I’ve been remiss in blogging the last few days. I could be a big baby and say I haven’t been feeling so great, but I won’t. Even if it’s true. Cancer. It’s always cancer. Seems that nary a day goes by without someone I know or a friend of a friend being newly diagnosed. It would be easy to get bogged down in all things cancer, but I won’t.
Something bad happened last week. Not “recurrence” bad, but side-effect bad. Something I’ve been scared shitless of since learning that this foul thing even exists. Until last week, said foul thing had not gotten ahold of me, but then on Wednesday last, everything changed.
The dreaded swelling of a limb following surgery, particularly surgery in which lymph nodes are removed.
Since my mastectomy 18 months ago, I’ve been on guard against the dreaded lymphedema. I have a fantastic lymphedema specialist, Tammy, who has become not only a vital member of my health-care team but also a great friend. Visiting her is like a trip to the spa — serene setting, trickling water fountains, dim lights, soothing music, and lovely & caring women. It’s a safe haven among the shitstorm that is breast cancer.
I started seeing Tammy as a preventative measure all those many months ago, and while I never had lymphedema, she worked her magic on my scar tissue and rough spots after my surgeries. With her help, and that of office manager and “salt police” Janice, I’d educated myself about lymphedema and had, until now, been successful in preventing it.
All that came to a screeching halt Wednesday. The proper care, the education, the prevention, the vigilance — gone. Just gone. My left arm swelled up like a balloon and felt heavy, tingly, tender, and sore. I was scared.
The thing that scares me so much about lymphedema is that it can come out of nowhere, months or years after surgery. And it can be permanent. The last thing I want after being handed a cancer diagnosis at age 40 is to go through the rest of my life with a balloon arm. That would put a serious crimp in my tennis game.
Luckily, Tammy and her staff of lymphedema slayers were on the ball and treatment commenced right away. I got to experience the joys of “the pump,” in which the offending limb is encased in a stockingette, then stuffed into a huge, padded wrist-to-shoulder sleeve reminiscent of the padding used to train police dogs, then encased in a plastic-y sleeve attached by thick cables to a machine that squeezes the limb rhythmically. The idea is to squeeze the excess fluid out of the limb and guide it back through the battered lymph system to then be filtered out of the body and released into the atmosphere, hopefully never to be seen again.
The plan was to rest (egads), avoid lifting anything with my left arm (bye-bye strength training), and wear the compression sleeve (oh so fashionable, and yet another palpable signal to the world that there’s something wrong with me). Pump it every day, drink as much water as I can hold and then some more, and hope it goes away. After laying low, being a gimp, wearing the sleeve, pumping and adding some k-tape, and drowning my innards 5 days, there is some progress. The swelling is down, but not totally gone. I want it gone. IMHO, 5 days is more than enough time for it to be gone.
Y’all know how much I loooooove being a patient, enduring complications, and being sidelined.
This latest complication and sidelining was rather tough. Mentally more than physically, which is a change. I guess it’s good to shake things up every now and again. The getting back to “normal” was getting kinda boring, and the idea of finally putting this cancer experience behind me probably was a pretty stupid one. Why not insert a wrench into the plan?
There are lots of things that aggravate the hell out of me with lymphedema. Lots of things. First and foremost is how rudely it interrupted my foray back into my “normal” life after the latest surgical procedure. I’m a busy girl and an impatient girl, so the “stop-start-stop-start” nature of getting back to “normal” after cancer and in between the 8 procedures I’ve had is trying. Just as I was getting back to “normal” after the October revision and hitting it hard at the gym, the balloon arm strikes. In fact, one of my fellow gym rats was just telling me, the day before the lymphedema arrived, that it looked like I was back. As in, back to my usual workout routine and getting stronger. Two weeks in a row, I’d had 3 hard workouts in a row. I was actually starting to see some progress, and with no more procedures on the horizon, my future in the gym seemed quite bright.
I should have known it was just a tease and wouldn’t last. I should have realized that cancer and its many ugly aftereffects will always have a hold on me and will get the better of me. I should have recognized that no matter how hard I work and how many things I do right, my arch nemesis will forever be skulking around in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to shit all over me once again.
In addition to battling cancer and a nosocomial infection, I’ve also been busy battling plantar fasciitis.
