Tag: breast cancer

No Hill For a Climber, March Progress

Today is March 18,  seventy two days have passed since Loraine’s double mastectomy and she still has not healed enough to begin her radiation treatments. She had been healing just fine until a staph infection reared its ugly head and her radiation treatments had to be put on hold. After a course of strong antibiotics and weekly visits to a wound care specialist, we find ourselves now facing yet another infection. This one came as much or more of surprise than the first one had. Each week her open wound has been checked by the wound care specialist. He would cut out dead fatty tissue along with a tissue called fibrin. Fibrin is a corrupt matrix of cells which must be removed in order to facilitate healthy healing of a wound. Thankfully, Loraine has started her daily hormone treatments despite the delay in her radiation treatments which we had been hoping would begin in the next couple weeks. Now, we await lab reports so that she can begin another round of antibiotics. Oh the joy…

The last half dozen months have been such a learning experience for Loraine and I both. There is so much information that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis that it is extremely difficult for every topic to be covered, and for you to actually be able to absorb it all. It will make your mind spin round and round. It is our sincerest hope that by my writing about our shared experience as a man and wife, that we can help others in their difficult journey too. One thing which we never knew about before hand is it is not uncommon after a bilateral mastectomy for a woman to suffer pain in her sternum. When you ask about pain after breast cancer, you might get a vague answer, Loraine has. For some  women, sternum pain is a normal part of recovery.  This is true for many women, but not for all. For those experiencing sternum pain after breast cancer, Costocondritis may be to blame.

What is Costocondritis? 

Costocondritis is inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone. Also known as anterior chest wall pain, Costocondritis causes discomfort in the chest wall around the breastbone (or sternum) and sometimes is severe. Loraine experiences pain ranging from mild to severe. The pain wakes her from sleep quite often.

Costochondritis is a common problem in women who have been affected by breast cancer and acts up in a similar way to arthritis. The pain may be mild to severe with tenderness over the anterior chest and may radiate to the back, shoulders, stomach or arms. Pain is often aggravated with coughing, lifting, straining, sneezing and deep breathing. Flare ups can be triggered by over-working your arms, lifting, sweeping, or over extending. Pain can be constant or intermittent and can last for several days to multiple months or years.

We never heard about Costochondritis anytime before her surgery, and Loraine has not yet been diagnosed with it. Her pain could also be simply from all the manipulation of pectoral muscle tissues being pulled and stretched during surgery. We hope and pray her pain is resolved soon, my poor wife has been through so much already…

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No Hill For a Climber, Fighting To Heal

Loraine and I truly hope that by telling our story of her battle against breast cancer that we may help others who may be facing the same. There is a plethora of things about this terrible disease that we had no clue about, every day seems to be a learning experience. With what seems to be every day, we are faced with new challenges that we never dreamed of in the past.

Nothing about breast cancer treatment ever seems to move at the speed we wish it would. Even though from the time of diagnosis until Loraine’s double mastectomy was only a couple months, those months seemed to drag on and on, you just want to get that shit out in order to begin further treatments. Yet, further treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy cannot begin until a woman has healed from her mastectomy. Loraine’s underwent her mastectomy on January 6th, it is now February 27th and we have no earthly idea when her radiation treatments can begin as she is not fully healed as a result of the infection which had set in quite deeply at her left incision.

Loraine still has a ugly, angry looking hole in her chest that seems to be getting bigger by the day. Literally, you could place a small stack of quarters into this hole, it is scary looking and not something anyone who is squeamish could adequately care for. The good news is, it is actually not infected any longer. We went to Saint Luke’s today for wound care, the doctor was out sick with the flu, but the two awesome nurses who have been involved in Loraine’s wound care were still able to clean the wound out and dress it. They told us that despite how ugly it looks, it is common that deep wounds like this can appear to be uglier before they get better as the underlying and exposed fatty tissue has to die off before healthy skin tissue begins to grow back over the hole. The surrounding skin and underlying tissue looks healthy, Loraine has been on antibiotics and we clean and dress her wound every day. Apparently we are doing a good job. What looks like puss to her and I is actually the dying fatty tissue which we have been removing every day after she has bathed. I wash out the wound with sterile saline solution, remove the dead fatty tissue and then repack it with a collagen and silver dissolvable packing called Prisma, then re-bandage the wound until the next day when we repeat the process.

Loraine had a visit with her medical oncologist last week. Dr. Satteli had her go ahead and at least begin her hormonal treatments since there was no need for further waiting on this course of treatments that will last the rest of Loraine’s life. Dr. Satteli suggested a skin graft may be necessary to get the wound fully healed in order to begin the radiation treatments. I have to wonder if that would heal her any faster than waiting on natural healing. I really hope Loaine does not have to undergo another surgical procedure anytime soon, it seems she has been through enough already. I will be getting answers for this question Tuesday when we go back to see the wound care doctor, hopefully he will no longer be sick next week.

Cancer is a tiresome bitch. While we are very optimistic that Loraine is going to beat this, every day can still be a grind. Doctors appointments every week so far, and there will be many more going into the future. We have had daily wound drain care for the first three weeks after her mastectomy, and now we have daily care of this wound created by the infection. Thank God I have good insurance to cover a good portion of our expenses that we have incurred thus far. Each day we get up and are thankful for the life we have, even with these kinds of setbacks. We know there are others out there who have life much harder than we. We know from experience that you can never take your good health or life for granted, all can change on the drop of a dime. Therefore you must live a humble and grateful life and appreciate all the blessings which do come your way. Cancer is a bitch without a doubt, but it has also introduced us to some of the most caring people we have ever met. We can always look up at a cloudy sky and get down and out because of a gloomy day. But we can also look up at that cloudy sky with the knowledge that soon, the sun will be burning back through to give us the days we can fully enjoy. I love the old adage about how some can view a glass of water as half empty or half full depending on their perspective. What many of those people miss, is that same glass is refillable. We fight the good fight each and every day. The best rewards in life come from the hardest fought battles.

Be healthy and well, never let life take you down without first giving it a good hard fight.

No Hill For a Climber, The Infection

Hurry up and wait!

