One Year Later – Cancerversary Post

September 11th was my one-year cancerversary. (pause for applause)

I don’t really know how I feel. And I don’t even know what I’ve covered before and I don’t feel like going back and looking so I’m just going to start fresh here. Some of the things I say might be repeats – just take it that I still feel the same, as opposed to me repeating myself.

Well, first, I had my first post-treatment mammogram yesterday. When I had my pre-treatment mammogram, it was nbd. I mean it wasn’t something I’d choose to do, it didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t awful.

Yesterday was awful.

I don’t know why and I haven’t yet googled it, but the mammo on my right breast (RB, or Ruby as she came to be known) was excruciating. It didn’t help that it had to be done at three different angles and then twice more with a magnifying lens. If you haven’t had a mammo, you probably only have a vague idea about what it entails. Essentially she took a shot of each breast with me sitting and facing the machine, one boob at a time smashed between a plastic tray and a metal tray, which are pressed together by a machine and then given a final hand crank. I then stood for all of the remaining shots, which also involved smashing. By the final shot, which was the very most painful, I started feeling nauseated. As soon as the shot was over I sat down and put my head between my legs so I didn’t pass out. Then I got all whiny and emotional and why me for a second and started to cry before I glanced at the People magazine I had been reading on the counter, which was open to a blurb about how the remains of an 11-year-old kid who’d been abducted at gun point 27 years ago had finally been found. And suddenly I realized breast cancer is honestly far from the worst thing that could happen to me.

Something I know I haven’t touched on before now is that my period came back that one time, but hasn’t returned since. The hot flashes came back with a vengeance and I definitely experienced some real sadness, verging on depression, as a result of the way my body has been affected. It’s hard because the symptoms I continue to experience aren’t from cancer, but from chemotherapy and/or radiation – I had no symptoms from cancer. So there are times when I think, maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t found it. Maybe I should have just let nature take its course and allowed the cancer to do what it was going to do. Of course that’s absurd, but sometimes the physical remnants of the treatment make me a little absurd.

I do wish they had prepared me better for what to expect after, but I suppose that would probably drastically reduce the number of people who would be willing to go through treatment, thus drastically reducing survivorship. My last chemo was March 30, so my 6-months out date will be September 30th – but if you’re really counting when that chemo was totally finished, probably more like mid-October. Six months is significant because the general consensus is that all chemo-related symptoms should resolve between six months and a year post chemo.

Symptoms I continue to struggle with include sore hips, knees, and back, stiffness after sitting, swollen, painful hands and trigger finger in the morning, hot flashes and loss of fertility, digestive issues (enough said), and of course the aforementioned tender right breast. I also have soreness and scar tissue buildup at my port incision site and also along where the catheter was so that when I stretch my head back it looks like the catheter is actually still in my neck.

All these things may sound trivial on their own, but when combined, they have presented a difficult hurdle for me. I was very strong and (I thought) healthy prior to my diagnosis and treatment, so to go from a mom who could do everything with her kids to a mom who struggles to go from sitting to standing has been a real blow. And funny enough, HAHA, I left loss of mental acuity and ability to plan and organize out in the paragraph above because I thought that was finally resolving, but AS I AM TYPING THIS my therapist just called because I was supposed to be at her office at 2 and it’s now quarter past – I completely forgot. So yeah, safe to say my brain is still being affected.

This has been an incredibly whiny post and for that I apologize. I guess the crux of what I am getting at is this: yeah, it’s over, but it’s not OVER. I have hair and eyelashes again, my mammogram was clear, I’m six months out of chemo, but I’m still affected every day, both physically and mentally. So I guess – just don’t expect rainbows and unending gratitude from breast cancer survivors. Getting the cancer out, getting through treatment, that’s a battle. But I’m still fighting the war, and I think in some ways I will be for the rest of my life. Just because cancer didn’t kill me (yet) doesn’t mean everything is back to normal. This is a longer road than I anticipated.

But I’m walking it, and I’m grateful to be doing so with so many people who love and support me.

The Portacath

When I started this blog, I had three intentions.

  1. Update friends and family on my status so I wouldn’t have to answer questions constantly.
  2. Blog it out – to have an outlet in which I could express all my joys and frustrations with this cancer monster, and hopefully about life in general when this is all over.
  3. Chronicle my experiences in the event that some woman, somewhere stumbles across my blog in her cancer journey and finds it informative, helpful, or even just feels a little less alone by reading it.

This post is mostly for reason #3.

When I found out I should/was going to have chemo, I initially thought I would not need a portacath (aka port, portable catheter, power port). When I was told I would, I panicked a little. I did not want another surgery or another scar. I googled around for images and of course saw some that did not make me feel better. So here is my port.


As you can see, it’s really NBD.

Surgery was easy, but recovery was a little harder than expected. I actually had more pain from this than from the lumpectomy. My neck and shoulder hurt a lot the first couple days, then the pain moved to the incision. Within a few days after that, though, the site was only a little sore and that was it.

The site has remained a little sore, and my surgeon told me it probably will stay that way until the port is removed. There is zero fat on my body there, so no cushion, which makes it a little tough on the area. That said, again, NBD – it only hurts if I bump it or roll the wrong way. Sitting here typing I could forget it’s even there. Also, my surgeon says they’ll take it out as soon as chemo’s done, right in his office, under local anesthetic. So not another major operation!

The plus side: I was hospitalized for four days over Christmas with neutropenic fever, and they used my port for all the antibiotics and blood draws, so only ONE stick and I had both arms free the whole time, which came in really handy while lying in bed since I was quarantined to my room. Okay but actually it did come in handy for things like sleeping, going to the bathroom, etc. Additionally, when I get my chemo, they numb it with lidocaine first so I don’t even FEEL the big stick, and then, again, for the hours I am there, full use of my arms.

When I was googling this bad boy, before I had it inserted, I came across a post that said that the port would be my best friend, and it totally is. I am so glad my arms aren’t getting brutalized by sticks, and after that 4-day hospital stay, if I could have kissed my port, I would have.

So if you have to get a port, don’t be scared! It’s fairly fast recovery, a small scar, and a godsend when it comes to IVs.