Thursday, November 3, 2011

Same Song, Second Verse...Much Louder and Could Have Been Worse!

The Princess Host
Remember the corny camp song we used to sing, "Same song, second verse...a little bit louder and a whole lot worse?"  After the ordeal of my first chemo (or the parts that I was coherent enough to remember), I was really worried that I would be singing that tune after my second round of chemotherapy. Things started off better than last time, until IT hit.  IT, was a nasty, pestilent stomach bug that arrived in the Henderson household, via a 4-year old princess! (Shown on the left, after she recovered, but prior to the detonation of the bomb on the rest of the house.)

My second chemo treatment was much better than the first one, primarily because there should not be anything "unexpected", as related to my treatment.  My amazing father was present for this treatment.  (I am so blessed to have my parents available to support me during my journey!)  Shown on the right is the sterile kit that the nurse gets for accessing my port, which has surgical gloves, cleaning swabs, access port, saline for flushing, etc...  You'll also see the blood vials that she fills up for CBC counts and whatever other blood work that Jeff (my Oncology-Certified Nurse Practioner) orders.  I haven't send Dr. Jones in a while, but that's good news.  As long as my appointments are with Jeff, then it means treatment is good (or so I'm told).

Four Bags of Pre-Meds
Prior to receiving my chemo drugs, I was given four different bags of pre-medications.  These were anti-nausea drugs and steroids to reduce the side effects of the drugs.  Definitely a strange concept, but oh well...let's give Shelby drugs and drugs, to help counteract the drugs we give her!  Even though my appointment was early, an unforeseen emergency at the Oncologists' office had everything off schedule.  So much, that I was stressing (me stress, never!  LOL) there would not be time to complete both my chemo and iron infusion.

I was able to receive both my chemotherapy and my iron within about six hours.  Here is a photograph of one of my nurses, Angie, and the nurses station portion of the chemotherapy treatment room.   Note the televisions positioned around the rooms.  I did spend some of my time watching "The Princess Bride", but also had to endure Kelly & Regis, Dr. Phil, Price is Right, WMAZ at Noon, Young and the Restless and even The Talk on this visit!

Since it took such a long time to get both my chemotherapy regime and my iron infusion, I was the last patient in the treatment room.  If you look at the photograph, you'll note the empty chairs, as well as the rust-colored iron infusion going into my veins!

Chemotherapy side effects were much better this time, until Monday morning hit.  As Halloween day progressed, the nausea became increasingly worse, as did the vomiting.  (Descriptive, but I'm keeping it real!).  I called the doctor (and had to pass the phone to Daddy for another epsidode while on the phone.)  More antiemetics were prescribed, and I was told to come into the office the next day for more fluids.  Saying I was hit by a truck was an understatement, and we kept wondering why it waited until day 5 to happen.

The FBI Intern
There was no trick-or-treating for my children..only a horrible, evil biological warfare trick.  (Arleigh never did even put on her princess witch costume, but at least Griffen got to wear his to school!)  About 7 p.m., we found our answer.  Arleigh's illness over the weekend was not related to bouncy-houses and blue cotton candy indulgence as thought, but a stomach virus from the depths of Hell.  By Monday evening, not only was I sick, but so were Adelia and Griffen.  As a parent, we have visions or frightening flashbacks of this happening to our children.  How can they be in separate bedrooms, and still manage to vomit simultaneously?  Jeff left Monday morning for his normal business travels, but even he was not unscathed.  Once again, thank God for my wonderful father, who went over and beyond taking care of all of us.

It is now Thursday, and I received fluids on Tuesday at the treatment center.  I still have waves of nausea (and can't watch Food Network, yet), but everyday is getting better.  This coincided with the days that my White Count is low, and I was unable to work during days 7-10.  House arrest or not, I couldn't leave the house if I had to!  The Henderson household isn't back to singing yet, but maybe we're almost there!  Wonder what tune the third verse will be sung too?

P.S.  I love my Daddy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10 Things To Know About My Chemo

Since I haven't been able to keep up my posts in a timely manner, I thought that I would summarize everything that's been going, here are "10 Things To Know About My Chemo".

1.  My chemotherapy combination is referred to as "TAC".  TAC is Taxotere (docetaxel), Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide).  Click on the name of the drug to read all of the scary, scary facts about each drug poison.

2.  My doctor has prescribed six chemotherapy treatments, which are administered every 21 days.  My first chemotherapy infusion was October 6.  The second one will be administered October 27, and the next one should then be November 18.  Day 1 of cycle 1 is known as day 1-1.  Day 18 of cycle 2 will be known as day 2-18, etc...Thursdays are also good, as I have to go back into the office the Friday after chemo is administered, for an additional injection.

3.  We chose Thursday for as my chemo / doctor appointment day.  By receiving my infusion on Thursday, that allows for me to have Friday and the weekend to deal with the lovely side effects of the poison cancer-killing agents.  I also have to come in weekly for blood count checks (days 8, 15), so in essence, that involves going into the doctor's office every Thursday.

4.  The power-port comes in handy, as all of my "sticks" happen with the port.  At each visit, the first thing they do is take my vitals, and then access my port.  I take a deep breath in, and then the nurse sticks a needle into my port.  Everything is sterile, and removed from a special kit...including the gloves that the nurses put on.  From there, they flush it with two syringes of saline, and then take several blood samples. Generally,  they take two vials.  After the blood draw, the port is flushed again, but some saline is left in the syringe for the next nurse to use.  The port remains accessed with the tubing hanging down.  Then, when it is time for chemo or an iron infusion, they once again flush and then connect the IV flavor of the day.  The weirdest thing is that I can actually taste and smell the saline when they flush it.  We know that the port is working well, as my "blood return" is good.  That means that they can get blood from it.  If the blood return wasn't adequate, then we would have an issue.  Thank God (and my wonderful surgeon) that it appears to be working well.  I have noticed that as the swelling around the port has gone down after insertion, it seems to be "sticking out" on my chest.  Some ports seem to be more superficial than others.  On the other hand, perhaps that is just one (maybe the only) place on my body where there's not a lot of "extra padding"!

5.  I take an oral steroid the day before treatment, day of treatment and day after treatment.  Added to my medicine regime are two pills (morning and night) the day before treatment, followed by two more pills the day of treatment and one pill the morning after treatment.  The steroid is Decadron (Dexamethasone).  Interestingly enough, I also receive Decadron intravenously during treatment.  The steroid is prescribed to limit the allergic reaction to the chemotherapy regime, reduce swelling (yet another side effect I'll get to later), and also helps with nausea.  This drug is also is an appetite stimulant (just what I need...can't a cancer patient with extra fluff loose a little weight?)

