Monday, June 6, 2011

I've been "De-Ported"!

On April 22, 2011 I had what I hope will be the final step of my cancer treatment. (I guess I'm trying not to count taking Tamoxifan for 5 years) I went to Rexburg and had my Porta-Catheter taken out of my chest! I have wanted it out so badly. It has always been a little sore and annoying. Laying on my left shoulder seemed to scrunch on it and make it feel bruised. Once I finished my Herceptin IV's in March, I tried to get an appointment as soon as possible to get it out. I originally tried to see about just getting it taken out here at home in Dillon. Then I found out that because the surgeon here does it in the hospital, not in his office, it would cost around $3,000. (And, I found out, the last Porta-Cath removal he did was in 2008. Hmmmmm!) Dr. Hansen in Rexburg, who is the surgeon that put it in, does so many of these things, he just does it as an office procedure, for about $500. OK - so, on the road again! I have heard of a few people who choose to keep their ports in. I asked Dr. Dickson's nurse "WHY?" She said for some it's superstition - they feel that if they take it out, their cancer will come back, and they'll have to have it put back in. Kind of like "if I wash my car, it will rain, so I'm not going to wash my car this weekend cause we have a picinic planned?"

I will admit the port is pretty handy if you're going to have other surgeries come up. When I had my reconstruction surgery, they just used my port, and I didn't have to get poked 6 times trying to put in an IV, like they did when I had the mastectomy. Problem is, if the Port isn't being used regularly, I found out that you have to go get it "flushed" every month. To flush it, they have to shove that short, fat, curtain-hook looking needle into the port. Shoving that little bugger in is what helped keep it feeling sore and bruised. No thanks! I'm not a superstitious person! Take it out! I will say, that for me, the Port was really a blessing during Chemo. It would have been a nightmare for me to have them poking and digging around trying to find a vein every 3 weeks for a year. Plus the Chemo kind of fries veins, making it so they can't keep using the same spot. I would have ended up with them poking me in the feet, head, who knows where? With the Port - 1 poke. So whoever invented the Port, I say "thank you" - but it's time for that baby to come out!

Having the Port taken out was scary, though. I was a teeny bit freaked about the idea of being awake when it was done. When I had the port put in, it was at the hospital, and they pretty much put me to sleep. They explained to me that they use ultra-sound to guide the tube down into a big vein. To take the port out, Dr. Hansen just uses a local anesthetic, does an incision, and pulls it out! I told him that I was pretty scared after having the recent biopsy on the same side of my chest, where the local anesthetic didn't work. So, to be sure, he used 2 needles worth of anesthesia to make sure the area was good and numb. Then he took his little scalpel in hand and said "are you ready?" Ooooh man, not really! Then he started cutting. Thankfully, it wasn't painful, but it was still creepy. I could feel the pressure of the scalpel cutting on my chest. It took him about 3 passes with the scalpel to get down to the port. Then he started pushing and squeezing, with a little extra cutting, trying to get the port to pop out, almost like he was trying to pop a giant zit! It was around that point that the whole room started to turn white. The nurse said "whoa, all of the color just drained out of your face". I laid there and tried to take deep breaths so I wouldn't pass out. I was sure I was gonna go! (Yeah, I'm a wimp!) The doctor said "Don't worry, if you pass out, we'll keep right on working". I kept breathing, and kept concentrating on "Don't pass out - Don't pass out!" After a few minutes, the color came back into the room, and I knew I had pulled it off. What a yucky feeling though! Dr. Hansen kept on plugging. It took him a little effort to get the stupid thing to come out. He commented about the capsule that had built up around the Port. Yep, my system seems really good at building big capsules around foreign objects in my body. When I had my expander taken out during reconstruction surgery, Dr. Agarwal told me I had a capsule the thickness of an orange peel built up around my expander. I think the capsule is what added to the difficulty of getting the port out. Once he finally got it out, then came the icky feeling of getting sewn up. Dr. Hansen used clear, dissolving sutures. The pulling and tugging of that weird curved needle felt strange. We did have a nice conversation though, while he was sewing me up, about Conrad going to medical school, and D.O. vs. M.D. programs. I was so totally relieved when it was finally done!

