Friday, April 26, 2013

I Popped my Boob

In addition to the successful and "normal" scan of my girly parts yesterday, I also received some other good news. I went to Dr. B, my plastic surgeon, for a follow-up on the implant exchange surgery from 5 weeks ago. He checked the scars, declared everything normal, and gave me the go-ahead to begin my usual exercise routine again.  Time to get back into training for my triathlons!

At 5:30 this morning, I returned to Method 360. Woot woot!! I loved every minute of my daily classes with Trish and Kristin in December through March and couldn't wait to start again. Everyone was excited to see me back, and as I walked in, Trish said, "Just don't pop your boob." Ten minutes later, I popped my boob.

Seriously. I was doing some army crawl on the floor and I thought that my right side was sweating a bit more than it should. I peeked into my shirt and my sports bra was wet right on the front, so I ran to the bathroom. When I lifted up my shirt, I saw my that skin had opened up like an eye. The reddish purple implant was perfectly exposed through the 5 or 6 inch gap. Since I didn't take a picture, I've taken a page out of one of the funniest Mommy blogs I know of and I've drawn you a crappy picture of what I saw.

The oddest thing to note about this picture is that I didn't draw any blood. That's because there wasn't any. I mean, a little pinkish liquid, but probably only a few tissues worth. The implant itself seemed to be a pinkish purple color. (I think it started out clear, but it's been in my body for 5 weeks.)

So I returned to the gym floor, put my sweat towel between my exposed implant and bra (luckily, I hadn't really begun to sweat yet), and quickly realized that maybe Kristin could help since she has had these surgeries, too. The conversation went as follows:

Shari - "Kristin, sorry to interrupt. My stitches are popped wide open." (Lifts shirt.)
Kristin - Looks. Runs away. (I thought she was going to throw up.)
Shari - Calling across the room, "Are you okay?"
Kristin - "I'm calling Dr. B."

So Kristin is the hero of the morning! She got the emergency line to wake Dr. B. She drove me to his office and waited with me. She even assisted him with the restitching surgery! (He didn't have a nurse and had to keep his hands sterile, so he had her handing him stitches, betadine, and such.) She said it was really interesting to watch, as she got to see him pulling my skin aside, cleaning underneath, etc. She even snapped a stealthy picture of  me staring at the ceiling. Go Kristin!

Note that the clock on the wall says it's just about 7:00am. And the odd lump on my shorts is my shirt that I'd whipped off when Dr. B showed up.

So, all was done by a few minutes after this picture. We went back to get my car and Trish lovingly scolded me for popping my boob. Then back home to take care of kids and resume normal life. I don't even need painkillers today, but I'm taking it easy just in case. The biggest concern is infection because there was a gaping hole in my body, so I'm on antibiotics.

In retrospect, I'd noticed that the seam on my right breast was getting darker, like dark brown, over the past few days. I thought it was just part of the healing process for radiated skin. Then, this morning, it opened SO easily. Again, it was 10 minutes into my first workout. There was no tearing at all. It just spread apart. I guess I could describe it like a Ziploc bag opening, not a pants seam ripping.  I truly believe that the scar was going to open no matter what. The radiated skin hadn't fused together after the surgery, and the little dark area was a hole. If I'd been loading groceries this weekend and lifted my arm to close the trunk, the split may have happened. Maybe starting at 1 inch, not 5, but it was going to happen nonetheless.

Of course this whole thing has changed my perspective on going back to exercising. I still believe that I NEED to keep my body in shape. However, radiated skin doesn't care that there's a triathlon on June 9 and another on August 4. Dr. B says "no" to both of them. A week ago, I would have argued, but the shock of seeing my popped boob has me 100% willing to follow doctor's orders. As bummed as I am, exercise will have to wait.

So, how was your morning?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Another Nervous Day

This is a completely unrelated photo showing how my hair looks right now. (Sorry about the totally fake looking smile.) I was getting some sideburns, so I'm using headbands every day to train the hair to stay back. I think I'll call this my Kramer-look.

(Update and correction at the bottom.)

I'm nervous today. As you might predict, every single doctor's appointment these days is met with the fear of what bad news I might receive. Along with the term "cancerversary" on the cancer blogs, you'll also find the term "scanxiety". Everything points to me being fine, but I don't think I'll ever be able to calmly walk into a medical office again.

