Tag: breast cancer

No Hill For a Climber, Radio-Necrosis

Loraine completed her final radiation treatment on June 15th. That should have been the end of the doctor visits until later this month, but that is not how things turned out. The radiation treatments burned her pretty good, second degree burns to be exact. We were not expecting this, nor were we prepared for what came next which was radio-necrosis combined with a bacterial skin infection. Radio-necrosis can occur when eradiating the cancer.  Radiation therapy can cause significant harm to healthy surrounding tissue. As we have learned the hard way, this skin injury can cause considerable pain and suffering to patients who are already stressed by the diagnosis.

How long does radiation burn last?
For it to heal, the skin needs time to regenerate, a process that may take two to four weeks for mild reactions, or several months or more for serious injuries.

Before Loraine’s radiation treatments were completed, her skin began showing signs of being burned by the procedures. About a week or so before her final treatment, one of her physicians instructed her to begin using Silvadene cream on the burns to help ward off any infections. This medication is often used with other treatments to help prevent and treat wound infections in patients with serious burns. It is supposed to work by stopping the growth of bacteria that may infect an open wound. This helps to decrease the risk of the bacteria spreading to surrounding skin, or to the blood where it can cause a serious blood infection. However, while Silvadene can be used as an anti-microbial, the downside as we have since learned, is it can also delay wound healing.

Having never been through any of this, there is no way we could know the effects radiation therapy could have on an individual. We know what we were told, but as with everything else about breast cancer, there is a lot we have had to learn after the fact, and on the run. The learning curve with cancer is huge to say the least.

Loraine’s skin was burned, therefore it was warm to the touch as any burn will be. Then it began to blister which also was not unexpected given the severity of the burns. Still we were not worried until her skin began tearing and essentially ulcerating in the burned areas. This has been quite painful for Loraine and I often awaken to her moaning in pain at night when I am not on the road. The radiation treatments we believed were going to be fairly mild for side effects, but obviously this has not been the case. Sunday, while I was out on the road, Loraine called me because she was in pretty bad pain and she was draining pus and fluids from the burned area where her left breast had been. She said she was going to go to the emergency room which really scared me. In 34 years of marriage, this tough woman has never, not a single time, ever visited an emergency room for herself. Turns out, she now had a bacterial infection working on her. The emergency room doctor prescribed her an antibiotic and pain reliever and then instructed her to get in to her wound care doctor as soon as possible. Today was Wednesday, we got her in to be seen this morning. That is when we learned that the infection was a result of the radio-necrosis, and, it was aggravated by the daily application of Silvadene which she had been directed to use.

Loraine has endured enough pain with these side effects, that she has begged me to not ask her to ever go through radiation again.

I will respect her wishes when it comes to her treatments.

 

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No HIll For a Climber, Radiation Burns and Side Effects

I sat down to write this morning with a plethora of things to say and now, I found that the stress of our situation with Loraine’s breast cancer has caused me to suffer a little bit of writer’s block. I hope I do not get to be too rambling with this piece…

I do not want to say there was any malicious thought by anyone by downplaying some of the side effects of radiation treatments for Loraine, her care team have been wonderful. But, the side effects have been worse than we anticipated. Maybe it was just a misunderstanding on our part. I concede this is highly possible, maybe even probable, especially given the state of mind we had been in with her diagnosis while we were still providing care for her brother Howard  in our home for his end stage liver cancer. It seems so overwhelming at times. And then to add insult to injury, there was the deep staph infection that settled in to the mastectomy incision followed by the Covid-19 Corona virus situation. Because of Loraine’s staph infection and the Corona virus, her radiation treatments were put on hold as long, actually longer, than her medical and radiation oncologists felt was safe. However, as we have learned, before radiation can begin, one must be fully healed from their surgery.

The picture at the top is at the base of Loraine’s neck. That radiation burn is not even where the beam is being directed when she undergoes her daily treatments by external beam radiation. This is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer. A machine outside the body focuses the radiation on the area affected by the cancer. Before treatment begins, the radiation team will have carefully figured out the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. They will make some ink marks or small tattoos on the skin to focus the radiation on the right area. They do this in order to concentrate the beam specifically where the cancer has been found. But, obviously a larger area can be affected by the radiation. We were told that external radiation therapy is much like getting an x-ray, only the radiation is stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes. The setup time, getting her into place for treatment, would take longer than the treatment itself. We were told that Loraine could experience some skin changes in the treated area similar to a sunburn (redness, skin peeling, darkening of the skin) along with fatigue. After almost a full six weeks of therapy, here is what her skin looks like:

The skin up under her arm is now quite fragile and tearing. This is quite painful to say the least.