6.   It takes approximately 4-6 hours for my drug administration.  In addition to the three main drugs (TAC), I also receive additional drugs to avoid allergic reactions, steroid, and antiemetics (anti-nausea).  They begin with Benadryl, to lessen the effects.  Other drugs I receive during treatment are Aloxi, Decadron and Emend.  My Emend is given via IV, and not orally.  Tomorrow, they are combining my iron infusion with my chemo.  I wonder which one they will administer first???

7. I sit in a special recliner for chemo administration, that has reclining handles on both sides!  The chemo treatment room has approximately 30 treatment recliners, of various sizes.  The treatment room is a large, rectangular room, and the nurses' station is in the middle on one of the long sides.  There are always three or four chemo oncology nurses on duty.  After watching them for hours on end, I have a new appreciation for oncology nurses.  (They might even work harder than teachers.)  Just like educators, they rarely go to the restroom, or have time for lunch!)  Angie is my main chemo nurse.  Guess where she's from???  Jones County!  Bobby is another nurse that I've gotten to know some.  The treatment room is full at times, while half-full at others.  Sometimes, I've been there so long (like I will be tomorrow), there are very few other patients left in the room.  It's really something sitting in the treatment room, and wondering what everyone's story is.  Other than another gentleman that I know, and another lady I saw last week receiving chemo, we are by far the youngest patients that I've seen.  That's not to say that there aren't other younger, but I haven't seen them on Thursdays...and I've been there every Thursday, so far.  Some people sleep, while the majority watch television.  Due to FDA and EPA regulations, no family members or friends are allowed to sit with you during the length of time you are receiving chemo.  So far, one or both of my parents have been with me during chemo and iron treatments.  They patiently wait in the lobby (I haven't been able to convince them to leave and come back, yet...but still trying.).  They are able to step back to the chemo room, see how things are going, bring me drinks or snacks (even though I pack a lunch box), and then go back out to the lobby.  There have been a few times, especially if the treatment room is almost empty, that they are allowed to sit down and chat.  It's just another way to cut down on infection and exposure for the patients, but makes for a long day.  Look for another post in the future about how I spend my time in the chemo recliner!

8.  My treatments have caused me to experience many, many many that I now need a "pill container" to organize my medicine.  Throughout this three-week experience, I have had so many side-effects, it's almost comical at this point.  Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, constipation, changes in taste, tiredness, muscle pain, joint pain, fluid retention, low white blood count, hair loss (more on that one in #10), cough, mouth and throat sores and bladder problems are the majority of the symptoms I've experienced.  The nausea is fairly controlled with medication, though it seems to hit at odd times.  They give you many antiemetics in your IV, but the best advice I received was to take my nausea meds regularly for the first few days, even if I think I don't need them.  It's much easier to prevent vomiting, than play "catch-up" after it starts.  I have two different nausea meds, Compazine and ABH (a formulary created by the pharmacy at the Cancer Center).  The both seem to work, but I still wish I could have good old Phenergan, which is frowned upon in the Oncology world :(  The stomach issues and the mouth sores have by far been the worst side effects I've experienced.  Days 3 and 4 were very rough with a severe headache, body aches and nausea.  I broke out with thrush on Day 6, went back to the Doctor on Day 7 for Thrush (back on Day 8 for iron, too!), and ended up taking an anti-fungal (Diflucan) drug and anti-viral drug (Valtrex), in addition to prescription mouthwash (Caphosol).  During the first cycle, I was also put on a steroid to lessen the symptoms - past the initial three days.  For someone who only took daily allergy meds, I am presently taking Protonix (stomach medication) Claritin, Valtrex, Decadron, Caphosol, Alleve and Bactrim (for a UTI).  Tomorrow I will add in the two nausea meds as needed, and then Cipro comes in on Day 5.  This is one of the biggest shocks to me...I never thought about the oral meds that I might have to take between chemo sessions.  My family has to now remind me to take my medicine!!!

9. Part of my chemotherapy regime includes a colony stimulating injection called, Neulasta, 24-hours after I receive my chemo drugs.  One of the major side effects of my prescribed drugs is that it decreases neutrophils, a type of white blood cell necessary to fight infection.  Neulasta (Pegfilgrastim) is an injection (given in the tummy), that helps your body make additional white blood cells.  The injection is given on Friday after chemo, and the largest side effect are flu-like symptoms and body aches.  Research hasn't proven why, but for some reason, it has been found that taking Claritin daily helps with the body aches. Although white counts drop in the majority of patients, I went to the extreme and became "neutropenic".  My white blood count dropped to 1.4 (normal is 4.8 - 10.8) and my neutrophils level dropped to an alarming 0.3 (normal is 2.0 - 8.0).  Due to this low drop, I was placed on "house arrest" and told to limit contact with people.  I also could not eat raw fruits or vegetables, due to possible bacteria consumption.  If my white count is too low, it will delay my chemo schedule, but fortunately, I responded to the Neulasta, and by day 15 my counts were up to 4.9 (wbc) and 2.5 (neu).  Those put me back into the world, so I was able to return to work.  Apparently, this will occur each time, so I've been advised to quarantine myself on days 7-10 and follow the no raw fruits, veggies, rare meat, etc...  (Now, here's your shocking fact...on the day I had my Neulasta injection and some fluids for dehydration, insurance paid out over $6,000!)

10.  Just like the doctor said, my hair did not make it to Day 21!  I am on some very strong chemo drugs, especially Adriamycin, aka "The Red Devil".  On Days 14-15, my head started hurting, or more accurately, my hair started hurting.  Certain drugs cause the hair follicles to actually release the hairs, and as they happens, discomfort occurs.  Heading to the doctor last week for an iron treatment, I was styling my hair, and used some hair product.  As I brought my hands out of my hair, they were covered with hair.  Lots of hair!!!  I asked the Nurse Practioner, Jeff, what could be done to help with the tingly, achy scalp, and his suggestion was just to "go on and shave it".  I went to see my favorite stylist, Shana, and she shaved it for me.  (Future post, complete with pictures).  As soon as the hair was gone, my scalp felt so much better.  I now have little black whiskers on my head, which are rapidly falling out, exposing bald spots.  While leaning over the bathroom sink, after I rub my head, it looks as if my Jeff has just shaved.  On a plus side, no hair greatly adds to the time I get to sleep in the morning, and I get to brush my hair with a lint brush!