The PF preceded the BC, and while not as nasty–and certainly not life-threatening in any way–it’s a major drag. My feet hurt all the time. All. The. Time. Maintaining my busy-body active lifestyle is pretty tricky with feet that hurt All. The. Time. It also severely limits my footwear. Cute shoes are pretty much out, as is going barefoot. I haven’t resorted to orthopedic shoes, but I’m not out of the woods yet, either. I have custom orthotics that go in my tennis shoes (don’t be jealous), and if I’m not wearing my tennies, I’m in my very dear Cole Haan flip flops or my not-s0-cute but cushy crocs flip flops. Thank goodness I don’t work in an office that requires closed-toe, pinchy shoes. I’d have to quit or get fired. Probably option #2.
I’ve seen a foot doctor, I’ve tried herbal remedies, I’ve taken copious amounts of RX anti-inflammatories, I’ve iced and elevated and slept in a splint. I had high hopes that while recovering from The Big Dig and taking several months off from tennis and most of my daily activities beyond laying in bed bemoaning my pitiful state would provide some respite from the foot problems that plague me. Alas, it did not. In fact, having foot pain while lying in bed doing none of the active things I want to do gave me more about which to bemoan.
My tennis buddy and dog-spoiler extraordinaire Christy had the answer to my problems. Dr Scott Kelly of the Airrosti Clinic. I need another doctor in my life about as much as Lindsey Lohan needs another bad-influence friend. The thought of adding yet another doctor my circle of docs did not appeal to me one little bit, but desperate times….
The Airrosti Clinic uses an intense treatment model that involves some serious hands-on time with the doc. And when I say hands-on, I mean he’s gonna put his hands on your tenderest injured spot and mangle the hell out of it. For real.
See, fascia is connective tissue that covers most of our body. It covers the different muscles, blood vessels and nerves “much like plastic wrap holds the contents of a sandwich together,” as it was explained to me. Problem with fascia is it’s everywhere, so your chance of injuring it is great, and it has little or no blood supply, so your chance of healing said injury is not great.
That’s where the laying of hands comes in. Dr Kelly gets his long, strong, mean hands into the damaged fascia and starts kneading it like bread. Then stretching it like taffy. Then punching it like a speed bag. All the while laughing maniacally at the moans, cries, screams and curse words coming from the patient. (Ok, he doesn’t really laugh maniacally but he does seem to enjoy his work very much, and when I showed him the line of bruises on my calf after his first hands-on treatment he smiled with obvious pride and said that’s his signature, and if he could sign his name in bruises, he would. That’s one autograph I don’t really need but apparently am gonna get. Repeatedly.)
When I met him last week, he grabbed ahold of my foot and said he could diagnose me in 30 seconds. I said I didn’t realize this was like speed-dating. He rolled his eyes, then told me that he could cure my PF in 3 treatments. I asked if he could also name that tune in one note. Why oh why don’t any of these doctors get my humor??
As skeptical as I was, I have to say that after the mangling, kneading, stretching, punching, and cussing, I could tell a difference. It took a while for the shock and trauma to subside, but once it did, I could tell that we were getting somewhere. The day after my first treatment, I got out of bed and walked barefoot on the tile without pain — something I hadn’t done in at least a year.
There’s homework, of course, that involves standing on a golf ball and rolling the ball all over the bottom of my feet, paying special attention to and lingering on the really tender spots. There are also a couple of exercises involving a 36-inch by 6-inch foam roller.
And then there’s the K tape.
Kinesio tape. In every color of the rainbow, according to the image on ktape.com. The website is pretty glowing about this product:
“It’s designed for Professional athletes, Olympians, and active people world-wide who take health & fitness seriously and who refuse to stop training, playing, or living life active and free. The design is minimalist, the results are magic.”
That’s me: I refuse to stop training playing, or living life active and free. Bring on the magic!
I’d had K tape before, when I was treating my PF myself, and again when I started seeing my lovely lymphedema specialist, Tammy. She’s a certified K tape master. She’s been using K tape on my post-mastectomy chest and now on my post-reconstruction belly. I’m a believer in the magic of K tape. As part of the scar-tissue-management on my 17-inch-long incision on my belly, Tammy puts a couple of strips of K tape and we wait for the magic happen.
So when Dr Kelly wanted to tape my feet after my first treatment and asked if I’d ever heard of it, I said as a matter of fact, I have some on my belly right now. We hadn’t been through the whole song & dance about the BC business; I was hoping to keep the BC beast out of the sports medicine arena. Well, the elephant was certainly in the room when I mentioned I had K tape on my belly. In for a penny, in for a pound, and I had to explain.