In the center of the picture, along her incision, the redness and swelling is where the staph infection had settled in. This area was not fully healed as well as it should have been prior to treatments, but treatments could no longer be delayed.

The markings and little circles you see are where the radiation beam is directed during treatments. The radiation oncologist and her team have to be accurate in directing the beam direction, or other problems can arise. Hell, other problems could arise anyhow from radiation treatments such as:

  • Some women may find that radiation therapy causes the breast to become smaller and firmer.
  • Radiation may affect your options for breast reconstruction later on. It can also raise the risk of problems with appearance and healing if it’s given after reconstruction, especially tissue flap procedures.
  • Women who have had breast radiation may have problems breastfeeding.
  • Radiation to the breast can sometimes damage some of the nerves to the arm. This is called brachial plexopathy and can lead to numbness, pain, and weakness in the shoulder, arm, and hand.
  • Radiation to the underarm lymph nodes might cause lymphedema, a type of pain and swelling in the arm or chest.
  • In rare cases, radiation therapy may weaken the ribs, which could lead to a fracture.
  • In the past, parts of the lungs and heart were more likely to get some radiation, which could lead to long-term damage of these organs in some women. Modern radiation therapy equipment better focuses the radiation beams, so these problems are rare today.
  • A very rare complication of radiation to the breast is the development of another cancer called an angiosarcoma.

I just doctored up Loraine’s burns and she is now off for her third to last radiation treatment this morning.

We have found this product on Amazon to be a great help for some of the burning that is not raw or tearing.

Monday will be the final treatment, but that will not be the final day she will suffer ill effects from radiation. She will glow in the dark for years to come!

Sorry my dear, but you are the one who has the best sense of humor about this…

But seriously, she will have to avoid exposing the treated skin to the sun because it could make the skin changes worse. They tell us that most skin changes get better within a few months. However, changes to the breast tissue could take 6 to 12 months or longer to go away.

Financial Strains and burdens!

I am blessed to have a very good paying job with great insurance benefits. Our financial impact could be far worse than it is on us. As it is though, I have been paying out $1000.00 per month to stay on top of the 20% of our medical bills that come out of my pocket besides the $750 a month I pay out in insurance. But even so, the stress meter gets pegged in the red when you see this on a bill:

I am paying medical bills to Saint Lukes and to KU Medical Center for all of this. We have had bills for the surgery and all of whom involved. Then there are the additional physical therapy bills, the wound care bills from her staph infection, the medical oncologist visits, the radiation treatment bills, and now a new doctor has been thrown into the mix for skin care since Loraine has had the extensive troubles she now has with skin tears. I just paid out $1000.00 last week and we just received this:

I did set up a payment plan for our bills, but one cannot help but to wonder just how high this will pile up over time. I spoke with a wonderful woman of God this morning on the phone to make our payment arrangements at a level that should be still affordable should we ever experience a financial hardship. I think the good Lord directed my call to the perfect person as I felt a sense of peace come over me before our conversation had ended. It seemed she just instinctively knew the right words to say to me, nothing canned or prepared, just a good woman speaking from the heart. God bless and thank you all for reading and following. I am doing this with the hope that we can help others in their battle with breast cancer.

This website is a labor of love solely to help others. Subscriptions are free and easy, I have not, nor will I ever charge a single penny for anyone to access our health and fitness articles.

Please, follow along, and share this with your family and friends.

No Hill For a Climber, Barrage of The Mind

With cancer of any type, one must steel themselves against the constant barrage to your mental state. If you are one who is weak, you had better learn to stiffen your upper lip, as there will be a constant assault on your sanity after a cancer diagnosis. If you are not tough, you had better get tough, life is not always fair, and cancer is a heartless bitch.

