Category Archives: after cancer

If your hand is swelling, take off your ring.

What is your worst fear post-cancer?  This is an easy one.  Of course 99.9% of us would say reoccurrence.  But beside cancer coming back, which of course trumps everything else, is this:

Life Debilitating Issues

Very quickly most women accept, but don’t talk about, the number one fear.  Because most of us don’t really have a choice.  That fear would be losing any sensation in our breasts.  Now granted, we don’t need breast sensation for everyday life, but it certainly is debilitating when it comes to our sex life for sure.

The second fear, of course I’m assuming this because this would be my fear, and that is lymphedema.  Nothing made me more scared pre-mastectomy than seeing pictures and hearing horror stories of lymphedema.  I’ve always been crazy scared of life being debilitating post-cancer.

So a few months ago, one week post-surgery, I had just finished painting my daughters room, when I realized my hand was swollen.  Eek!  I immediately started crying to Jeremy.  You all think I’m really strong but really I’m a big’ol woos. 

I'm showing this picture because this is the one I sent to my plastic surgeon. His first response. Take off the rings. It takes a Harvard education to realize you should TAKE OFF YOUR RINGS WHEN YOUR HAND IS SWELLING...LOL!

There’s a really long story here about me freaking out, and how poorly I handle a little swelling.  But you might fall asleep.  I did learn something through it that I’ll share with you:

A.  Remain calm.  If you’ve never had swelling before, chances are it will resolve itself.

B.  Wrap the swelling and elevate.  I put my compression sleeve on because that is the only thing I’d been given.  It did nothing for the swelling in my hand.  Your local drugstore has tape that sticks a little when you wrap it.  You can unwrap it and re-wrap it.  So wrap in so it’s snug but not too tight.

C.  See your family doctor.  Mine was concerned it might be an infection so he prescribed antibiotic.  But a family doctor can also refer you to physical therapy or a lymphedema specialist. 

D.  Be purposeful about getting that referral.  Here’s why:

For a year or so I’ve had reoccurring pain in my hands.  Both sides.  It felt like the skin hurt on the back of my hands and lower arms and then under my armpits.  I let it go because any time I mentioned it, no one seemed to know what it was.  I started to think it was just something I should learn to live with, after all “I had mastectomies, right.”  I just figured it was the way it was.  I couldn’t possibly hope to be pain-free, right?

Wrong!

That is terribly wrong think’in.  Don’t live with pain.  Haven’t I always said you need to be your own advocate?  Why don’t I take my own advice?  The pain in my arm was probably a sign of circulation issues, even if no one else had experienced that pain.  My hand swelled because it was tired of being ignored.  Another symptom I had was numbness and tingling in my hands….again, just thought I needed to learn to live with it.

I started physical therapy for “thoracic outlet syndrome” almost 6 weeks ago and I haven’t had pain or swelling since.  We’re still working on the numbness.  I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to be pain-free.  Some of the things she’s working on with me is posture.  Without a double mastectomy we have poor posture, but women who have had mastectomies or breast work tend to try to hide it by bad posture.  I’m learning to stand up straight, and who knew I had muscles in my back that needed to be strengthened!

So the moral of this story is: don’t live with pain ladies.  Seek help. 

Oh….and take off your ring if your hand swells!

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Pony Tails

22 months post chemo. Finally. It’s going to be a pony tail summer.

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Locker-Room Phobia

I’m not one to avoid going out if I don’t have make-up on.  I quite often throw on a coat over my PJ’s and slide in to some big boots to drive my daughter down to school.  I’m just waiting for the day that I, for some unforseen reason have to get out of my mint green mini-van at the school in front of professionally dressed parents in my old, well warn PJ’s with a pattern that resembles lucky charms. 

The day is coming.  And I am prepared.  Seriously. 

But here’s what I’m not prepared for.  Ever. 

It strikes a fear in me like no other.

Are you ready…..it’s THE LOCKER ROOM.  Yes, the locker room. 

I feel a bit like I’m back in 5th grade and you start to hit puberty and you realize you are changing, but aren’t sure changing is really ok, so you dread being naked in front of 20 other girls after gym class. 

It’s that kind of fear. 

Now, I’m not so fearful of the normal women’s locker room.  I don’t fear damaging anyone for life when they might see my scarred and nipple-less breasts, but I do worry about the shock factor.  Like, whao….I was not expecting that.  Because frankly, lets just be honest here.  Breasts without nipples is a bit scary.  

Even I was scared after my initial reconstruction.  It just looks, well, different.

