Friday, March 22, 2013
It’s been seven weeks since my last treatment, and about five weeks since my last post. So many wonderful things have happened in the mean time. I’ll start with the health updates.
I’ve seen my surgeon and oncologist for follow-up appointments. They both gave me a clean bill of health and said to come back in three months. The surgeon told me things to watch for. He said that when breast cancer travels to other areas of the body, it usually travels to the brain, bones, lungs, or liver. I thought the things to watch for could be helpful to anyone keeping watch over their bodies for any signs of illness, so I’ll tell more about them here. Any medical professionals reading this will likely have more detailed information to add, but in lay terms, this is what I gathered from the conversation: sudden extreme change in vision or bad head aches can indicate a brain tumor, very painful bones that hurt even when you aren’t moving them can be a sign of bone cancer, constant unexplained coughing or shortness of breath can indicate lung problems, and sudden weight loss without explanation or yellowing of the eyes can indicate liver problems. So, in addition to self-exams of the breast tissue and related lymph nodes, I need to be watchful for other signs.
I read on a chat board where someone commented that breast cancer was the gift that keeps on giving. I enjoyed that comment. There seem to be several things that no one tells you about until afterwards, which is probably wise, since you don’t really have a lot of choice about it anyway, and knowing everything might be too much to carry at the time. But, for those that might be curious, I’ll go ahead and talk about a few. If you really want deeper details and know me well, then give me a call and we can talk further. Part of my armpit and about half of my under side of the arm, from the elbow to the pit is still numb. Feeling may return to some of it at some point, and some of it may stay numb forever. It doesn’t limit my mobility, so it is mainly just an odd left-over reminder. The connective tissue from my forearm to waist is constantly trying to tighten up. Twice a day I do stretches to keep it loosened up. The major shrinking will continue for about a year, but after that I will need to stretch that area daily forever, because the shrinking will continue, but more gradually.
Another thing that took me by surprise, was that my surgeon said I was now starting the most difficult part of the entire breast cancer journey……what??? I’ve been elated, and celebrating that the hard things were over with, and that is definitely how I feel. But, it was interesting to learn that for most women, after all of the treatments are over with, depression is a common challenge. In thinking about our several cross-country moves, I could relate to how this could happen. You’re in full action gear, lots to do, so many things to take care of that there is no time to really think about what is actually happening to you. It’s usually about two weeks after settling into a new place before there is time to sit down and let it sink in that you’ve just left so many friends behind and you’re in a new place where you hardly know anyone. In those situations, I’ve learned the hard way, that it is best to reach out to others from the get go. Instead of sitting in a class at church waiting for someone to come and sit by you, it’s best to look for someone sitting alone and go sit by them and introduce yourself to them. I’ve often found a new friend who has also just moved in by using this strategy. I’ve learned to invite someone over, instead of waiting for someone to invite. I’ve also learned that I’m happiest once I’m busy serving someone else. All of these things have helped me get over the blues when I’ve moved. Maybe there are too many things keeping me busy for depression to set in, but it was good to have a heads up from the doctors to watch for this challenge. I also appreciated knowing this as a friend, when someone I know is given a cancer challenge, I’ll know to check in even after the treatment is complete, to make sure all is going well. I’m doing great, so this isn’t a shout out for inquiries.
Another cause for the high occurrence of post-cancer depression for women is the hormonal drugs some of us need to take. The hormone blockers, like the one I’m on, can throw lots of things off. Thankfully, the biggest side effects I’ve experienced, so far, are hot flashes (usually at night) and “chemopause.” Again, in case you or a friend ever experience any of this, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. With no warning, you’ll go from cold and bundled up, to throwing off the covers and removing layers of sleep clothes, then about 15 minutes later, you’re freezing again. This process seems to happen two or three times a night. It has to be considered as comical, allowing you to keep a positive attitude about it. Chemopause as opposed to menopause is a great way for a woman to go through “the change.” It gets it over with quickly. Chemotherapy stops menstration, and if you’re getting close to “the change” anyway, 90% never have to worry about the monthly meanies again. Weight gain is another challenge with the hormone blocking drugs, and I’m trying to prevent that part, which they say can cause ten to twenty pounds of weight gain. Joy.
My hair continues to grow at a rapid pace. It doesn’t appear to be much longer, but that is because these curls continue to coil around and around and around. I’ve always had straight hair, so this is all a new adventure. It’s fun to experience a different look and feel. I’m learning about hair products that keep everything in place. If I brush through the curls and let them go wild, I get an afro look. If I pat my hair dry, apply gel, and let it dry naturally, then the curls tend to stay close to my head and seem less out of control. For now, I’d like to grow it out to shoulder length or so, so in the mean time, it means I need to be patient for these coils to grow long enough to give me some additional options. I’m VERY thankful to have hair again. I appreciate bad hair days over no hair days. It’s a lot warmer!
So, I’m obviously feeling much better, because I’ve rambled on and on and on. My energy is returning, but I’m also glad to know that it takes several months to hit 100%. I feel like I’m probably at 70% of my previous energy levels. Exercise makes a huge difference. I am definitely more energetic on the days I exercise. I feel so much better. At the time, I didn’t realize how crummy I was feeling, especially during chemotherapy, which was a blessing. But now, it is exciting to feel so much better and have more energy.
Sorry that the health update was so very long. So many exciting things have happened since my last update. I’ll try to be brief.
Garrett has a new position in Chicago, only 3 ½ hours away! I was able to drive up and help him get settled in his downtown apartment. He is now one of two correspondents covering the upper Midwestern states for the Fox News Channel. He works with a camera operator and a producer as they travel around to cover stories in several states. His first story aired this week (click to view, watch for the very end--my favorite part). I'm so proud of him! I'll try not to brag in future posts.
I went on a trip to Santa Barbara and met some mom friends from when I lived in California. It was my first airplane trip anywhere in ten months. It was really fun. We talked, exercised, shared ideas for volunteer work, sewed baby blankets for a cardiac unit at Children’s Hospital L.A., saw a chick flick, and ate great food.
On February 27th, we sent Heath off on his 2-year mission. He was so excited and ready. His blog is ElderHeathTenney.blogspot.com We had some really sweet moments together as a family before he left, and gave our last hugs for two years at the security checkpoint at the Indianapolis Airport. Kirsten and Weston picked him up and delivered him to the MTC. That last hug before a mission is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, even when I’ve done it before. You have to love the Lord and strongly believe in His message to part with your child for that long. It gives a parent just a tiny feel for what it must have been like for God the Father to send his son Jesus down to earth to be our example and to die for each of us so we can all live again. I can’t imagine how that must have been, knowing what all would happen to our Savior, but I’ve felt a tiny bit of that love and sacrifice with sharing sons for only two years, and it makes me love and appreciate the Father and the Son even more. I do deeply believe in the message Heath will be sharing, that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings us joy, that after Christ and his apostles were killed, over time there was a falling away and loss of priesthood authority, and that Christ’s full gospel has been restored, along with a living prophet and apostles, to guide us through the current issues and challenges in the world. I’m thankful to share Heath for two years so he can bring this message and joy to others. If you'd like to hear his message, let me know and I can send some sweet missionaries like Heath to your door, visit lds.org, or I can have my niece who's serving a mission on Temple Square give you a telephone call!