Loraine and I have been through a living hell over the last year because of cancer. FIrst we took in her brother Howard who was terminally ill with liver cancer which was brought on by end term Hepatitis C, and then she received her own diagnosis of breast cancer last fall. As we were taking care of all of Howards needs as he was slipping in and out of different stages of dementia, we still had Loraines battle to face. Life has been a bitch in our home, and we have to keep faith it will get better. We have to, and will keep fighting as hard as we can against this ruthless disease. Otherwise, it is going to kick our asses each and every day if we allow it to bog us down. Cancer shows no mercy to anyone, ever.

I sure wish there was a cure for cancer!

How often do we think this, or hear others  say they wish there was a cure. Pretty damn often for some of us for sure. But, there is not going to be a “cure” just anytime soon despite some people beating it.

If all the positive cancer breakthrough headlines are to be believed, then the cure for cancer is right around the corner. But that is a far cry from reality, says Dr. Jørgen Olsen, head of research at The Danish Cancer Society.

“I think it’s an illusion to imagine that after millions of years of this disease we’ll suddenly find a solution. I don’t think that we’ll ever beat it, but I think that we’ll get it under control so that it becomes chronic but not deadly,” says Olsen. (1)

But why can’t we find the secret weapon to beat cancer once and for all?

One reason is that cancer is not just one disease–even individual tumors can vary substantially from one patient to the next and the same type of tumor in different parts of the body can respond differently to medication. Just like any other organism, cancer cells are trying to survive, and they are very good at it. They quickly spread to multiple parts of the body, and they mutate constantly, rendering existing medicines ineffective. Cancer cells are very adaptive, especially when the cancer is at an advanced stage.

There are some similarities between cancer and the principle of evolution. Evolution is driven by natural selection, which means that organisms or cells that survive long-term are those that can adapt when their existence is challenged. As with the use of antibiotics to kill infections, the cells which survive cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, will often restore the disease after treatment, but now in a more aggressive form that is now resistant to treatment. Then you need a new treatment and the story repeats itself until nothing more can be done. I will never forget the sick feeling in my gut as Howard’s oncologist informed him that nothing more could be done for him and he was recommending end of life palliative care. This was on a Friday, Howard passed away on Sunday, 48 days after my dear Loraine had underwent her double mastectomy for breast cancer. Her radiation treatments are going to be over next week. Cancer is an evil bitch to everyone involved to say the least.

Loraine’s radiation treatments are coming to a close. What’s next?

My sweetheart wrapped up her fifth of six weeks of radiation treatments on Friday. Afterwards, she had a visit with her medical oncologist who informed her there were three new lumps which were not present a month ago. She was in tears when she called me while I was out on the road, and it was all I could do to not pull my semi over to the side of the highway and have a good cry myself.

Life is not fair and cancer is a bitch!

Because of the Covid-19 virus, Loraine has had to go to all of her treatments and doctor visits without me over the last couple of months. She has needed me to be there for her, but the medical facilities will not, nor can they, make exceptions for anyone. The only people allowed inside has been the patients themselves. This is cruel as one who has cancer truly needs their emotional support when consulting with their doctors. We both understand this necessity, but we both need to hear from the doctor exactly what is happening and what the protocols will be going forward. Cancer assaults your emotions and with the overwhelming amount of information there is to absorb, it is best for a patient’s loved one to be present during their doctor visits. The best we can do for Loraine’s next visit is that I will take her and then wait in the parking lot to be there when she comes out. We will use video conferencing on our phones in order that I can be as present as humanly possibly.

Next week, the medical oncologist wants to discuss how we are going to move forward with treatments. She has suggested that Loraine participate in a clinical trial, that Loraine is the perfect candidate for it. She also wants Loraine to get a Dexa Scan and a sonogram as soon as possible before the next visit. Friday, she was even trying to get Loraine in for these on the same day if possible. Since she did not get in, hopefully we will get this done on Monday. This is a bit unsettling to say the least, but we have to keep faith that all will turn out well. Without faith, there is no hope. Without hope, there is no fight. We are fighters!

Cancer Prevention

It’s important to remember that prevention and early diagnosis are key players when it comes to putting the brakes on cancer.  Part of the fight against cancer is to try to prevent it developing in the first place, or at least to develop early detection techniques to spot cases in time to stop the disease before it mutates and spreads. Quite often, people develop cancer because of avoidable habits or lifestyle factors such as smoking, sunbathing without protection, unhealthy diet, exposure to HPV infections, or carcinogenic substances, and radioactivity.