Treatment #2 is tomorrow.  We are hopeful that the addition of a stomach and anti-viral medications will help to lessen the side-effects.  Only time will tell.  As a rule, your symptoms and side-effects seem to be predictable with each round, with certain symptoms occurring on the same days.  I will just have to wait and see.  Thank you for your continued prayers and support as I continue on my journey.


Monday, October 24, 2011

My First Day of Poisoning

Throughout my life, many people have stressed the importance of not having contact with poison:  parents, grandparents, teachers, store clerks,  policemen, etc.  Caution is to always be used with household cleaning supplies, pesticides, and herbicides.  I remember even being told not to polish my nails with white-out, for fear of how the chemicals might sink into my bloodstream.  Have you ever heard these precautions before?  The big  skull and cross bone appears...Do Not play with poison.  Last week, I willingly took save my life.

Utilizing my Power Port for treatment
Thursday, October 6 was Treatment 1 in my new regime to battle this breast cancer demon.  As I reflect back on my first chemo treatment,  I have experienced some of the hardest days in my life, with the ones that followed.  Throughout it all, I know that I have had the prayers of many surrounding me with peace and comfort, but it is still something that is indescribable.  There are days that I remember with clarity, and days that are fuzzy, but I'll try to share my experiences in "keeping it real".

Day 1 - I arrived at the cancer center at 10:30 a.m. on Friday morning.  I utilized my numbing cream, so it was a breeze when my port was accessed.  The easiest way I could describe my port access is that it was a sterile "plug in".  All of the sterilized equipment, gloves, masks and needles were there, and then she just plugged the needle in to my power port.  Testing was done for blood return, blood collected for testing and flushed with saline...and then it was good to go.  Next step: poison time!

The chemotherapy recliner that was mine for six hours!
I met with Dr. Jones, and we went over my final chemotherapy regime, and answered any other questions I had.  She detailed that my HER2 status was negative, or not-amplified, so Herceptin will not be added to my chemotherapy treatment.  My actual drug combination is TAC.  This involves Taotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxan.  My regime will also include a Neulasta injection the day following chemotherapy.  Early clinical trials of my chemo combination showed that there were fatalities during the first five days of treatment, due to infection, so I will be prescribed an antibiotic to take each cycle for days 5-11.   (Isn't that what you always want to hear your doctor saying?)  It was rather traumatic hearing my oncologist state that fact, but it is what it is...and I will gladly take the antibiotic!  (Can I tell you how much I hate medicine, though!)

One drug is actually manually pushed in for safety!
My first chemotherapy administration began at approximately 11:30 a.m.  Via my power port, I received the following drugs:  Aloxi, Cytonxin, Decadron, Doxiruben (Adriamycin), Emend and Taxotere, in addition to regular fluids, Tylenol, and Benadryl. I can't even tell you how surreal it was to sit there in the chemotherapy recliner, and know that I willingly agreed to have poison injected into my body.  How did I get so far...worried about polishing my nails with white-out and the poison factor, to actually having it injected into my veins to save my life?

As I sat in the chemotherapy room until almost 5:00 p.m., I saw people come and go.  My family members could come in and check on me, bring me a drink, etc... but they are forbidden by FDA and EPA regulations to remain in the chemotherapy room.  The room itself actually has over thirty treatment chairs in it, and some of the hardest working nurses I have ever met in my life.  The first few moments of administering any drug were closely monitored, in case I had a reaction.  My nurse's name was Angie, and as long as she was on duty, I was her responsibility.  (I'll have to write another post just about the chemo room in the future.)

I returned home with several new prescriptions, including one antiemetic.  An antiemetic is a drug that controls or may even prevent nausea.  I began taking them immediately upon returning home, but about 6 p.m. the nausea hit, and there wasn't any point of return, or so it seemed.  Finally, about 10 p.m. we called the on-call physician at the cancer center.  Jeff ( my mid-level practioner) immediately called me back.  I was instructed to come back into the office for additional fluids the next day, and was allowed to take a Phenergan tablet to see if it would assist with the nausea.  My whole life, phenergan has been our "vomiting go-to drug", but apparently it is very disliked in the oncology world!  The Phenergan helped, and I was finally able to rest after midnight.

This is just a summary of Day only took me over two weeks to finally finish writing it!  I apologize for lapsing with my blog for a few weeks.  As you can imagine, so much has gone on since my first chemo fact, it will take me several blog posts to catch you up on it.  Maybe I'll catch up just in time to have my chemotherapy number 2 session, which is scheduled for this Thursday!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Catch Up" Before Chemo

Two-inch incision

Before I begin chemotherapy treatment tomorrow, I find myself playing "catch up" much to do and so little time!  I guess I'll be like The Sound of Music, and start at the very beginning...

Monday morning, I reported to Coliseum's Day Hospital for my insertion of my "Power Port".  Our time to report was at 5:45 a.m., but I don't think my surgery actually began until after 8 a.m. New and old Jones County friends helped to make my experience as comfortable as possible during outpatient surgery.  I say it was an answer to prayers.  After a while, it was quite humorous about all of the Jones County folks that were taking care of me in the hospital.  I saw it as just blessings from God. 

A new tag for my key ring
 A smiling friend greeted me as I checked into the Day Hospital, and was allowed to be my discharge nurse.  How nice it was to talk with her while I waited!  My anesthesiologist is a parent of a Clifton Ridge Middle student, so we chatted about a major project that his son had been working on.  The Nurse-Anesthetist is a JC resident, and even the next-door neighbor of my principal.  The sister-in-law of one of my dear co-workers was one of my recovery nurses.  Don't forget that my surgeon is a Jones County native!  It really helped me to be surrounded by such kind and caring people during this anxious time.

The actual surgery wasn't too bad.  I have an incision on my left chest area, approximately two inches wide.  The Power Port is placed under the skin, and then connected to a main vein.  There is still some swelling, but all in all, just a bit discomfort.  The incision is closed with surgical glue.  I now have a medical card to show security personnel if I beep, in addition to a key tag (guess I'll put that right between the Ingles and Kroger tags!).  There's also a rubber bracelet that I can wear, to let everyone know that I have a Power Port installed.  One of my co-workers has suggested that we "bling it up"!  (I'll let her keep working on how to do that!)

I found out Tuesday that after three tests, my HER2 test results are not-amplified.  Praise God!  That means my chemotherapy treatment will be over in 5-6 months, as opposed to 12 months of treatment.  You can only imagine how excited I am to know that chemo will be over in January.  God is good!