Here's what the incision looks like a few days later. With the stitching method he used, you can't even see the stitches. They asked me if I wanted to take home my Port. Huh? Well, OK! I guess they send people home with their gall stones in a little jar. The Port is made of metal - titanium or stainless steel - with a self-sealing silicone rubber bubble, where they stick the needle, and lastly the plastic tube that goes into the vein. I read up on these on Wikipedia. It's kind of cool, cause it shows an X-ray image of an implanted Porta-Cath. The tube gets fed through a vein, til it terminates in the "superior vena cava" vein just upstream from the right atrium of the heart. Weird, huh? Kind of an amazing little gadget!

After the surgery, they bandaged me up, let me sit for a few more minutes, then sent me on my way! It was a quick trip. Rich had a church responsibility at home that evening. So we basically drove to Rexburg, went to the doctor's office, had the surgery, got back in the car & drove home! Crazy fast trip. But it's done, over with, and the Port is gone! Oh Happy Day!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


March 14, 2011 was a landmark day! I went to Rexburg for what was to be my second-to-last Herceptin IV. I have done this every 3 weeks for a full year now! The happy news is I talked Dr. Dickson into having it be my LAST Herceptin IV instead. When you've been doing this for a full year - what the heck is 3 more weeks?! So he agreed and - YAY - I'm done! Here I am proudly holding up my graduation certificate! They also gave me a very giant syringe full of M&M's. That baby must have been made for horses! Almost scary looking. I have also included a pic of the two different graduation certificates I've now recieved. The first one when I finished Radiation Therapy last October, and now one for finishing Chemo.

I have been having a few frustrating side effects that we haven't been able to get rid of: Dizziness being the worst; still some numbness in my fingertips & toes, as well as very sore, bruised toenails that are still somewhat detached. We tried going off of the Tamoxifen for several weeks to see if that impoved things with the dizziness, but it didn't, so I've gone back on the Tamoxifen, and we're quitting the Herceptin. Maybe getting that out of my system will make a difference.

The toenails will take a while, they grow so slow. Here's a pic of my gross looking toenails. I know, who the heck wants to see gross toenails, but I'm just trying to make it real!

Now that my hair is a couple of inches long, I have included two "look - I have hair!" shots. It's coming in rather dark - mud seems to describe the color well. There's just a little bit of wave to it. I'd like that to stay forever, but I better not hold my breath!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My One Year Anniversaries & Another Biopsy

February 7, 2011 was the one year anniversary of the day that I discovered the dimple in my right breast. February 15, 2011 was the one year anniversary of the official diagnosis of breast cancer. March 15th is the anniversary of my Mastectomy at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital in Salt Lake. Wow - it's been a whole year now - and a very long year at that!

On March 2nd we trucked down to Salt Lake so I could have my one year check-up with Dr. Neumayer, and my yearly mammogram on my left breast. I guess the right reconstructed breast never has to get smashed to smithereens again. I wonder if that would pop my little implant? Ouch!

We got to Collin & Tiffany's house by 6pm so we could tend Landon while they went to Cub Scouts. Landon is such a cute funny little guy. Check out the amazing playhouse Tiffany made for Landon! It's a giant version of an activity book. The next morning dear, sweet Tiffany drove me to the Huntsman for my appointments again. First I went to the Radiology area on the 3rd floor for my mammogram. They got me in and out pretty quickly. Then down to the 2nd floor to see Dr. Neumayer.

When we were heading to the Huntsman, I thought, "Wouldn't it be weird to run into Mandi up there?" Of course I knew that was very unlikely. While Tiffany and I were sitiing there, who walks by - Mandi! She had to see Dr. Agarwal because a little part of her incision had opened up, and wouldn't heal (Just like mine did!), and she was going to have it stitched up the next day (Just like I had to do!). Is there something that runs in the family that makes our skin resistant to healing properly? Mandi wasn't feeling great, because she had her first Chemo treatment a few days before. But we got a picture together in the Huntsman waiting room. Same hair-do! But like Mandi said, our hair is "meeting in the middle" - mine is coming in, and hers is about to leave!

