2014 in Review

2014 was a pretty big year for me. Not quite as big as 2013, but quite a bit still happened in my cancer journey. Therefore, I think it’s worth a look back on the year to see what changes occurred.

I started the year recovering from my mastectomy and going through radiation. While radiation wasn’t as hard as chemo, I really didn’t appreciate breaking out in hives at the end of the treatment.

Hives from the radiation treatment

Hives from the radiation treatment

With hindsight being 20/20, I’m wishing now that I didn’t decide to try reconstruction after my mastectomy. It was a pretty close decision, and now it’s looking like I went through all the pain of expansion and living with the expander (never did get anything close to comfortable with it) without the benefit of an implant at the end. It’s not a big deal living without a right breast. When I’m just going to be home, I don’t even wear a bra much.

I did finish up all my active treatments – radiation and Herceptin were the treatments in the beginning of the year. Now I access the port only to flush it.

No more of this!

No more of this!

My hair is still changing as it comes in. It’s much curlier now than it was at the beginning of the year. I think I’m going to keep it short for a while, especially now that I can go four months or so in between hair cuts. Getting a hair cut every two months gets expensive, even at the cheap place I go!

My hair at the beginning of the year

My hair at the beginning of the year

My hair at the end of the year - so curly!

My hair at the end of the year – so curly!

Things to look forward to this year: not as many doctor’s appointments, since I’m not in active treatment. I’ll have another MuGA scan and a mammogram, but I’m not sure what else in terms of tests. I’m down to every six months with Dr. Engel, and I something similar for the oncologist.

My big goal is to get my port out. I’ve finally gotten used to it and hardly ever notice it anymore (it only took about 15 months), but I still will be happier with it out. If nothing else, it will open up my bathing suit and mastectomy bra options.

Let’s see what the year brings, shall we?



Double-breasted today

I decided it might be a good idea to get myself a new breast prosthetic. At the moment, my shaped Victoria Secret bras do a decent job faking a right breast, but the shaping may eventually collapse and more fitted shirts compress the bra. So, I scheduled a new appointment at the Pennsylvania Artificial Limb and Brace Company. I wanted to make sure and get my stuff while we’re still in this calendar year and my insurance is way maxed out.

As per usual, Julie did an excellent job helping me out. It was a little tricky because apparently, most of her patients have a much larger cup size than I do. It also doesn’t help that I have to keep the straps off to the side because my port is in the way. There were few bras that I could actually try on. We did manage to find one in my size – 34AA. Yes, yes, very sad, but I didn’t like being a B cup. I’m much happier back at my normal size.

My new mastectomy bra

My new mastectomy bra. It kind of feels like a sports bra

The inside cup for my prosthetic

The inside cup for my prosthetic

I was a little leery of this bra because the straps do go right over my port. However, I wore it all day today and it didn’t bother me. The straps are wide enough that they go around the port, and I think I’ve finally gotten used to the port (over a year later).

Here’s my new prosthetic:

photo(36)We ended up going with a size four because I have a bit of concavity in my chest from the nasty expander. With this bra, it squishes it all to my chest and I needed a bit more oomph. I wore it today and felt a bit more balanced. I don’t mind going around without it, but it was kind of nice to have two breasts today instead of just one.

I’ve got another bra on order that will allow me to wear tops with a deeper dip into the decolletage. We’ll see how it works once my size comes in.

Lots of Checkups

The doctors keep checking up on me, just to make sure everything’s going fine. I know it’s going fine, but they need to check and see. I had a final checkup with Dr. Kang last week. I won’t need to see him for six more months and then we’ll have the discussion about whether we can put in the implant. Until then, I’ll just get by with a formed bra. One of these days I’ll head over to the Pennsylvania Artificial Limb and Brace Company to get my self a real prosthetic.

This week, I had some internal check-ups. A MuGA and a mammogram. I had a different technician for my mammogram, and she had a hard time getting the right position for the side-ways mammogram. She kept getting my shoulder pinched in the machine. Even less comfortable than just getting my breast squished. No results from either test, which I’m sure means they’ll be fine.

Next week, no doctor’s appointments. Hooray! I’ll have time to do some work around the house.

Getting Back To Life

Things have been quiet around here lately, which is just the way I like it. I did have a doctor’s appointment last week. It was a little odd because my oncologist I’ve been seeing at the cancer center left to work somewhere else. For this particular appointment, I just met with a physician’s assistant. She made sure I was feeling fine, but didn’t even do a breast exam – she figured I had enough people poking and prodding in that area lately so I didn’t need another.

The big news is I’m getting ready to play hockey again. I’m giving myself eight weeks to heal from the surgery, and then I’m heading back on the ice. I will make one concession to the cancer. Since I still have my port in place, I’ve gotten a protective shirt to wear over the port.

My new shirt with a pocket for the protective piece.

My new shirt with a pocket for the protective piece.

