Sunday, April 22, 2012


I've been pretty busy since heading back to work this week.  It went well.  I decided to go back full days instead of trying out half days first.  At about 1:00 each day, I felt overwhelmingly tired.  But I compensated for it in Diet Pepsi and made it through the day.  I have my last physical therapy session this week.  The axillary web syndrome has cleared up.  Now when I stretch upward, I feel just a stretch instead of a pull.  It feels pretty amazing! 

Being back to work has forced me out of my sweat pants.  the transition out of comfy pants hasn't been that bad, however I've had some issues with my top half.  I'm very happy with my reconstruction and I am so thankful that I'm able to have reconstruction that turned out so much better than many women had to endure in the past. takes some getting used to.  I had to wear a dress and a swim suit for the first time in the past week.  They feel so different and big and awkward to me. I know that they aren't that big and many people have told me that I don't look different at all, but I am still so self conscious about them.  Here are some comics that strike a chord with me lately courtesy of

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Renee's Medical Leave 7 Weeks in Review

As my medical leave is coming to a close, I thought I'd put together a year in review sort of a post.  You may have noticed my posts have tapered off as I have less news and I know that once I'm back to work I'll be posting even less.  So here's a recap of what my medical leave has been like.

Even though I spent a lot of time recovering--resting, napping, relaxing, I also tried to accomplish things as well.  I tried to give myself one project each day whether it was cleaning something, sewing, or sorting though things. 

I sewed a pillow case and crib rail teething guards (not that she's still chewing on them, more to cover up the former chewing damage) all using left over fabrics that I already had in the basement.

I organized my recipe collection.  All those great ideas I've cut out or collected over the years are finally categorized and ready to use.

I made a lot of trips to Menards.  I would drop the kids off in the mornings between 7:00-8:00ish and I'd be ready to start my day, but most stores don't open that early.  Thankfully, Menards was right on the route and already open.  I finally got around to buying just a bunch of little things that we've been meaning to pick up for awhile like a new night light, shower curtain rod, or spackle. 

I read and watched the Help.  I loved the book!  The movie was great, but the book was still better.

I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I can't believe how long it took me to finish this one.  After finishing several books really quickly I figured I'd fly through this one, but the style that it's written in really was strange to me and I had to take it slow. I haven't gotten around to watching this movie yet, but we will soon. 

I read a couple other nonfiction books that were like the What to Expect When Expecting for mastectomy patients. 

I had a mediocre performance in this years NCAA pool.  I actually had the time to think about read up a little before my choices.  That's definitely not my usual style.  I'm pretty happy with my mediocre performance.  It's better than last place, which I've been in for several years in a row.

I lost a lot of Words with Friends games.  I'd like to think it was the pain meds taking my spelling ability down a notch, but I haven't been on those since like week 3. 

I sold a lot of items on our trading post, craigslist, and ebay.  I passed a lot of baby items onto new homes.  I had no idea there would be a market out there for my old bras, but people bid on them.  One of them went for $12. 

I became a regular at the library.  Unfortunately, my book to DVD check out ratio was way out of proportion.  It's kind of embarrassing.  I thought I'd do a lot more reading.  But movies were a mindless activity I could do every afternoon sometimes falling asleep during them.  You just can't do that while reading.  At least I don't like to...some students in my class do however. 

I watched all of the Twilight Saga movies.  I'm finally caught up with the rest of the world.  I held off as long as I could and didn't really understand the whole vampire phenomenon.  I considered reading them, but then I realized that I only had a few weeks left and the first movie was airing on FX one afternoon, so I figured perfect timing.  While I don't think that the plot was the most amazing thing ever (the scenes with werewolves talking made me think of Babe the pig or Air Bud), I was pleasantly surprised with it overall.  There were some nice romantic notions, like the way the vampire characters have this stance next to their loved ones, the valor of protecting Bella, and the idea of being able to fly off anywhere around the world at a moments notice without any concern for money.  To my surprise, watching Edward Cullen was an enjoyable way to spend four of my days off..   

I watched probably every romantic comedy that Ryan Reynolds has been in.  It seemed like every movie I watched had some sort of connecting or repeating actor from the previous one.  I started with Bridewars which had Kate Hudson, then she was also in Something Borrowed which had Ginnifer Goodwin who was also in Five, then Definitely Maybe with Ryan Reynolds and the Proposal which also had Sandra Bullock who was then in the Blindside.  Then there's Emma Stone, who seems to be like Elizabeth Banks quietly starring in every movie lately.  Of all these movies, my absolute favorite was Crazy, Stupid, Love.  It was hilarious and had shirtless Ryan Gosling.  Speaking of him, I watched every Nicolas Sparks novel that has been turned into a movie. 