It appears we will be in this holding pattern for maybe the next couple of months until Loraine has healed from her mastectomy enough to begin her radiation treatments. She has had a set back with a deep infection to her incision that was discovered by the wound care specialist that Dr. Butler had referred her to a few weeks back. For all intents and purposes, Loraine’s healing appeared to be coming along fine, there was some dead skin at the incision site, but that was not unexpected and did not look abnormal to either the surgical or medical oncologists that had been seeing her. Dr. Butler, the surgical oncologist thought it would be a good idea to have some of the dead flesh removed by the wound care specialist, Dr. Matson, solely as a precautionary measure to facilitate a speedier healing process. There were no indications of a deep infection from the outside when Loraine went to see Dr. Matson, therefore it was quite the surprise to find out there was actually a very significant infection brewing under the surface within the deep tissues. Visually, there was no indication of redness, swelling, pus or any type of foul smelling discharges from her incisions. We had thought radiation treatments would be able to be started within the next couple of weeks. It is just another thing learned when dealing with breast cancer I guess..

It has been about 4 weeks ago that Dr. Butler prescribed Loraine Silvadene which is a cream that is supposed to help prevent and treat wound infections. She prescribed this solely as a preventive measure as there were no indications of infections in Loraine’s incisions. We applied this cream daily after Loraine’s showers before applying new bandages over the incisions. It turns out that Silvadene is not a medicated cream that Dr. Matson thinks should be used on these types of wounds as according to him, it inhibits the healing process instead of helping it along. When Dr. Matson cut away the dead skin from Loraine’s incision, there was a very foul smell and a bunch of pus lying underneath. He told Loraine to quit using the Silvadene and to now use SilvaSorb on the site instead. He told Loraine that he wished doctors would not prescribe the use of Silvadene on these types of wounds as it slows healing. I only bring this up, not because I think Dr. Butler was wrong in prescribing the Silvadene in the first place, but to give you information to bear in mind should you ever be presented the same situation. You might want to inquire whether the doctor means one or the other, since the names are so similar and the the two medications are both silver based and do similar jobs. Breast cancer, or any type cancer for that matter, is a great learning experience as you will be faced with so many unknowns. While we always knew infection was a possibility, we did not expect the extent of this one Loraine has been hit with. Dealing with this type of thing is not for the timid or those with a weak stomach. Whether you are prepared or not, these types of things just have to be dealt with in the home.

I have to admit, the first dressing change after the dead skin from Loraine’s incision was cut away revealing the infection was tough. There is a hole that you could fit a quarter into that is at least one fourth of an inch deep. The underlying muscle tissue is exposed along with fatty tissue and pus which must be cleaned out with sterile saline solution before applying SilvaSorb ointment and new bandages. I do not have difficulties in seeing sights like this on others, yet seeing it on the love of my life was quite hard. Changing these dressings and nursing the wounds is not a job for the squeamish at all. Once I clean out the pus, I find myself scared to death of causing Loraine any type of pain as I spread the SilvaSorb into that deep pit. Loraine has dealt with serious infections and bedsores in her work as a home health care attendant, but this was too much for her to bear looking at. Therefore, nightly dressing changes has been my job before leaving to work in the evenings. I can’t blame her one bit.

Today’s visit with the wound care doctor.

I took Loraine to see Dr. Matson this morning to have the wound looked at. The doctor took measurements and pictures which were entered into her records and compared with last weeks. Fortunately, the wound is a little smaller yet still has a long way to go before being fully healed enough for her to begin radiation treatments. After  the measurements and pictures were taken, he then cut away dead fatty tissue and debrided the wound. Thankfully, they used a good numbing gel and Loraine does not have full feeling there yet, It looked painful. And then, smart guy me, I just had to stand where I could watch and did not notice that I was standing on the seat controls that raise, lower and leans the seat. I felt like a real goober when the doctor looked at me and told me I was standing on the control. I was so enthralled with watching the procedure that I did not notice the seat was rising as he was trying to work on her. He was friendly enough, but I know it probably had to chap his ass this happened. I know it would mine. Lesson learned is to keep my ass back. Once he was through with debriding the wound, the nurse packed it with a new medicine that he wants her to use instead of the SilvaSorb. This looks kind of like a bandage except it dissolves when in the wound. It is a collagen and silver based medicine. I hope we see more healing next week, the week after and after…

Most women do not get infections after mastectomy.

From BreastCancer.org

  • More than 1 in 20 women (a little higher than 5%) developed an infection at the site of the incision after breast surgery.
  • The risk of infection was different depending on the type of surgery that was being done:
    • 4% for mastectomy with no reconstruction
    • 12% for surgery with implant reconstruction
    • 7% for reconstruction surgery using skin and/or muscle from the belly area
    • 1% for breast reduction surgery

When you are preparing yourself for a surgical procedure, odds are you are only thinking of getting fixed, or getting your diseased parts removed from your body. There is an overwhelming amount of emotions that will flood your mind when dealing with breast cancer, it is almost impossible to think of everything you might need to ask the doctors involved in your care team. If surgery is a part of your treatment for breast cancer and you’re concerned about the possibility of infection, talk to your doctor about:

  • How often infections occur after the type of surgery you’re having in the hospital you’ll be using.
  • How that infection rate compares to the infection rate at other area hospitals.
  • The possibility of your surgery being done as an outpatient procedure or with a short hospital stay after surgery. Many infections after surgery happen because of germs in the hospital environment.
  • The steps that will be taken before, during, and after surgery to reduce the risk of infection. For example, some doctors recommend that people scheduled for surgery use a special washing procedure before coming to the hospital. Other doctors may prescribe antibiotics before or during surgery to lower the risk of infection.

It’s important to remember that most women having breast surgery will NOT develop an infection. If an infection does develop, it usually can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Together, you and your doctor can develop a plan that is the best for YOU.

No Hill For a Climber, Radiologist Visit

Stand down from the Alert 5!

Most of my military career was spent in Naval Aviation, nine of those years in helicopter squadrons with Search and Rescue missions which meant that we were always at a heightened state of readiness – Alert 5, Alert 15, and Alert 30. These alerts are the time we would have from receiving word to launch our alert aircraft until they had to actually be airborne. Alert 5 being the highest state of readiness meant we would have 5 minutes from getting the order to launch and getting an aircrew in the air for a rescue mission or to respond to hostile situations. Alert 30 was a more relaxed readiness posture, but you still had to be prepared for the worse case scenarios to arise. Cancer is like being on an alert status, it keeps you on edge because this evil disease can ramp up and down with a swiftness…

Loraine and I got up this morning still under an Alert 5 status in our heads. Her radiology appointment was this morning, so while we were excited to be getting an idea of what her treatments would be, there was still the trepidation of venturing into the unknown. I have said that cancer can take you on an emotional roller coaster ride, but in between those rides there is little down time in our house as we also having been caring for Loraine’s brother Howard for the last year. Howard has Hepatitis C, advanced cirrhosis of the liver along with liver cancer to boot. With two in the house with cancer, we have our hands full. Just when that emotional roller coaster we are on creeps back into the loading station, it launches again before ever coming to a complete stop.