Tomorrow's doctor's appointment? It's because I did a very normal thing for a 41-year-old woman: I got my period. However, as you may remember, the tamoxifen I take is supposed to prevent the estrogen in my body from doing what it normally does, so I shouldn't be getting a period. And I haven't since starting tamoxifen. But then I did last week. Dr. Google and the many women who post on cancer boards and blogs said that I'm not alone, but I had to be sure.

When I called the oncologist's office, they weren't overly concerned ("It happens sometimes to some women.") but they advised me to call my ob/gyn. Her office has me set up for an endometrial ultrasound tomorrow. Evidently, tamoxifen slightly raises the risk of endometrial cancer. Very slightly: I go from something like 1/1000 odds to 3/1000 odds.* My odds of cancer recurrence without taking tamoxifen is much higher, so it's totally worth the risk. But I think all of my doctors have the same scanxiety that I have. They were surprised that my breast lump was cancer, so they don't want to miss anything at all. That's good, I guess. However, I'm stuck sitting in the very same office (Crouse Imaging Center) where my initial diagnosis was made. Fun times, huh?

Rationally, I know that this is nothing. From this National Cancer Institute link, I have none of the symptoms described. I'm 100% certain what I had was a normal period. (Women friends out there, I'm sure you'll agree that you totally know what your period looks and feels like. This was totally normal. Not at all "bleeding or discharge unrelated to menstruation".) And in case you, too, are freaking out a little, check out the last sentence: "Endometrial cancer is highly curable."

So, by this time tomorrow, I'll have been diagnosed with NOT having endometrial cancer. Then why am I still so nervous?

Update - My ultrasound was totally normal, with the endometrial lining measuring 6mm. (Don't know what that means besides hearing the word "normal" attached to it.) The unfortunate part is that my cycles are probably back, but that's better than the cancer being back. What was I thinking, throwing out my Diva Cup? That'll teach me to listen to the oncologist! Actually, my assumption is that Dr. Kirshner is used to dealing with cancer patients who are older, so he assumed when I'd stopped my period, it would stay that way. My regular gynecologist sees women of all ages on many different medications, so she's less surprised with my body doing whatever it's been doing.

*The math geek in me has to correct this statement. Going from 1/1000 to 3/1000 can actually be described as TRIPLING my chances of endometrial cancer. Fortunately, the increase from 0.1% to 0.3% is the slight increase I was referring to. See how statistics could be used to scare people?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

That Supreme Court Gene Thing

I really wish I had a better understanding of what's going on in the Supreme Court tomorrow. I know it matters, and I've figured out a little about it, but if someone wants to debate me on the subject, I don't think I know enough to hold my end of the argument. But I'm guessing that if I didn't have breast cancer myself, I know and understand even less. Therefore, I'm going to blog tonight to sort out the few thoughts I have, and do it as a teacher to anyone who wants to learn with me.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided upon a double mastectomy. However, I could have said, "Why don't you just try cutting out that lump in my right breast? See if you can get everything without taking my boobs." At that point, the doctors would have said, "Let's find out whether you have the breast cancer gene. If you do, your body will probably grow cancer again, so your best bet is to go for the double mastectomy."

So my blood would have been drawn, and the sample would be sent to a company called Myriad. Then would check for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes using some patented technology they have invented to find the genes (I think). Then they'd let my doctors and me know whether I had either of them and decisions about treatment could be made from there.

I opted for the mastectomy without knowing about my genes. However, I did have a blood sample sent in to Myriad this past summer (just another blood draw during my chemo infusions). I wanted to know whether I was carrying a gene that Maggie or Reese or either of my two sisters might have to worry about. Also, those BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes also indicate something about cancer in the female parts. Clearly, my tests came back negative, or I'd know more about this.

Because the insurance through Paul's work has been superb throughout this whole thing (thanks SRC and Excellus), the genetic test was covered. However, I was warned in advance that this is an expensive test to do. Myriad is the only place that does this genetic testing. That's where this whole Supreme Court thing comes in. Does Myriad have the right to patent our genes?

In my opinion, they shouldn't. If Myriad has the patent to locate the BRCA genes, they control the price. I read somewhere that the company makes a huge profit off of this. Also, if they are making money from this without competition, where's their incentive to improve their research and find new things?

That's where my understanding of this stuff ends. I have a few articles (there are many) that you can read here in preparation for what will be in the news tomorrow. (I admit, they're pretty slanted toward my opinion.) Please feel free to post if you have anything to add or if I said something incorrect, and if you want to start that debate with me where I'll be unable to defend myself, go ahead. At least I might learn something.