I cleaned the house a lot.  I had to stay away from vacuuming for a good amount of time--you'd be surprised by how much chest muscle is used.  By five weeks I could vacuum again.  At seven weeks, I was shampooing the carpet.  I discovered some new products that made cleaning much easier.  I love my shark steamer.  It's small and met my weight restriction.  Steaming the dirt made me not have to put the muscle into scrubbing things away.  My sinks and shower have never been this clean.  I can't believe that I just now discovered Swiffer Dusters. I also discovered a new mop called the Rubbermaid Reveal Spray Mop that is similar to a Swiffer Wet Jet, but you can put your own cleaning formula and has a reusable mopping pad. I cleaned every closet, got rid of a ton of stuff, and reorganized the kids toys.  I cleaned our house well enough for it to be put on the market any day now.  If only Mitch would stop changing his mind daily on whether we should list it or not after we make our final few repairs. 

I scheduled a lot of appointments.  I had the ones that I already knew I'd need like breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, and physical therapist.  But I also thought I'd take advantage of the time and get other doctor and dentist appointments out of the way for the year for myself and the girls.  It's amazing the different vibe places have when you are there leisurely at 9:00 am rather than trying to cram an appointment in during the crazy time between 3:00 and 5:00. I convinced Mitch to get tested for allergies. He complains all the time about it and we clearly have our deductible met this year, so go get it done!  It turns out he's allergic to all grasses.  The doctor said it's amazing he hasn't had a reaction to beer over the years. 

This leaves me with one last day of time on my own tomorrow.  I made sure the house is completely clean and all the laundry and ironing is done so that I have no tasks to complete tomorrow.  I have a 10:30 doctor appointment and 2:30 PT.   Somewhere in between I'd like to get a pedicure and maybe meet Mitch out for lunch.  It's going to be a great day. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Step 2

Even though I had my mastectomy and reconstruction done in a one step procedure, it still was really just the first step of a bigger process to reduce my cancer risks.  Unfortunately having a BRCA mutation increases your risk for not just breast cancer, but also ovarian, colo-rectal, melanoma, prostate, stomach, and uterine cancers.  Now that my breast cancer risks have been reduced/almost eliminated, my next biggest risk is ovarian cancer,  The general population has a lifetime risk of about 1 in 70 (1.5%) of developing ovarian cancers.  Those with BRCA1 mutations have about a 40% lifetime risk.

Honestly, I wasn't really concerned by this risk at first. We don't have the huge family history of ovarian cancer. But the more I learned and researched about reducing my breast cancer risk, the more I saw the connection between breast and ovarian cancers.  All of the recommendations that I've received from multiple doctors state not just a recommendation to remove my breast tissue, but also to remove my ovaries.

This is more than I'm willing to do right now.  I put all the fight that I have into this mastectomy and reconstruction and want some time to just be normal for awhile.  I understand why doctors recommend it.  If breast cancer is fueled by estrogen, removing the ovaries will almost completely eliminate the estrogen in you and further decrease breast cancer risk while eliminating ovarian cancer risks at the same time.  However this surgery has major  physical and psychological side effects.  This is not something I'm ready for yet.  Maybe down the road...but definitely not now.  I even said to Mitch the other day that I've worked so hard to not get breast cancer, I don't want to deal with ovarian cancer too.  If  I were to get it without any family history, then maybe that's just how things are supposed to be.  He quickly pointed out that this doesn't match with my opinions on breast cancer and challenge me on it.  I love him for this.  I can't stick my head in the stand and ignore my other risks.  I did this so that I can be here for my children and grandchildren; I cannot be done yet.

So Friday morning, I had my first consultation with a gynecological oncologist to find out what I can do in the mean time to monitor and reduces my risks for ovarian cancer.  I knew a little bit going into it, but it felt great to hear his recommendations.  He wanted to send me down for some tests right away that day.  All of the recommendations say to start these tests at 30.  I'm thrilled that he didn't say because I'm 29 right now, we can wait 6 months.  This showed me that's he about action, not sitting around waiting for cancer to grow.  He is going to order a blood test called CA125 every 3 months, rather than the 6 month recommendation.  He outlined exactly what we're looking for with the blood test, what would happen if there begins to be an unhealthy pattern (additional ultrasound of ovaries), and what our nonsurgical option are (OVA1 test if any mass were to be found).

The number 1 thing I can do to reduce my risks is surprisingly using oral contraceptives, something I had been avoiding for years because of the increase in breast cancer risk associated with hormonal birth control. It was interesting to find out that not all birth control options provide reduced risk for ovarian cancers.  Now that I do not have breast tissue, this sounds fine by me providing they don't make me crazy or have any additional strange side effects.

