Posted by: healingseeker | September 12, 2010

Physical Therapy, Positive Attitude, Prayer, & Passage of Time Helping with Breast Cancer Surgery Recovery

12 September 2010

It’s been one month and one day since my breast cancer surgery of a double mastectomy plus hysterectomy. Other than a few minutes of feeling a bit nostalgic or sad when I saw a Victoria Secret commercial emphasizing breast curves which I currently lack, I have been totally at peace about having the surgery. After all, I will be having reconstruction surgery beginning around November of 2011; therefore, it is not like it is going to be forever minus breasts. Plus, losing my breasts was for a really good cause – LIFE.

I am proud that I still have had only the nine pity parties during this whole breast cancer journey that began two days before Christmas of 2009. The last pity party aka mini tantrum I had was back when I still could not taste food due to chemo side effects. Once I got back to fully tasting food, the rest of the journey has been gravy – pun intended. Smile!

We all have been amazed that I have had such a relatively easy time of it since surgery – me included. My husband was a little afraid I was going to come home from the hospital a temporary invalid. I was a bit worried about that myself. Then he would have had two very dependent women on his hands – his wife and his mother who lives permanently in a nursing home with Parkinson’s, a wheelchair, not able to take care of any of her personal needs, etc. After they gave me four pints of blood the day after surgery, I was able to come home from the hospital a day later not running a track meet, but feeling pretty decent. It wasn’t long after that that I was able to resume walking at my normal fast clip. After all, there was zero pain associated with the hysterectomy.  I think that is what shocked me the most. I’d heard so many women’s horror stories plus recall seeing my own mother back in 1979 looking like she was on death’s door due to her hysterectomy. She is still going strong, by the way. Perhaps it was because it was a vaginal hysterectomy rather than being cut open that made the difference. In the interest of TMI (too much information), it hurt a bit to urinate the first two or three times; after that, there has been no pain in the slightest.

The most unpleasant part of the whole operation was the catheter they put in me for several hours. That catheter made me feel like I was about to wet myself at every moment it was in. I was so relieved when they took it out at 6:30 in the evening after having the operation early in the morning. The second most unpleasant part was five days or so of constipation. They warned me not to strain which made the process of elimination that much harder.

I did make full use of the pain medication I was offered while still in the hospital. I was prescribed two pain pills once I checked out from the hospital. I finished up the one bottle and never did find it necessary to finish up the second bottle. There has not been real bad pain associated with the double mastectomy. The worst pain happened when I accidentally would move my left arm in the wrong way where the ten lymph nodes were removed. Then I would gasp and moan a bit for several seconds or up to a minute. After that, it would be fine. There were some times when my breast area would throb a bit; however, it was never excruciating. It was always, from the beginning, pain that I could easily handle. The other blessing was that it was never constant pain. It was just periodic pain. My biggest challenge, pain-wise, was on September 26th. My surgeon removed the tape covering my sutures. For a day or two, I had almost constant stinging pain. By the way, the sutures are the type that will dissolve on their own. That bit of documentation is my effort at full disclosure. All in all, the whole recovery experience has not been that bad. I am so very grateful that it has been so much easier than I ever would have expected.

I have been rubbing vitamin E oil into the surgical area twice a day once the bandages got removed. I feel that has really helped with the healing process. I’m told by the radiologist that once I start radiation, I should not continue using that oil as it will exacerbate the burn factor. When that day comes, they have given me a special cream to use instead called Aquaphor, Healing Ointment Advanced Therapy.

I am pleased to say that unless you scrutinize my upper half and see that I am minus breast curves, I have a twinkle in my eye, a smile on my face, joy in my heart, and I am walking around appearing like the normal me minus hair.