Thursday is the big day...the day I begin my next battle phase.  My oncologist has prescribed the chemotherapy combination of TAC, which is a combination of the drugs Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxan.  The treatments will be administered every 21 days, for a total of six treatments.  24 hours after chemotherapy, I will be administered a Neulasta injection.  Neulasta is a white blood cell booster that will help reduce the risk of infection during treatment.  I began taking a required oral steroid today, that also doubles as nausea medication.  Two doses today, two doses tomorrow and one dose on Friday morning.  Lots of additional pre-treatment medications will be administered tomorrow, but I am not exactly sure what.  Extra fluids, anti-nausea meds, benadryl and more are given prior to the administration of medications.  Sometimes, up to two hours is allocated just for pre-meds.

My appointment at the Cancer Center is for lab work at 10:40...this is the first time that my port will be accessed.  I have numbing cream to place on the port prior to the visit.  The cream should be applied 30 minutes prior to the visit, and I cover it with plastic wrap after administering the medication.  (Think that might be a picture worth sharing!)

I will meet with a nurse practitioner after labs, and then will begin infusions.  The treatment should take approximately four hours for actual drips, but there will be additional time required for monitoring after treatment is administered.  I'm hoping that we will make it home by 6:30 p.m. tomorrow night.

The side effects for my chemo combination are quite frightening, but I'm trying hard not to read / research too much.  My provider has assured me that they will do everything possible to keep me comfortable, and manage my side effects, but it is imperative that I share them with the doctor.

Just like Scarlett O'Hara says...."Tomorrow is another day".  In my world, tomorrow is the beginning of another phase in my battle with breast cancer.  All of my life, I've been told not to play with poisons, but yet tomorrow, I will be willingly hooked up to poison...the things we do to save our lives!

The Jones County School system begins Fall Break tomorrow.  My children and co-workers won't report to work.  At my house, I'm jokingly referring to it as my "Chemo Break".    My Nook and laptop are charging.  Headphones are packed.  Silly romantic comedies have been rented from Redbox.  Snacks are packed, and my journal is ready.  At this point, only God knows how the day will unfold, but one this is for certain...I am a survivor!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Woman With a Power Port Coming Through

Monday morning, at 5:45 a.m., I report to the hospital for outpatient surgery.  Dr. Martin will be inserting my "Power Port", which is an implantable device that will make life easier...or so I've been told. 

One of the side-effects of chemotherapy is that your veins are often damaged during the process.  This especially happens when drugs are administered intravenously.   My oncologist wants me to have an implanted catheter inserted to assist with chemotherapy, as well as with blood draws and injections.

The surgery takes approximately thirty minutes, and is performed as an out-patient procedure.  While under general anesthesia, a small port will be inserted into my chest.  An incision will be made on my left side, and the port inserted.  Looking at the picture, you can see how the port inserts directly into a vein.  Think of it like a permanent IV for a while.  The port will be one of my lifelines.  Chemotherapy treatments and any "sticks" will use the port after it is inserted.

It is a triangular shaped object, and has three raised "bumps".  Providers and nurses can feel the bumps under the skin, and then know where the "hole" is.  One of the best things is that I have been prescribed numbing cream when the port will be inserted.  The cream is applied approximately thirty minutes prior to my appointment, and will numb the skin over the port.  After the cream is applied, I have been instructed to place a piece of plastic wrap over the site.  There will now be a roll of plastic wrap in my first aid supplies!

Monday afternoon, I have another appointment with Dr. Jones, my oncologist for final instructions before chemotherapy.  My first chemotherapy treatment will be Thursday, October 6. 

After Monday's surgery, I may have the power to set off security alarms, due to the small amount of metal in the port. Security systems may or may not pick up the metal, but I will have the medical information card to show authorities.  It's not a weapon setting of the security system, just another one of the perks I'm getting during this cancer diagnosis!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SBE May Save Your Life...It Did Mine!

When I started this blog 38 days ago, it was primarily just for was my "Easy Button".    Telling someone that I was diagnosed with breast cancer was difficult, but re-telling was even harder.  Thus, "TaTas For Now" was born as a way that I can share the latest updates with family and friends, in addition to being a form of  "cheap therapy" for me.  Over the past seven weeks, as I've shared my journey,  another goal has come about from my blog...awareness!

As we come upon Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, I pray that I can make a difference, in encouraging at least one more woman to do her monthly self breast exam (SBE), or schedule her annual mammogram.  I have begun returning to work in between medical appointments, and am striving back for that "normalcy", with limits of course.  I can't tell you how many people have said, "Shelby, what if you didn't go get your mammogram?"  "What if you hadn't felt the lump?"  My husband, my principal, co-workers, friends, and family have all asked the same question...WHAT IF?  Fortunately by the Grace of God and my meddling husband and mother, I went!  (In that case, saying thank you for minding my business just doesn't have the same effect, does it?)

Out of all of the posts that I have written or will write, this is probably the one that I want you to remember the most...women and men should complete their monthly self breast exams.  I've already shared that the current statistics are 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.  (Granted, there aren't too many of them diagnosed at age 38!)  Did you also know that 1 out of every 100 breast cancer cases diagnosed are to a male? 

There are lots of different methods for completing self breast exams.  BreastCancer.Org has a five step plan.  The American Cancer Society has these instructions.   Other suggestions for the breast self exam are offered on the WebMD web site.  Once a woman reaches the age of 20, she should begin doing monthly self breast exams.

It doesn't necessarily matter if you do your exam in the shower, standing or reclining on a bed...the point is that you do it religiously at the same time each month.  One of the neatest things I've found are web sites that will send you monthly reminders to complete your self breast exam.  Bright Pink has a reminder email sign-up program.  The UCSD Cancer Center also has a monthly reminder program.  Regardless of whether you utilize one of these email programs, put it in your smartphone calendar, Outlook calendar, or just it!  As cliche as it sounds, "Feel Your Boobies". 

Current mammography recommendations differ, in that some organizations state routine / baseline mammograms should begin at age 40, while others suggest age 50.  If you are over the age of 40...when is the last time you've had a mammogram?

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure site shares the following warning signs:
  • Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
  • Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
  • Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
  • Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
  • New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away 

Another important factor in breast health is to know your family history.  Ask around...did Aunt Paula have breast cancer, or Uncle Steve have prostrate cancer? (Did you know that they are genetically linked?)   Forget about tending to your relative's business, but if a female relative has a lump, cyst, etc... she needs to share it with the family.