We may not always be able to prevent ourselves from getting cancer, afterall, bad stuff happens to good people every day. However, we can live our lives in a way that we can proactively try to mitigate our chances of developing any type of cancer. If you do not realize this, you should understand that once you’ve been baptized in the fire of cancer your life as you knew it will be irrevocably changed. The apparent randomness of a cancer diagnosis can, and will shake your sense of identity to its very core. Cancer is a sadistic enemy that assaults not only your body but every other area of your life, including your relationships, family life, friendships, finances, career, and even your sense of self. You may be surprised to find the people you thought you could count on disappear from your life. The silence from some family and friends after Howard’s diagnosis was deafening to say the least. However, with Loraine’s diagnosis we have been blessed by plenty of loving support from friends, family and her most excellent care team. We are most humbly grateful for all the love we have received…

 

(1) sciencenordic.com

No Hill For a Climber, Wrapping Up Week 3 of Radiation

Loraine is now close to wrapping up her third week of radiation treatments for her breast cancer, and there are three more weeks to go. Sometimes it feels as if we will never get out of the hurry up and wait mode of thinking.

Getting her into her treatment protocol seemed to take forever because of her struggle in healing after the staph infection had set in. She is almost halfway through the treatments, and now we find ourselves somewhere between hurry up and wait. We would like for the treatments to be done and over with, but the waiting mode of finding out how successful radiation will be is akin to watching a slow moving hand on the clock.

It feels as if we have been through hell over the last year. Last March, we took in and cared for Loraine’s brother Howard who was morbidly obese, had Hepatitis C, cirrhosis of the liver and advanced liver cancer. We were thankful to be able to care for him despite the complexities that came with caring for a terminally ill loved one who was also slipping into different stages of dementia depending on if he was taking his medications as prescribed. Then, Loraine was diagnosed with her breast cancer last fall which significantly increased our level of stress. January 6th, Loraine had her double mastectomy, February 23rd, we lost Howard to his illness; Also in February, Loraine’s staph infection where her left breast had been reared its ugly head. But through it all, even with the great stress we have been under, we still feel blessed with our lives. Through our battles so far, we have been shown great love and compassion from family, friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers who have come into our lives. Loraine’s care team have been beyond phenomenal in their compassionate care and treatments. And, despite the Corona Virus shutting down our economy, we have both been able to keep working full time and have not become too overwhelmed with our medical bills we have received. If anyone has a right to lay down and lick their wounds, it might be us, but we refuse to do so. We are fighters, and we will conquer all that life has to throw our way. We may feel stressed, but thankfully, our sense of being blessed far outweighs that emotion.

Almost halfway through!

Treatment 14 of 30 today.

Before Loraine ever began her radiation treatments we were told the side effects would be pretty mild, and possibly there would be none at all. Well, the side effects are certainly nothing compared to that which can come from chemotherapy to say the least. But, the the side effects are certainly there for her. And with each treatment she undergoes being more intense than the last, we can anticipate them getting worse over the next three weeks of treatments. Thankfully, chemotherapy is not being planned for now.

Loraine has been working full time through her treatments, but now has reduced her workload to part time as of this week because of the fatigue that is associated with her radiation treatments. Fatigue can make it hard for one to keep a normal routine. However, it is best for her to still get in some type of activity each and every day. Activity keeps the body more fit and the mind less stressed than what would come from laying around and licking wounds. My sweet wife is a true fighter, you will never find her feeling sorry for herself.

Loraine has always been fair skinned and sunburns easily. With her radiation treatments, he skin is now becoming pink, like it has sunburn. Because of this, they place a special blanket over her during the treatment to act as a second layer of skin to mitigate the burning of her skin. To help with this at home, she has to apply aloe vera cream multiple times per day to ease the irritation she is now experiencing. I wish for her sake the irritation would end with her treatments, but, the skin reaction from radiation therapy is usually the worst 1 or 2 weeks after radiation therapy ends, and begins to heal after that point. The healing often takes 3 to 4 weeks. I wish she could have been through with all of this before summer time arrives here in a few weeks.