To help ease the stress this morning I made us a special breakfast of steel cut oats cooked with Saigon cinnamon, nutmeg, and  ginger. I added butter and Swerve brown sugar substitute to the oats and then drizzled a little sugar free maple syrup over the top. This would have been even better if I would have had some chopped pecans to add to it.

Once Loraine and I had eaten, we ventured off to Kansas City to meet Dr. Boersma, the radiology doctor who will be doing Loraine’s radiation treatments.  Once there, we were taken back to an exam room almost  immediately by a wonderful nurse who spoke very glowingly about the doctor. This kind woman really helped to settle our nerves by filling us in on as much information as she could. We are so thankful for all the thoughtful doctors and nurses we have encountered thus far.

The treatment plan.

Dr. Melisa Boersma gave me a good vibe as soon as she entered the examination room. My thoughts that she was truly down to earth was solidified when I noticed that she was wearing cowboy boots. Having lived in many different places, I know the idea of a woman wearing cowboy boots might sound strange, but here in the fly over country of the American mid-west, this is a  sign that you are dealing with a straight shooter who has a very kind soul.

After an examination of Loraine’s incisions, Dr. Boersma began discussing the treatment plan on her part. It could not be said exactly when radiation treatments can begin because as of that moment, we still had not received word on the OncoType test results. Additionally, chemotherapy, if required would have to be completed before radiation can begin. But at least we now know how this part of her treatment will be done.

Loraine will be undergoing External Beam Radiation treatments. It is amazing how far medical science has come with computer technology. For all the times, I have thought technology is advancing too fast, I am also very thankful we have brilliant people who have been able to figure these things out. On her first treatment visit, there will not be any radiation involved. The first visit will be a dry run where the doctor and her technicians essentially get Loraine and the equipment all calibrated to each other in order for the radiation beam to be focused exactly where it needs to be with each and every visit that will be five days per week for six weeks in duration once they begin.

As custom motorcycle builders will create a jig in order to build frames that have true alignment, Doctor Boersma is essentially creating a jig for Loraine.  To do this, Loraine will get three small tattooed dots in specific locations in order to get her body properly aligned for treatment. These tattoo’s will be nothing more than permanent marker points where steel beads will be stuck as guidance points for placement with a CT scan. Once the beads are in place, she will be placed into a CT Scan machine where the team can position her body. Her body will be in the exact same position with each treatment, there will be zero deviations of positioning, all the reference points will be stored in a computer for each use that is specific to Loraine.

Following what I will call the initial set up visit, Loraine will receive the treatments that are essentially like a powerful x-ray. Getting her positioned and the equipment set up will take longer than the procedure itself.  The total time for each treatment visit is scheduled for only fifteen to twenty minutes maximum. Once her treatment is done for the day, she will be able to return to work. I’m sure her gracious employer will be happy about that! Prestige Home Health Care is owned by a wonderful couple, I cannot speak highly enough for them.

With external beam radiation there are very few side effects to be expected. There may be a decline in appetite, and a general feeling of fatigue, but this is not a sure thing. What is to be expected is once the course of treatments are coming to an end, there will be some skin irritation much like a sunburn. The doctor told us, this is actually a good sign that the radiation treatment is going as planned and the beam is hitting it’s target every time. There are a couple creams available to help with this, one being aloe vera based. Essentially, she might need a glorified sunburn ointment.

Dr. Boersma was very thorough and answered all of our questions. We left feeling good about the treatments, but still had the question hanging over our heads about whether or not chemo or hormonal treatments would be the order of the day. After the visit we were able to relax our posture to an Alert 15 status. We were able to rest a little easier but the doctor visits were not over for the day, we still had to do a follow up visit with Dr. Butler so she could examine the incisions once again.

Alert 30 Assumed!

After a brief nap, Loraine and I began our drive over to see Dr Butler. On our way there, we got a call from the medical oncologist, Dr. Satelli, who gave Loraine the good word we have been waiting for.

Praise God above, our prayers were answered!

The OncoType test results are back and Loraine will be able to undergo hormonal therapy treatments rather than having to do chemo-therapy! Of course we are not out of the woods yet, but this is great news for us. Chemo is such an ugly treatment with all the sickness involved. Being real about it, chemo is akin to poisoning the body to kill off cancer cells. Chemo kills cancer and healthy cells alike. The difference being that cancer cells cannot repair themselves as healthy cells are able to. We are very thankful that Loraine will not have to go through such an ugly treatment protocol. The next part of this good news is the hormonal treatments can be given at the same time as radiation treatments. She does not have to wait much longer now for treatments to begin! All that is required now is Loraine needs to be fully healed from the surgery, and she is getting there.

Once at Dr. Butler’s office, she examined Loraine and as a precautionary measure recommended she see a wound care specialist for her incision. The incisions are healing fine, but with some of the dead skin that comes from a flap type wound, she wants a wound care specialist to trim back some of the dead skin and to give her specialized ointments to help with further healing. The last bit of good news for the day is Dr. Butler released Loraine to return to work once she has seen the wound care specialist. With radiation and hormonal treatments, my dear wife can be able to get her life back to as normal as possible under the circumstances. She will be able to work during these treatments, where should she have had to undergo chemo-therapy, there is no way she could have worked. My sweet wife has been a hard worker her entire life, and she is not one to ever sit still. I cannot help but to believe that with the grace of God, and life returning back to normal, she is going to kick this third cancer in the butt good and hard. Loraine is a fighter, she is a damn tough woman. She will prevail in this fight!

We are so thankful and blessed.

We are so thankful and proud of how our daughter Jennifer and our three beautiful granddaughters have come through during this time of need. They have brought meals to us that we can heat in the crock pot to ease our stress. And, to keep Grandma’s spirits high, they have been making arts and crafts together. I love seeing my girls enjoying each other the way they have been. I only wish our daughter Molly and  granddaughter Nishi were here too. As it is, Loraine gets calls daily from Germany, we know that if they were closer, they would be here too.

