Friday, January 9, 2009

A New Year for Moving On

I've been in hiding mode again.  I've got a bad case of denial.  It's actually bizarre.  Lately, when I see people I haven't seen in a while, they kindly make a comment about how good I look, especially when they see my full head of super curly hair.  I look healthy, robust, normal.  And I realize it's quite a contrast to how I looked a year ago--bald, sickly, at death's door.  I also thank people for their kind comments, but inwardly, I feel embarrassed.  It's kind of the same reaction when I see pictures of myself from last year--I cringe.  I feel sick.  I feel repulsed at how I was.  That probably doesn't make sense to most people--why would I feel embarrassed?  It wasn't my fault.  But to remember my vulnerability and sickness--it's the opposite of empowerment.  Again, this is quite a contradiction, I realize logically and intellectually.  But my honest reaction is that I just don't want to see myself as that seriously ill person.

Nonetheless, I have to deal with life as a cancer survivor.  Currently, I have lymphedema.  On Christmas eve, I noticed that my arm was swollen, but I thought it would just go away.  My arm has swollen a bit in the past since the surgery, but it would go down if I put my compression sleeve on and kept my arm raised a bit.  This time, it didn't go down and in  fact kept swelling.  After almost a week of this, I went to the doctor.  She ordered an immediate ultrasound because she wanted to see if I had a blood clot.  It was a scary moment, because I thought it was no big deal--just a nuisance to have a big arm.  But now, I was dealing with a potentially urgent situation.  So I got  my ultrasound, but luckily, there was no clot to be seen.  Still, my arm was huge.  And now, it was starting to feel sore.  The doc said that was because blood vessels were breaking from the pressure of the lymph fluid building up.

I went back to the doctor after the ultrasound.  What's difficult is that lymphedema is still one of those conditions that's not well understood, and therefore, treatment options are still very limited.  But while I was there, I also told my doc that I'd been experiencing pain on the left side, which was the side that didn't have cancer.  I've been having throbbing pain in my armpit, which is the axilla lymph node area.  She felt under there, and there was indeed a hard round ball under my pit.  So I'm having an ultrasound for that in a week and a half.  It's probably scar tissue, but now, we have to make sure--for everything.  Thank god my doc is on top of things and tells me she'd rather be on the side of paranoia than not worrying about things.

Lucky for me, I have access to one of the few registered massage therapists who specializes in manual lymphatic drainage massage.  So I'm starting a daily treatment on Monday for five days, during which I will receive a one-hour treatment on my arm, followed by a wrap to try to get the swelling down.  Next Saturday, I'm going to get fitted for a custom compression sleeve that will extend down to my fingers.  Hopefully, this treatment will work.

And I finally got my reconstruction surgery scheduled for February 11th.  The original plan was to get implants and nipple reconstruction, but now with my lymphedema, I'm not sure about that.  I have an appointment with the surgeon two days after my ultrasound, so I'll have the opportunity to discuss that with her.

I'm wondering if this is normal--continuing to deal with cancer even after it's supposedly gone.  Will I ever be able to live without having to think about cancer?  Is it possible to move on?


Sandy C said...

Oh my gosh - I'm feeling the same way - embarrassed. Oddly enough, when I was going through it I thought I looked pretty good. Bald but good. Now, looking back at pictures? I looked like someone going through chemo. Go figure, eh? LOL!! But the same thing is happening to me. People saying how good I look - healthy. Then I feel myself going kinda red. They think I'm blushing because they've complimented me but I'm really blushing out of embarrassment. Weird how we're going through so many of the same feelings, eh?

Vicki aka Mamapajama said...

Hey, I honestly never thought you looked as bad as you probably felt you looked! Seriously. You're too hard on yourself. I thought you looked badASS!
But I'm thinking that's probably normal, especially because your friend Sandy is feeling the same way.
I just don't know if you'll ever be able to completely "forget" about the cancer, it's probably going to hang out in the back of your mind forever, but not always in a scary way, but as something shitty you lived through, maybe like a soldier remembers a war.
I'm glad you have good doctors who you trust, and a specialized massagist - how lucky is that? Yay for Vancouver!
Valentine's Day-ish reconstruction could mean something heart-shaped :)