Closer to normal
Things are slowly getting back to normal – a “new” normal that involves numerous doctors appointments and people constantly asking me how I am doing! I’ve regained a lot of strength, although my poor legs are only coming along slowly. On Thursday, I managed to climb our stairs with an armful of groceries. This was a major accomplishment. I was wheezing and aching by the time I got to the top, but I managed to get there. It’s just silly to me that I can’t do this. We’ve lived in this house for five years and there is no way to get in or out without using stairs. So, I usually “do” stairs. It’s hard to believe that chemo can tear you down like this.
My feet are still numb. I actually try not to think about it because I’m scared it’s not going to go away. I think it feels better every day, but it’s hard to tell. Right now, the big toe and the one next to it on my right foot are a little numb. Most of the rest of that foot feels OK, although the skin all over always feels like it is too cold (not to the touch; like in a numb sense.) The left foot, which has always been worse, has some numbness all over. All of my toes have some numbness or tingling. I actually can’t feel the four small ones at all. And there are various spots of a feeling of “nothing” all over the bottom of that foot.
A woman who finished chemo recently said her feet look like she’s been walking on a cheese grater. I would have to say that’s pretty accurate. I told Troy tonight it looks like I have the worst case of athlete’s foot ever. Skin is dry, flaky, peeling … and most of all in the spots that are the most numb. It’s all very strange.
Of course, the biggest problem with this is that it’s seriously affecting my balance. I’m constantly grabbing things because I lose my balance. I’m afraid to get on a treadmill. I’ve been walking to the bus stop to get Colleen, so I’m starting to feel more confident about my walking abilities. However, it really makes my calves ache to walk at all. I can’t decide if this is because I haven’t used my muscles much or just some side effect of chemo. I hope it’s the chemo because it aches so much I’m going to have a tough time psychologically “pushing past” this in order to get my calves back to normal. It’s an achy feeling like when you have the flu and your joints and muscles ache. So, it just feels wrong … not like exercise.
Also, the nerves in my feet have me jumping around in a few ways. I frequently feel like a spider or ant is running across my foot. Even though I wear socks (because my feet are also always cold), I still jump up or kick my feet to try to get these imaginary spiders off me. Yesterday, I almost made Troy wreck the car when I freaked out because I thought a bee was trapped against my foot, buzzing. It wasn’t a bee. Just my nerves. Finally, I keep finding myself with my legs jumping around, much like what I think restless leg syndrome is like. I wonder if the achiness in my calves has something to do with this. I’m definitely wearing myself out with the leg bouncing.
Of course, I would take all of this over chemo again!
This week, I got scheduled for consultations with two plastic surgeons. I’m tentatively on the schedule for surgery for Oct. 25, but that can’t be finalized until I pick my plastic surgeon. Unless I run away and start a new life before then, I’ll be having a mastectomy and reconstruction. I keep getting asked the following questions, so I’m going to answer them here for all the people who aren’t brave enough to ask.
Are you having both removed?
No. Single mastectomy. It’s the right side.
I thought you were having chemo so you wouldn’t have to have a mastectomy?
No. I had chemo because of my tumor size and the tumor markers (progesterone and estrogen receptor positive). Also, my age. They tend to give chemo more often to younger women. My original surgery (a lumpectomy) was unsuccessful. Usually, when this happens, you go back in as soon as possible (which may be 2-6 weeks depending on the situation) and try again – either by removing more tissue (called a re-excision) or by having a mastectomy. After consulting with several doctors, I chose to have chemo before having this second surgery with possibility that we could do a re-excision. Well, in the meantime, my breast healed from the original surgery. It is at least a cup size smaller than my other breast and has other problems. If I had a re-excision, the doctor would have to excise the whole area that was originally operated on and take out almost as much tissue as before. At that point, I would likely be left with a B (or A 1/2) and D cup. To further aggravate the problem, I’d then have to do radiation, which shrivels tissue more. See the problem there? With a mastectomy, I’m hoping to avoid radiation, too, because I’ve had enough treatment side effects to last a couple of lifetimes. (If I have to have radiation, I’m going to be really angry at the world. Stand back.)
Why not have both removed?
I’m considering it, though not at this time. Funny thing about cancer treatment – the best chance of not having a recurrence is to remove ALL the tissue the cancer can grow on. (Yeah, we are SO advanced with cancer treatment.) Removing the one breast gives me a 75% chance of survival. Chemo adds about 7%. Tamoxifen (a drug) adds about 8%. Although it’s not definite in younger women, the prevailing medical opinion is that removing both breasts is more of a “peace of mind” issue, unless you have positive genes (at which point it’s highly recommended to get a bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy). I, thank goodness, did not test positive for the gene markers. So, for now, I’m not removing both (and none of my doctors have suggested it) because I would like to keep what feeling I can and have the option of breastfeeding in the future.
But wouldn’t it be great to have a new set of boobs?
Well, for starters, I was fine with the old ones. Since I’m forced to deal with this, though, I’ve had to consider it. However, here’s what a lot of people don’t seem to realize with a mastectomy and reconstruction – you have no feeling. Nothing. In fact, they tattoo nipples on you a few months later and don’t use anesthesia. Yeah, that’s right, you have tattooed nipples. Reconstruction is also a major surgery that often involves moving muscles from your back or your stomach to build the new breast. It’s a whole different ballpark from a breast lift or enlargement (although those are major, too). When you are “just” getting implants (and you don’t have cancer), you get to keep your nipples, you usually get to keep your nerve endings and you usually get to keep your ability to breastfeed. In a mastectomy, that all goes because they remove your nipple and ever bit of tissue under the skin. I will probably have to have some kind of work done on the unaffected side so I can get a matched size. I would like to skip this, but I think my large breasts are going to make that impossible. It’s hard to get beyond a C cup in reconstruction. And now, I just got picked up by porn search engines because I said “large breasts” in my blog.
How long will the recovery take?
The surgery is something like 14-16 hours. I’ll be in the hospital at least overnight. I’ll be wearing these funky drains for a few weeks (completely gross). I’ve heard of people going back to work as early as two weeks. My doctor says people typically go back after four or six weeks.
I’ll keep you posted as things develop!