Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sucks to be them.


While it sucks to be the person's whose mammogram results I overheard on Tuesday, thank God they weren't mine. My results came back clear and non-suspicious so I am officially in my second year of cancer free living. I will still be monitored every 6 months for a while yet but I can live with that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Someone's got something going on between 3 and 4 o'clock.

You'd think with all the down time I have, I'd keep my blog updated regularly. You'd think. I don't know why I'm finding it hard. Possibly because I like a thread of humour to run through everything, but alas I'm not feeling all that humourous.

For the same reasons I suppose my book writing venture has come to a grinding halt. I'm about a third of the way through it but I haven't even thought about it, much less written anything, in over a month. Damn hormones.

Hot flashes have definitely come to my house. I'm learning to dress in layers to accommodate them. Well, I've always sort of dressed in layers anyway - except that I was always adding another on top. Now I'm playing the on again off again game. The flashes normally only last a minute or so, so if this is as bad as it gets I'll be laughing. But somehow I think I ain't seen nothin' yet.

I had my one year appointment at the cancer unit last week. I saw Dr Lamb, a female oncologist, this time. I discussed the "should I be taking Tamoxifen and/or HRT" issues with her. As suspected she said no HRT and one more year of Tamoxifen.

In our discussion of how to deal with hot flashes I asked what my options were.

"Fans. And wet cloths," was her reply. "And as a last resort, if they are totally unbearable we can put you on an anti-depressant. For some reason they seem to help with hot flashes. But this would be totally as last resort resolution."

As I said, so far they aren't too bad but I'd imagine I'll eventually visit a naturopath.

As suspected the oncologist sent me for a diagnostic mammogram - which I participated in today. Once they take the girl's photos from all sorts of angles, they make you sit there and wait while the technician views them to ensure everything shows clearly before they let you finish dressing and leave.

While I was sitting there in the examining room, which is sort of open to the central viewing room - kinda like a dentist's office, I could hear my nurse (mammographer? I dunno what they are called) having a discussion with someone else whom I assumed to be a technician.

Well, it was more like a one-sided conversation with the other voice speaking to my nurse:

"There seems to be something going on between 3 and 4 o'clock. And there is definitely a cyst at 6 o'clock."

My heart stops momentarily. I have no idea whether my pictures are even ready yet, so I remind myself that they take images all day long and it is quite likely someone else's portraits they are looking at. For one thing I can't imagine they would have that conversation within earshot of me when they are not allowed to confirm or deny anything until I see my family doctor for results. 

"Look here. Compare them to these two images from May."

"Damn," I think. "I was here in May. Those have to be mine." But then I continue my conversation with myself, convincing myself that anyone who had issues in May would routinely be back 6 months later in November.

If indeed they were talking about me, they were talking about my left breast which is the one that had the lump last year because they didn't do a vice grip portrait of the right side in May.

A few minutes later I breathed a sigh of relief when my nurse returned to tell me I was free to dress and go.

Anyway, this is all completely speculations of an overactive mind until I hear otherwise from my family doctor at 9am Thursday morning.

And whatever the outcome, it better not interfere with next Tuesday's planned trip to Edmonton where I shall sleep in The Algonquin, our favourite no-frills cheap motel on the corner of Mayfield and 170th. And I shall feast at the Olive Garden and Red Lobster. And I shall overspend at West Edmonton Mall and Ikea. And I shall have a nice visit with my April and her hubby Greg. And I shall return home exhausted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Accomplishing things is not a requirement.

Sometimes you just don't get it the first time.

Which is why, the day after my venture to the library, I was up by 7am, had a shower and got dressed (which consumes an entire day's energy in itself) and went to have a visit with the girls at work. I was tired by the time I left but convinced myself this would be a good day to go check out Connie's new house which she has lived in for over two weeks and I have not seen yet. I was, after all, already in the car and already half way across town.

Besides seeing her house, I convinced myself it would be a good idea because I was hungry. If I went home I'd have to make something. But I knew Connie would have food. She always does. Just as I walked in her door she was removing a pizza from the oven. Good call.

I was pretty tired when I got home but rather than napping, I hauled out all my art supplies and spread them all over hell's half acre. (I'm not sure where that saying came from or what it really means cuz I'm sure hell is gonna be a lot bigger than half an acre. And my intended subject [my kitchen] certainly isn't half an acre.)

I know sleep or rest would have been my better option, but Friday nights have always been my "me time." It's the night when everyone else has a meeting, a club, a date or other such venture to occupy their time. I started working on my Christmas cards.

