DIARY OF A BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR
NOTE: This diary is an account of my experience with breast cancer. I do not mean to imply that my choices are right for anyone else. There are various types of treatments available, and each patient should find out all her options then make the decision that is best for her.
I had seen my own mother die with breast cancer. Hers had already spread to her liver and to her bones before she was diagnosed.
Choosing a modified radical mastectomy was easy for me because I wanted to be rid of the cancer as soon as possible. For me, surgery accomplished that goal.
This diary is meant to share with breast cancer patients, their family and friends what I experienced in my battle with this monster.
JUNE 3, 1998--- This day was Lamar's and my fifteenth wedding anniversary. That day I kept an appointment with my gynecologist for my yearly exam. During the breast exam, he said four words that chilled me: "I feel a lump." I told him that I had not felt any lumps in my monthly self exam. He lifted my right hand and placed my fingers on a pecan-sized mass on the lower outside toward the back of my left breast..
The doctor tried to reassure me. He said that it was probably a benign mass that was not serious. But he was emphatic when he insisted that I get a mammogram and see a surgeon as soon as possible. Then he said that I must see a surgeon no matter what the mammogram showed.
JUNE 4, 1998--- I saw my family doctor. He scheduled a mammogram for me later that morning and set up an appointment for me with a surgeon the next week. Before I left his office, he said, "You know it could be just a cyst."
When I went for a mammogram, the mammographers were both sympathetic. One said, "You know, it could be a cyst." The other lady told me she'd put me on the prayer list.
Mammograms had never been painful for me, uncomfortable, but not painful. That day, the right breast did not hurt, but as the left one was squeezed, the pain was almost unbearable.
I tried to comfort myself that it was a cyst, but I couldn't ignore the nagging fear. Six years ago, my mother had died with breast cancer. I battled the fear; I must not accept the worst unless I heard the worst.
That night, Lamar and I called our pastor and certain friends to ask for special prayer. Lamar prayed aloud for me whenever I asked him to do so. That has kept up ever since.
JUNE 7, 1998--- Sunday morning. In obedience to the Bible in James 5:14, I asked our pastor, Brother Reggie Roye, to anoint me with oil and pray for me. In his study, he and the deacons, one of whom is Lamar, obeyed the Word and prayed for me.
JUNE 9, 1998--- I received a call from my gynecologist's office. The mammogram showed a suspicious mass. A biopsy was strongly recommended.
Still, lumps could be benign. Again I battled fear.
JUNE 11, 1998--- I saw a surgeon. After examining my breasts, he said, "You do need a biopsy. I will remove the entire lump. You will be put to sleep. This will be outpatient surgery. When do you want it done?"
I answered, "As soon as possible."
He said, "How about tomorrow?"
"Great!" I said.
Then Lamar and I spent the next few hours at the hospital where I underwent pre-op testing, answered many questions, and signed papers.
At home we again prayed and called others for prayer.
JUNE 12, 1998--- I woke at 3:30 AM. I had to be at the hospital at 7:00 AM.
Once at the hospital, things moved quickly. I checked in, then our friends Johnnie and Betty Duke arrived to sit with Lamar while I was in surgery.
The nurse called me back for prep, and a check of my vital signs showed that I had a fever. The doctor was called and ordered an antibiotic. Lamar was with me for all this. When they came to get me, Lamar kissed me, squeezed my hand, and went back to the waiting room. I was wheeled through several hallways to O. R. There nurses checked me. The anesthesiologist introduced herself. Not long after, a mask was placed over my nose and mouth. The last thing I remember was a strong smell like that of a new plastic shower curtain.
My next hazy memory was seeing the surgeon standing beside my bed. He smiled at me. "Hi there," he said. "We got the lump out, but there's something that we'll have to deal with."
His words registered, but I was too groggy to react.
When I woke again, Lamar was standing by the bed. He was smiling at me. On that other side a nurse was waiting. She asked if I wanted something to drink. When I nodded, she left and came back with a Sprite.
She gave us post-op instructions. Before we left, she gave Lamar a prescription for pain medication for me. Then she gave me a pill for the road. We had to travel 30 miles.
