Staying Alive

 

 

john travolta staying alive

It’s been many, many moons since I wrote a post. But when I had someone reach out with a personal e-mail asking for advice and hoping I was still doing well, I knew I had to get back to writing regularly. It’s nice to have folks care about how I’m doing after all this time.

Last weekend marked 3 years since I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. The day came and went without much fanfare, until I sat down that night and realized what a huge milestone that actually is. I know that 5 years is the magical number for survival odds to greatly increase, but hey, I’m on the downward slope now and I can see the prize.

I guess you could say I’m doing fantastically well, which is part of the reason for my long blogging hiatus. There hasn’t been much to report other than the mundane day to day details that create a life. I’m still working from home, driving kids all over town, and taking care of a menagerie of animals. All the things most people complain about that survivors relish.

This year has been surprising. I left my job working in a hospital lab 18 months ago to finally use my chiropractic degree and build my practice. I’ve since come to realize what I probably knew on some level all along, that chiropractic in and of itself isn’t my calling. It’s not enough to feed my soul and satisfy my creativity. So life has taken me in some pretty unexpected directions.

I’ve started making and selling jewelry. I even opened up an Etsy shop and started doing craft shows. That’s craziness, considering I had never done this before last summer. Creativity…yes, it’s good. And it’s a sweet validation to have someone like your work enough to buy it.

I’ve also been taking intensive courses to learn how to create a business helping others online. My first project will be to create an online community of breast cancer survivors who are open to holistic health. There are groups who are completely anti-medical, and there are others that want nothing to do with anything outside the mainstream. But there’s very little in the middle. I hope to create courses and programs that will teach survivors how to use nutrition, supplements, and other alternative therapies to support their recovery and stay well. And there will be no shaming those who choose traditional treatment as well.

Along those lines, probably the most unexpected thing that has happened over the past year has been my foray into essential oils and the amazing way they have boosted my  health. I run, I have energy, I sleep well, I can put myself in a better mood, I have no aches and pains, and my hair is fuller and thicker. (Is it wrong that the last one makes me smile the most?) It took me a long time to be able to share all these things with people without feeling awkward or sheepish. But people noticed, and at some point I decided that it was really more of a disservice to keep it to myself when it had the potential to help so many who are not faring as well or just want to feel better.

So, I have decided to do a Facebook class on this topic. Monday, March 28th at 8pm, I will  be hosting a class called “Essential Oils That Have Let Me Thrive In Recovery”. I’ll tell you exactly what I’m using, why it’s important for survivors and how it can help you. I’ll post the link below. If you’d like to attend, all you do is follow the link and click “going”.

At the class time, posts will appear 3-4 minutes apart, and you can refresh the page to see each new post. You can ask questions in the post’s comments section. I’ll leave all the posts up for  day or so to let you review or catch up if you can’t be there live. I’m very passionate about essential oils, and I love to teach. Hope to see you there!

https://www.facebook.com/events/920824514700789/

 

Time For A Bitchin’ Suntan

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

It’s been a long September. A touch of sepsis, a 10-day course of an antibiotic with a black box warning, a decision to end chemo early…yada yada. In spite of it all, I have bounced back once again to take on whatever comes next. Isn’t the human body simply amazing? It’s like a puppy that is continually scolded and kicked but returns time after time to lick your face.

tan woman

 

It turns out that what comes next is the ultimate tan, otherwise known as radiation therapy. As I’ve shared before, I have some real concerns about becoming a human shish kebob, and yesterday was my day to annoy a new doctor, the radiation oncologist.

I first met him shortly after my diagnosis, and I remember being impressed with his unhurried, down-to-earth demeanor. Honestly, I don’t remember much else from that day; the shock was too great. So when he asked yesterday if I still had any “niggling concerns” from our first discussion, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

My concern is that I'll look like this in 6 weeks.

My concern is that I’ll look like this in 6 weeks.

Hey, I gave him fair warning. I told him that I’m “that patient”, the one who does tons of research and never accepts any treatment at face value unless it absolutely makes sense to me. He didn’t flinch; I liked that. “Shoot”, he told me. So I pulled the pad with all my questions from my pocket.

Me: “I’m very concerned about irradiating my heart since the cancer was on the left side. I want to be able to run, and I don’t want to die of heart failure down the line.”

Dr. Rad: Pulling up my pre-op CT scan on his laptop. “Actually, you have a very favorable anatomy for radiation. Your heart is on the smaller side, and it sits a good distance back from the chest wall. We can get the beam almost down to zero before it reaches your heart.”

Me: “So your saying I have a small, cold heart.” (Dr. Rad chuckled) “Ok. But what about lymphedema? I’ve managed to keep that in check pretty well so far in spite of having 16 lymph nodes removed. If you go blasting my underarm area with radiation, couldn’t that get much worse?”

