Thursday, December 30, 2010

A bump in the road of progress

While the initial results of my surgery were good, I managed to overdo shortly afterward. (Hey, you're alive, you feel pretty good so you start trying to catch up with all the tasks you’ve neglected.) The result was half a dozen small hematomas (lumps under the top layers of skin where clotted blood collects in hard, painful lumps.) They are the reason you don’t want to take aspirin before surgery or even very soon afterward as aspirin stops up blood vessels, forcing more blood to pool in the injured area causing the hematoma to grow and grow and grow. (A fine example is at : Most of mine were small, but there was one walnut-sized lump in my armpit. It underlay the incision for the sentinel node biopsy and every kind of bra sat right on top of the incision and every movement of my arm chafed and irritated the lump even more. Can you say %$&@$#?

Nonetheless, on December 13, I flew to Colorado. With the wonderfully generous help and support of my (and Mom’s friend) Jean Gray, who left her home in Haxtun to come to Fort Morgan and help me sort and box belongings, we got through the sad activities of closing Mom’s life.

As I was getting ready for bed the evening after Jean had returned home, I took off my shirt and saw a hematoma the size of a lemon that had turned a mottled streaky red. I freaked. I got in the rental car and raced to the emergency room at the Ft. Morgan Medical Center. There, three lovely women (two nurses and the night shift doctor) calmed me down, wrapped my breasts and my hematoma in 12 feet of Ace bandages, and assured me I would live.

And I did.

As of this writing, the hematoma is the size of a marble.

Yesterday was the one month anniversary of my surgery and I had an appointment with my surgeon who had performed the partial mastectomy. He examined me for about 30 seconds, nodded positively and OK'd my moving on to the oncology doctors.

Soon will be decisions on radiation, drugs and possible chemotherapy. But that’s then -- for now, I am grateful for feeling as well as I do.

Thank you for your cards and messages and loving support and encouragement. The kindness of so many this past month has kept me afloat.


P.S. More good news: My eye is healing from the retinal tear repair. The white is still a rabbity tint and I get peripheral flashing lights in darkness, but I have lost only a modest amount of visual acuity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bad things happen in threes

Since my breast cancer has been the most eventful thing that has happened to me in years (I live a blissfully routine life), I wanted to give a blow by blow account of every step of the journey. And maybe I will later, but for now I will skip many of the painful details so I can let you know the outcome of my surgeries and what comes next.

I had a partial mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy a week ago, Monday, November 29. (Eight hours in the hospital, two in surgery, general anesthetic). I had moderate pain in the wound sites and a difficult intense burning sensation in the nerve that runs the length of the armpit on the body side (akin to a blow torch running up and down the skin). The doc weaseled when he talked about that pain. “Well, it may resolve itself in time.” Ouch. It hasn’t yet!

Anyway, I made good progress. I was up and about and off pain pills by Thursday when it was such a beautiful day here, almost 70 degrees (unheard of considering it had been 9 degrees just 5 days earlier!) I spent several hours out-of-doors soaking in some Vitamin D, but noticed something odd; I had lots of new cobwebby floaters in my left eye. I attributed it to being in bright sun light for the first time in days. But that night, as I was getting ready for bed, all kinds of bright, almost fluorescent flashes of light kept blinking on and off in the corner of my left eye.

Since I have glaucoma in that one eye, I knew something was amiss. Early the next morning I called my ophthalmologist in the Valley (he only visits up here once a week). His office got me into another eye doc’s office in Show Low that morning. As a result of that exam, I was diagnosed with a retinal tear. The upshot: Bob and I were scheduled to make the 3 ½ hour drive to Phoenix the next day, Saturday, where I would have emergency laser eye surgery (a procedure done to head off the far more serious and incredibly painful detached retina.) We would have to head directly back afterward because Bob had to deliver newspapers that morning.

Well, have you ever seen a copy of the Edvard Munch painting The Scream? I confess that when we got back in the car from the diagnostic exam I lost my composure. All I could do was sit there and open my mouth without any coherent sound coming out, just squeaks and blubbers. I was so overcome with all that was happening to us.

Bob calmed me down. He took me to lunch at my favorite Mexican place (La Casita) where I had the world’s best green chile and refried beans. Fortified, we headed off to Dr. Waldo’s office where I was to get the results of the partial mastectomy and node biopsy. This was what it was all about. Did they get the cancer it time?

On the way, I remembered the old cliché, “They say ‘bad things happen in threes.’ This eye situation is number three. That’s just got to mean I’ll get a good report from the surgeon.”

And I did.

The sentinel node biopsy showed no cancer. That rules out the spread of this cancer to other places in my body. And while Dr. Waldo, my breast surgeon, said there were cancer cells present at the site of the earlier lumpectomy (done way last month), he removed them and excised another 3 mm of tissue from one side of where it had been and 1.5 mm from the other side. Neither of those samples showed a presence of cancer. It’s what’s known as a clear or clean margin. Dr. Waldo summarized by saying, “In my mind, your breast is negative for cancer.”

I trust Dr. Waldo. He is not a guy that sugar coats anything. When I asked him if he cured my cancer he said, “Probably not. You’ll have to remain vigilant the rest of your life.”

In a month or so, when I am fully healed from these operations, I will start a five-week course of daily radiation treatments. There’s also the chance that the next doctors I consult after that (the oncology guys) will recommend some kind of drug treatments or chemotherapy. That will be a tough decision.

But for now I am confident I have bought a normal healthy life for another solid decade or maybe even two.

My eye looks scary, but the doctor said that procedure went perfectly. Life is good.

I so appreciate the love and concern you have showered me with.

Love to all,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mom's obituary (it's pretty cool)

For a brief account of my mom's death, see my previous post.

For those of you who knew Mom, here is her obituary as it appeared in the Haxtun, Colorado newspaper. I think you'll agree, my friend (and Mom's), Jean Gray, editor and publisher of The Haxtun-Fleming Herald did a wonderful write-up. And Mom got a whole page outside of the church directory. It pays to have friends in high places!