Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day & Confession Time

I have a few confessions to make…  

First - It’s Valentine’s Day and I was felt-up by another man.  Before you get your undies in a bundle, it was only by my favorite surgeon, Dr. C.  I had an appointment with him in two weeks, but I got it moved up because of confession #2…

My chest muscles have been sore for several weeks now.  I keep chalking it up to doing the Endurance Nation Outseason Training with Joe.  Two weeks ago, I was having some muscle soreness after a tough workout so I started poking around on my chest to see if I had any knots.  Lo and behold, I didn’t find a knot, but a large hard spot, reminiscent of the valve of my tissue expanders.  The hard spot was along the chest incision on my left (bad) breast and felt like it was right in the muscle.

Lumps and bumps are part of most people’s bodies, but for those of us that have had cancer, any new lump or bump can cause feelings of fear/concern/dread.  Since my cancer was a very aggressive form and of a higher stage, my risk of recurrence is slightly higher than others. 

I tried to tell myself that it was nothing, nothing at all; that it was just a bunch of scar tissue.  I then looked at my reconstructed breasts with a very critical eye.  Outwardly, they looked like the same Frankenboobs that I’d been sporting for the past year or so.  Ah, but wait…  I noticed that the ridge I thought only happened when I was wearing a certain bra on my left breast was still there even though I hadn’t wore that particular bra in a week or so.  Hmm.  I had Joe feel it, but he had no clue what it was either.  Enter Google. 

Google is great and Google is bad.  My symptoms could be anything from an infection, scar tissue, a recurrence of my cancer or something called a capsular contracture.  I doubted it was an infection, being that I didn’t have any other symptoms associated with infection.  Could scar tissue develop this late in the game?  And what was a “capsular contracture”?

Our bodies know when we have something foreign in them.  A capsular contracture is when your body builds a capsule of fibers around an implant, thus squeezing it tighter and tighter into a round hard ball.  A capsular contracture starts out as a lump or knot of tissue and as it engulfs the implant, it also pushes the implant into an abnormal position, usually higher on the chest than the non-contracted implant, thus giving a person a decidedly lopsided look.  The only way to fix it is with surgery to release the fibers or to completely remove the implant and capsule, replacing it with a new one.

If it was just plain old scar tissue, the recommended course of treatment was massage.  Considering the fact that mine, if it was indeed scar tissue, was deep underneath my nipple and a little difficult and painful to massage, I wasn’t sure how well that would work.  Or, I could just leave it alone and hope that it didn’t get bigger. 

I’d been excessively tired lately and had lost a few pounds in addition to the chest soreness and lump.  I could easily attribute the fatigue and slight weight loss to our EN Outseason training plan.  Trust me, the workouts are way more intense and structured than anything I’d done before!  I had an appointment w/my favorite oncologist, Dr. B, in a week.  He always checks my blood work, so I figured if I was indeed having a recurrence, Dr. B would be my first line of defense.

In the meantime, I had remembered that my BC Buddy Tracy had had something similar happen to her last year.  Being the good buddy that I am, I was her sounding board, doing boob re-con as it were.  Time to call in the favor.  Tracy told me I should just call Dr. C and get my already scheduled appointment moved up.  Not wanting to be an alarmist, I decided to wait a week and see what happened with “the lump”.  

It was probably just scar tissue I kept reminding myself.  Besides, whenever I made a big deal out of something, it ended up being a non-something.  I’ve been trying to curb my “zero to overkill” tendencies and I was determined not to make a big deal out of it.  My loved ones worried about me enough.  If I even casually mentioned that I’d found anything out of the ordinary, they’d freak out!  Yes, you loved ones KNOW who I’m talking about.  I didn’t say anything to protect your sanity because I love you!!!  Remember that!

The lump didn’t go away, so I figured, I’d better call and move up my appointment with Dr. C.  Grrr.  His office staff was very sweet once I’d explained my situation and that I was an on-going breast cancer patient of Dr. C’s.  They immediately fabricated an appointment for me, but regretfully informed me that, since it was a new lump, I’d need a new authorization from my insurance.  WHAT?!  I already had an authorization and an appointment in two weeks.  Couldn’t they just move my appointment up and be done with it?  Nope.  Okay.  I took a deep breath and I called TriCare.  I spoke w/the referrals gal, explaining my situation and that Dr. C’s office was holding an imaginary appointment for me.  She was wonderful and got my referral pushed through within an hour.  Bless her!

