Cancer Lesson #57: Sets Don’t Have to Match

Cancer Lesson #57: Sets don’t have to match.

Warning: If you aren’t interested in details about the after-effects of reconstructive surgery, you might want to skip this lesson.

I used to have a matched set.

You know – a matched set of them. Boobs, breast, tits, knockers, hooters, dueling banjos, marimbas. Call them what you like – I had a surprisingly symmetrical pair.

Probably because they were too small to be uneven.

Then came cancer, and my banjos were no longer dueling. Instead, one was trying to kill me. She left me no option but to cut her out of the picture. Or should that be out of the band?

Clearly, there’s no way you can remove a breast, replace it with stomach tissue, and expect it to immediately look exactly like the other.

Not that I was complaining. I was quite happy to wake up with two boobs, matching or not. It was one of the reasons I decided on immediate reconstruction using my own tissue rather than implants.

It was the right decision for me, which doesn’t mean it’s the right one for everyone.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised at the appearance of my new, er, marimba, even if it wasn’t identical to my other one. I was okay with that, though I wondered how my, uh, instrument would look when healed.

Dr. K said he could transform my asymmetrical beauties into a matched set.

I have to say he came close.

True, this involved having my new nipple tattooed so they were a similar color – that’s the TMI part – and I needed some touch-up surgery, which had been expected.

The weird part was that surgery involved liposuction.

On my breast!

Of all the places on my body from which you could suck fat, I never expected to have it taken from there.

Also, sometime after getting the tattooing done, I remembered that I’d considered, but decided against, getting a second tattoo when I turned fifty to match the one I got to celebrate my fortieth birthday.

Turns out I got one after all.

Life is bizarre sometimes.

Cancer Lesson #56: Do the PT.

Cancer Lesson #56: Do the PT.

It’s amazing what a little stretching can do.

You see, one of the side effects of an axillary dissection is nerve and muscle damage, which can affect the arm’s range of motion.

Because of this, I began reaching for things with my right arm immediately after surgery, stretching it beyond the comfort zone at every opportunity. I was determined to regain as much use of it as I could.

My reach exceeded my grasp during those first few weeks, but eventually movement became easier, and when I finally started PT I had a head start on things.

After I began meeting with my physical therapist, I did the exercises she assigned as often as I could manage (though probably not as often as I should have).

The effort paid off. A few weeks later she said I had recovered complete range of motion.

Since not every survivor reaches that stage — and there’s no way of knowing who will or who won’t — I was thrilled.

Later I had more therapy focusing on core strength.

This involved sit-ups.

Sigh.

Physical therapy made a huge difference , and I can now do just about everything I could before my diagnosis.

Still, the body remembers everything. Sometimes my stomach feels tight for no reason I can discern. Or my arm will ache after heavy exercise.

It’s a small price to pay, I think. I am so lucky to not just be alive but to be able to actually live.

Cancer Lesson #55: A Close Shave Can Be a Wonderful Thing

In honor of those who are actively fighting cancer of one sort or another, I’m pressing this post from Reading, Writing, Ranting and Raving from my original set of “Cancer Lessons” written several years while I was in treatment.

It’s set in Oshkosh, known to most for its kids’ overalls, but to the aviation community as the largest general aviation fly-in in the world (10,000 planes and hundreds of thousands of people) and written about a gesture some dear friends made partly on my behalf.

I hope you’ll click through to read it.

http://wp.me/pMOn5-ve

Cancer Lesson #??: Some Cancers Are Preventable

Cancer Lesson #??: Some cancers are preventable.

If you’re a woman, you have only a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer in your lifetime.

I say “only” because your chances of getting some form of cancer in your lifetime is actually one in three.

One in three.

An incredible ratio in every horrifying sense.

If you’re a man, the news is worse. You have a one in two chance of getting cancer in your lifetime.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the chart on the American Cancer Society website (http://tinyurl.com/cancerchances).

Take heart. Although no one is 100% sure what causes every cancer, there are many things you can do to lower your risk.

This mostly involves making the logical choices you’d make if you want to live a long and healthy life. Exercise regularly. Don’t smoke. Eat a reasonable diet. Don’t drink too much.

There is one type of cancer,however, caused almost exclusively by single factor — exposure to asbestos. That cancer is mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma has a long latency period, but is extremely aggressive. This means a person could have it for years, then be diagnosed as being in a late stage of the disease when the survival rate is considerably lower.

Obviously, we need to avoid asbestos. This lowers your risk factor to almost zero.

Until I wrote this post, I thought this would be simple because asbestos is banned in the U.S., right?

Wrong.

Here’s what the EPA says about the material, “On July 12, 1989, the EPA issued a final rule banning most asbestos-containing products. In 1991, this regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, as a result of the Court’s decision, only a few asbestos-containing products remain banned.” (http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/asbestos-laws-and-regulations#epalaws)

Also, “On July 12, 1989, EPA issued a final rule banning most asbestos-containing products. In 1991, this regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result of the Court’s decision, the following specific asbestos-containing products remain banned: flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper. In addition, the regulation continues to ban the use of asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos, otherwise referred to as “new uses” of asbestos.” (http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/asbestos-ban-and-phase-out-federal-register-notices)

So, we can still be exposed, as were countless others before we knew the dangers. If someone in your family worked in the building trade, chances are they came in contact with asbestos, which means you probably did too since the fibers cling to clothing, thus invading the home.