In life, we can be knocked down. Then to add insult to injury, we can be kicked before we get back up. Sometimes cancer can feel like a steel toed boot smashing into the ribs when you are down. But, the pain of cancer is greatly mitigated by a faith in God, and the loving support of family and friends. To all who have checked in on us, and kept us in your thoughts and prayers, we love each and every one of you. God bless, and thank you for reading.

David

No Hill For a Climber, First Oncologist Visit

“Hurry up and wait!”

“Hurry up and wait” has been a military mantra that has existed since the beginning of time. I had hoped when I retired from the military that I had left that mindset permanently behind me, Hell no, it appears that “hurry up and wait” also applies to the medical community when it comes to dealing with cancer.

A lump, or abnormality is found during a routine doctor visit – hurry up and wait to get in for a mammography.

Mammography confirms the presence of a lump – hurry up and wait to get a biopsy done.

The biopsy has been completed and the pathology reports are returned – hurry up and wait for a mastectomy which is performed by a breast oncology surgeon.

The mastectomy was expertly performed, which is followed by three weeks of more waiting in order to hurry up and see another oncologist on the treatment team for a treatment plan.

We saw the oncologist today to learn we will be waiting for more pathology testing to be done and treatment will have to wait until Loraine has fully healed from her mastectomy. And now, we also have to wait a short time to see the radiologist who will be doing the radiation treatments that are necessary before either chemo or hormone treatments.

There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” when it comes to cancer. While the diagnosis is scary as hell and you want the cancer removed and or treated “right now”, it does not work this way. All this being said, Loraine’s cancer treatment team of doctors and nurses are phenomenal. I am only relating this information to you in order that you can know before hand, should God forbid you ever receive a cancer diagnosis, that there is a process that has to be followed. Treatment is not done right away, surgeries have to be completely healed, pathology’s have to be completed. Successful treatment requires that all the proverbial ducks are in a row, and none are straying. We want answers and treatments right now, there is a fear that comes with not knowing what the future holds. The “not knowing” can make time stand still when you have to “hurry up and wait” between visits with the treatment team. As afraid as we might be, we have to place our trust in the wisdom of the physicians involved. Our sense of urgency is obviously going to be high, but the professionals on the treatment team see these kinds of things every day when they report to work. I am quite thankful to say, Loraine and I are completely comfortable with her treatment team, and they have our full trust that they are going to take excellent care of her.

After a biopsy has been performed, a pathologist examines the tissue microscopically to check for cancer. The pathologist will make a report that provides information that helps to describe the breast cancer and helps you and your oncologist to make decisions regarding your treatment options.  The pathologist helps to determine the stage of the cancer by a system called TNM: the T describes the type and size of the tumor; N is for the number of lymph nodes that have cancer present, and the letter M signifies that cancer has spread outside of the breast and regional lymph nodes. The pathologist also determines several characteristics of the breast cancer that help the oncologist to formulate treatment options and make predictions about the risk of spread. These include hormone receptor status, tumor grade, growth rate, margin status and HER-2 expression (normal versus over-expression).

Loraine’s breast cancer is a ductal carcinoma  which means it originated in a milk duct. Her cancer involves Non-invasive (In situ) and Invasive cells. The tumor was 3.8 cm, or about the size of a golf ball. For a better understanding of the two types of cells:

Non-invasive (In situ) cancer cells stay inside the milk ducts or milk lobules in the breast. These cells did not spread into or invade normal breast tissues.

Invasive which most cancers are, break through the small area where they start and then venture into normal breast tissue or other areas around the breast. Sometimes, these cells spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic system.

Because the margins were negative, it appears no more surgery will be required. Good lord I hope not. As Loraine likes to joke – never take a nap at Saint Luke’s North, they steal body parts from you…

Tumor Grade

Tumor grade compares cancer cells to normal breast cells, Based on the comparisons, a “grade” is given to the cancer. Note: The “grade” is not the “stage”.

Grade 1 (low grade or well diferentiated) These cancer cells still look like normal cells. These cancers tend to be slow growing.

Grade 2 (Intermediate/moderate grade or moderately differentiated) These cancer cells do not look like normal cells. They appear to be faster growing and they tend to stick together.

Grade 3 (High grade or poorly differentiated) These cancer cells have irregular shapes and and stick together. They tend to be fast growing.

Loraine’s cancer is “Grade” 2

Lymph Node Status

Loraine’s cancer has spread to one lymph node and these cells have extra-capsular extension which means the cells were coming outside the lymph node.

Whether or not you have cancer cells in the lymph nodes which drain from the breast is one of the most important pieces of information about the risk of cancer spreading. In general, negative lymph node status is better than positive, and a low number of positive nodes is better than a higher number.

Hormone Receptor Status

Loraine is positive for both Estrogen and Progesterone.

Normal breast tissue has receptors for estrogen and progesterone. A breast cancer that is hormone receptor positive for either Estrogen or Progesterone means you may benefit from hormonal therapy. Most hormonal therapy is in the form of oral drugs. A breast cancer that is negative for Estrogen and Progesterone will not benefit from hormonal therapy.

HER-2 (neu) Expression Status

HER-2 is a promoter gene that helps control how cells grow, divide and repair themselves. Twenty five percent of breast cancers over-express HER-2 and these tumors tend to grow faster and have a greater likelihood to metastasize. Loraine’s IHC, or ImmunoHistoChemistry test came out negative. This is a good thing!

Where we are right now.

Surgery has been completed with the removal of both breasts in their entirety. Loraine is in high spirits and is healing nicely, my dear wife is a tough one! Being as the cancer has spread to a lymph node, radiation is a given for the next step in this journey. However, no treatments can begin until she has fully healed from the mastectomy.

Tissue has been sent to a lab in California for further analysis, or testing called OncotypeDX. Once this testing has been completed, we will know for sure whether she can receive hormonal treatment or if she will have to endure chemotherapy. Hopefully she will only have to do the hormone treatments. If you have never heard of hormone treatment here is how it works in layman’s terms: Cancerous cells that have formed because of Estrogen are unlike normal tissue cells. Think of a normal tissue cell like you would a room in your home with maybe one or two doors leading into it, you have better control over who or what enters that room. Cancer cells that are a result of hormones, are akin to that same room in your home except that it now has several open doors allowing bad players to invade your space as they please. The hormonal treatment cuts off the hormone production which then slams all those damn open doors closed to the bad guys. The bad guys will find themselves evicted with hormone treatment.

