"2015 started out with me breaking my leg when a biker ran into the wheel on my bicycle. Later in January, my mother passed away. Then in February, I was diagnosed with IDC in my right breast. I was a teacher of young children with special needs. I was planning on retiring in June, but breast cancer has a way of changing a lot of things. I had to leave my job in March. I live alone, in a city away from family. I was 66 at the time of diagnosis.
"Where do you begin? First of all, the diagnosis is a shock. I knew nothing about breast cancer. I have always eaten well, exercised and lived a healthy life. There was no one in my family with breast cancer. I started asking a lot of questions. I researched. My definite diagnosis was after the core biopsy. I learned as much as I could about options. I could have had a lumpectomy, but opted for a double mastectomy, and was fortunate to find a surgeon who specializes in nipple sparing surgery. By the way, you have to be a candidate for the nipple sparing surgery. It depends where the tumor is. My thought was that I did not want to have to revisit this again in the other breast. Some may disagree with me saying that I was going too far, but after learning that my Mammaprint showed that the biology of the tumor required chemotherapy (recommended), I researched finding a very good plastic surgeon, with the help of my breast surgeon. I was able to find one that I have been very happy with.
"My bilateral mastectomy was in early April. While on the operating table, the plastic surgeon came in and placed expanders under my chest muscle, as I was going to have reconstruction. My surgery was 5 1/2 hours and it was outpatient! While I was not too excited about this, looking back, I was happy that I did it that way. Of course, it depends who is home to take care of you those first days. I had two drains and my sister was here to help with that. I got them removed after 10 days. I felt good enough to celebrate by going out to lunch. Don't get me wrong, it hurts. Surgery hurts! But you can do it!
"I am not fond of pain medicine, so after trying some the first two days, it made me throw up, so I stopped them and just took Tylenol for a few more days. I would suggest taking a laxative the day after surgery and follow with stool softeners for the first week.
"One month after surgery, I started chemo. The threads on Breastcancer.org are good to get a list of things you might want to have on hand for chemo. Nausea medicine is usually given in the IV, which causes constipation, so take stool softeners. However, after a week, the constipation turned to diarrhea. I think this happens to a lot of people. So, it is individual. But, it is a good idea to have a laxative and stool softeners on hand. I also used sensitive baby wipes when using the bathroom. I did use Zofran, a nausea medication for the first treatment, but not after that, as I did not need it. But, I happen to know that Zofran works better than some of the other nausea medications. Zofran is used when you are pregnant for nausea. And, those anti-nausea medications also cause constipation. I took my iPad, a book, water and a snack to chemo. Most places have blankets because the room is sort of cold. I lost my hair after two weeks. When it was falling out a lot, I went to have my head shaved. I took my wig with me so I could walk out with it on. It actually was a relief to get it done. Having it fall out was worse. I have been wearing caps or my wig when I leave home, but at home, I do not wear anything on my head.
"I would like to share that my MO said she did not think I needed a port and I would just get IV's. So, we tried this for my first treatment. The nurse could not find a good vein. After about 5 sticks, she did get it in, but, it was AWFUL. Do not allow a nurse to stick you more than 2 times! And, about 4 days later, my arm started to swell and was hurting a lot. After an ultrasound, it was found that I had bloodclots in that arm. So, I had a Power Line put in. Power Lines are relatively new. It is a central line placed into the upper chest. It was done in the hospital and it is a small area...much like a pic line, only not in the upper arm. I had to go on Coumadin for the remainder of my chemo. Then, as with a port, I had to have the Power Line removed. It is a very small scar, about the size of a pencil eraser. My MO had never heard of it before. But, if anyone needs something, ask about a Power Line. It is NOT a pic line! I must say, it was much better than having IVs all the time and they could do all the blood draws through it.
"The day after treatment, I received a Neulasta shot. This helps increase white blood count, but can cause bone pain, so I did use Claritin. I started taking one Claritin 3 days before treatment and one week past treatment. It helped. Also, be sure to use the soda/salt solution to rinse your mouth about 7 times a day. I started to get some mouth sores, but when I did that, they went away. I will say that I got some sores around my vagina. No one talks about that. My oncologist said to go see my gynecologist. Well, I sure did not feel like doing that and knew that they were not vaginal warts (as she suggested) or anything like that. So, I used a washcloth with the salt/soda solution and they went away. I learned that it is really the same bacteria that causes mouth sores. At least it worked for me and cannot hurt to try. My salt/soda solution was 8 oz. of water, 1 T soda and 1 tsp. salt. That worked for me.
"My recommendation would be to eat...keep your body as healthy as can be. Easy? No! At times I did not want to eat. Taste buds change. I used to be a big coffee drinker. Coffee tasted awful, and have not had coffee since. Eat small meals several times a day.
"I felt VERY weak and treatments are cumulative. After treatment one, I was pretty good after a week, but after treatment four, I could not walk 100 feet. Just take it easy and go with it. I am a go-go person and it was really difficult to just do much of nothing. I hear that some women work right through chemo and walk a few miles a day. I was not one of those. So, I just accepted the fact that I needed to rest and get through it. The good thing is that it DOES get better. At times, I thought I would never feel good again. And, my hair is growing. I have about 1/2 inch 3 months PFT.
"Six weeks ago, 10 weeks after my last treatment, I had my reconstructive surgery. The plastic surgeon took out the expanders and put in implants. That surgery was so much easier than than the BMX. My surgeon uses glue and not stitches. I was doing really well after a week. Never even took a Tylenol!
"I would like to add that I am a praying woman and that I truly believe that God helped me through this. If anyone reading this is a believer, the book Jesus Calling is wonderful. I would encourage everyone to use this time to get closer to God. I cannot imagine going through this without God's help.
"This year has been really difficult. It has NOT been easy, but I did it, and I would tell others, they can too. There were many days that I thought I would never get out of a dark tunnel, but I did! Breastcancer.org is a wonderful site and I learned so much more from other women than from any doctor. I am thankful for doctors and the medicines available to us, but Breastcancer.org and the friendships I have made there are invaluable. Take one day at a time!"
-- mysunshine48, originally diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2015
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