Notice the golf cart in the background. Landon & Tiffany got to go for a little ride down the hall on it. An aide transported a patient down the hall, and invited them to come along, since Landon was so interested in the cart.

Dr. Neumayer prescribed more Gabapentin to see if that will help with the twinges of pain I'm getting in the reconstructed breast. She also told me I should probably go to an orthopedic doctor for my shoulder. The Physical Therapy hasn't seemed to break up the buildup that's freezing my shoulder. I figured that this might be the last time I'll see Dr. Neumayer. But then I heard her say something about coming in every 6 months for a few years. HUH? Shows how much I know about anything!

While I was still in the exam room talking to my nurse Vickie, they came in and told me that I needed to go back up to Radiology. My mammogram showed some spots, and they wanted to take some close-up shots. Oh boy. I went up and got smashed some more. Then I went into the "computer" room where a Radiologist showed me my mammogram pics, and showed me the spots. He said they looked like benign ductal calcifications, but because of my cancer history, they wanted to do a biopsy on a few of the spots just to be safe. I wasn't too happy about that.

Since I'm an out-of-towner, they found an appointment spot to cram me into the next day. What a bummer! The next day, March 4th, sweet Tiffany drug me up to the Huntsman again. The day before lasted a couple of hours with all of the extra mammograms. Tiffany had to keep Landon entertained in the waiting room, past his nap time. So, here we were again! The biopsy method they were to use is a more high-tech method for getting at little tiny spots, without having to cut into you surgically. It's called a Stereotactic biopsy. With my first biopsy on the right side, the Radiologist guided the big needle using Ultrasound. Such little spots are harder to nail perfectly using just Ultrasound. The Stereostatic uses two different Mammogram images from two different views, and the coordinates from the two views are entered into a computer, and the computer inserts the big needle. The terrible thing about that is with mammograms, the breast must be compressed. So I laid on a hard metal table with a hole in it for the breast to drop through, and my head cranked to the right a full 90 degrees. They raise the table up into the air, and the Doctor and the Rad Tech sit underneath me doing their thing. It's like I'm a car getting a Lube job, and the doctor is the "mechanic."

I guess some people refer to this procedure as a "Boob Lube" (No, that's not me in the pic. I found it on the internet. Actually this table looks more comfortable than the one I laid on!). For me, the procedure ended up being a torture session. First they had to compress an already very tender & sore breast. Sharp pains were shooting through my breast instantly. I waited anxiously for the local anesthetic so that those shooting pains would stop. They didn't. For some unknown reason the anesthetic didn't work. I could feel the big needle going into my breast - I could feel it as it rotated around to different positions - I could feel it when it snipped the pieces of tissue.

When I reacted to the pain, the tech and doctor were very shocked that I could feel it. They said they had given me the max of the anesthetic, and I should be too numb to feel it. It was horrible. All they could do was say, "Don't move", and "We'll try to get this done as fast as we can." I thought it would never end. I seriously think that given the choice, I'd rather try waterboarding for my next torture session than endure this again.

After they finished getting some samples, they used a plunger to insert a small piece of Titanium into my breast as a marker to show where the samples had been taken from. The student doctor (Resident) performed this procedure while the doctor gave him instructions (I felt that too.). Now they'll know where to look closely on my next mammogram. If I have another mammogram anyway; this made me seriously contemplate just getting a Mastectomy on my left breast so I just don't have to ever worry about any of this again. The nurse told me they'd get the results back in a few days.

The next Wednesday, after we got back home, I got the phone call that the spots were indeed benign ductal calcifications. OK - big relief! But I still wonder if I want to wait around for the other shoe to drop, or just take the shoe off now. Hmmmmm...

