to see this tall man with a commanding presence stop in his tracks and begin crying was a moving sight.

I filled a large pot with water, chicken stock and salt and pepper, and I began washing and chopping more vegetables.

It was a great day filled with smiling and laughter.  Genuine happiness.  Nancy had done a beautiful thing for Frank.  Though she didn’t have a lot of money to spend, she made the party seem like she had a large budget to work with.  She worked hard on this day and she asked people to pitch in where they could.  She knew it was an important day.

It would come to be more important than she ever could have realized.

I gently dropped vegetables into the pot and added a touch of olive oil and seasoning to the stock.  Soon I would take the golden brown chicken from the oven and add juicy chunks of chicken and tender, roasted vegetables to the stockpot.  And then I would walk next door to Frank and Nancy’s house with my pot and with the hope that Frank would be able to eat my humble offering.

That was two weeks ago.

One week ago, Nancy said that Frank was now only able to drink the broth.

And things got progressively worse this week.  I remember hearing the distress in Nancy’s voice whenever we talked.  She was tired from worry and from caring for Frank around the clock.

And when Frank and Nancy’s son came over in need of a ride to school on a couple of the mornings (because he had missed the bus so he could help his mom take care of his dad), he was noticeably quiet.

Nancy was having trouble keeping Frank hydrated.  She was using a syringe to wet his lips and mouth.  I took Pedialyte popsicles over so she could melt them down and replenish some of his electrolytes.  But we knew they wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Despite her vigilance, Frank had also developed a bedsore.  Nancy said that the nurses had’t been caring for it, so I took a special cream over that would help to soothe it and form a barrier.  But I was afraid that it would get infected and I knew that it must be causing pain.

Early Thursday morning, the phone rang when it was still dark outside.  It was Nancy.  She said that Frank was unresponsive and that he had wet himself.  I tried to conceal how upset I was to hear this, but it was no use.  I talked to Nancy for a little while and told her I would bring some adult diapers over.  They had given me these when I was hospitalized for my hysterectomy last year and had been hemorrhaging and pads were not enough.  I was sad when I realized that I had no idea back then that they would be going to Frank.

Frank came around again that morning and was able to talk to Nancy and his kids, but I knew that these things were signs that he would be gone soon.  My guess was that day.  Frank and Nancy’s son came over for a ride to school after he helped his mom clean and diaper his dad.  He was visibly shaken.  It was heartbreaking.  He is a good kid and a good son.  I was upset that he had to experience this.  His prom was the next night and instead of worrying about what kind of corsage to get his date like his friends, he was worrying about losing his father to cancer.

The day went on and night came.  At 2 a.m., the phone rang.  I knew it was Nancy.  I picked up the phone and heard a small voice on the other end.  It was Nancy telling me that Frank had just passed.  She sounded both upset and relieved.  His pain had ended and his suffering was over.

Cancer claimed another life.

Frank was just 51.  He is survived by his loving wife, son, daughter, brand new (5-month-old) granddaughter, and a large group of friends and family who loved him.