"Feeling my boobies" most likely saved my life...and it might save yours also.  (Remember that 1 in 8 statistic.)  If you don't gather anything else from my journey, remember how important your breast health is.  Complete your monthly self exam.  Sign up for an email reminder.  Schedule your routine mammogram.  Have your health care provider exam your breasts during physicals.  If you are a male, remind your female loved ones, as well as become familiar with your breast health. 

As mothers, we often postpone our health needs for the needs of our children or time constraints. This is one case where you need to put yourself first.  I'll tell you like my mother told me, when she found I put off getting a mammogram for a few months, "If you don't want another woman raising your children....go get it checked!"

(This post is lovingly dedicated to my husband...who will never let me forget how he made me go get my mammogram - via Helen!)


Monday, September 26, 2011

Look Good...Feel Better Class

Monday night, Adelia and I attended a class, "Look Good...Feel Better", sponsored by the American Cancer Society.  The program is open to all women who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, or other medical treatment, and focuses upon the appearance related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation on your body.  I would probably say that the class mirrored breast cancer statistics, as the cosmetologist teaching the class and I were the only individuals there (with the exception of Adelia), who were born in the past fifty years.  The best part of the evening was that we walked away with a free bag of cosmetics!

As I await my next oncologist appointment, and find out exactly what chemotherapy regime I will be prescribed, I've been researching. (Aren't you surprised to know that?  LOL)  There are approximately twenty different chemotherapy drugs on the list for breast cancer treatment.  The majority of the drugs are combined to form combinations for treatments.  All of the characteristics of your cancer, as well as your menopausal status determine which drug combination you are prescribed. 

Over the past few days, especially during the class, it has become very real the side effects that I most likely will experience on this journey.  Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which means it's not localized, but administered to the entire body through the bloodstream.  Chemo drugs are given to weaken and destroy cancer cells.  I'm praying that my chemo will "seek and destroy" any little cancer cells floating around and blow 'em up...just like on Griffen's video games!

The "Look Good...Feel Better" class emphasized what we already know.  If you look good, you'll feel good., or at least better!  Sure, there are days that we want to lounge in our comfy flamingo night shirt (thanks to my Mother, I'm now the owner of flamingo covered sleepwear, which Jeff has taken to calling it the "Florida Lottery Nightgown!), but we know that it would be better for our "spirit" if we get up, put your face on, fix your hair, and get dressed.  If you look your best, you'll at least feel better.

I learned many things during the course of the hour-long class.  (Don't you just love it when you learn something!)  We are all taught about cosmetic safety, and the lifespan of your cosmetic products, but let's face it...most of us never follow the suggested guidelines.  As a chemotherapy patient, it is imperative that I now begin thinking about keeping my cosmetics "clean", as to avoid risks from bacteria or other infections.  While on chemo, it is advised that you utilize disposable make-up applicators, like cotton balls, cotton swabs, disposable mascara wands, or even a sanitized hand.  It was also advised that you never, ever place your hand into a jar, container, etc..., but instead, use a cotton swab to dip out of the jar or container.  This is probably a tip we should all utilize!

Information was presented about skin and nail care, in addition to make-up tips and head coverings. Yours truly was the make-up model.  (Remember, I was the only one under 50!)   Don't moisturize your eyebrows, and they'll stay in longer.  When you don't have eyelashes, it is better to "dot" your eyeliner, rather than harsh lines.  You can visit the website for the make-up guide, as well as the information on scarves, turbans, and head wraps.  One of the neat things I learned was how to take an old t-shirt and turn it into a head scarf.  I think I'll be going through some of Jeff (and even Adelia's) t-shirts, to decide which colors I need for my wardrobe!

Do you think I'll "Look Good...Feel Better" with an old camo t-shirts as a head wrap?  Exactly what ensemble would one wear with that?


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Awful Pain from the "Vampire Machine"

The Vampire Machine that attacked me!
My life has a new's what I refer to as the "Vampire Machine", and it lurks in the treatment room at Dr. Martin's office.  In real life, it's not anything out of a Charlaine Harris "Southern Vampire / Sookie Stackhouse" novel, or even related to Bill or Eric from "True Blood", but a medical grade vacuum.  Unfortunately, I had an appointment with the Vampire Machine on Tuesday.

 I noticed Monday that I began retaining fluid around my incision, and under my arm pit, so I called Dr. Martin's office.  It is fairly normal for mastectomy patients to need additional draining after the drainage tubes are removed.  Yours truly, was no exception, and had to undergo treatment from the fang-ridden, blood sucking, pain machine!
The covered needle and plastic tubing
Dr. Martin used the Vampire Machine to drain lymphatic fluids, blood and other juicy stuff from my breast area.  A sterile needle and tubing is attached to the vacuum, and then inserted into the breast area.  The vacuum was then turned on, collecting fluid into a canister.  I may complain from time to time, but I was not prepared at all of the pain that was inflicted by the blood sucking machine.  The needle was moved in different direction to suck fluid from different areas, and it was by far the most painful thing I have experienced.

I am at the stage in my recovery where much of the "feeling" is returning to my breast and arm area from surgery.  Regardless of whether it was the sensation of regenerated nerves or not, this was extremely painful.  Let me say that once hurt!  I had to take pain medication all night, and even bled through my bandages.  Please pray that I do not need to meet the Vampire Machine any more during recovery!

More than 100 cc of fluid was collected
Dr. Martin is very pleased with the way my incision is healing, and was excited about the range of motion that I have regained already in my arm.  My exercise booklet is from the American Cancer Society.  You can see the exercises here.  This appointment also served as my pre-surgical consult for my chemotherapy port.  My port will be inserted by Dr. Martin on October 3, as out-patient surgery.  Pre-op for outpatient surgery will be on September 27.

My stamina is improving everyday, as is my ability to move my right arm.  There are still some issues with tightness and swelling, but perhaps some of that is strictly from nerve re-generation.

Regardless of the reason, please pray that I have no more encounters with the Vampire Machine.  I'm traumatized...scarred for life, from this little" blood sucker on wheels".  Please pray that there is no "next time" encounter for me and this horrid machine!


Monday, September 19, 2011

It's official...I Have a Calendar!

This calendar is just for doctor visits, treatments, tests, etc...
It's official...I now have a calendar just for medical stuff!  I'm an organized person (or try to be), but the reality of having a mini-calendar just for medical related stuff is kind of hard for me to accept.  That's the point that I'm at in my life...