A Case of the Dizzies & Fun Visitors

For the past month or so, dizziness has become a real issue. On my January 31st visit to Rexburg for my Herceptin IV, I asked Dr. Dixon about it. He thought there was a chance the Tamoxifen pills I'm suppose to take for the next 5 years might be causing it. So he told me to quit taking them for a few weeks and see if it improved. If so, I'm to try to go back on them with half the dosage, and see what happens with that. Well, I ended up being a bad patient and went for about 6 weeks waiting to see what happened. At first I thought there was improvement, but then I realized it really hadn't improved.

I got out my old folder they gave me before Chemo, with all of the info and side effects of my three Chemo drugs, and by darn, dizziness is one of the side effects of Herceptin. I guess it doesn't effect most people, but maybe I'm one of the "lucky" ones. I'll ask Dr. Dixon about that next time I see him.
On Feburary 19th my mom and dad came to Dillon to hang with us for a week. With the continuing soreness from my reconstruction, left shoulder issues, and some back problems, mom has been fretting that I need some help. I kept reassuring her that there isn't much to do around here, but we'd love to have them come visit. It's been a while since they've been to Dillon, so it was fun to have them here. We just hung out, visited, and watched a number of movies that mom and dad have never seen (Avatar, Star Trek, Benjamin Button, Far and Away).

Dad wanted me to come up with some projects for him to do, since he loves to stay busy, but in the winter there isn't much to do around here. They did get to go to Rexburg with us for my next Herceptin IV. We we able to meet Stan, Brenda, Russ and Maxine for lunch. We even got in two games of Joker while my IV bag dripped. I didn't see Dr. Dixon on this trip, so didn't get to ask if the Herceptin might be causing my dizziness. All I know is, the next treatment has got to be my last! I'm just tired of it. They say one year - well, April to March is one year in my book.

Interestingly, on Jan. 27 my Dillon friend Nicole had a single mastectomy at the Huntsman and while she had a different surgeon than I did, we share the same plastic surgeon, Dr. Agarwal. Thankfully, her breast cancer was Stage 0, so she won't even have to have Chemo or Radiation. I was so glad to hear that. She's "only" the Dean of Students at UM-Western, not to mention she has an 8 year old daughter at home. She can't just hang out at home and be a lazy bum like I've done. Too much on her plate to deal with this!

Then, four days later, my 31-year old niece Mandi had a double mastectomy at the Huntsman. She had both the same surgeon (Dr. Nuemayer) and plastic surgeon (Dr. Agarwal) that I had. Unfortunately, Mandi will have to have both Chemo and Radiation like I had. I'm so bummed for her. She has one of those "big responsibility" jobs, so trying to keep that going through it all will be a bit of a drag. Mandy is keeping a blog about her experiences and she's a much better blogger than I am. She stays right on top of things with frequent blogs, and has hers put together so beautifully. Anybody that wants to check out her cute blog, go to:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

De-Tubing & Shoulder Issues

On Sunday, January 9th I went back to Salt Lake with Chase so I could have my surgical follow-up with Dr. Agarwal the next day, Monday the 10th. Chase took me to Collin & Tiffany's house where I spent the night. It's always fun to go see them, and that funny little guy, Landon!

The next morning Tiffany took me up to the Huntsman for my appointment. She has been so good about hauling me up there, with baby in tow and all. Not really a convenient thing to do, but she's always so willing, bless her heart!

I had high, high hopes of having all three of my drain tubes pulled. I had put up with those miserable things for almost three weeks. The holes where they enter my body get very tender and sore. There are sutures in my skin that hold them in place, and then there's those ridiculous drain "grenades" (don't know what they're really called - don't care) that I have to keep pinned to my pants at all times. Cute, huh? Having a decent night's sleep has been next to impossible with those stupid things coming out of my back.