When we feel 100% sure that our family is complete, having a tubal ligation would provide additional benefits. He'd like to take it one step further and completely remove my fallopian tubes as new studies show that most ovarian cancers are originating in fallopian tubes, then spread to ovaries.  This is an exciting option to me.  It would allow me to retain my ovaries, so that I don't have to go through chemical menopause at a young age. Then when I get closer to natural menopause age, I can remove my ovaries to give me the extra protection from both breast and ovarian cancer as these risks increase with age.

I left that appointment feeling great.  I think I just found the Dr. Colette of Gynecology!        

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Finally read my pathology report...I made the right decision

I was looking through my folder full of all of the paperwork I've accumulated from the doctors, hospital instructions, and bills.  I just needed some contact information for an insurance form I had to fill out yesterday.  While I digging through the folder, I came across my pathology report.  I had been given this at an appointment maybe 5 days post op.  I was not in a frame of mind ready to look at it or understand it.  At the time I had just focused on the fact that I'm healthy and she'd be presenting me at tumor board so others wouldn't be told they have to lose their skin and nipples over what looked like mine did on MRI.  I finally sat down and read it yesterday afternoon.  To my surprise, I actually understood a good amount of it thanks to my crazy amount of research prior to surgery.  I discovered that:
  •  I had 336 grams of breast tissue removed on my right side and 313 grams on my left (I never noticed a size difference).  This means that I had 1.5 pounds removed.  In comparison, I had just under 3 pounds of implant added to me.   
  • My left lymph node (the side that I've had the most problems with) that was removed was significantly larger than my right one and had an amount of yellow fat attached to it.  This was interesting to find out because I had been talking with my physical therapist asking why my left side was so much more paintful than my right.  I had questioned if it was because I am right handed and use this side more than left or even if it was how I slept each night on my left side doing damage.  She said that it was most likely because of something during surgery--that they must have had to go deeper or something on the left causing more damage to the system than the right.  This completely makes sense now having looked at this report.  Knowing that my left one was almost twice the size, obviously it's going to feel different.
  • I had three fibroadenomas on the right side and 1 on the left.  The largest of these measured 1cm x .8 cm x .6cm (picture a small bean).  Interesting though, I had never been able to feel these in a self exam or doctors never felt them during any exam either. 
  • In addition to the fibroadenomas, the pathology report showed that my right breast had intraductal hyperplasia.  This is another benign breast condition, but it means that there was an overgrown of mildly abnormal cells. These cells are not cancer cells, but are not entirely normal either.  It is one of the only benign breast conditions that does often lead to cancer.  The order goes from hyperplasia, to atypical hyperplasis, to DCIS, to invasive cancer. I knew something wasn't right back in July.  I felt like I needed to do something now.  I was right.  This was 100% the right choice.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

5 weeks

Sorry for not posting lately.  I know that it's had several of you concerned.  :)  I've been making an attempt to not be online as much lately.  Someone important in my life complains that I'm constantly on my computer.  I've been making an attempt at improving this and now nightly while I used to be online and he'd be watching TV (usually some series that no one else would want to watch anyway) we've been watching movies together.  We've watched: The Blindside, Easy A, The Proposal, The Change-Up just in a one week span and that's not even considering my afternoon rest time romantic comedies that I watch by myself.  I recently discovered the DVD collection at our local library, and I've been flying through movies in addition to all the great ones friends have given to us or let us borrow. 

I am at 5 weeks post op now.  I'm doing very well!  I am doing physical therapy 2 times per week for an hour and then have a homework assignment that takes about 30 minutes twice a day on days when I don't have therapy.  My axillary web has really stretched out well and I don't anticipate problem with it for much longer.  At this point, I only feel a tugging when I lift my left arm out to the side and all the way up to the top (think like jumping jack or snow angel).  When I hit the point of about 120 degrees to 180 (which I can't quite reach yet anyway without my physical therapist pushing it there in a stretch), I feel a lot of pulling and tightness.  But it's getting better with each session.  I can now put my arms behind my head lying on the ground (think like start of a situp) and my elbows can touch the floor without a problem.  I can now cuddle close with the girls and do not feel any pain.  I even lifted Adrienne up a few time this week piggy back.  I am physically almost back to normal other than still getting tired really fast.  And when I do get tired, I am like completely wiped out tired (the kids noise won't even wake me up out of a nap). 

I am getting a little bored with being home.  This week I decided to start sewing again.  I made Adrienne a pillow case and fixed something that's needed repairs for over a year.  I organized a whole bunch of closets (don't worry, I was following my restrictions and just left boxes or piles for Mitch to move later). I'm crazy for saying this, but I'm almost ready to go back.  I really do miss my students and the friends at school.  I go back to work in two weeks.  I planned on taking 1/2 days for the first week back, but this week I'm going to see if I can stay a bit more active.  If I'm ok, then I'll go back full time right away. may not see another post from me for awhile because I'm going to try to relax on my last week off (this week is technically my last, then next week happens to be our spring break.)