Besides fatigue and burning of the skin, Loraine is developing fibrosis where her left breast had been. This also comes with the territory of radiation treatments.  In addition to treating cancer, radiation therapy alters tissue composition, making tissues thinner, harder and more brittle. Radiation following surgery creates changes to the surgical scar to make it harder and denser, as well as creating fibrotic tissue around the scar. In radiation-induced fibrosis, a key issue is prevention, with the primary approach being use of proper doses of radiation therapy and techniques that minimize the radiation exposure for normal tissue. We feel truly comfortable that Loraine’s care team are doing all they can to minimize any and all side effects which come from her treatments. Everyone on her team are more than compassionate and caring. We feel blessed that she is in the best of hands and will get through this with minimal issues compared to what can be experienced by some.

With cancer of any type, every day is a learning day. I sometimes wish I did not have to know all that I have had to learn, but feel blessed to be able to share our experience with others in order to help them. It helps us to focus on our blessings rather than on our stress. We feel fortunate to be in the position we are in and fully realize how bad life can be for others in the same boat. Therefore, we know to never take life for granted as it can be radically changed for the worst in the blink of an eye.

Live life to the fullest and work towards being the best and healthiest you that you can be.

God bless and thank you for the prayers, and for following along with Loraine’s journey.

 

No Hill For a Climber, The Journey Continues

Monday, May 4th, after four long months, Loraine’s battle against breast cancer is finally going into its next phase. With all that has transpired since her double mastectomy it seems like an eternity has passed. Hopefully we can put most all of this behind us once she has completed her course of radiation treatments. Of course, there will be regular monitoring for a recurrence over the next five years.

What are radiation treatments, and how do they help?

I find it amazing that a source of cancer for many is also a treatment protocol to kill cancer for others. Whoever came up with this concept was certainly thinking outside the box. Radiation therapy for breast cancer uses high-energy X-rays, protons or other particles to kill cancer cells. Rapidly growing cells, such as cancer cells, are more susceptible to the effects of radiation therapy than are normal cells.

Beside killing cancer cells, radiation is also utilized post surgery to help prevent recurrence. It can also be used to provide relief from pain and other symptoms of advanced breast cancer

Radiation therapy for breast cancer may be delivered in two ways:

  • External radiation. A machine delivers radiation from outside your body to the breast. This is the most common type of radiation therapy used for breast cancer.
  • Internal radiation (brachytherapy). After you have surgery to remove the tumor, your doctor temporarily places a radiation-delivery device in your breast near the tumor site. He or she then places a radioactive source into the device for short periods of time over the course of your treatment.

You need to know going into this battle that removal of the entire breast is usually not enough in itself to rid you of breast cancer. A mastectomy does not eliminate your risk of having a recurrence in the remaining tissues of the chest wall or lymph nodes. Therefore you need to be prepared for these treatments. Unless chemotherapy is planned, radiation therapy usually begins three to eight weeks after surgery . However, if chemotherapy is planned, radiation usually starts three to four weeks after chemotherapy is finished.  Loraine’s course of treatments will include one radiation treatment a day, five days a week over a span of six weeks. Spreading out the sessions helps healthy cells recover from radiation exposure while cancer cells die.

Will there be any side effects from the radiation?

Of course there can be side effects, we are talking about radiation right? Loraine was instructed to have an aloe vera gel to apply to her skin with the first treatment to mitigate the effects of burning of the skin, which would be similar to getting  a sunburn.

Side effects from radiation therapy will differ significantly depending on the type of treatment and which tissues are treated.  We are told, side effects tend to be most pronounced toward the end of the course of treatments. Once her treatments are complete, it could be several days or weeks before side effects clear up. I sure hope she does not experience prolonged effects, life has been hell already in battling the  staph infection that caused the four month delay in getting here.

Common side effects during treatment may include:

  • Mild to moderate fatigue
  • Skin irritation — such as itchiness, redness, peeling or blistering — similar to what you might experience with a sunburn
  • Breast swelling
  • Changes in skin sensation

Depending on which tissues are exposed, radiation therapy may cause or increase the risk of:

  • Arm swelling (lymphedema) if the lymph nodes under the arm are treated
  • Damage or complications leading to removal of an implant in women who have a mastectomy and undergo breast reconstruction with an implant
  • Rib fracture or chest wall tenderness, rarely
  • Inflamed lung tissue or heart damage, rarely
  • Secondary cancers, such as bone or muscle cancers (sarcomas) or lung cancer, very rarely

Why has it taken so long to begin Loraine’s radiation treatments?