Dr. Rad: Reading my pathology report on the laptop. “It looks like we may be able to skip irradiating the area under the arm where the lymph nodes were.” He proceeded to draw a diagram of the likely area of radiation on the white board. “If we target this area, your risk of lymphedema will be about 10% assuming you don’t already have it. If we treat under the arm, the risk goes up considerably. Of course, if we skip that, there is a chance of recurrence in the underarm area.”

Me: “I guess the bigger question is how much gain in overall survival I can expect from doing this.”

mary poppins

Dr. Rad: Back to the trusty laptop. I half expected him to start pulling ferns and lamps out of there, like Mary Poppins with her carpet bag. “Let’s take a look at this study from 2007. It looked at women with estrogen positive, Her2 Negative tumors just like you. Your risk of recurrence in the chest area would go down from 35% to less than 5% with radiation. And your cancer was pretty close to the chest wall. We do not want a recurrence on the chest wall. Your overall survival over 10 years will improve by 10-15% with radiation.”

Me: Ok, I’m impressed. I like numbers and doctors who care enough to show them to me. “I’m with you so far. I like all that, but let me ask you this. You can only ever have radiation in this area once, correct?”

Dr. Rad: “With any degree of safety, yes.”

Me: “Why can’t I save this option until I need it?  I may never have a recurrence. Just give me an MRI periodically to keep an eye on things, and we’ll pull out the electrons as soon as we see anything suspicious.”

Dr. Rad: “The problem with that is that we wouldn’t be able to see it early enough on MRI. You could probably feel it as soon as it would show up on imaging, and we don’t want it to get to that point. The bottom line is that I think we need to do a full court press here and do everything we can to keep it from recurring.”

Me: “Allright, I have one last question. I expect to get a fabulous new pair of boobs when all this is over, and I don’t want my skin to look like extra crispy KFC chicken.”

Dr. Rad: More chuckling. “Well, on the right side it doesn’t matter, but on the left side it may depend on how huge a boob we’re talking about. Everybody responds differently to radiation, so we won’t know how much the skin can stretch until it’s over. Start looking for a good plastic surgeon, and we’ll do everything we can to spare the skin. Now, do you have any more questions? Could there be any more?”

Me: “Oh, there can always be more. But I guess I’m good for now.”

Dr. Rad: “It’s no problem at all. You think, therefore you ask.”

So, we scheduled the planning session for next week, and the six weeks of daily radiation will commence on October 14. Am I thrilled with the idea? No. A voice in my head keeps telling me that a 35% chance of recurrence means a 65% chance of no recurrence. But I have to admit that the chest wall thing scares me. Since I had diffuse areas of cancer, with one type being only 1mm from the chest wall, it makes being a rebel somewhat dicier. 

On a funny note, the nurse interrupted us in the middle of our one hour meeting to let Dr. Rad know that my ex-oncologist needed to speak to him for a minute. When he left the room, my husband and I smiled at each other. We made up our own version of that conversation.

Ex-Oncologist: “Oh my God, I just found out that Lisa is there. I’m telling you, get out while you can! Run! She’ll ask you all kinds of questions and expect real answers! Not only that, she’ll demand that you show compassion, even when don’t feel like it! And worst of all, she’ll call you out when you’re giving crappy care! You’re welcome, buddy.”

Dr. Rad: “Wow. I’m so grateful that you called. I’ll tell her we’re closing the practice and I’m moving to Afghanistan to treat underprivileged kids who can’t afford radiation. Thanks!”

Luckily, Dr. Rad did return. I guess he’s willing to take his chances:)

 

Lymphedema Self-Massage For Prevention and Relief

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

When I had my double mastectomy, I had 16 lymph nodes removed on the left side and the sentinel node removed on the right. Since one of the major functions of the lymphatic system is to carry fluids from the tissues and cellular spaces back to the bloodstream, fluid accumulation can become a real problem after this surgery. This is mainly noticeable on the arm and fingers of the affected side and can be severe, sometimes requiring the use of a special compression sleeve along with physical therapy.

lymphedema

I was lucky enough to have an appointment shortly after surgery with a lymphedema specialist at the rehab center. I had no symptoms at the time, but she showed me some simple self-massage techniques I could use to prevent fluid accumulation and to manage it if it became an issue. I have used the self-massage regularly, and I haven’t had any significant problems.

Since the diagram she gave me was a bit cluttered and marked up, I found the video below which I think is pretty good, although very extensive. I would note that the lady in the video does not massage the armpit on the affected side. I do, and I think it helps.

As I’ve mentioned to some of the ladies I talk to, I feel that exercise has been the biggest factor in preventing lymphedema for me. I can tell a huge difference in the fluid pressure if I don’t get some aerobic activity in for a few days. I’m a runner, but I don’t think you have to go to this extreme, unless you want to:) Even brisk walking, while swinging the arms, will help to keep the lymph from stagnating. Lifting weights is also beneficial, and I try to do this at least once per week using some simple exercises with free weights.

I hope you find the video helpful.