Physical Therapy

Tomorrow morning we will head to the physical therapist office for Loraine’s first therapy session and also to pick up her compression sleeves. Unfortunately, she will likely need to wear compression sleeves the rest of her life in order to prevent lymphedema from occurring in her arms and hands. This is a risk anytime lymph nodes have been removed. The other component to combating lymphedema is a healthy diet and weight loss, and then weight management along with light exercise.

We still have many days of “hurry up and wait” ahead of us, but the future should be less stressful as we are now armed with more information that we had been. The not knowing, second guessing, predicting outcomes and everything else that comes from a lack  of full knowledge is maddening to say the least. Hopefully now our stress levels will continue to drop as we lean forward and drive on.

To all our family, friends and others who have expressed their love and support, we are eternally grateful to each and every one of you. God bless, and thank you for reading.

 

No Hill For a Climber, Fight Back Damn It!

Cancers of all types are an evil bitch that will destroy your quality of life and rob you of every bit of your dignity if you allow it. Cancer is an equal opportunity offender and does not give a damn about your race, gender, sexuality, religion  or socio-economical back ground. Cancer does not give a shit who or what you are, it takes out the rich among us as rapidly as it takes out the poor. It will kill those who have lived the healthiest of lives and spare those who did not. Often, there is no rhyme nor reason to who it affects and why. There is nothing right nor fair about cancer, you might have never touched a cigarette in your life, yet find yourself dying with lung cancer. You may have never touched a drop of alcohol in your life, to only perish from liver cancer. Sometimes we might get a form of cancer simply because of an unlucky draw of the short stick. As  powerless as we might feel against the ravages of cancer, there are still steps we can take in order to improve our quality of life should we or a loved one become afflicted.

You are not entirely a helpless victim!

As if cancer is not enough of an insult to the human body, many of the treatments are akin to rubbing salt into a wound. Many treatments can be debilitating by making you even sicker than the disease the medicines are designed to help slow down or cure. If you have been diagnosed with any type of cancer, it is imperative on your part to maintain your immune system the best you possibly can.  The tricky part is cancer cells develop from our own cells, therefore our immune system doesn’t always know that it should attack them. Sometimes the immune system knows that cancer cells shouldn’t be there, but more often our immune system doesn’t notice cancer cells. Cancer cells can even turn off the immune response so that the immune cells don’t attack them.

You can fight back!

Common sense would dictate that if cancer can trick our immune systems when they are healthy, then it could really run roughshod over your body if your immune system is weak. Our immune system gets weakened when the cancer itself or treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, affects the bone marrow. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow and when it’s affected by cancer or its treatment, the number of blood cells that are made are lower than normal. When blood cell counts are low, the body can’t fight off an infection very well.

Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle.

Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Like any fighting force, the immune system army marches on its stomach. Healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. People who are malnourished are more vulnerable to disease. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies such as these:

Don’t smoke

Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

Exercise regularly.

Maintain a healthy weight.

If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

Get adequate sleep.

Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.

Try to minimize stress.

Regular exercise is also one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise contributes to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.

A cancer diagnosis may leave us feeling helpless. There is little we can do by ourselves to stop the progression, therefore we must place our faith and trust in doctors and other medical professionals to heal us from the ravishes of cancer.  If you do not want to feel quite so helpless, then make it a point to be proactive in the treatment of your disease. The doctors and their staffs will do all they can medically for you, therefore if you want to be cured, you must stand up and do your part of the fighting too.

You have choices to make.

You can choose to live as healthy as you can by eating a nutritionally sound diet. You can choose to follow your doctor or nutritionists orders by eating or not eating foods as they have directed.

You can choose to try to keep your body as physically fit as possible under the circumstances. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight is important to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of several cancers, including those of the breast (in women past menopause), colon and rectum, endometrium (the lining of the uterus), esophagus, pancreas, and kidney, among others. Being overweight can increase cancer risk in many ways. One of the main ways is that excess weight causes the body to produce and circulate more estrogen and insulin, hormones that can stimulate cancer growth.

You can choose to maintain a healthy mindset and a fighting spirit.

You can take actions to protect yourself from getting cancer in the first place.

The evidence for this is strong. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could be prevented.

No Hill For a Climber, Understanding the Pathology Reports

With a cancer diagnosis it often seems as if for every question that gets answered, a half dozen more will pop up. At times, I’m not too sure if my over active and inquisitive mind is a blessing or a curse. By my very nature, I am compelled to fix problems, and to do so, it requires that no stone is ever left unturned. By obtaining answers to my multitude of questions, it helps me in thinking through further questions that must be asked, even if the answers to them are going to be difficult to hear. I am an optimist by nature, but I am also a realist. I would much rather know uncomfortable truths than to be comforted by gentle sugar coated platitudes designed to make me feel better. Sugar coating fixes nothing, ever.

Loraine and I have been caring for her brother Howard for the last year who also has cancer. He has liver cancer that is now at a pretty advanced stage. There is only one treatment protocol even being considered for him now, and it it damn scary to say the least. On top of this, I have a very demanding  trucking along with my continuous toils on my website. I must be careful in not conflating problems that arise with his illness over problems that have arisen with Loraine’s when I am fatigued. So far, this has not been too much of an issue, but I am often mentally and physically exhausted. I do not have a regular sleep pattern because of my job, plus my PTSD has made me a chronic insomniac for several years now. Actually, I have not had good sleep for a few decades now. It is what it is I guess. We are more prepared for personal battles than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.

Pathology Report

Sentinel lymph node, left, biopsy:

    • Metastatic carcinoma involving one of one lymph node.
    • Carcinoma is 4 mm in greatest dimension
    • Extranodal extension is present.

A few lymph nodes were removed from Loraine’s arm pit area on both sides during her bilateral mastectomy. This was done to confirm if the cancer has spread outside of the original tumor. One small breast cancer mass measuring 4 mm was found to exist in one of her left side lymph nodes. While this was not something we wanted to hear, we are thankful no other cancer was found in any of the other lymph nodes. We already knew from the first visit with Dr. Butler that if cancer was found in the lymph nodes, then radiation treatments were definitely going to happen, with a possibility of chemotherapy too. We will know further treatments once we have seen the oncologist and radiologist on the treatment team here soon.

Extranodal extension simply means the cancer has metastasized.