Later in the evening Xander came for a little visit and I sat on the floor and played with him for about an hour. I even sneaked in a little lift-n-hug now and then. This would make a good "What not to do" chapter in the Grannyhood for Dummies book.

And so Friday came and went without a single nap - not even any "lay down TV time." And it showed on Saturday.

I was in quite a bit of pain. My belly felt like it was in labour - funny since there is no womb to contract. And I was bleeding. Not from the incision. The incision looks fantastic and I have not felt any pain at all in the actual incision site. And here I thought I'd never have to touch another pad in my life. Damn. I know this is probably more information than you wanted to read but this paragraph is for my own personal record keeping.

Had it not been the weekend, I probably would have phoned the doctor. But I wasn't concerned enough to tackle the ER. Neither did I have the energy.

Sunday morning I mustered the energy to attend church for the first time in three weeks. But that was about all I managed to accomplish.

"Accomplishing things is not a requirement at this stage of the game," I told myself.

Ken and Jade had an extra long day planned at their Alpha group and needed someone to watch Xander from 5:30-9:00. I certainly wasn't up to it so PaPa got to take him to The Well when he went at 2:00. It was a long day for the Xman but as expected he did his PaPa proud.

And I slept.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Footloose and cancer free.

My pathology report came back clear. Yay for living cancer free for one whole year. So far.

I have an appointment with my oncologist next Monday and he will likely give me a requisition to get another diagnostic mammogram done just to be sure things are still looking good. This seems kind of ass-backward to me - you'd think I would get the mammogram done before I see him. But hey, who am I to question the intelligence of the medical system.

Later today I will go have coffee with the girls at work.

I'm still a bit uncertain of what my employment future looks like. I have a couple of irons in the fire, but they are not heating up as fast as I had originally hoped. My surgeon suggested I be off work for approximately seven weeks after surgery. I'll think I'll go back for 3 days a week on December 1st. While this is only 4 1/2 weeks into recovery, I think I'll be fine. I can get away without lifting if I need to and I have way too much seniority to ever have to sweep and vacuum.

This will mean I only have 2 1/2 weeks left to live footloose. I'm kinda hoping my hubby will blow a couple of shifts and whisk me away to Edmonton for a few days. I could get all my Christmas shopping done in one fell swoop (and have him there to pack everything) PLUS I'd get to go to the Olive Garden and Red Lobster and squeeze in a visit with April and Greg before heading back to the grindstone.

I am pleasantly surprised at how little pain I have had. I take pain killers at most once a day. I have zero pain at the incision site. Any pain I do have seems to be in the bruising about six inches above the incision, which I assume is where they clamped back all my fat. It mighta been a better idea to just cut it off while they had me open.

I do have some pain in my bladder - both when it is full and when I release it. It kinda feels like a knife stab. I'll mention this to Dr Galliford next week when I have a follow-up visit.

I am not a person to balk at sitting around doing nothing, but the "not lifting" is interfering with my lifestyle. I am back to doing most of the cooking and I think nothing of filling the large pasta pot with water and carrying it across the kitchen from the sink to the stove. Or packing the 5lb bag of rice from the pantry room to the kitchen. These are probably things I should be avoiding but they are things I don't really think about until I've done too many and my belly starts to feel like it's contracting in labour.

I haven't ventured outside too many times yet but yesterday I decided I'd make a trip to the library. You know I'm getting cabin fever when I start looking for books - I just don't read anymore. Actually I wasn't looking for reading books, I went in search of watercolour projects. I'm feeling the urge to paint.

I'm thinking I'll do an original work of art for our Christmas cards again this year. However, I learned my lesson last year and I will not be hand painting 84 individual cards for 2009. I will paint one. I will get 84 copies printed.

My trip to the library probably would have been fine except for two things:

1 - A large woman was heading across the parking lot towards the library door the same time as me. She practically ran to get in front of me like there was a prize for the first person to arrive. I, on the other hand, dragged my feet and slowed a bit so she could open the heavy metal door and stand there waiting for me to catch up and go through. She then headed for the elevator door to take her up the four flights to the main floor of our library. My evil mind thought, "Ha! That's why you are so much larger than me. I shall take the stairs."

I arrived four flights up on the main floor completely winded and having a hot flash. I thought I was gonna die. But... I was 20 feet ahead of the large woman emerging from the library elevator.

