Saturday, March 28, 2009

This and that...


I have become very lax about blogging--a combination of low energy and nothing really to say right now!

I'm feeling pretty well. Completing the chemotherapy has made a huge difference in how I feel. My hair has begun to grow back--it's about 1/4 - 1/2 inch long. Sort of duck fuzz. If it were a bit warmer out, I'd be tempted to go without a hat. As it is...Winter is not over in River City!

However... I've developed a condition called lymphedema, or LE for short. What is lymphedema? I hear you saying...

Short course:

Part of breast cancer surgery (whether lumpectomy or mastectomy) involves removing one or more lymph nodes from under the arm, to see if the cancer has begun to spread (they did find cancer cells in one of the 20 nodes removed in my surgery). The lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which filters and clears toxins, infections, and general junk out of the body. When lymph nodes are damaged or removed, other nodes generally take up the slack. In cancer treatment, that sometimes doesn't happen, or the remaining nodes are overstressed by chemotherapy or radiation. When an infection occurs (might be as minor as a kitchen burn or a cat scratch) lymph fluid can build up in the arm. It becomes swollen and sometimes hard, stiff, and painful. Treatment is elevation of the arm, massage (either by someone specially trained, or self-massage), and compression sleeves/gloves of various types. It will never go away completely--even if the swelling is gone, I am at high risk for it to return with an infection or a plane flight.

That's what has happened to me. I had risk factors for it that I was not aware of--no spleen (which is part of the lymphatic system; it was removed when I was 10 years old), a couple of major injuries to that arm, and many nodes removed.

The cancer centre has been wonderful--I would have liked some more warning that it might happen, but now that it has, they have swung into action. I went to an LE clinic this week, and have begun the process to get the compression sleeve (it has to be fitted, the off-the-shelf ones do not work as well). The radiation tech told me she didn't think it would slow down my radiation therapy, but i will meet with the radiation oncologist on Tuesday and see what he thinks. I really don't want to delay it at all!

But it brings home to me that breast cancer (or any cancer) is not only about the surgery, chemo and radiation therapy. There are ongoing issues, life-changing issues that I will have to deal with the rest of my life. LE is the one I will have to deal with (besides the constant worry every time I have a mammogram). Other women have to have breast reconstruction, or their ovaries removed (because estrogen released by the ovaries "feeds" the cancer), or have both breasts removed because they are high-risk...etc.

I will deal with this--at least I was able to have a lumpectomy. Once I learn how to live with LE, I am sure I will be fine. My father had diabetes and he learned to deal with it--I can do the same.

Moving on from medical issues....

I am continuing to restructure my life with Strong Heart as a friend rather than partner. We have been able to get together a couple of times to talk and all has gone well. She is continuing to support me around the breast cancer issue--she promised to walk through it with me, and she always keeps her promises. I am trying to return the favour this weekend, as she is candidating for a pulpit. In a very curious (to me) way, we are doing better at supporting each other now than we have done for several months.

I;m rediscovering life as a single person. Some of it is simpler--I can make decisions about the weekend without consulting anyone else's schedule, certain groceries don't need to be picked up anymore--and some of it is more work--no one else helps with housework or errands--and some of it is lonelier--I still don't like going to a party alone, although that usually vanishes after a few minutes and then the upside is that I can leave when I like. As someone said, "When you live alone, you can put something down and know it will still be there when you come back. That's a good thing if it's a book. It's a bad thing if it's a half-full coffee mug and it's three days later."

On the professional front, I'm looking into interim clergy training. I don't know yet if I have the temperament for it, but I'm applying to my denomination's program. Unfortunately, there's a hold on training at the moment (the economy rears its ugly head), but they're still opening files on people who are interestd. I'm also exploring moving on. River City has been good to me, but I'm feeling God may be calling me to a new place. No ideas on that yet and no firm plans--looking into possbilitiies.