Friday morning, I had my appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Cheryl Jones, who practices at the Georgia Cancer Center - Macon office.  It was great to walk in and see a smiling face!  Adelia's best friend's (and my second son) mother is the receptionist there, but I noticed that everyone was treated like a "person", and not just a $ sign.  Walking into the cancer center, you knew that every person there was touched by the disease in one way or another.  I found myself wondering what their stories were... were they there due to a spouse, child, sibling, relative, friend, or were they the cancer patient?

My notebook from the Breast Health Center
Dr. Jones is highly recommended, and was very informative.  She asked me what I knew about my diagnosis...and I told her.  I've discovered that many cancer patients either know nothing of their diagnosis, know some, or are well-informed.  I realize that I am generalizing all people into a category, but that is my opinion.  I (just in case you doubted) fall into the well-informed category.  I can't imagine not knowing about the disease that is affecting your body and your family, but I know many who choose not to.  Plus, it's just part of my nature to know as much about something as's one reason why I chose my career!

Dr. Jones is a soft-spoken lady, but the wealth of knowledge behind her rimless eyeglasses is apparent.  After she reviewed all of my pathology reports, we found out additional information that wasn't apparent earlier.  ( Dr. Martin is a well-informed surgeon, with great knowledge about breast cancer, but Dr. Jones is my "cancer doctor", or oncologist.) Dr. Jones immediately saw my list of things to ask, glanced at it, and then handed it back to me.  (in the course of the appointment, she answered every single question on my list...and then some!)

Based upon my surgery and pathology reports, there are some major factors in my diagnosis that have changed. These factors will contribute to what weapons are used to fight my cancer.  The grade of my tumor, vascular & lymphatic status, lymph node involvement, staging and my HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) status have changed.  You can find out more about HER-2 from this website.  The core needle biopsy was just a "snapshot" of the tumor, whereas the mastectomy produced the entire "well-circumscribed 2.6 X 2.1 X 1.8 cm firm white mass". (page 4 of my 23 page pathology report)  This is why there are changes from the initial report.

My "doctor bag", which I now carry to all appointments!
The grade of my tumor is now 3. Grade 3 cells look very different from normal cells, as they grow quickly in disorganized, irregular patterns, with many dividing to make new cancer cells. (  As shown by the positive lymph nodes, the cancer had invaded my vascular system.  Of the 18 lymph nodes removed, only 2 showed a presence of cancerous cells.  One lymph node is considered  to have "extracapsular extensions", meaning that the cancer has spread outside the wall of the node.  My report shows the size of the largest metastatic deposit is 1 cm.  The fact that the cancer had spread to my lymph system is a "whole new ballgame". 

I asked Dr. Jones how to respond to my children when they ask, "Mom, are you cancer free now that your breast is gone?"  Her suggestion was to tell them, "the doctors removed all of the cancer that they saw, but that there could still be cancer floating around in my blood."  It's kind of a different perspective when you think of it that way, as opposed to be cancer-free when you breast is removed.  My cancer stage is IIb.  You can read about breast cancer staging here.  I am just over the IIa mark, with my tumor size.  Treatment really doesn't vary from IIa to IIb.  The suggested course of treatment for me is chemotherapy, followed by radiation.

Apparently when we thought I was HER-2 negative, the tests actually showed that additional testing needed to be completed.  Generally, you receive a score of 1-3 on this test.  1 being that you are negative for the HER-2 gene, and 3 being positive.  I received a 2.  According to Dr. Jones, both the FISH methods and IHC testing methods have come back inconclusive.  The report refers to "Because of a possible interference by chromosome 17 polysomy noted on the previous HER-2 analysis, the HER-2 analysis will be repeated by another method."  HER2-positive breast cancers tend to grow faster and are more likely to spread and come back compared to HER2-negative breast cancers. (  If it is found that my cancer is HER-2 positive, then it will involve a weekly infusion treatment of Herceptin, for one year.  As a friend of mine told me, that's just one more arsenal in my warehouse.  Cancer is a family diagnosis, but looking at weekly infusions for a year...that's just hard to imagine.  Hopefully the results will be back later on this week, but certainly by my next oncologist appointment.

Speaking of calendar is filling up.  Today, Jeff and I attended a chemotherapy class at the Cancer Center. Thursday is my two-week post-op and port insertion consult with Dr. Martin.  Next week, Adelia and I are attending a "Look Good - Feel Good" class at the hospital on 9/26, which focuses on scarves, make-up, accessories, etc. after chemotherapy hair loss.  Between now and my appointment on the 30th with Dr. Jones, I have to get a chest x-ray and will have an echocardiogram on 9/27.  I'm not sure where it will fall, but somewhere between my appointment with Dr. Martin and my first chemotherapy treatment (which can't be prior to 4 weeks post-op), I will have my port insertion.  As the day has progressed, I noticed that my surgical site and under my arm seems to be swelling, possibly filling up with fluid.  (Remember my surgical drain was removed last week.)  This is completely normal, but rather than waiting until Thursday to see Dr. Martin, I now have an additional appointment with him tomorrow.

Griffen in his new "Weeblo" uniform!
In the meantime, between my "calendar appointments", I'm trying to be normal: a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend.  Friday night, I enjoyed watching Adelia and the awesome JCHS Marching Greyhounds perform pre-game and during half-time.  (The JCHS football team won, too!)  I've been doing my post-surgery exercises, visited a great wig shop (that deserves its own post, though!), put patches on a new scout uniform, and have read bedtime stories.  Everyday, my stamina is improving.  I have had such a great support system of my parents, husband and children, but it's nice that I can actually help to cook, fold laundry, and do dishes!  (I think I might still be too sore to clean the bathrooms, though- how long do you think I can use that excuse? :)


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Deliveries, Doctors & Drains

As I write this post tonight, I am feeling blessed...blessed beyond measure.  (Ok, so maybe I did take a pain pill since I over-exerted myself today...but my blessings greatly exceed prescription narcotics!)  Today has been an eventful day, one full of special deliveries, appointment with the surgeon, drain tube removal, and even a Pre-K event.  It is so hard to believe that just four short weeks ago from today, I was told that there was an 80% chance my tumor was malignant.

 Four weeks later,  I have one breast, eighteen less lymph nodes and two armpits (or so it seems, from where they removed tissue and lymph nodes from under my arm!) as a result from surgery.  I know that I am supported by family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.  Over the past few weeks, you have prayed with me, cried with me, laughed with me, and rejoiced with me.  For that, I will be eternally thankful!