Tracy came into town for work last night and came over for dinner.  It was great to see her; I do miss hanging out with that girl!  She also had an appointment with Dr. C today and we joked with each other that show up together for her appointment just to mess with him.  Alas, her hubby Phil was at home in FL with her girls and Joe had music lesson duty.  The two of them together in the waiting room would have been a hoot.  Tracy and I in the waiting room was bad enough, but get two Air Force pilots together who also have young wives with breast cancer and well, the poor older people in the waiting room would have heard a whole lot more than they bargained for.  Trust me - it wouldn’t have been the first time.

I had a very busy day today and instead of getting to my appointment at the requested thirty minutes before my scheduled appointment, I got there five minutes before.  Oh well.  I still had to wait. 

Dr. C’s nurse Susan called me back.  As we explained pleasantries, she told me we were bypassing the exam room and were headed right for the ultrasound room.   As I passed Dr. C writing notes on the computer, he leaned back in his chair and sternly, but with a twinkle in his eye, informed me that I had been ratted out!  Uh-oh.  Thanks, Tracy. ;-)

I dutifully donned my paper gown, laid on the ultrasound table and told my tale.  When I told Dr. C that I hadn’t come in sooner because whenever I make a big deal out of something it ends up being a non-something, he firmly told me NOT to do that again; I was to come in immediately (as long as he was in the country)!   I sat up and showed him the ridge.  He critically eyed me and said that my left implant had dropped slightly more than my right one.  The ridge was where my pec muscle ended and the implant started poking out from underneath it.  He also noted that lefty seemed to be going more laterally than the right one.  Then he checked out the lump, with my pec muscles both flexed and relaxed.  Last of all, he had me lay down and out came the ultra-sound.  The right side was okay so he moved to the left.  Nada.  The lump was just a bunch of scar tissue.  Whew.  “See”, I told him, “It was nothing.”  “Better safe than sorry” or some other sage piece of advice was his retort.

But… he pointed out on the ultrasound screen, my pec muscles were stretched to the max.  Apparently, this is what happens when a petite thinly-muscled person gets Frankenboobs that are even slightly bigger than the originals and then doesn’t follow her doctor’s instructions implicitly.  Dr. C has told me repeatedly before that I MUST not lift anything more than forty pounds (he had originally only said thirty, but I got him to up it to forty).   Honestly, if he had his way, he’d make my weight restriction twenty pounds at this point.  If I lift too much, I risk shifting the implants laterally where there was absolutely no muscle, just skin, holding them in place, thus giving myself an armpit boob instead of a more common but equally feared uni-boob.  I’d inadvertently almost done that to myself about six months ago when I was trying to get my bike off of the trainer so I knew that he wasn’t joking. 

Dr. C is concerned that the left implant has already shifted slightly laterally.  I asked if the implant’s displacement might be because I’m left-handed and have a tendency to not pay as close attention to my forty-pound weight limit as I should.  And, I sleep on my left side.  “You need to be CAREFUL,” he kept repeating emphatically.  And then he made me promise that if I ever felt anything weird again that I would call immediately, and if the front office gave me the runaround, that I should call back and talk to one of the nurses.  I solemnly promised; it was the least I could do.  I know he really does care about me and really wants the best for me.  

Then, Dr. C being Dr. C, he leaned against the counter and said with his customary mischievous grin, “What’s this I hear about you moving to Colorado?!”  Confession #3: “Ah. Tracy’s been telling stories again, huh?”  I said with a wry grin.  I spilled the beans that some day, we will move to Colorado Springs.  In fact, I told him, we are closing on a 2.5-acre plot of land in the Springs next week.  It’s on a ridgeline with gorgeous views of Pike’s Peak, and maybe, if we’re lucky, a view of the Air Force Academy. 

We chatted and laughed about the joys of the military a few minutes more and then as he was leaving he asked me what Dr. B had said.  I told him that I hadn’t gotten a call, so I mused that, “no news is good news.”  He smiled indulgently and said that he wasn’t too sure he liked my “cavalier attitude”.  He never does, but I think secretly that's partly why he enjoys our visits.  I assured him that I would call in the future if something came up, otherwise, I’d see him in four months. 

So there you have it.  Confession time is over.  I hope that you’re not too frustrated with me that I’ve been keeping things from you, but I really didn’t want to worry those of you who love and care about me anymore than I have in the past couple of years.  I’m doing great, feeling pretty great, grateful to have such wonderful people in my life and thrilled to be doing what I love with who I love, despite the exhaustion and sore muscles.
The view from our not-yet-built home sweet home - someday
 Happy Valentine’s Day!!!  

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