It’s been one hell of a week.
Last Thursday I was scheduled to fly to NYC to meet with my plastic surgeon to receive the second injection of fluid to expand my left breast tissue in preparation for my implant. Instead, I ended up in the hospital in Ohio with a blood clot to the lung (otherwise known as a pulmonary embolism). Scary shit!
In the days leading up to my hospitalization I’d been feeling pretty crappy, but I just chalked it up to the cold I was fighting and side effects from the Herceptin. But things got worse. All of a sudden I was out of breath just reading bedtime stories to Miss M. I couldn’t lay down on my back to go to sleep. It hurt like hell to take a deep breath. I has a persistent scratchy cough. I knew something was wrong.
Rather than take a “wait and see” approach and risk something horrible happening on my flight to NYC, we went to the local after hours clinic to get it checked out. The doctor there said my lungs sounded OK but feared it may be a blood clot so he sent us to the emergency room. After a bunch of tests, some blood work, and a very painful CT scan it was confirmed that yes, there was indeed a blood clot in my lung. Luckily, it was small and we caught it early. Immediately I was put on blood thinners and admitted to the hospital where I stayed for the next 3 days.
Of course I never imagined I would be at risk for blood clots. I exercise daily. I don’t smoke (anymore). I’m not overweight or sedentary. You never think these things will happen to you – until they do. But apparently I have many of the risk factors for developing blood clots; a history of cancer, an intravenous port in my chest, and recent surgery immediately followed by an extremely long drive from NYC to Ohio. So there ya go.
The good news (other than the obvious fact that I’m alive) is that my oncologist Dr. K is taking me off both the Herceptin and Tamoxifen. Which is great, because I was just about to tell him that I no longer wanted to take the Tamoxifen anyway.
The bad news is that I now have a whole new host of minor health issues to worry about. I will be taking blood thinners daily for the next 6 months (maybe longer). The new meds don’t seem to have any seriously scary side effects but they do cause me to bruise all the time and put me at danger for excessive bleeding. I have to be über careful not to fall, get cut, or hurt in any way. Even a strong bump or whack against a heavy object (or attack by a energetic 3 year old??) can cause major internal bleeding that I may not even be aware of. If I was cautious before because of my surgery scars, now I feel like I should be wearing a protective suit everywhere I go.
We also discovered two other potentially scary health issues from my time in the hospital… Neither of which are confirmed but are to be monitored and re-tested in the months to come.
One, was a small spot on my liver that showed up on my CT scan. It may be cancer. It may be nothing at all. When I did my CT scan at the hospital I was in a ton of pain and couldn’t lie down properly, stay still, or hold my breath when they wanted me to. So the entire scan may not be accurate. Regardless, we need to follow up on that with an MRI. But I can’t do an MRI right now because of the expander that is in my breast. Apparently it has some metal in it that interferes with the MRI. So we’ll have to wait a few months until I get my implant in and do the follow-up scan. They did check my liver functioning while I was in the hospital and said it looked great. So for now, I’m just gonna assume all is well with my liver.
The other potential health issue is that my blood work was slightly elevated for an autoimmune disorder – Lupus Anticoagulant Syndrome – which causes thickening of the blood (and subsequently puts you at risk for blood clots). To be clear, this doesn’t mean that I have Lupus. They are two separate issues. And we won’t even know if I actually have LA until we do another blood test (that must be taken months after the first test). Plus, it seems lupus anticoagulants are often found in people taking antibiotics (of which I’ve been taking a lot lately), those who have cancer, inflammation, or infections. So I’m hoping it is just related to my recent surgery and will be gone by the time we test again.
Despite all these health issues, I’m still feeling pretty good. The blood thinners have taken away the pain and allowed me to breath easy again. My energy is good. My appetite is fine. I’m healing from the mastectomy and gaining increased range of motion and strength in my left arm and chest every day.
Dr. K says I should be able to go to NY next week to meet with my plastic surgeon. So that’s the plan for now. But I haven’t booked my ticket just yet.
I am realizing (yet again) that I can never truly predict what will happen from day to day. Any minute a new issue may arise. And I am having a difficult time adjusting and accepting this new normal. Because even though I may have long stretches of time where I’m ‘cancer free’, the reality is that metastatic disease often brings with it endless treatments and medications with endless complications and side effects and endless scans and tests to monitor it all. My health is no longer something I can take for granted. I can no longer just booze it up, eat whatever I want, and abuse my body like other people can. I have to pay attention to every ache, every pain, any slight change in my body. I have to be vigilant in my self-care and self-love. I have to be informed about treatments, medications, and procedures and constantly weigh the benefits against the risks.
This is not an easy journey. I’m pissed that this is my new normal. I’m sad that I can’t just live my life in blissful ignorance. I’m still trying to figure out the lesson breast cancer has come to teach me. And still have many days where I just feel sorry for myself, and for my husband, daughter, family, and friends.
But I will never give up. And I will never stop fighting. I will not let cancer ruin my life.
Love to all. – T