Yes, those are bruises just above the shorter piece of tape. If you’re fluent in the language of torture, you can probably tell that that’s how Dr K signs his name.
Dr Kelly seems to be a bit competitive, and wanted to tape me up real nice so that Tammy, the other K tape master, would approve. She did. And then she took it a step further. I guess she’s a bit competitive, too.
Instead of just using a couple of strips on the scar tissue on my belly, Tammy used a new technique she’d just learned at a K tape workshop. Could this be Turf Wars part deux?
I can’t wait to show this to Dr Kelly. The battle of the K tape is on!
I hope neither he nor Tammy sees this K tape image and gets any big ideas:
I’m ok with the crazy blue racing stripes on my legs & feet, and with the Frankenstein pink on my belly and over my new belly button, but I’m drawing the line at a pink ribbon made from K tape. No thanks!
Yes, I’m still celebrating my birthday. When I showed up for my scar-tissue-management appointment to see Tammy, my favorite lymphedema specialist, she and Janice had decorated the office for me! I saw the Happy Birthday banner on the front door and wondered if my timing was out of whack, because Janice had her birthday in February and Tammy’s is at the end of the summer. Imagine my surprise when the decorations were for me!
Tammy insisted she get a picture of me lying on the confetti. I love that you can see her, in her white top, in the mirror behind me. She’s something else.
One of the pleasant things to come from this “cancer journey” is the relationships formed with health-care providers. Tammy & Janice fall into the category. Hell, they define this category. When I first met them post-mastectomy, minus some lymph nodes and worried about how their absence would affect my tennis game, these two ladies took me under their wing and provided the balm to my battered soul that comes from pure human kindness. We’ve gotten to know each other very well over the last year, and they’ve become not only providers but also friends. So yes, the birthday celebration continues, and I will continue to ride the b-day train as long as humanly possible. Once my liver says “uncle,” I’m out. But until then, rock on.
Even with all the birthday revelry, I didn’t want to get too far away from my latest visit to Dr S. I’ve been so busy celebrating my birthday that I almost forgot to report on my visit to my all-time favorite surgeon in the Entire World. I saw him the day before the celebrating began, so I’d better tell ya about it now before the details become entirely too fuzzy to relate.
Well, the details of the visit aren’t as important as the fact that he and I have made some major, major break-through progress. As you loyal readers know, Dr S & I have gone round & round on a few things in the past, and we’ve had some pretty good arguments. The Turf Wars continue to amuse me. But at the end of the appointment, with the exception of one hellacious visit last summer involving Sucky during which he almost saw me cry, we part on friendly terms and hold a lot of fondness for each other in our hearts.
So what was the progress, you may ask? When he told me to pull my pants down, so he could look at my belly scar, he said please.
Yes, you read that right: he said please. All of his own volition. Without being prompted. Without the Mexican stand-off that usually occurs when he wants me to comply but I refuse until he shows me some manners. A little wining & dining before we get down to it, if you will.
That is some major progress. You may remember the time in which I asked him to say please and he replied that he doesn’t have to say please because he is the doctor (cue the fanfare music here). I pretty much laughed in his face and said he may be the doctor, but I am the patient (cue the even louder fanfare music here) and I will not do what he’s asked until he asks nicely.
I reminded him of one of the tenets of my growing-up years: It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.
I’m pretty sure he really liked that one, a lot.
Next stop for the birthday train: happy hour — my favorite time of day.
A gathering of dear friends, some yummy food, and a well-stocked ice bucket makes for one happy birthday girl. Thad & Yvonne always throw a great party, and last night was no exception. We toasted with a Mumm rose, and broke out the beautiful orange box so the Widow could join the party. She’s always the star of the show.
Quite a nice grouping for the birthday happy hour. The food was delish, as it always is at Chez McLemore. Yvonne’s tableside guacamole would be at home at any of the finer Mexican restaurants in our neck of the woods. Keith & Jill’s deconstructed Greek salad crostini made my heart happy and made my tummy say “thank you!” The hand-made tortillas and grilled shrimp added the last dash of supreme bliss that enveloped our patio happy hour. The fruit crostada was bursting with blueberries and anchored with peaches, all the while surrounded by a buttery, flakey, turbinado-sugared crust.
But the very best part of an overall-exceptional evening was this: being surrounded by friends who make every meal a feast.