My incisions seem to be healing okay, and the rash on my back had improved quite a bit. When my doctor at home, Dr. Weed saw the rash, she wrote me a prescription for a steroid cream, which has finally started to help clear it up. Unfortunately Dr. Agarwal would only pull two of the tubes, still leaving me with one remeaing tube hanging out of the "mini-boob" on my back. Bummer! They assured me that I didn't want them out too soon, which can result in fluid accumulation, then infection (there's some nifty medical term for that, but you think I can remember those terms? No way!). Infection is not a good thing, so I needed to quit whining.

After my appointment, Tiffany and I went to the Bistro on the 6th floor of the Huntsman and had an early lunch. We just killed time until I heard from Curtis, a Dillon friend who was my ride home. We met him at the Gateway Mall, and back to Dillon we went. Whirlwind trip! Dillon to Salt Lake on Sunday afternoon, appointment Monday morning, and back to Dillon Monday afternoon.

I had another Herceptin IV appointment in Rexburg on Friday(On the Road Again!). By then my lone drain tube had drained less than 25 ml two days in a row, 18ml on Thursday, and 14 ml on Friday. So I talked the PA at Teton Oncology into pulling my last drain tube for me. I don't think he'd ever done it before, so he was a little unsure. I just told him "don't worry, they've cut so many nerves I don't usually feel it - and if you don't do it, I'm going to try talking my husband into doing it!" The thought of going another week trying to get a Doctor at home to pull it... not acceptable! So, Darren, the PA went ahead and pulled it. It was kind of funny- the nurse who stood and watched was kind of freaking out because the tubing never seemed to end. The tube inside me was almost a foot long! I heard Darren tell her as they left the room, "That was kinda fun!" Oh those medical geeks! I was happy though. I'm finally free! The tubes were finally gone!

What's not so liberating are shoulder issues. Nope, the Cortisone shot didn't do anything. So disappointed! After a week or so I finally broke down and made a Physical Therapy appointment. She says I have "impingement" in the joint where the tendons & nerves are getting pinched. I've done the Therapy twice a week for about 3 weeks, and I'm not noticing any major improvement. I have been doing various exercises at home (In this pic I'm doing a shoulder stretch that uses a pulley system that shuts in the door.). I'm getting nervous that I have torn something in there, and PT won't be of help. Am I going to end up needing to see an Orthopedic doctor? I am so sick of Doctors! No offense to my doctor brother, soon-to-be doctor son, and all of my many doctors from the past year, but wow!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Home to Recupe!

On December 26, the day after Christmas, Rich, Chase and I went back home. Thus started the post-surgery recuperation time. What made this surgery a little more challenging than the mastectomy is having incisions and work done on both my back and my chest. This first pic shows my back incision - which goes from my spine to the edge of my armpit. No, it's not suppose to be so red and irritated. It seems that my skin had an allergic reaction to the glue they used to close the incision. If it's not one thing, it's another! GEEZ! The rash spread quite a bit more than this, but I didn't get a pic of the rash at its worstest. Besides being tender and sore, my back was so insanely itchy from the rash, I wanted to get out a BBQ fork to scratch my back. Of course I didn't dare! Fantasized about it though. They use dissolving sutures on the inside. I hope those eventually dissolve OK. And notice the cute skin bulge near my armpit. After cutting out a football-shaped piece of flesh & pulling it together to glue it shut, it leaves a bulge my sister Barb told me is referred to as a "dog-ear". Well, I've been calling it my "mini-bonus-boob". I think mini-boob describes it more accurately than dog-ear does.