Before Loraine was healed from her double mastectomy, she had a very bad and deep staph infection settle in where her left breast had been. After three months of intensive treatments and thousands of dollars in additional medical bills later, we have finally whipped it with antibiotics and daily cleaning and dressing, and weekly doctor appointments at Saint Luke’s hospital’s wound care center. The wound from this infection was quite ghastly to say the least, and seeing it at it’s worse was not for the faint of heart. But, we got through this. To add insult to injury though, is Loraine’s physical therapy was put on an indefinite hold because of how serious the infection was. And then came the COVID-19 virus and the physical therapy center was shut down…

Post mastectomy physical therapy aids in the overall recovery process by focusing on regaining strength and increasing the range of motion for the shoulder and arm. Early intervention by a physical therapist can help women regain full function following mastectomy surgery, regardless of whether or not a woman has had reconstruction.  Because this rehabilitation therapy is a specialized protocol, it gets tailored to each patient’s specific needs.

Although I have a strong  working knowledge of physiology for strength training, I have no expertise in what is required, or good, for post mastectomy therapy. Size, location and the type of mastectomy are important considerations when choosing the type of therapy. Exercises to maintain shoulder range of motion and arm mobility are important in restoring strength and promoting good circulation. This is far beyond my scope of experience and I would be worried of either causing more harm, or just causing unnecessary pain with little to no positive results for her. Our bodies are meant to be in alignment.  When we live and move in non-optimal alignment, serious orthopedic injuries can occur.  Breast cancer survivors can often develop painful neck and shoulder impingement.  Physical therapy involves myofascial release which is a type of medical massage.  Focus is placed on gently releasing tension along thickenings of fascia and scar tissue.  Releasing this tension restores posture and alignment.  It also relieves knots and painful areas in all parts of the body. Loraine has been suffering quite a bit of pain as a result of not being able to get in for this necessary therapy.

If you’re being treated for breast cancer, it’s important to find a licensed massage therapist who has experience with breast cancer patients. Since many cancer centers are connected with programs offering massage therapy, ask your doctor for recommendations. If you are not trained in this, leave it to the experts.

  • If you have had lymph nodes removed, the massage therapist should only use very light touch on your affected arm and the area around the underarm.
  • If you have arm lymphedema, the massage therapist should avoid the affected arm and underarm areas completely. Traditional massage therapy can worsen lymphedema. A massage therapist who has experience with breast cancer patients may already know this, but it’s important to make sure he or she understands.
  • If you have arm lymphedema, your arm and underarm area should be treated by a different kind of massage especially for lymphedema, called manual lymphatic drainage. Look for a physical, occupational, or massage therapist trained and certified in manual lymph drainage to treat your lymphedema.

Breast cancer sure throws you into a huge learning curve to say the least. There is so much we have learned, yet I wish we never had to in the first place. We knew that a double mastectomy would be painful, but we were not prepared for the pain which has come afterward. Loraine has been diligent in keeping up with her exercises the physical therapist has given her, but the  other therapy components which she has not been able to get to has lead to great suffering on her part. Loraine is a very tough woman who never complains about her aches and pains. It is heartbreaking at night to awaken to hear her crying in her sleep because of the pain she experiences as a result of not getting the myofascial release therapies. Usually after a surgery, pain subsides with time. In her case, the pain has become worse. She called me on the road the other morning in tears because it was hurting her so badly. I never felt so helpless in my life in not being able to bring her any comfort. Even if I had been home, I could not have made it better. Hopefully, now that she has healed, and the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have the curve flattening, maybe we can get back to the business of getting her better. Thank you to all who have kept us in your prayers and positive thoughts.

God bless and thank you for reading.

No Hill For a Climber, It’s a New Day to Move Forward

The last year has been tough as hell for my dear wife and I to say the least. We took in her brother who was terminally ill with Hepatitis C, advanced cirrhosis of the liver, and liver cancer. To add to the complexity of his illness, he had developed hepatic encephalopathy which created different states of dementia from day to day. Hell, sometimes it varied from hour to hour depending on if he was taking his medications as ordered. Friday, February 21st, I took Howard to his final doctors visit where he was advised to receive hospice care. Two days later, he lost his battles.