I'm also trying to reorganise my life a bit. Not only clearing the clutter in case of a possible move, but in creating more of a routine for my week, setting aside reading time or sermon-writing time and simply not making appointments during that time, for example. I'd also like to have more of a routine for my day. That's difficult when every day is different in terms of a schedule (Monday I'm off, Tuesday and Wednesday I'm in both River City and Sister City, Thursday I'm in Sister City in the afternoon bu no office hours in River City, etc.). And of course all of this has been thrown off by the radiation treatments, which are scheduled anywhere from 7 am to 9 am... Routine?

We're getting teased by spring in River City--but I am not going to be tempted into putting out the porch furniture, because I know that's the surest way to have a blizzard!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

And another update...

And there are other things going on in my life besides my cancer journey!

First and foremost, Strong Heart and I are changing our relationship to one of friendship. Our relaionship as partners was very deep and special, but it was meant only for a certain time, and that time is over. She is beginning her own ministry. Not that she didn't have one before, but now she is ordained and will, in all probability, be serving a church of her own before too long. The churches of our denomination are spread widely apart--the geographical distance between us will be even greater than it is now We have always agreed that our ministries, our calls, come first. I'm feeling that my time in River City is drawing to a close, and so I will probably be moving elsewhere at some point in the near future as well.

But one of the best parts of our relationship has always been our ability to share, to be open and honest and clear about our thoughts and feelings. This has helped us in coming to terms with this and it remains a reason we are still friends. She is one of the best people I know to bounce ideas off of, she has many resources and ideas, and her knowledge of leadership is profound. Some of our best conversations have been about the sermon we would preach on Sunday, or how to deal with an issue in the congregation, or the direction her or my minstry should take.

We want to retain that part of our relationship--morph it from partners into good friends. SH has a very restricted definition of friendship--someone she knows on a certain level and trusts and cares about, someone who really knows her, whom she has let into her life to a certain level of intimacy. Anyone else is an acquaintance. I am honored that she considers me a friend by her definition.

Secondly, as I mentioned, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that my time here in River City is about at an end. Obviously I don't know precisely when that will be, but I am taking a look around me at several possibilities. All will require a move, so clearly I have to do some coordination around my cancer treatment, as well as some house clearing! Time line? I can't begin ti guess. Probably sometime this summer--certainly by mid-fall. More than that I don't know.

So while there has been some sadness (being partnered with SH was fulfilling and very good; I will miss that closeness to her), there is also goodness (we remain good friends, able to talk--in some ways, our relationship is better now) and a sense of looking forard to the future with hope-- a new start, if you will, with the spring.

On The Journey XIII

Two days away from beginning radiation...

I'm scheduled for 35 treatments (5 days a week for seven weeks). It seems like a lot, but it's pretty standard for someone with my kind of cancer--grade 3 (very aggressive) and triple negative (not receptive to hormones, thus no hormone treatment like tamoxifen is possible for me after radiation). This is, basically, our one chance to hit the cancer and hit it hard--if there's any still there after the chemo. We don't know, can't know (there's no test to see if you have any cancer cells floating around in your body), so we have to do all we can.

The procedure itself is like getting an xray. I'm put in position (the techs are guided by the tattooed dots I received during the planning session back in January), which allows the radiation beam to be tightly focused on just exactly where the tumor was, and thus affect the rest of my breast/skin less. The beam is switched on for a few moments, then off. And that's it. As someone said, it takes longer to get ready and then dressed again than it does for the treatment itself.

Side effects--possibly some skin problems like redness, itching, sunburn-like irritation. Sometimes it actually blisters, but that's fairly rare. Fatigue is another one, because the beam does affect the ribs and breastbone, which manufacure blood cells--so if that capability is affected, there are fewer red blood cells (which carry oxygen) floating around, I'll get weary more easily and be less able to bounce back. I'm very much hoping that doesn't happen--I'm just atsrting to get back into my life after chemo, and I don't want to have to cut back again.

I still have some lingering side effects from the chemo. My hair will take another few months to grow back to a reasonable length--I'm at 1/4 inch right now! Peach fuzz, really. The other one that's a bother is tingling/numbness in my fingers and toes--this is from that last med I used, Taxotere, which is known for this. It's also supposed to go away in a month or two.

Otherwise, trying to get back into life, getting ready for the radiation (good book and emu oil at the ready!), and looking forward to spring!!