At home, I slept through most of Friday afternoon and night.
JUNE 13, 1998--- Saturday afternoon, the wound began draining. Adding extra bandaging didn't help.
JUNE 13, 1998--- When I woke, my gown and the sheet beneath my left side were soaked. Though I felt all right, there was no way I could go to church. The drainage would ruin my clothing before the service was half over.
When Lamar left for church, I cried. One of the youth of our church was being baptized that morning and I would miss that most important day.
That night, a couple from our church sent us a home-cooked meal for supper.
JUNE 15, 1998--- Lamar took me back to the surgeon's office for a check-up and to get the biopsy results. Two words from that visit stand out clearly: "malignant" and "mastectomy."
Other options were discussed, but the fact that my mother had died with breast cancer and that two of my aunts had breast cancer made mastectomy seem like the right course for me.
When the doctor recommended surgery, I agreed. Then the surgeon said that he would be unable to do the surgery and that his associate would do the mastectomy. This doctor would be in shortly.
Up until this point, I was calm. Lamar and I talked until the doctor came in. He introduced himself and shook hands with us. He said to me, "Well, this has been a bad day for you. First, you find out that you have breast cancer. Then the best surgeon in town says he's leaving and can't do your surgery."
When I heard the sympathy that lay behind his attempt at humor, I felt tears stinging my eyes. This was not a nightmare; it was reality.
This doctor again went over the biopsy results. He talked about the option of radiation treatments in an effort to save the breast, but he agreed with his colleague that mastectomy was the best course of action for me.
I agreed. The mastectomy was scheduled for June 26. I was to come back one week before, on June 19, to have the biopsy stitches removed.
After the doctor left the room, the nurse looked at me and asked if I were all right. I nodded and asked if I could have some water. She brought me a Sprite. Her concern touched my heart.
The surgical nurse came in and scheduled the mastectomy and promised to contact my insurance company for pre-cert. Then we were on our way home.
Lamar held my hand most of the way. Occasionally, we talked. I was still fighting tears. About half-way home, I said, "I can't talk to anybody tonight. I'd just cry. You'll have to call everyone and answer the phone. I need some time."
Lamar made calls to request prayer. He sent out e-mail asking for prayer for me. He called his sister and his daughter to cancel our vacation plans.
I watched T. V. and tried to read, but I couldn't concentrate.
JUNE 16, 1998--- I read the Bible and prayed most of the morning. God gave me peace. I know that sounds simplistic, but still it's true. God granted me His peace that passes understanding. From that point on, I accepted the situation and was able to talk about it. In fact, some of my family and friends seemed to have more trouble dealing with my problem than I did.
JUNE 17, 1998--- Lamar and I began discussing reconstructive surgery. We found that our insurance would pay 100% if the reconstruction were begun the day of the mastectomy. I wanted reconstruction. I felt that I would feel more normal if I had this.
JUNE 19, 1998--- Lamar took me back to the surgeon's office. The nurse removed the stitches from the biopsy. We asked her about reconstruction. She set up an appointment later that morning with a plastic surgeon.
At the plastic surgeon's office, the doctor asked me what I knew about reconstructive surgery. I help up the pamphlet I had picked up in his waiting room. "What I read in this," I answered. Then he began to explain to Lamar and me the different options and the risks involved. I decided to have a saline implant because that procedure involved less risk that the other option.
The surgeon explained that the day of the mastectomy he would come in after the breast was removed and put in a tissue expander containing fluid. Then when I was healed enough, he would over a period of 3 to 6 weeks pump up the expander by adding fluid. When the pump-ups were over, I would wait a few months for the skin to soften and the expander to settle in the proper position. Then in December or January, I would have outpatient surgery during which he would remove the expander and put in the saline implant.
The doctor then examined me, measuring and photographing me. He agreed to do the surgery on June 26th . I was glad that the mastectomy would not need to be rescheduled.
After leaving the doctor's office, we ate lunch at a barbecue restaurant. Then we went shopping for bedroom slippers. At home, I ordered some nightshirts, really oversized T-shirts, that I would practically live in for the rest of the summer.