In addition to prayer and a positive attitude, the other really helpful feature has been physical therapy. I have had six sessions so far three times a week. I have one more session for sure with the possibility of 8 more sessions twice a week. I won’t know if that has gotten approved for another couple of days. Due to the removal of ten lymph nodes, my left arm mobility was not very good post-surgery. Physical therapy started August 30th. The therapist has given me daily exercises to do in-between session. I am thrilled to say that on the sixth session, my left arm is able to more closely reach as far as my right arm is able to do. They have a wall mini finger crawl ladder with numbers. My right arm can easily reach the number 26 which is the maximum number I can reach given that I am only 5 foot three. The first time I tried, my left arm could only reach 21 with pain. Trying to reach #22 was major pain. The second day of therapy, my left arm could reach 22 with pain and 23 with major pain. It remained that way for the next three sessions. This past Friday, I was able to reach 24 with my left arm with do-able pain. I was absolutely thrilled! Also, they have other ways of measuring the return of full mobility. My numbers are increasing in every way showing that normal mobility will not be that far away. They pack me with ice at the end of each session which really helps. The radiologist stated that I should not use heat packs or ice packs once radiation starts as that will once again exacerbate the negative side effects.

I am extremely motivated when it comes to physical therapy as I am way too young to not have full use and reach of my arms. I plan to join the YMCA either this week or next week to keep the healing going plus to work on being more fit, healthy, and whole.

As for hair re-growth, that is happening as well. Two weeks after surgery, I found out about a vitamin called Biotin. It is supposed to help with hair re-growth. Then I also went to Sally’s and bought a shampoo, conditioner, and leave-in serum kit that also is reported to accelerate hair re-growth. Although my hair is not long enough yet to go without a scarf or wig, it is definitely getting fuller and a bit longer. Once it is long enough to leave scarf and wig permanently behind, I will color my hair to its former blond state as opposed to this salt and pepper look I am currently sporting. I’m also too young, in my opinion, to be going around with gray hair.

The doctors are very pleased with my healing process. I now will only see my oncologist once a month to get my port flushed to prevent blood clots. I will only go back and see my surgeon after radiation ends. I see my OBGYN later next week. He wanted to see me five weeks after surgery had ended.

As for the low-dosage chemo tablet that I will take for five years, my oncologist had three options to choose from. He took a blood test to determine if my body was still producing hormones. The good news is that I am not. He also sent me to get a bone density scan to determine what level of osteoporosis I had. Those two factors would help him determine which pill would be the least harmful and the most helpful. It turns out that I am halfway in-between normal bone density and osteoporosis. I have a condition called Osteopenia. It is “a condition where bone mineral density is lower than normal. It is considered by many doctors to be a precursor to osteoporosis. However, not every person diagnosed with osteopenia will develop osteoporosis.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osteopenia). The final decision was that I was to take the generic version of Arimidex. I started that pill on Sept. 10th. I will have to buy a pill splitter as it is gigantic and very challenging to swallow. Since one of the side effects of this pill could negatively impact my bone density, he wants me to take a calcium pill with vitamin D twice a day. That pill should help balance things out. I am also taking krill oil, vitamin B-12, vitamin E, vitamin C, a multi-vitamin with iron, Vitamin D, plus a stool softener.

I met my radiologist on Sept. 8th. He is very nice as is his nurses. The first session was a consultation. The second session was a scan to determine where to aim the radiation. They have marked me with a permanent marker covered with clear tape for now. I begin my first actual session of radiation on Wednesday, Sept. 15th. They will give me a permanent tattoo sometime this coming week. This will be a tiny point on my body – the bull’s-eye of where to aim the radiation. Part of the purpose of the physical therapy was so that I could lift my left arm over my head for radiation. There is still some pain involved in doing that; however, I trained myself a few years ago to relax into the pain rather than resist it. It makes it so much simpler. Radiation will be daily (Monday through Friday) for six to seven weeks.

The purpose of chemo and surgery was to remove the cancer from my body. The purpose of radiation and the 5-year chemo tablet are preventative to make certain it does not come back and to attack any possible spy cancer cells that may be still hiding out somewhere. My current prayer is that my hair grows in long and thick, I regain full mobility of both arms, and that I remain cancer free for the rest of my life. I feel confident of all three things taking place thanks to the glory and the power of God.

Thank you so much for all your prayers and support. I fully believe that it was the power of prayer that has helped me get through all of this in such a smooth fashion. I am so very grateful to you and to God.

Much love to you all,
Healing Seeker aka Debbie


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