Gotta keep on keepin' on.......

Cancer again...that's 3 times in 2 years. This time it’s not breast cancer, but a new one called squamous cell carcinoma. New cancer, same old fighting spirit! My blog is still named for one of many songs that kept me going the first time around. Driving home from an upsetting appointment, I turned on the radio just as this line from Steve Miller Band's Jet Airliner was playing: "I've got to keep on keepin' on"....so I did just that. And I'll do it again.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

where I am now.....

Well, it is 11pm Sunday night.....more than a week and a half past my surgery.....a lot has happened since then. No, I didn't get hooked on my favorite painkiller, although I did start taking it again after my last posting. I felt justified in starting it up again: I fell down the stairs Monday night and pulled muscles in both arms. (Yes, I am a total dork. I was feeling so good and was carrying way too many things without holding the railing.) Fortunately, I didn't rip any stitches or pull my drain out. But after THAT graceful move, I was in constant pain and at night could not get comfortable in any position. One night, I actually got stuck on my side....couldn't use either arm for leverage to move or roll over.....it was pretty pathetic, I must say. So I took the good stuff for 2 or 3 nights, to help me sleep flat on my back without pain.

Through all that mess, I kept myself entertained with my drain. The surgeon put a tube where my lymph nodes were, and that tube led to a drain that I had to empty every 12 hours or so. The drain was shaped like a grenade, with a little stopper on top. I just popped it open and poured it out. Simple enough. However, I had homework: I had to record the color and amount of the drainage on a little chart that I would later share with my surgeon.

I was so excited to have a project! I took it very seriously, emptied the drain regularly and measured carefully. I tried to be very descriptive with the color. At first, the liquid was "like strawberry jello", then "kind of salmon-ey", and finally "more peachy". I really wanted to use paint chips for the color descriptions (I had saved a bunch of red and pink chips from previous painting projects), but was disappointed that the liquid fell more into the orange family. Oh well.

At my post-op appointment, I finally had the drain removed. That hurt like you wouldn't believe. Now I'm just a little sore, much of my armpit is numb, and my arm is very stiff. Having your lymph nodes removed really does a number on you! I don't have a frozen shoulder, fortunately, but I don't have full mobility back yet. It is very frustrating. My surgeon's nurse sent me home with some exercises and assured me I should be close to normal in a few weeks. Here's hoping.

I also got my pathology report back at my post-op appointment, and it was a good report. The surgeon got "clear margins", doctor-talk for "I got it all out" (mainly, there was no cancer on the edges of the tissue he cut out, so it was all contained within the tissue). In the lymph nodes he removed, there were 3 nodes still positive but I DON'T have to do more chemo. That's good, because I insisted they take the port out when they did the lumpectomy. I wouldn't want to go back and have them put it in again, not to mention deal with chemo again.....

So what's next for me? Well, other than doing my arm exercises to try to regain mobility, and whining about not being able to lift baby for several weeks, I'm busy with followup appointments, eating leftover Valentine's Day candy, stuff like that.

On Tuesday, I go to see my radiation oncologist so I can get tattooed. Supposedly, all I do is climb up on the radiation machine so they can calculate exactly where on my breast and armpit the radiation needs to be directed, and then they'll tattoo little dots in all the right places. So when my radiation treatments start next week (and I'll go every weekday for 6 weeks), the technician just follows the dots. It sounds simple, but I'm sure it will be uncomfortable and painful.....just like the breast MRI they sent me to a few weeks before surgery, and like the wire localization the morning of surgery! It's all for the greater good, which is to keep the cancer from returning, so I will of course make the best of it. I'm hoping there will be a funny story to come out of it! Maybe I can talk them into tattooing a flower (or the Taz) instead of dots. I've always wanted a tattoo anyway but never had the nerve to actually do it.

So all in all, things are good. My treatment is moving along, my surgeon is pleased, my oncologist is disappointed she didn't zap all the cancer through chemo but she is definitely pleased it's all out (me too). I'll be taking a drug called Tamoxifen for the next 5 years, and will have frequent mammograms and MRIs. I'll be getting lots of attention from now on, and I'm hoping by staying on top of things I'll never have to go through this again!

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