2 - All the watercolour books are on the top shelf. After my little mini-marathon of stair climbing, I sang hallelujah at the sight of a stool in the aisle of the art books. I grabbed a book off the shelf and pretended to be reading it as I sat on the stool and composed myself and gathered energy enough to reach books down from the top shelf. Do you know how enormous art books are? I think there's a law that in order to qualify as an art book it must weigh more than 12 pounds. Stretching above my head and lifting down these books was more exercise than I should have been participating in. I knew that, but I could not let my venture up the stairs be in vain. I limited myself to 3 books. I couldn't imagine packing more than that to the car. I fully anticipated that once I reached my car I would cry myself to sleep - but I managed to make it all the way home to my bed.

Yes, this is one of the books I brought home.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Give me back my ovaries, dammit.

Sunday morning Dr Galliford came in to discharge me a day earlier than expected.

As a final word of advice he says, "Remember, no lifting and no vacuuming. Call me in two weeks."

"Um, when do I start hormone replacement therapy?"

"Oh no. I don't want you doing that. Not with your history."

Well then give me back my ovaries, dammit.

"When do I resume taking my Tamoxifen?" I already know the answer is 2 weeks, but I want his opinion.

"I think you can stop with the Tamoxifen because I've removed your primary estrogen source. But check with your oncologist." I already have. Menopausal women take Tamoxifen for two years instead of five.

Dr Galliford's comment totally took me by surprise and I knew I'd be going home to spend some time with google and then hunting down a naturopath. I had kinda already decided to have a naturopath hold my hand through this venture anyway after reading Sexy Hormones by Lorna Vanderhaeghe.

There was a big uproar over Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) a few years ago when a huge research project by the WHI (Women's Health Initiative) determined that HRT gave a woman a 25-30% higher chance of developing breast cancer and other risks.

There have since been found some flaws in the results, but of course that doesn't make a good story so the further story is not widely published. Even most doctors, like my own, are unaware that for women who have already had breast cancer HRT can in fact reduce the risk of recurrence.

November marks the time for my next six month check with the oncologist, so this is good timing. I shall sweat out any hot flashes until I see him and I get some more direction.

Coincidentally my first day without an IV (when I could put on real clothes) was Halloween so my pjs didn't really have the impact I was hoping for.  :)  
Although my anesthetist nearly peed himself laughing when came to visit.   

Even after my IV was removed, I continued to require extra oxygen because my levels kept dropping.
Breath deep, Mrs Ziemer, breath deep.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Room with a view.

Okay, I've been home from the hospital for a week now so I guess I should be posting an update.

My room mate was discharged on Friday and was waiting for her daughter to come pick her up. I asked a number of nurses if I could scooch over to the window seat when she left. They all were agreeable to this.

When Michelle (my neice who works in housekeeping) popped in to visit me late in the afternoon my room mate still had not gone home. But Michelle agreed that if the woman left before the end of her shift she'd clean up the room right away and move me over and then clean my side. I knew it was extra work for housekeeping, but knowing I was going to be there a few more days I really wanted the window for the view and the extra space it provided.

The woman never left before Michelle did.

The evening housekeeping woman was not nearly as agreeable to the extra workload.

"I'd really like to be nudged over to that space when you are finished," I said to the woman as she wiped down the cabinet.

"I'd imagine the space is already booked," was her stern reply.

As quick as she could, she practically ran from the room stating loudly that she was going on a break. I'm not sure who the intended audience was, but she made sure I heard it.

Something must have been said to the very friendly nurse on duty who had already told me it should be no problem to move to the window. She came in a while later and said, "I have a plan to get you a window and it won't even look like your idea."

It turns out there were three rooms which each had one woman in them and there were two men expected out of surgery during the night. So they moved me to a different room with a vacant window spot, leaving my original room empty for the two men. My new room had a way better view, giving full vision of the city lights and the pulpmill spewing steam from its smokestacks as it churned out money.

My room mate in this new room went home Saturday morning, leaving me with a room to myself for the rest of my stay. Yay for aloneness.

My IV was removed and a pain killer was delivered via suppository. Apparently this is a fantastic form of quickly dispensing drugs into the system because it is not filtered first by the kidneys. It is also a fantastic way to get moving the bowels that have refused for 2 days to even pass a fart.

Let's just say I'm glad I had a room to myself.

AND I got to eat food for supper. Yay food! Ham and pinapple sauce, mashed potatoes, veggies and banana pudding. I inhaled it.