JUNE 20-25, 1998--- The week passed slowly for me. Once the decision was made, I just wanted to get the surgery behind me. I wanted that poison removed from my body.
JUNE 25,1998--- I spent the day before the surgery cleaning house and sewing curtain valances. When Lamar got home, he helped me hang the curtains. Later, our pastor, his wife, and their son came for a visit. After a time of fellowship, the pastor read a passage of scripture and we prayed together.
After that, Lamar checked e-mail. Since the diagnosis, we had received many e-mail messages from family, friends, and other Christians who all said they were praying that believing God with us for my healing. Others had called and sent cards. All these expressions of love and concern meant so much!
JUNE 26, 1998--- By 6:15 AM we were at the hospital. Shortly afterwards, our pastor and some of our close friends arrived to wait with Lamar. Later in O.R., just before I was anesthetized, I thought that the next few hours would be easier for me than for those in the waiting room. I would sleep through it.
In the recovery room, I woke briefly and saw it was 12 noon by the wall clock. The next time I woke, I was in my room. Lamar and two friends were there. The rest of the day is a blur of friends coming in and out, and nurses checking me, giving me medication (an antibiotic and a pain pill), and emptying the drainage tubes. There were two drainage tubes which would reach to my knees when I stood. At the end of each was a small barrel-shaped bottle. One nurse called them my hand grenades; another nurse called them my babies.
Late that evening, after ingesting much Sprite, water, and a liquid supper, I felt the need to get up. How I dreaded the pain! Lamar called the nurse. The nurse raised my head until I was in a sitting position. Then she helped me ease my feet and legs off the bed. I grabbed the railing with my right hand and pulled myself up as Lamar and the nurse supported and lifted me from the back and side. Together the three of us maneuvered me and the I.V. into the bathroom and back. I was thoroughly exhausted. I asked for another pain pill. From then on, I was given two capsules every four hours for pain through the night and the next day.
JUNE 27, 1998--- When I woke that morning, I was developing chest congestion. I was woozy from the pain medication. For breakfast they brought me a liquid meal, even though my doctor had ordered solid food for me.
Two physical therapists came in that morning and showed Lamar and me exercises that I would need to do to regain the use of my left arm.
The doctor had told Lamar the day before that if I were doing well, I might be able to go home the next day. When the doctor and his nurse came in that morning, he checked my chart, examined me, watched me sit up, and evaluated the case. Finally, he decided that I needed to stay in the hospital for another day. Also, he again ordered solid food for me. This time, his orders were carried out.
JUNE 28, 1998--- I was feeling better. I sat up in a chair to eat breakfast.
The doctor came in and asked, "Are you ready to go home?"
I said, "Yes!"
He smiled. After examining me, he said I could go home. He told me to call his office and set up an appointment for July 2nd. He told me to be sure to do my therapy exercises. That was important to get back my range of motion. I replied that I would, that I played piano at church, and I wanted to get back to doing that as soon as possible.
He told me to go ahead with the piano as soon as I felt comfortable sitting up for awhile. He said the playing would also be good therapy.
The ride home was comfortable. I went straight to bed and slept through the afternoon.
The next two weeks are a blur in my memory. I developed a bad respiratory infection with chest congestion and a persistent, productive cough. I was on pain medication. Lamar set the clock at night so that he could give me the medication. He also helped me with my exercises. I spent much time sitting on the side of the bed with a pillow pressed to the left side of my chest as I coughed. It hurt!
For those two week, Lamar was home with me. Friends, especially our next-door neighbor Tammy Nabors, saw to it that we had a good meal every day. Others sent cards, called, or visited. Their support was extremely important to both Lamar and me.
JULY 2, 1998--- The surgeon removed one of the drainage tubes. He said that I was doing well and that he wanted to see me again on July 7. He renewed the prescription for the antibiotic and for the pain medication.
JULY 7, 1998--- I saw both surgeons that day.
Lamar and I saw the plastic surgeon first. He told us the test results. There was no cancer at all in the 29 lymph nodes that were removed during the surgery. He said, "It doesn't get much better than this!" He said I was recovering nicely, except for the persistent congestion and cough. He removed the second drain.