This morning, I received a special delivery...all the way from New Hope Baptist Church, in Jennings, Florida.  New Hope is my "home" church, over 200 miles away from Gray.  This is the church where I was baptized, and the church I was married in.  Karen Goolsby delivered two gift baskets from the wonderful "New Hope Ladies" this morning.  These are the ladies who have been there for me throughout my life...from VBS to baptism, my wedding, to the birth of all three of my children, their love and support has been as solid as the oak trees that grow in Hamilton County.  These women have shown me how to host memorable bridal showers, make the best punch in the world (can I get an "Amen" about that New Hope Punch), and have demonstrated how to be women of faith.  Now, they are specifically  praying for me and my family as I battle cancer.

The gift baskets are full of items that are very thoughtful and have such meaning to me.  Ranging from plastic flatware and tissues to relaxation candles and therapeutic pillows, the baskets were just amazing.  As I looked at each item, I wondered what sweet friend knew I would need that item.  Candy, candles, mints, journals, inspirational books, notepads, jewelry, and gift cards are just a few items included.  More importantly, I know that the baskets are full of prayers and love...which can't be purchased at any store.  To my New Hope Ladies - Thank you will never suffice.  I love you!

Arleigh enjoying a treat, while wearing her fake glasses.
The children enjoyed the sprinkle marshmallow pops that accompanied the gift basket... which I must share with all of my crafty friends.  They were the large marshmallows, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with "sprinkles".  Rather than using a sucker or popsicle stick, they used a "crazy straw" for the stick.  These were great treats, and one that I will certainly have to copy in the future!  (Won't those make great classroom and birthday party favors?)

My mailbox has also "runneth over" with well wishes and greetings from friends, family and co-workers.  It is so nice to have brightly colored envelopes and messages...makes me feel like I'm back at summer camp and it's "mail call" time!  Greeting cards and letters are so much better than getting the electric bill or insurance explanation of benefits in the  mail!

This afternoon was my one week follow-up appointment with Dr. Martin.  He was very pleased with the surgical incision, and removed my drainage tube.  Thank God!  I found that the drainage tube was the most horrid thing about surgery, even worse than the incision itself.  If you look at the picture at the left, you will see the black sutures still attached to the tube.  Everything to the left of the black thread was outside of my body, and everything to the right was inside.  He even laughed about me wanting to take a picture of it...but then we've shared everything else, haven't we.  (Speaking of that, I'll post a picture of my incision this weekend.)

Dr. Martin referred me to an oncologist, Dr. Cheryl Jones. He was adamant that I be seen as soon as possible, and between God and Dr. Martin working together, my appointment is Friday at 10 a.m.  After the appointment with the oncologist, I will have a better understanding of when chemotherapy will begin, and can plan accordingly.  I will return to Dr. Martin in one week for a check, and possibly even schedule the out-patient surgery for my chemo power port next Thursday.

I am now clear to begin exercising to regain my strength and range of motion on my right side.  My nurse navigator, Kim (who I can not say enough wonderful things about), spent a great deal of time talking with Mom, Jeff and I after the appointment.  She demonstrated exercises, went over pathology report details, and answered many questions we had about upcoming chemotherapy treatments.  I realize that everyone is different, but I can not imagine going through a battle with cancer, and not being as prepared as possible.  I want to know what I'm up against, and how to face it head on for the defeat.  How someone can choose not to be an "informed" cancer patient is beyond my comprehension.

The pathology report from my mastectomy is 26 pages long,  I'll post more details about the report at a later date, but 5 sentinel lymph nodes were removed, with only 2 testing positive.  An additional 13 lymph nodes were tested, but were all negative.  I also received the BRCA testing results today, and they are negative!  Another Praise, in that my cancer is not genetic and will not affect my Mother, sister, or children!

Since I was still dressed from "going to town", I mustered up enough energy to attend a Pre-K workshop at Arleigh's school.  The workshop was about their "Animated Literacy" program, which is used for instruction.  Visit the Animated Literacy web site here for more information.  Even though I was exhausted by the time I returned home (to a wonderful home-cooked meal, prepared by my hubbby), it was nice to get out and see people!

My pain is a bit higher this evening than it has been.  I'm not sure if that is due to taking fewer pain pills, healing, exercising, or a combination of everything.  Tomorrow I'm switching over to Alleve for pain, and pray that it will be minimal as I continue to heal.

From deliveries to drain removal, today was a great day.  I know that all days won't be as great, but I will continue to celebrate!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stop and Smell the Gardenias

Gardenias are my Mother's favorite flower.  She has always loved the fragrant blossoms that bloom in the spring and summer.  They are "happy flowers" for me, reminding me of summer breezes that gracefully spread their potent fragrance throughout the yard.  It saddens me, but the blossoms on my gardenia bushes are now beginning to wither.  My mother and children have been picking the flowers and placing them in dishes throughout the house, trying to wring out the last bit of perfume before the blossoms turn brown and fall to the ground.

This afternoon, we took a walk around the yard, and stopped to smell the gardenias.  At first glance, the bush was full of withered, brown blossoms, but there were a few lone, white flowers that remained.  These few blossoms were still fragrant enough to "smell up" the yard, even though they were few in number. 

Most afternoons, I would have probably found myself in a hurry, while in the yard.  I would be rushing my children inside for homework and baths, sweeping off the front porch, or picking up stray litter that blew over from the neighboring high school.  I would not have taken the time to "stop and smell the gardenias".

As cliche' as it sounds, we live a hurried life...there's always someone to see, someplace to go, or something to do.  When you are faced with your own mortality, whether you receive a cancer diagnosis or just have the dreaded common cold, we need to make certain that we prioritize the things in our lives, and take time for the little things.  I realized that today...if I hadn't been standing outside with my Mom, I would have never stopped to snap a photo of her by the withering gardenia bush, or take the time to inhale the special fragrance of the beautiful white blossom.

As life passes us by, it's very difficult to always remain focused on the positive, when it would be so much easier to dwell on the negative.  I'm not always "Suzy Sunshine", and even though I try to remain upbeat and positive (especially for my family), I'm also a realist..  Last night, as my children were asleep in their beds, Jeff and I spent some time on the back deck discussing the "what-ifs".  What if my cancer has spread?  What if it's somewhere else? It was the first time that I actually verbalized my fears, but I needed to share.  The thoughts were just fleeting, but they were still real.  I know that God is in control, but it still doesn't mean I can't ask questions from time to time...Oh, how easy it would be to dwell on those negative thoughts, and let them consume me.