Left breast, mastectomy:

    • Invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ, completely excised
    • Lymph-vascular invasion is identified.
    • Fibroadenomas

My younger sister passed away from adenocarcinoma of the cervix, therefore seeing “adenoma” used in any term associated with breast cancer was terrifying to me. Thankfully,  fibroadenoma’s are  noncancerous tumors in the breast, that could still require some form of treatment for some women. These lumps are actually fairly common, yet they should still be taken seriously.

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), also known as infiltrating ductal carcinoma, is cancer that began growing in a milk duct and has invaded the fibrous or fatty tissue of the breast outside of the duct. IDC is the most common form of breast cancer, representing 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast. DCIS is considered the earliest form of breast cancer. DCIS is noninvasive, meaning it hasn’t spread out of the milk duct and has a low risk of becoming invasive. DCIS is usually found during a mammogram done as part of breast cancer screening or to investigate a breast lump.

While there is no good cancer, it is a relief to know that what was found in Loraine’s pathology report is that hers is both an early form (DCIS) and the most common (IDC) and treatable forms. Ladies, never ever forget, early detection saves lives. If you find a lump during self examination, get yourself to a doctor and have it evaluated. Your life depends on it.

Axillary contents, dissection:

    • One lymph node negative for malignancy

Right breast, mastectomy:

    • Fibroadenoma, measuring up to 9 mm in greatest dimension.
    • One lymph node negative for malignancy.

The pathology findings was followed by four or five more pages of medical jumbo mumbo that only a doctor can make sense of. Kind of like legal documents where five hundred multi-syllable words are utilized when only 50 common words would suffice. By explaining in common layman’s language to you what the reports mean, it also helps to bring myself to a more clear understanding of what we are facing.

Loraine and I have humongous challenges in the future ahead of us. We know that by the very nature of cancer there will be a mixed bag of good days and bad. With cancer,  you might find humor in topics that others will not know not know how to respond to. We might laugh when others might cringe. We have even cracked jokes about her getting a variety of prosthetic bra sizes to keep people guessing Loraine’s cup size. I have seen the comeback of a fierce fighting spirit in my dear wife that reminds me of why I fell in love with her in the first place. This same ferocity is how she survived the difficult years of my military career. As tough as my assignments might have been, I can still appreciate the hardest job in the armed forces belongs to the spouse of a service member.

This coming Tuesday, the drains should be all removed and Loraine will be able to begin returning to some of her normal activities. Her faith in God above has kept her spirits high, and it has been a chore to keep her from over doing it during the last two weeks of recovery. Nothing will keep my sweet heart down, we will beat this.

No Hill For a Climber, Pathology Findings

First and foremost, I want to thank God for giving Loraine and I the strength to face the uncertainties of life that we are now facing. Our faith will carry us through this journey.

Loraine and I also want to convey our gratitude to Dr. Elizabeth Butler and her entire staff for their compassionate care through this process. Dr. Butler and her nurses are beautiful souls who I firmly believe are in their profession because of a deep love for helping others to live their best lives under the most difficult of circumstances.

We are beyond blessed with our loving daughters and son in laws along with four beautiful granddaughters who have been a constant source of selfless loving support to Loraine and I both. Nothing has been too much to ask of my lovingly devoted girls.

To all family and friends who have called and checked on us each day, we love you dearly.

Pathology Findings

Tuesday morning Loraine and I drove to the Breast Cancer Clinic at Saint Luke’s for a post surgery follow up visit with her surgeon and to learn what was revealed about her breast cancer in the pathology reports. It was an anxious drive where we were both quite nervous about what would be revealed to us, yet relieved that we would now have answers to our many questions. I will say that our thoughts were that even if we were to hear bad news, it would be much more comfortable than the antagonistic not knowing that we had been living under. At least with the pathology reports in, we could begin planning the next steps in this difficult journey.

The week between Loraine’s mastectomy and the first follow up visit have been tough, yet my sweet wife has pulled through like a real trooper. Her spirits have been high as a result of her faith in God above, and her inner fighting spirit has really come to light. She has shown a true display of intestinal fortitude with this breast cancer, and has not let it get her down.

Loraine has experienced her fair share of pain following the mastectomy, but it has not been as bad as we had anticipated it would be.  Dr. Butler informed us that a mastectomy usually involves a lesser degree of pain than a lumpectomy because all or most of the nerves have been removed, therefore there are fewer receptors if any to transmit pain signals to the brain. Instead of pain, one of Loraine’s biggest issues has been adjusting to having four drains with suction bulbs hanging from just under her arm pits. But these should come out next Tuesday since she is healing really well.

Most of Loraine’s bruising has gone away, but some of the skin around the incisions is turning black and leathery. This looks kind of scary, but it is a result of the skin essentially being  a large flap wound. Because there is not a sufficient supply of blood to a few areas, the skin will simply die and slough off over the next week or so. She was given a prescription for Silvadene to stop the growth of any bacteria that may infect the incision.

After a thorough examination, Dr. Butler went over the pathology reports with us. It turns out the cancer was worse than anticipated, it was larger and has spread beyond the tumor. The tumor itself had grown to 3.8 centimeters which is pretty sizable and the cancer had spread beyond the tumor and into one lymph node. The tumor itself is a invasive ductal carcinoma that had metastasized to surrounding breast tissues and a lymph node. This diagnosis now means that radiation treatments are definitely in the works, and chemotherapy is now a possibility too. None of these treatments can begin until she has is fully healed from the mastectomy. We will now soon be meeting with two additional doctors on the treatment team. One physician is an oncologist, the other is a radiologist. We had hoped and prayed that the only course of action would be hormonal therapy, but I guess that was not in God’s plans. But, at least we are no longer bearing the heavy weight of uncertainty. The burden of not knowing is much worse than knowing. Again, at least now we can plan ahead for the future.

On a lighter note, Loraine was given a prescription for prosthetic bras to wear once she is fully healed. We have kind of laughed that she should get a variety of different cup sizes to keep people guessing if she is actually a B or a Double D

God bless each and every one of you who are following Loraine’s breast cancer journey and who keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

With cancer, there are fears and uncertainties which must be overcome. As with the uneasiness that comes from facing down a bully, the same mindset has to be incorporated when staring down cancer. You cannot allow fear to overwhelm your thinking. The lopsided fight is not one of your choosing, but you have to be prepared to throw back hard punches of your own in order  to defeat this cruel disease.

We are a family of fighters. Together, we will triumph!