But here’s what really gets me nervous.   The locker room at the water park in town where I take my kids, that’s what makes me nervous.  You see, my children are used to seeing my body.  But other children aren’t.  And there are no family changing areas there and no curtains to hide behind.  Just me, the locker room and young children all curious and wondering why I look so different.   I caught a teenage girl staring the other day.  And I’m quick.  Super quick.  You’ve not seen someone change from a bathing suit to a shirt as fast as I can.  The problem lies in how wet the shirt gets.

So the other day I came in to this locker room and started helping my kids get ready.  And there stood several women from my children’s school. 

Lovely.  Just lovely.

I am wrapped in a towel, I look horrible, dripping wet, and they are standing next to me chatting.  One of them says, “are you an Angling Mom?”  I look slowly at this woman and smile a nervous smile, as she proceeds to say “you drive a green mini-van.”  Yes, yes I say. 

I really want to melt in to the floor at this moment.

I can’t believe the predicament I’m in.  I have three children yelling and screaming at me to get their clothes.  And my kids, bless their hearts, don’t get it.  And Jeremy would get really angry if he thought I was being all self-conscious about my body in front of the girls.  So I’m draped in a towel in front of women that RECOGNIZE me.  Shoot.  What to do.  I did what any other laid back mother who recently went through reconstruction surgery for breast cancer would do.  I LEFT my children to fend for themselves and I found a bathroom stall to get dressed.  Thank goodness my 3-year-old didn’t run off. 

I just couldn’t bear to change right in front of these women who may/may not know I’ve had breast cancer. 

If I were being really truthful, this really is one of the hardest thing for me to deal with emotionally.  It sends me in to a pathetic emotional downer.  I dread it before we go and I dread it as we leave.   It takes me a day or two to recover. 

Until the next locker room trip.

But like everything else,  I will not let fear keep me from enjoying life.   I will conquer the locker room for the sake of my children’s water park adventure.  But man, am I so tempted to skip it. 

Can any other breast cancer survivors relate.  You’ll make me feel SO much better if you tell me you can.  Or better yet, overcame your locker room fear.

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Do I Really Need to Come Up With a Title…..

There’s something nostalgic about going back to the cancer center.  Some people probably run and never turn back.  That isn’t me.  I think God has sort of carved out a little niche for me with cancer and I think I need to be ok with that. 

Last week, when Jeremy was home and could watch the kids I went back to the chemo room in hopes of locating some ladies who always had herceptin infusions on the same day as me.  The difference for them was that they were on herceptin for life because they were metestatic, whereas I was only on it for a year.  And last December, my oncologist decided I was done.  That was that.  I never went back to the chemo room.  So I wanted to go back and say hi to Kim and Ardeth.  Unfortunately, they had changed the days they get infusions.  I know….I worried you when I said “unfortunately,” didn’t I.  I was worried a bit too.  I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to go back a year later to check on someone who is having chemo for life.  But I did it anyway, in hopes they were still doing well.  I did find out they ARE doing well.  But I also got to see two special people who I hadn’t seen in a while as well.  The massage therapist, Karen, who always gave me foot massages (sometimes 2) when I was getting infusions and my favorite nurse Stephanie.  I could tell they were really happy to see me.  They oohed and aahed about my hair and how great I looked and it felt really good.  I bet it feels really good to see someone come back recovered after cancer.

So then today I had my 6 month appointment.  Which went fabulous.  I am doing great.  Not one itty bitty concern.  I’m so thankful. 

So I had a good talk with my oncologist about helping out at the cancer center, and I was excited because she seemed really positive about it.  So I’m hoping to dig in to that a bit more.

And my dear friend Kim, who does web design, has agreed to help me improve on my little wordpress blog.  So I’ll be excited to see that evolve in to a little bit more of a resource for young women going through cancer with a spiritual emphasis.  So watch out for her artistic touch!  She’s very good at what she does!

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A Question?

So I’m preaching in a few weeks, the 27th to be exact, at my church.  My topic is going to be something along the lines of “Moving past painful/hurtful experiences.”  I’m going to be sharing some of my own cancer journey and some ideas I have about moving on with your life after cancer…..as it hasn’t always been easy….and in many ways I’m in the midst of it! 

And I’m curious to hear from you.  You don’t have to have survived cancer.  You may have experienced a death in the family, a painful divorce or a health crisis.  Whatever.  There are, unfortunately many experiences that are painful and difficult to get through and move on from.

What has been a help to you as far as moving on from crisis or pain in your life?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!  BTW….this doesn’t have to be only spiritual….it might be “I got a new job” or “I took time for myself.”  Whatever…..there is no right answer here!

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