Today, I ventured out of the house.  (Briefly, as it was so very exhausting!)  Mom and I went to Walgreens, in search for some children's cold medicine.  Right in front of the Coca-Cola display, Dr. Martin called.  Praise God, the only cancerous lymph nodes were the two sentinel nodes that tested positive during surgery. He reported the surgical margins were clear and the remainder of the lymph nodes from underneath my arm were free of cancer cells! God is good! (You can learn more about surgical margins here.)

Whether taking time to smell the gardenias, or turning the smallest events into "sprinkle" celebrations, life is fleeting, and passes quickly, especially in our hectic world.  Sometimes, it's the fact that most flowers are brown that makes the fragrance even sweeter, or the fact that a great news is even better after a gloomy night.  Take after the Nike commercial, and "Just Do It!"  Stop and smell the gardenias, before they are all gone.

Have to share this picture of my "angelic" mother that was taken the sunbeams were shining down, it made me think that the "Hallelujah Chorus" should be playing in the background!

Thank you for your prayers, but please remember those who may have unspoken prayer requests, also.  God knows who they are.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11, Ten Years Later

Cousin Georgia and Adelia in San Francisco, 9/12/01
Today, as I remembered the many lives that were lost, altered and forever changed due to the 9/11/01 attack on America, it reminded me that God has a path for our lives.  We may not be privy to the path He has chosen for us, but it will be revealed in His time.

Ten years ago today, I was in San Francisco, California.  Jeff was a delegate at the 2011 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International Convention, so we made it a family trip.  Mom and Adelia traveled with us, as I was expecting Griffen.  We planned on using the trip to explore San Francisco and visit with Jeff's sister, Frances.  This experience was going to be a memorable time for Adelia, as it would be one of the last big trips prior to becoming a big sister.

I will never forget waking up in a strange city...watching the events unfold on television.  As I literally wiped the sleep from my eyes, the realization that the events on the television were real, and not a dramatization was surreal.  I immediately knew that life would never be the same.  We prayed for those who lost their lives, as well as for safety, as San Francisco was possibly the next target.

After notifying everyone that we were safe, we set out about our normal plans for the day.  The terrorists might plow us down, but we would be sight-seeing when it happened!  We basically had the city to ourselves, with the exception of the plain-clothed officers, dogs, and soldiers stationed at regular intervals throughout the city.  I'll never forget how deserted Fisherman's Wharf was...there were only a few tourists, and what seemed to be thousands of law enforcement personnel!

Fast-forward ten years, and now on 9/11/11...I am a breast cancer survivor!  So many things have happened in the past ten years, that were on God's time, and not necessarily mine.  In the ten year period, I have given birth to two wonderful children, relocated to another city, and been diagnosed with cancer.  When I think about the changes in my life, it reminds me of a chorus that my Mom always sings, when piddling around the house...

In His time, in His time
He makes all things beautiful, in His time
Lord, please show me everyday
As You're teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say, in Your time. 

In Your time, in Your time
You make all things beautiful, in Your time
Lord, my life to You I bring
May each song I have to sing
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time.

Lord, please show me everyday
As You're teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say, in Your time
In Your time
In Your time.

The 2011 IBEW International Convention begins later this week in Vancouver.  Several months ago, Jeff volunteered not to attend, but to stay behind to handle things in the office.  At the time, I questioned his decision, but he was adamant about volunteering.  This is just one more thing that shows me God is in control, not us.  

It all goes along with some of those "unanswered prayers" that happen from time to time.  It's hard not to question them, but in the end, it's "His Time" that guides our lives, and those we love.


P.S.  Even with the tragedy, we had a wonderful trip to San Francisco in 2011.  Many memories were created and we were able to return home only three days later than originally planned.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Down the Drain

When I began blogging about my journey with breast cancer, I wanted to make certain that I was real.  My feelings and emotions expressed through my writing are real, and I don't want to sugar-coat the experience.   This is as real as it gets...I can't just pick the days that I want to have breast cancer, nor can I just pick the parts of surgery, recovery or treatment that I want to experience.

As I asked other survivors, patients who had breast surgery, and researched on the Internet, everyone and every article mentioned the dreaded "surgical drains", and how they were the worst part of the entire experience.  You may think this is too graphic, too much information, or that I shouldn't include this, but as my goal has been all along...this is real.  Drainage tubes are a very real part of my recovery...and therefore my blog.

A drain was inserted underneath my arm.  It is secured with a stitch, and apparently ropes through my breast area, underneath the skin.  The drain helps release blood and lymphatic fluids that could build-up up in my breast area, causing swelling, discomfort and possible infection.  You can read more about mastectomy surgical drains here.  The empty drain looks like a grenade, and the suction pulls down fluid through the drain.

 My surgical camisole has pouches for the drain, but I also received several hand-made pouches from the hospital.  Volunteers make the pouches and give them to mastectomy patients.  These are just cloth pouches with a ribbon that hangs around your neck or arm.  They are machine washable, so it's not a big deal if you get them wet or fluid on them.

 The drain has to be emptied, and the contents recorded.  The color will change from dark red (Wednesday and Thursday) to a more light color; right now it's turning orange-red.  There may also be solid bits of clots or tissue mixed in the fluid.  Each time the drain is emptied, the amount and time must be recorded.  The drainage tube usually remains in one-two weeks, so I hope that it will be removed at Thursday's appointment.

It has been a family effort to empty the drains.  I find that I like them emptied every 2-3 hours, as the weight tends to start pulling a bit on the stitch.  We've attempted several different things today, and have discovered that a piece of gauze cut around the point of insertion helps distribute weight evenly.

After each empty, the amount is measured in a specimen cup, recorded on the log and then discarded.  Arleigh has taken it upon herself to be the official "disposer"...and tells everyone it's "her job" to pour the contents into the toilet and flush!

I am very fortunate that my parents have been able to be with us during my recovery.  Mom and Dad were able to attend the "Grandparent's Day" breakfast with Griffen yesterday, and then watch Adelia perform with the "Marching Greyhounds" last night at the home football game.  Arleigh is enjoying having full access to Nana's jewelry and perfume, too!  Many of you know how Jeff's work schedule is, so having him home 24/7 is a great treat for the children.  Spending time with my family are sprinkles on my day, as are the prayers, cards, messages, emails, flowers and homemade goodies that friends have gifted us with.  Thank you!

As with most pain medications and surgery, I'm a little "behind" schedule in certain areas.  So far, no amount of Colace, watermelon, mixed green salad or raisin bran has helped.  Please pray that this will be remedied soon!