No Hill For a Climber, Caretaker Thoughts

It was a week ago yesterday my beautiful wife Loraine underwent her double mastectomy. It has been a week of sleepless nights for a number of reasons such as pain, stress and worry. Later today we will be meeting with Dr. Butler to receive the full pathology reports where we will learn the full extent of the cancer, and it will be determined when she can begin undergoing radiation treatments and possibly chemotherapy too. An appointment will also be made with a different oncologist on the Saint Luke’s team who will be putting together the actual treatment plan. My job takes me out on the road tonight, so I will be writing about the pro’s and con’s of available treatment plans later this week.

I am going to give my best attempt to not get too rambling with this article, but I honestly have not slept more than a couple hours at a time ever since Loraine’s diagnosis, so please bear with me if I do take you through an entire forest of my thoughts just to show you a tree.

Family and friend support.

Loraine and I have received a considerable outpouring of love and support from family and friends since her diagnosis and surgery. There have been daily calls to Loraine from many people, others have delivered food to the house after her surgery in order help us from needing to cook. Our wonderful daughter Jennifer, along with our beautiful granddaughters, have come to the house several times now to help with cooking and cleaning. I have had several people reach out to me as well. There have been people I never would have expected that now contact me regular, letting me know they are there if I need someone to talk to. We love each and every one of these thoughtful individuals.

However, the flip side to all of this love and support is the unexpected silence from the phone when it comes to others.  The silence from some can be quite deafening! Loraine and I do both have a good support network, and I understand that people are busy with life and problems of their own.  I am not looking for long drawn out conversations nor sympathy. But know that sometimes a simple heartfelt message can mean the world to one who is suffering.

I damn sure do not want empty words of promises to be there if we ever need help, only to find the one making promises is conveniently too busy when you need it.

Adjusting to wound care.

Even though a mastectomy is a surgical procedure, the aftercare is still wound care. Loraine has two sets of stitches that are both at least nine inches long with two drain tubes emanating from each incision. Monitoring the incisions is a must in order to identify infection or other problems should there be any. And along with this comes keeping the drains emptied and the contents documented on a log provided by the surgeon.

Loraine’s pain level following the mastectomy has been better than I anticipated it would be. Not saying it does not hurt, but I honestly thought it would be much worse for her. One of the biggest issues for her has been adjusting to sleep with the drain tubes with suction bulbs hanging from her sides. One wrong move in your sleep can have your body painfully tugging at the drains. Should you ever experience this, you need to keep your drains secured to where they cannot be pulled as you roll onto your side during sleep.

Caretakers, stick to your normal routines!

As a caretaker of a loved one it is paramount that you still take care of yourself. You cannot help your loved one if you too become sick in the process.

Now is not the time to let healthy nutritional habits become derailed. Stress eating of unhealthy foods might make you feel good in the moment, but they only serve to damage your health in the long run. If you think it is fine to make an exception because you are tired, hungry and stressed, then those exceptions will become the norm. You could easily find yourself sick and morbidly obese. This helps no one, and especially does not help you.

If you have an established exercise regimen, keep it. If you do not, you might consider beginning one, even if it is only walking.  Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.  Regular exercise will help  shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.

If you have activities of any type that you normally do, then stick to them as much as humanly possible. It is perfectly fine for you. While it might be selfless to give up all that you enjoy to care for your loved one, it is also selfless to maintain your own life in the process. You have to take a mental break from time to time in order to not burn yourself out. You need the interaction with others, you need to share a good time and laugh with friends.

Stay on top of your medical bills.

I know this is a tough one for those on a tight budget. Hell, the financial burden is a tough one for all. There has been a quarter million dollars billed already with Loraine’s office visits, procedures and surgery. And we are just in the infancy of this battle.

Make payment plans early with your providers that you can live with. It will do no one any good if you are not able to buy groceries or to pay your utility bills if you are only able to pay doctors and hospitals. Doctors and hospitals will work with you, but you have to stick to your agreements too.

If money is extremely tight, then consult with your doctor and hospital about financial assistance that may be available to you. There is a lot of help out there for you, but you have to do the leg work to get it. There are benevolent organizations that donate millions of dollars each and every year to needy people, but you have to reach out for it, they do not seek you out. That would be a monumental task for any organization, you have to have personal initiative and accountability to find help. This is just a simple fact of life.

In caring for your loved one, do not quit loving yourself too.

No Hill For a Climber, What To Expect After Mastectomy

You might be the one actually facing the process of a mastectomy, or maybe you are a caregiver to a loved one. Either way, from my point of view as a loving husband and caregiver to my beautiful wife of 33 years, I’m not sure anything can fully prepare you for the impact of a mastectomy. You know the breasts are going to be removed, and maybe you have been told there will be drain tubes inserted for the healing process. You might have seen a picture such as the one above and thought “oh, that does not look too bad”. Those pictures give you an idea of what you will be facing, but they do not actually prepare you for the reality of seeing this up close and personal. The difference in the picture and real life is as stark as the difference between a very slight exposure to pepper spray available to  the civilian population and that of 4% OC pepper spray we utilized in the prison when I was a Correctional Officer.

On Sunday afternoon, the day before Loraine’s mastectomy, after I had come off the road from my trucking job I met Loraine at Target to buy her some new pajamas. We knew from her visit with her physical therapist that she would not be able to raise her arms above her head, and pajamas that button down the front would be the easiest for her to put on and remove by herself. We found a couple nice sets of soft button down pajamas and made our purchase. We got the same size as Loraine normally wears and did not foresee any problems with the fit being as her D-cup breasts were going to be removed. These pajamas should be a perfect fit, yet we found out yesterday after she was getting out of her hospital gown the size should have been a bit larger than normal.

Yesterday morning before Loraine’s discharge, her nurse navigator Melissa came by with instructions for going home. Part of these instructions consisted of how to care for the incision drains and suction bulbs. This instruction involved emptying them before the bulbs get over half full, and how to strip the lines should they become blocked by clotting blood. Before proceeding with these instructions, Melissa asked if I was squeamish at all. I’m not, but I can see where this needs to be asked. These drains are long tubes which the surgeon inserts into the breast area or armpit to collect excess fluid that can accumulate in the space where the tumor was. The tubes have plastic bulbs on the ends to create suction, which helps the fluid  and some blood to exit your body.

No problem! This is a pretty simple concept.

No hill for a climber!