Then Lamar and I saw the other surgeon. He noticed the congestion and the cough. He told me to call my family doctor and get something for the infection. He also changed my pain medication to a milder one; this medication also contained a cough suppressant. He said that if I stayed on the original pain pills dependence would become a problem. He, too, told us the test results. He added that my hormone receptors were positive which was a very good sign that any treatments would be successful. He told me that I needed to see an oncologist who would evaluate my case and decide what further treatment, if any, was needed. Then he said that he didn't think that I would need chemotherapy. He told me to came back in a month on August 6.
At home, I called my family doctor, and he prescribed an antibiotic that had worked for me before. My condition began to improve gradually.
JULY 10, 1998--- My sister-in-law Rose Smith and her husband David and two of our nieces, Priscilla Tatum and Cindy Norris, came for an overnight visit. (They live a 4-hour drive away). I was able to sit up with them for short periods of time. The cough was still bad. Their visit was a big help to me. I needed their encouragement.
JULY 11, 1998--- My step-daughter Michelle Mann, her husband Mike, and our grandchildren Brendan, Tristan and Tiffany stopped by for a few hours. (They live an 8-hour drive away).
I found it difficult just to watch as the others played with our 5-year-old grandson and the 7-month-old twins (a boy and a girl).
JULY 12, 1998--- Still unable to go to church, I prepared lunch, which consisted of warmed left-overs, and played the piano a little.
JULY 13, 1998--- Lamar went back to work. My step-daughter and her family came back to stay with us for a couple of days. Before they came, I had taken a pain pill, then stayed up for too long. The pill made me sick. I ate little the rest of the day.
That night, I asked Michelle to put little Tiffany in my lap and let me give her a bottle and get her to sleep. That felt wonderful!
JULY 14, 1998--- Lamar took me back to the plastic surgeon for a check-up. After checking me, he said I'd be ready for the first pump-up the next Monday.
Michelle cooked supper. Later, we all sat on the front porch. The weather had cooled down some.
Around 9 PM, Mike and Michelle decided to leave so that the babies might sleep all the way home.
I was very emotional. I cried as my step-daughter hugged me. I didn't know how long it would be before I would be able to travel so that we could visit them.
JULY 15, 1998--- I began playing the piano for a half hour each day. This was added to the other therapy exercises.
JULY 16, 1998--- Because I still had chest congestion and a persistent cough, I saw my family doctor. His opinion was that the congestion was caused by the tube inserted into the chest area during the surgery. He prescribed a different antibiotic and a cough syrup.
JULY 19, 1998--- The congestion was almost gone, though I still had a nagging dry cough.
I went back to church. I took two pillows to prop up my left arm and a small pillow to place between the hard pew back and my back.
I was able to play the piano. Praise the Lord!
JULY 20, 1998--- Lamar and I went to the plastic surgeon's office for the first pump-up. His nurse was to do the procedure. When I told her that I had developed a rash around a small area of the incision site, she checked it and said she'd call the doctor in to check it. He said it wasn't serious and we could proceed. The nurse performed the procedure while he supervised. The initial stick of the needle into the port on the expander hurt. 100 ccs of saline solution was pumped in; this was painless.
Afterwards, that side felt tight and uncomfortable. This discomfort lasted for about 3 days.
The doctor told me to be sure to keep the entire incision site clean and to use Neosporin on the rash.
JULY 26, 1998--- I went to church and played the piano. Dressing for church was a challenge. The expander was high on my chest, higher than the other breast. The expander looked like a cantaloupe stuck to my chest. I wore a blouse with a neck edge resting near the base of my throat. I wore a contrasting scarf draped over the right breast to create a more balanced look. I did not wear a necklace because a chain or beads would have accentuated the swelling on the left side.
JULY 27, 1998---Lamar and I went back to the plastic surgeon's office. The nurse performed the 2nd pump-up. She added another 100 ccs of saline solution. Again, the tight, swollen feeling lasted for about 3 days.