Xander came trick-or-treating that night and got a couple of toys from PaPa. It was hard to just look at him without being able to have him jump all over me, but I was thrilled to have him visit. Oh was great to see Ken and Jade as well. :)

Everyone left by shortly after 8 that night and the nurse came in to do my vitals. "There, you are done for the night, so you can settle in any time," she said. And I promptly fell asleep for three hours.

I awoke at 11 feeling wide awake like I'd had a full night's sleep. It was then I remembered it was time change night and in reality it was only like 10pm. While I dosed off a couple of times, I never did really sleep again that night.

I was glad I had the room to myself and I left the blinds open all night and watched the city lights and even some halloween fireworks in the distance. I was basically pain free and longing for a cheese burger.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Farting is your meal ticket.

I quit taking my robaxicet by mid afternoon Wednesday for two reasons. I wanted it out of my system before anaesthetic Thursday morning and because the label clearly says not to exceed 6 tablets in 24 hours. I'd had 8 in 18.

Thursday morning my surgery goes quick and successfully. I was scheduled for two hours in surgery then two hours in recovery. I was awake in recovery after an hour and a half by 9:30am. I fade in and out of consciousness feeling no pain anywhere. Not my back, my incision nor my throat (which had been really irritated by the tubes during my breast surgery one year ago.) I offer up thanksgiving for morphine and happily settle into my room about 1:30pm.

I don't have a window space so my area is quite cramped and my night table and rolling bedside table quickly become piled with stuff that needs to be maneuvered every time something else arrives. But I do appreciate that none of the rooms in our hospital house more than 2 beds.

I am on a steady low dose of morphine through my IV but I have the power to push the button for "extra shots" every 15 minutes if I want it. The only pain I feel is high in my right side. I assume it's a kidney because it feels like awakening in the morning and having to pee so bad it hurts. I watch my catheter bag fill and it brings no relief. I click my morphine button for good measure .

I have absolutely zero pain at the incision site and I feel no back pain. I continue to push my morphine button about once an hour just because I can and as a result I sleep for most of the rest of the day.

They bring me a meal tray - jello and apple juice. I am sure I'd throw up the juice if I drank it. I don't have the energy to pick up the spoon. I grab a piece of the jello with my fingers and it squishes and drops onto the bed looking like a blood clot. I lick my fingers and verify the flavour is raspberry. And that's what all I had for food on Thursday October 29 - a lick of raspberry jello.

Dr Galliford comes in to see me by 7:15 Friday morning. He is pleased with the results. "Of course we have to wait about a week for the pathology report but don't lose any sleep over it," he says, then adds, "Your liver looks fantastic."

I give him a high five and say, "Yay! I can still drink."

He chuckles, pats my leg and glances at the clock, then tells me breakfast will be here shortly. Good. I am starving.

My tray arrives. It has what I assume is a cup of coffee and my imagination is working overtime dreaming of the glorious breakfast hiding under the dome. I know it won't be a McDonald's Sausage and Egg McMuffin but that is clearly what I envision.

I pop the lid of the mug - it's full of steaming hot water. Oh. My heart sinks. I lift the dome on the food tray. There in the centre of the tray sits a lonely little 4oz cuplet of apple juice. And that's breakfast. Clear fluids.

A nurse comes to check my vitals and asks if I have farted yet. "Farting is your meal ticket," she says. "Once you fart you'll be upgraded to full fluids and you'll get something with flavour."

Try as I may, I cannot work up even a gurgle.

It is Friday and the hospital is teeming with student nurses tripping over each other to provide care to the patients. Cody becomes my main man, checking me every few minutes and cheering my bowels on to fart. (And they say "fart" not some politically correct term like "pass wind" or "flatulence.")

Cody is eager but not confident. He goes into panic mode at one point when the vitals machine starts beeping widely then flat lines. I suggest that he should perhaps not put the pulse/oxygen monitor on the the finger of my same arm he has my blood pressure cuff squeezing the blood supply off to my hand.

A while later I hear the instructor ask him if he was ready to do 24B (that's my number).

"I'm gonna try," he responds as he's walking towards me.

I tried not to be creeped out by his lack of confidence and reprimand him for such. I had already been forewarned that he was about to remove my drain tube and change my dressing.

Turns out he did a fantastic job and I felt nothing as he cleaned me up and put a smaller dressing on my incision that I was very happy to note was horizontal and closed up with dissolvable stitches. God bless you Dr Galliford, I didn't get a vertical zipper stapled closed that I'd read so much about on the internet.

Cody felt bad about freaking me out a bit so he pretended he heard bowel noises with his stethoscope so he could upgrade my lunch to full fluids.