And then it was time for her to check out of the hospital…

We packed all our belongings that we had brought with us for the overnight stay back into our bags, and left Loraine’s pretty new pajamas out for her to wear home. We wanted her to be comfortable for the ride. Yet, when I was trying to button her pajamas, we discovered that the drain bulbs which are kept in bags that were fastened to the lower sides of the ace bandage covering her chest were not allowing for full closure at her midsection.

Lesson learned ladies. If you are going to go through with a mastectomy, do yourself a favor and buy yourself pajamas that not only button down the front, but also pajamas that might be a size or two larger than you believe you might need in order to accommodate swelling, and the four drain tubes and their carry bags that will be necessary. You cannot leave the bulbs dangling by their tubes. Dangling drain bulbs would cause you problems you can be assured you will not want to experience anytime soon.

Melissa instructed us to monitor the amount of output from the four drains. She gave us a couple  of small measuring cups and syringes for doing this task along with a log sheet where we are to fill in the date, time and quantity of fluid from each drain. This record will be brought to follow-up office appointments to help determine when the drains can be removed. Drain removal could be as soon as one week, or as long as three weeks from the surgery.

We have discovered so far, that the drains can be emptied and logged at about 5 hour intervals when Loraine is due for her pain medication. Although your experience could be different, and Loraine’s could change. In order for the drains to work properly, the suction bulbs must be emptied before they become half way full as the fuller they become, the less suction they will provide. This would cause the fluids to not empty from the incision sites as they should. This can also lead to the drains becoming clogged with clotted blood.

Shortly after we got home from the hospital, we decided to try our hand, rather my hand, at draining the bulbs. This went easy enough for the first go round. I removed the bulbs individually from their carry bags, removed the stopper, squeezed the contents into a cup, measured it, and then made my log entry.

Too easy!

I then squeezed the bulbs to create a suction when I reinserted the stopper and put the bulb back in their bags. No problems. Then with the next cycle five hours later, I went about the same procedure, but noticed a little bit of clotted blood in each line. No problem, I have been shown how to strip the lines. This is too easy. Until I discovered to Loraine’s detriment, attention to being gentle is of upmost importance. I grasped the tube as instructed in one hand, squeezed it between my thumb and finger of the other and began pulling down. When you do this, you must take extra care to not allow tension on the drain tube to pass beyond the hand that you are grasping it with. Loraine cried out in pain as the tension from me stripping the line was creating a painful pulling sensation up inside her body. I discovered the best thing to do is to hold the line against the body in a non-painful site in order to keep from putting tension on the tube. By not holding my grip against her body, when I began stripping the line of blood clots, my grip hand had also moved down as the tube stretched downward.

You might feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to absorb as the patient or caretaker. However, it is critical that you still pay close attention to all of your instructions. Take notes, ask questions. The only dumb question is the question not asked.

We got through the night alright. At midnight we got up so Loraine could take her pain medication and for me to empty the drain bulbs, then we repeated this again at 5:00 a.m.  About 10:00 a.m., it was shower time. You have to steel yourself for the first shower. I thought I was better prepared since I had been doing the drain tubes with no issues other than when I accidentally put internal tension on one when stripping it. When you have had a mastectomy, you will be limited on being able to put your arms and hands above your head, yet this will be somewhat necessary in order to remove the inner compression top that is almost just like a 1970’s era tube top that was popular with all the girls back in the day.

I first unpinned the drain bulb bags from the outer ace bandage that is wrapped around her chest. Then after unwrapping the ace bandage, it was time to get the tube top bandage off. It caused Loraine some pain and discomfort during removal, but we managed without it getting too bad. This is not something you just pull off the body. Once it was removed, we both were able to see exactly what her chest now looks like. My dear wife will always be beautiful in my eyes, even without her breasts. She is the love of my life and the removal of her breasts is not an issue. But, what I found shocking, the sight that made me want to cry for her was how bruised her upper torso was. Where her breasts had been, the tissue is greatly discolored and bruised. It looks as if someone had used her chest for a professional boxers punching bag. It was all I could do to maintain my emotions for my sweet woman while assisting her with her shower. I know the bruising and discoloration is temporary, but feel it is necessary for people to know what they will see the first time you or your loved ones removes the bandages. Seeing my wife of almost 34 years like this was breaking my heart for her. It is things like this that makes me not too sympathetic to people who whine over the smallest of problems in their lives, especially when their petty issues are entirely self inflicted. My dear wife never asked for this to happen, but sometimes bad shit happens to the best of people.

 If you are undergoing a mastectomy, here are a few tips to help you during your healing and recovery at home:

  • Rest. When you get home from the hospital, you will probably be fatigued from the experience. Allow yourself to get extra rest in the first few weeks after surgery. Read more about managing  fatigue.
  • Take pain medication as needed. You will probably feel a mixture of numbness and pain around the breast incision and the chest wall (and the armpit incision, if you had axillary dissection). If you feel the need, take pain medication according to your doctor’s instructions. Learn more about managing  chest pain, armpit discomfort , and general pain. 
  • Take sponge baths until your doctor has removed your drains and/or sutures. You can take your first shower when your drains and any staples or sutures have been removed. A sponge bath can refresh you until showers or baths are approved by your doctor.
  • Continue doing arm exercises each day. It’s important to continue doing arm exercises on a regular basis to prevent stiffness and to keep your arm flexible.
  • Have friends and family pitch in around the house. Recovery from mastectomy can take time. Ask friends and family to help with meals, laundry, shopping, and childcare. As your body heals, don’t feel you should take on more than you can handle. (1)

If there is any positive that can come out of breast cancer, it has been the tremendous outpouring of love and support from family and friends. We are eternally grateful to all who have showed us how much they care. I am most humbly grateful to Loraine’s employers, Geri and Larry Martin of Prestige Home Care in Leavenworth, Kansas. This husband and wife team are committed to providing top quality  and compassionate home care to all their clients, and now they have stepped up to help Loraine and I during her recovery. Today, their Operations Supervisor Carolyn Clayton delivered a hearty beef and vegetable stew along with two trays of lasagna which Geri had prepared for us at home in order that we would not have to worry about cooking meals for the next few days of Loraine’s recovery. These are very kind and caring people, if you ever need care for a loved one in or around Leavenworth, Kansas, this is the only home care business I would recommend for the care of your loved one.

Carolyn, we love and cherish your friendship.

God bless and much love to all,

David

(1) https://breastcancer.org