And then there's the drain tubes! Oh how I hate those stinking drain tubes! With two coming out of the mini-boob on my back, and one coming out under my right armpit, it pretty well eliminated any comfortable sitting or laying position. So sleep has been an interesting problem. Normally, on my left shoulder would be the one sleep position I could do, but, well, I seem to have injured my left shoulder somehow. I don't know how - all I know is the body is falling apart! So, even though I've never been a back sleeper, there I am every night, trying to lay on my back, on top of that tender, itchy incision, with the mini-boob, with 2 drain tubes hanging out! GEEZ II! The left shoulder got bad enough, I finally made an appointment with my Doctor. I have gone a few months with it hurting, thinking it would go away, thinking that I don't have the time or energy to deal with a hurt shoulder right now. But when you wake up each morning after a big surgery, open one eye, and think "OK, what's aching the most today, my breast, my back, or my tender armpit?" - and the answer ends up being: "My left shoulder aches the worst" - time to get it looked at. My Doctor gave me a cortisone shot in the shoulder joint (not quite as bad as I feared) and told me if it was going to work - it would work in about 24 hours. If it doesn't work, she wrote up a prescription for Physical Therapy. I do not want physical therapy. What a pain. So I definitely had high hopes for the shot.

Here's a pic of my "football". You can also see my mini-boob from a different angle. They took that piece of skin, along with a piece of muscle from my back, and burrowed it under the skin under my armpit. (See the lumpiness and puffiness of my armpit. So sore!) Then they cut away the original incision from my mastectomy, and replaced it with my new football of skin. Because of my radiation, the skin on my chest is darker and blotchier, so that football of very white skin from my back definitely stands out. Eventually the contrast will probably diminish, but the football might always be a little lighter in color. Weird, huh? (Who dreams this stuff up?) They attach the strip of muscle across my chest, giving my chest area a new blood supply coming from my back since that strip of muscle is still attached to my back. The strip is also used as a pocket to hold a small implant for some bulk. Of course, in my case, literally small, cause I wasn't too interested in going bigger than the other side. I'm so sick of being cut up & sewed up, I didn't want to look forward to a future surgery to augment the other girl so I could have a matching bigger set! Forgetabboudit! So lots of time spent wandering around, and sitting around. Recuperation can be pretty boring. Had Chase home for about a week though, so that was nice!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmas with the Hills

In the early afternoon of Christmas Eve, Rich and Chase came back to the Huntsman to retrieve me, and I was able to walk outta there on my own steam. Wussy steam, but steam nonetheless. We went straight to the Hill home in Sandy where Fern was busy preparing a Christmas Eve dinner for well over 30 people. So what's another 3 bodies? Well, probably a lot for some people, but nothing for Fern. She's definitely a pro at dinners for large groups. I sat around in a recliner, and Chase helped Fern prepare the Chicken Cordon Bleu. And of course there were potatoes, fabulous salads, rolls, desserts, etc. A lot of the Hill Family attended making for a truly great dinner!

After dinner was a program with lots of musical numbers since there's so
much talent in this family. Chase and Lisa (Marshall's wife) quickly put together a duet of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" to sing and all of the little kids enacted the Nativity where Taylor & Juli's little guy, Trace, was quite the Joseph- hilarious, in fact- with his Grandpa Al doing a fine job as the donkey.

Then we got to watch everyone open some gifts. I'm not sure how she did it, with so little notice that we were coming, but Fern also had a gift for me, Rich & Chase. She gave me a very nice zip up top. Hard to beat Christmas Eve with the Hills!

Christmas morning we got to sleep-in some. That was nice. After spending a few nights in the hospital where they come and take vitals and such every few hours, day & night, this was the best sleep I've had in awhile. Dan, Andrea and their four kids were there spending Christmas Day, so we got to see some of their Christmas fun. Then we went to the Smith home where Conrad and Jamie were, to spend a few hours with them and their girls. Kylie came out the front door with Conrad as we got out of the car. I could see her face just drop when she saw me with my ultra-short hair. I could almost see her little mind thinking, "Nope, that's not the grandma I remember." So she wasn't her usual "come play with me grandma" self. I was kinda bummed, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised; I don't even recognize myself sometimes! They said Kylie had been quite the gift opening machine early that morning so we were excited to see her and Reese open our gifts. Such cute little girls!

We then headed back to the Hill home where a lot of the family gathered together again for a Christmas night dinner of soups, rolls, and more goodies. There's just not a more relaxing, fun, family-oriented place to be than with the Hills. Thank you so much Fern and Allen for letting us come and join in on your family festivities!