It’s designed to protect your shoulder from the recoil of a shotgun, but it should protect my port from a random shot that my shoulder pads somehow fail to protect me from. The protective piece hardens with air contact, so it comes in an air-tight package with lots of warning labels.

The protective piece hardens with air contact, so it comes in an air-tight package with lots of warning labels

When you open the package, the protective piece is soft, and it hardens over a ten minute period. I put it in the pocket and kept pushing it over the port and my chest so it fit smoothly.

Before hardening - soft and flat

Before hardening – soft and flat

After hardening, hard and curved

After hardening, hard and curved

We’ll see how it works for hockey. I have quality shoulder pads, so I’m not too worried, but a shattered port would be a bad thing. I’m hoping I get a chance to get on the ice a few times before my first game, to get my legs under me. It’s been a while since I played hockey. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten it all!



Stitches Are Out!

Yesterday, I was back at Dr. Kang’s office to get my stitches out. He started by taking out every other stitch, and then said he’d take out the remaining stitches if everything looked good. Considering it’s healed completely, all the stitches came out. It was not the most pleasant of operations. Not as bad as getting a drain pulled out of you, but I could feel the stitches as he pulled them far enough away from my body that he could snip it off. I will admit to not watching. I can watch this kind of stuff in other people, but if I watch certain procedures on myself, I get a little woozy.

I asked Dr. Kang what was next. He said I have three possible options. Option #1 – I do nothing, and just leave the site as is. I would feel like I wasted all that effort with the expander, but it’s really nice not having an expander in place right now, and I’m not in a hurry to change things. If I decide I want to do something, I’ll have to wait four to six months and then, Option #2 – he’s able to put an implant in place. It’ll probably be smaller than originally planned for, but it would be something. If the skin isn’t stretchy enough, I may have to go with Option #3 if I want reconstruction – the placement of a new expander.

I already know that Option #3 is out. There’s no way I’m doing another expander. The question just becomes, do I want the implant, or do I say screw it and stick with what I have now. I’m not going to make that decision now. In fact, I can wait years if I want to and then finish reconstruction. I’ll wait until the pain and annoyance of the expander has faded significantly, and see what it’s like living lopsided before I make that decision.

I do have pictures. Not everyone will want to see them, so I’ll bury them under a bunch of whitespace. Scroll down if you’re interested in before and after the stitches come out. Close it out here if you’re not interested. You’ve been warned!
















With the stitches still in. There's a lot of dry skin around the whole area, and you can see my drain incision site.

With the stitches still in. There’s a lot of dry skin around the whole area, and you can see my drain incision site.

Stitches out. You can see how the whole thing looks kind of like a crater, and the skin doesn't slide along the incision site.

Stitches out. You can see how the whole thing looks kind of like a crater, and the skin doesn’t slide along the incision site.

Port Is De-Accessed

Alternately titled: I can give hugs without fear again.

My last dose of antibiotics was Wednesday, which meant I didn’t need my port accessed anymore. Yes – I could get that itchy thing off my shoulder. Bonus, no more danglies hanging off my front. I can wear a bra again, which makes it a little easier to be decent out in public. If I wear a bra, I actually look mostly even again. As soon as my drain access point closes up, I can even take a shower. Such things I have to look forward to.

The Visiting Nurse tried to convince me I had to leave the bandage over my port on for 24 hours. No, not so much. I’ll leave it on for a couple of hours, to make sure the incision site closes. I need to be able to itch that location, and another bandage doesn’t help me scratch.

Drain Is Out!!!

I feel so much freer today, now that my drain is out! It wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as the drain from my mastectomy, partly because it went into my chest instead of into my armpit. Even so, I am thrilled to have it out.

Friday I called Dr. Kang about getting the drain out, because it had drained less than 30cc in 24 hours (the requirement for removing the drain). Even so, he wanted to leave the drain in until early in the week because of the severity of the infection. Being the model patient (would it result in me having to go back to the hospital if I don’t follow directions? Well then, let me follow the directions to the letter), I waited patiently all weekend and called Dr. Kang’s office again Monday morning. They managed to schedule me an appointment in between the visiting nurse coming at 10:30 to give me my antibiotics and draw blood and teaching at 3.

When I got to his office, the nurse apologetically made some comment about not being sure Dr. Kang would take the drain out, since she hadn’t had a chance to clear it with him. Luckily, he was satisfied with the drain output (20-25cc since Thursday) and took it out. Oh my, was it uncomfortable when he took out the drain. First he has to cut the stitch holding it in, and the he has to pull, and I could feel the drain under my skin as he pulled it out. Blech. One big bandaid over the incision site, and I was off and running.

The next big step is getting my port de-accessed, and I will have nothing dangling from my skin, unlike the picture below.

Aren't I just a mess - gauze pad covering my surgery site, drain dangling from a lanyard, and IV tubing from my port.

Aren’t I just a mess – gauze pad covering my surgery site, drain dangling from a lanyard, and IV tubing from my port.