Fortunately, there’s now a blood test that measures the biomarkers of Mesothelioma long before it can be otherwise diagnosed.  To quote the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “Scientists have been working on new tests that strive to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage. For example, the Mesomark® assay is a simple blood test that measures the rate of Soluble Mesothelin-Related Peptides (SMRP) in the blood. This biomarker is released by mesothelioma cells into the bloodstream and SMRP can be elevated for many years before symptoms appear and an actual diagnosis of the disease is made.” (http://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/prognosis/)

As with any cancer, early diagnosis is key to survival. Catching the disease in its early stages makes it imminently more treatable, and becoming aware of the risk factors makes early diagnosis more likely.

As I said earlier, there many ways to lower your risk of getting cancer. Avoiding asbestos is certainly one of them.

For more information on this disease, visit http://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/information/

Cancer Lesson #54: Each Treatment Affects You Differently.

Cancer Lesson #54: Each treatment affects you differently. You may sail through your first chemo sessions with few side effects. Don’t assume this will always be the case, or you could be setting  yourself up for an unpleasant surprise.

I had a variety of side effects, most of them fairly minor.

One treatment left me feeling like an elephant had taken up residence on my chest. A prescription for Nexium took care of the problem.

Another time, I was struck by fever and chills. I somehow convinced myself my temperature was lower than the number at which I was supposed to call my oncologist.

It wasn’t, but by the time I reviewed my instructions, the fever was gone.

I got used to becoming overwhelmed with sudden exhaustion when I pushed myself too far.

Like when I decided to bicycle six miles in the summer heat – three miles into town, and three miles back.

It was only six miles. Not that hard, right?

Wrong! On the way back, we had stop every five hundred yards so I could rest.

Fortunately, I didn’t pass out. At least not on that occasion.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Cancer Lesson #53:Fighting Cancer Doesn’t Make You a Saint.

Cancer Lesson #53: Fighting cancer doesn’t make you a saint.

Or amazing.

Or brave.

Bravery involves a sacrifice to defend a principle or another person. Firefighters, police officers and soldiers exhibit this kind of courage every day.

Now that’s amazing.

But battling cancer is common sense, a clear case of self-defense. The only other option is to lie down and die – not a choice anyone in their right mind would pick.

In saying this, I’m not denigrating those who have fought this disease with fearlessness and grace (and I know there are many). And I’m not being falsely modest in confessing I wasn’t one of them. (No one who’s ever known me would accuse me of that virtue.)

I just couldn’t accept the credit others kept trying to foist on me for simply trying to stay alive when I knew they would do exactly the same if they ever – God forbid – are in this situation.

While no cancer treatment is a walk in the park, I was lucky mine wasn’t the walk through hell I expected. True, my body was scarred and weakened, but with physical therapy, I regained most of my strength and mobility. And – to my very great relief – chemo wasn’t the pukefest I dreaded.

Saint Kym?

I don’t think so.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Cancer Lesson #52: Most People Don’t Care Whether You Have Hair

Cancer Lesson #52: Most people don’t care whether you have hair.

It was summer when I was in chemo, and as I said before, wigs are hot. So even though I saw Grandpa Byrd every time I looked in the mirror – minus the glasses and wad of chewing tobacco – mine adorned the newel post of our steps more often than my head.

Having chosen comfort before fashion many years ago, I usually wore a baseball cap when I went out of the house.

That’s how I learned what happens when a bald woman goes out in public.

The answer is not much.

I expected some staring and pointing. Maybe even lights and sirens.

But no one gawped. In fact, no one seemed to notice.

Even the children – who might understandably wonder about someone who looks a little different – took it in their stride.

I was just happy they didn’t run screaming to their mothers. :-)

At the time, I thought this indicated a level of sensitivity and awareness that spoke well for the human race. Now I wonder if perhaps people are simply too busy with their own lives to care about another person’s lack of hair.

Either way, it was good to be reminded the world didn’t stop because I got cancer.

In fact, the whole time I was bald, there were only two people who stared. The first was a young man who emanated a kind of weird social misfit vibe. I gave him my best “What are you looking at?” glare and swept past.

You see, I’d forgotten my baldness and assumed he was merely being rude. Which he was.

The second time, I was working the children’s desk at the library. An elderly woman came in with someone who was obviously her caregiver – possibly her daughter – to find books the older woman might enjoy. “Daughter” explained that “Mom” suffered from dementia, and liked to look at the pictures.

“Mom” was intrigued by my lack of hair.

She asked, with genuine curiosity, “Are you a boy or a girl? Because you have short hair like a boy.”

The daughter was mortified, and tried to steer Mom to other topics, but Mom would not be deterred. She had a question, and she wanted it answered.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” she repeated.

I found it difficult to reply, mainly because I found it hard to stop laughing long enough to speak.

Her interest was so sincere and friendly; the memory still makes me smile.

Addendum: One thing many people don’t realize is when the drug companies list hair loss as a side effect, they don’t just mean the hair on your head. I was lucky enough to keep most of my eyebrows and lashes, but they did get much thinner. On the bright side, it was great not to have to shave my legs. They were smooth as a newborn’s cheek. 

Also, some people have had success using cold caps during chemo to prevent hair loss. For me the thought of ice on my head – even for only a few hours every couple of weeks – was worse than the prospect of losing my hair.  

Enhanced by Zemanta