Lunch was a packaged soup that tasted like chemicals. I ate 2 spoonfuls and it came right back up.

"That's because you haven't farted yet," the nurse gives me a knowing look that says she realized Cody upgraded me as a favour. Oh oh, busted.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Geez! She coulda told me.

With the medical school operating at UNBC the hospital is teeming with students training in every facet. My name was called at 6:30 AM on Thursday for my pre-op prep. I stood amongst a small group of girls who no more wanted to be weighing sick people at this ungodly hour than flying to the moon.

The nurse asked, "Who's with Dr Galliford's patient?"

No response.

She points to a particularly unresponsive looking girl and point blank asks her, "Are you with Galliford's patient?"

She snaps into reality and says , "I don't know the doctor's name, just the patient." She glances at my arm band and verifies, "Yes, she's with me."

I kiss Albert goodbye and they lead me beyond the curtain to the recliners and snugly warm blankets where normally you sit in a quiet vegetative state and wait for an interview with your surgeon and anaesthetist. My wait was anything but quiet and vegetative. Elaine stopped by to say she'd be there. Joyce came in all bubbly to inform me she was my OR nurse. And my student nurse sat on the chair facing my recliner to tend to my every need - which was nothing at this point. She just there on the edge of her chair staring into my face and feeling like she needed to keep the conversation going to eliminate any awkward silence.

What she doesn't know about me is that I do not find silence awkward. It was too early for conversations with anyone much less an uncomfortable stranger who looked like a typical young student who was not getting enough sleep. But she kept the conversation rolling, telling me of her culture shock moving to Prince George from Vancouver and experiencing winter for the first time. (Last winter was a doozy, even for us.)

I wanted nothing more than to close my eyes and crawl into my own little bubble. But it was too awkward to go there with her sitting in my face like that.

The anaesthetist walks up behind her and says, "You are sitting in my chair." She continues to sit and I tap her leg and say, "You are sitting in his chair."

My mind is filled with disgust at the lack of respect young people have these days when she says, "Oh. Did you want to sit here?" She got up and moved to the side.

Finally it was time to go to the OR. I was climbing up onto the freezing little narrow table. Joyce was counting scalpels and saws and other such scary instruments. Dr Richardson, the anaesthetist, was arranging drugs and poking me with needles.

I hear my student nurse introduce herself to Joyce, "Hi, I'm Simone, a second year nursing student. I'm deaf so you'll have to speak directly to my face."

If I would have died there on that table, my final word before drifting off into heaven would have been, "Geez!"

I am not a good bleeder.

I arrived at the hospital to get my pre-op blood work done an hour and a half later than I intended. I take a number and realize there is only one person ahead of me.

Phew! I think as I grab a magazine and sit on a waiting room seat which is made of fabric and covered with many layers of stains. This kinda creeps me out. I convince myself it's probably mostly spilled coffee and dripping baby bottles and sippy cups, not the possible fluids I have shoved to the back of my mind: blood and leaking colostomy bags and soggy Depends and other manner of other conditions people may be suffering from and needing to have lab work done at the hospital.

I am thankful my wait is very short before I get called in. One of the two nurses confirms my good timing when she realizes there is no one waiting after me and comments, "Wow, I can't believe we've made it through the entire waiting room this morning." I quietly thank God for my running late and arriving later than I had planned so my wait in those disgusting chairs was minimal.

After having no success in either arm finding a vein, I suggest they use a baby butterfly syringe on my hand. "I am not a good bleeder. " I unwittingly say.

She gets the required blood and puts my hospital bracelets on me to indicate my A-positive blood type and instructs me to keep them clean and dry for four days until my scheduled surgery date.

The entire blood giving process goes much quicker than I anticipated so I decide to stop in at work on my way home to make sure they still remember me and to let them know i am finally booked. I am also wondering if Nic has given birth yet. She's due this week I think.

I get out to my car and am just starting it when there is a knock at my driver's side window. I roll it down.

"Scuse me. Are you going straight home?"

I don't answer but I'm sure the quizzical look on my face clearly said, "Huh?"

"Well it's just that I think you probably don't realize you are bleeding all over the place."

I thank her profusely through my utter humiliation for letting me know while I silently chant, "Five more days. Five more days. I can make it. I can make it."

And I head directly home and try not to think about the next person who has to come along and convince themselves that the disgusting chair they are sitting in has been stained with a dripping baby bottle.

Consider Yourself Reminded.

Ten years. It's been 10 years today since I was branded with that title that no-one ever wants to wear. That is until you receive it. ...