To add insult to injury in helping Howard battle his diseases, Loraine had went for a mammogram last September and a lump was discovered in her left breast that turned out to be cancerous. Skip ahead to January 6th this year, Loraine underwent a double mastectomy where it was discovered the cancer had also spread to one of her lymph nodes. By February we believed she was healing just fine and dandy when her awful staph infection set in…

Time has gone in slow motion ever since.

Loraine’s radiation treatments were to begin as soon as her incisions from the mastectomy were fully healed. To see a loved one going through this, you want the treatments to begin as soon as humanly possible, but healing has to take place first. If you are not fully healed, the radiation treatments will only serve to interfere with the healing progress. Obviously, we do not want that…

I used the picture above that I took not long ago early one morning while out on the road. It was a beautiful sunrise that morning despite the bug splatters on my windshield. The beautiful sight of the sunrise through the bug splattered windshield illustrates what life is looking like right now. We know that with Loraine now being healed and cleared to begin radiation treatments, we have been through a living hell getting her to this point.

Numerous doctor visits…

Numerous treatment protocols…

Daily wound care at home…

Frustrations and depression as it seemed she would never get healed…

Thousands of dollars in medical bills already…

Dealing with the tragic death of a loved one in the middle of it all…

It seems forever since I last posted an update on Loraine, although it has only been a little over a month. It seems that besides fighting to get her healed, the whole world as we know it has turned upside down as a result of the COVID-19 virus causing chaos all around us. Although we refuse to live in fear over this virus, we know that with her being immunocompromised, we must take precautions with how we live and interact with others. And of course, as luck would have it, now that Loraine has been cleared to begin her radiation treatments, many doctor offices are either closed or greatly limiting the people they see and treat. I get this, but we need for her to begin receiving her treatments as soon as possible. It has been about six months now since her diagnosis. We are waiting now for a return call from the radiation oncologist’s office to set up treatment dates. This oncologist was one of the first people Loraine called on Wednesday after being cleared, we hope to hear something before the end of the week. Once we hear back and get a date and time confirmed, before her first treatment session, Loraine will go through a radiation therapy planning session (simulation), in which her radiation oncologist will carefully map her breast area to target the precise location of her treatments. During the simulation:

  • A radiation therapist will assist her into a position best suited to target the affected area and avoid damage to surrounding normal tissue. Sometimes pads or other devices are used to help you hold the position.
  • Loraine will have a CT scan so that the radiation oncologist can locate the treatment area and normal tissues to avoid. She will have to try to relax and remain as still as possible to help ensure consistent, accurate treatments.
  • A radiation therapist will be marking her body with tiny permanent tattoo dots. These marks will guide the radiation therapist in administering the radiation.
  • The dosimetrist, radiation physicist and radiation oncologist will utilize computer software to plan the radiation treatment she will receive. Once the simulation and planning are completed and multiple quality assurance checks are done on her first visit, her radiation treatments will begin over a course of five days per week over a six week period.

For all the thoughtful prayers and positive thoughts lifted up on my dear wife’s behalf, I am truly grateful and humbled.

God bless and thank you.

 

Dudes, Moobs and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in men is not too common, and only comprises one percent of total breast cancers. While the number of cases is small, they are rising as men keep getting fatter and fatter. Guys, we are not immune to it just because we have male genitalia that produces testosterone. In case you didn’t know it, our bodies also produce estrogen. The fatter you are, the more it produces. Men with naturally high levels of the female hormone estrogen have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. Men with the high levels of estrogen are two and a half times more likely to develop breast cancer than men with low levels of the hormone. Fella’s, as you are  sitting on your duff and feeding your face with unhealthy food and drink while getting  fatter by the day, think about this implication for your body; Increased estrogen can cause more breast tissue to develop than normal. High levels can lead to the development of a condition called gynecomastia. This happens when the amount of breast fat tissue is abnormally high. Yes, there are some medical reasons why you might not be able to control your estrogen levels, but there is one crucial component that is entirely within your control.

That component is your total body fat percentage.

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…

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.