Pieces of Angela or A Big C Update

Let’s see, where did we leave off? I was four treatments into Taxol, and I wasn’t feeling great, but much better then I felt on A/C.

After 12 weeks on Taxol, I finished chemotherapy in mid-December. My final treatment, what should have been a happy occasion, was clouded by fear and uncertainty when I started having breast pain again. I did a self-exam and could feel the tumor, which had been undetectable by touch since September.

This meant after all that poison was pumped into me, it didn’t kill all of the cancer cells. It didn’t help my anxiety when I told the oncologist and her face fell, noticeable even with a face mask.

Because I was having some side effects from the Taxol – finger nails separating from the nail beds; Neuropathy {numbness caused by the nerves being exposed to toxins} in my fingers and toes, and “chemo rash” on my hands, arms and cheeks – we had been reducing the Taxol for a few weeks. We were at a 30% reduction by the end of my treatment.

Maybe the reduction was enough to allow the cancer to start growing again? I don’t know, but I was sad and scared. I did reluctantly ring the bell on my last day of treatment, but it didn’t feel like cause for celebration. I had an MRI the following day which confirmed the tumor was still there, although noticeably smaller then when this all started back in July 2021.

Pieces of Angela or a Big C UpdateMe and my sister’s dog, Tia. She came and sat down next to me and kept smelling my mouth. I said, “I think she can smell my cancer.” Turns out she had cancer, too. Goodbye, sweet girl 

Side note because I get asked a lot – losing your nails during chemo is rare. So, of course it’s happening to me. Thankfully, they are starting to grow again. As my daughter said, “At least they’re not blue anymore.” The neuropathy may or may not go away over time. We just don’t know which is why we were trying to stop it from spreading further into my hands and feet.

The rash is gone. Yay! My hair is starting to grow back. Silver. Also known as “chemo hair” since it has no pigmentation. I’m told the color will come back eventually as well. I naively thought all of these side effects would magically get better once chemo was over. I’m learning it takes time.

Time for Surgery

My surgery, a double mastectomy, was scheduled for mid-January. Because of the growing tumor, my team worked hard to get it moved, but this was right around the holidays and schedules were tight.

Going through cancer is a frightening experience, but to go through it during a pandemic, well it’s very frightening and very lonely. I stayed as isolated as possible during this time {no Christmas and no New Year’s celebrations} not wanting COVID-19 to jeopardize my surgery in any way.

Adding to my stress was the fact that I didn’t have anyone to take care of me after surgery. With no other explanation besides Divine Intervention, a good friend from college got in touch with me two weeks before my surgery and offered to come help.

Thankfully, all the pieces came together and my surgery was moved up, which left me only one week to mentally prepare and get my anxiety under control. My friend arrived from Texas and she had done her research {I’m glad someone had because I hadn’t!} so she knew what post mastectomy items I needed. She brought them with her, along with the positivity and good energy I needed.

The surgery lasted about four hours, then I was in recovery for a few hours, so it was a very long day. I did not stay in the hospital. My surgeon likes to send her patients home to their own beds. At first, I thought she was nuts, but now that I did it that way, I get it.

That morning, I checked in when I was supposed to, but they seemed to be running late. When the surgeon arrived, she told us the hospital had tried to cancel my surgery due to staffing issues.

Cancer surgery is seen as elective. Read that again. 

Unbeknownst to me, the surgeon and plastic surgeon spent the majority of the day before, advocating for me and insisting my surgery take place. They called everyone up the line until they got to the boss who was on vacation at the beach. They even booked it at another hospital if my hospital wasn’t willing to do it. Ultimately, my team won that fight.

I feel so lucky and incredibly grateful these were the people I had on my side.

Rest and Recovery

I’m about two weeks into my six week recovery and everything is going well. The pain has been manageable. I don’t have a ton of energy, but I didn’t anyway when I was on chemo. I have limited use of my arms, but they are getting more and more mobile each day. I was specifically told many times to use “TRex arms” for the first few weeks.

I didn’t really think about all the nerves that were affected, so my chest area is still numb. And under my arms, and my shoulder blades. But the hardest part during the first week was getting in and out of bed. When getting out of bed requires you to roll yourself over, swing your legs off the bed and then use your face to push down on until your feet hit the floor, you know things are not good.

Even worse, when you get yourself settled in bed only to realize you need Chapstick. Or a drink of water. Or hand lotion. Any of the myriad items sitting on your nightstand that you can’t access without going through the above process.

I also have to sleep on my back, and as a stomach sleeper, this is a hard no. Get into bed, get settled only to realize I need to move a pillow with my TRex arms? Annoying AF.

By far, the worst part of recovery are the surgical drains. I had two. They’re cumbersome and it’s really hard to sleep with them. See above. Then there’s the whole emptying the drains process. Thankful for my friend who was an amazing nurse and handled the drains like a professional. Mine stayed in for two weeks and life has already improved exponentially since their removal!

Can We Skip to the Good Part

The good news is, my margins are clear {all cancer was removed} and it was not in any lymph nodes. It’s the best possible outcome, and my prognosis is excellent. Radiation was not recommended, but we kept the port in just in case I need any further treatment down the line. Things are ever changing in the world of cancer research with immunotherapies and even the development of a triple negative cancer vaccine, so who knows?

I haven’t had to shave in months and I don’t have eyebrows, but hey, I had to pluck a hair from my chin the other day. Further proof that my body is returning to normal.

The next step, as my surgeon said, “We’re gonna pump you up like Reebok.”

I’ll keep you posted.

 

xoxo

 

P.S.

Buy the Shoes: Essays on Relationships, Motherhood and the Stories in Between available for download on Amazon now.

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