JULY 28, 1998--- Lamar and I saw an oncologist. After reviewing my records and evaluating my case, he said all the cancer was gone and I needed no further treatments. Praise the Lord! We discussed Tamoxifen as a preventive measure. The doctor said my tumor was smaller than the recommended size for prescribing this drug. The type of breast cancer that I had, ductal carcinoma in-situ, was less likely to recur in the right breast than the other kind of breast cancer. He said that for me the risks of Tamoxifen would far outweigh the benefits. Such risks are uterine cancer and blood clots.
He told me to do monthly self exams, to see a doctor for a breast exam twice a year, and to have a mammogram once a year. Then he dismissed me.
Lamar and I were delighted! We went to our favorite barbecue restaurant for lunch to celebrate the good news.
AUGUST 2, 1998--- Again, I was able to go to church and play for the services.
AUGUST 3, 1998--- Lamar and I went back to the plastic surgeon. He checked the incision site and noted that the rash had returned, worse than before. He wrote a prescription for a cream that would take care of the problem. He performed the pump-up, adding another 100ccs of saline solution. He said that would probably be the last pump-up. He told me to come back in two weeks.
AUGUST 6, 1998--- Lamar and I went to the surgeon's office for the 6-week check-up. Both the doctor and nurse were delighted that the oncologist had said that I would need no further treatment. The doctor examined the incision site. Although better, the rash was still there, beneath my arm. The doctor explained that at the back of the incision site the skin had folded together over the incision in that one spot. He cautioned me to be sure to part the folds to clean the site thoroughly. That would take care of the rash.
He was pleased with my progress. He told me to come back in December for the 6-month check-up.
AUGUST 7, 1998--- Lamar's brother Byron Thompson, his wife Sandy, their daughter Leslie, and Sandy's mother Clarice Smith came to visit us for the day. We enjoyed the day, ending it with supper at our favorite barbecue restaurant.
As always, we enjoyed the time spent with family. Their visit cheered me.
AUGUST 9, 1998--- Again, I was able to be in church and play the piano.
AUGUST 16, 1998--- Because of a sleepless night, I was unable to go to church.
AUGUST 18, 1998--- While pressing a shirt to wear to the doctor's office, I felt a slight tug just above my left hip as I bent over the ironing board. That was all. Then an hour and a half later, I got up out of a chair. As I stood, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back and on my left side.
By the time Lamar and I left to go to the plastic surgeon's office, the pain had subsided slightly in response to the two naproxen sodium tablets I had taken. When I got out of the car after the 30-mile ride to the office building, the pain was much worse. I was barely able to sit on the couch in the waiting room.
The plastic surgeon examined the expander, then confirmed that I would not need another pump-up. Then he asked about the back pain. After I explained and showed him where the pain was, he wrote me a prescription for a muscle relaxer and told me to take double doses of over-the-counter naproxen sodium. He told me to see my family doctor if I didn't get better in a couple of days. He said, "I know it's hard, but hang in there like a loose tooth!"
That night I had to sleep sitting in a recliner. When I tried to lie down, the pain was excruciating.
For the next three weeks, I was unable to do my therapy exercises or play the piano. Even light housework was forbidden. Most nights, I had to sleep in a recliner.
AUGUST 20, 1998--- Although my back had improved somewhat, the pain was still severe at times. I went to my family doctor. He ordered x-rays. They showed some arthritis, but the source of the pain was inflammation of the disc at the bottom of the spine. He told me to continue the muscle relaxer, and he added a prescription for a pain reliever. He also sent me to a physical therapist.
AUGUST 21, 1998--- Lamar took me to the local hospital for my first physical therapy session. The therapist put heat to my lower back for 15-20 minutes, then massaged the area. After that she went through exercises with me so that I could do them at home.
She said that the problem could have been caused by my favoring my left side and putting too much stress on the right side. This put the spine out of balance, so that even routine activity could cause an injury. I feel that putting so much pressure on the right side to get out of bed after the surgery was also a contributing factor.
AUGUST 23, 1998--- I missed church because of the back pain.
AUGUST 24, 1998--- At my 2nd therapy session, I told the therapist that the exercises made the pain worse. She decided to use only the heat application and the massage. Even climbing onto and getting off of the table for the therapy seemed to make the pain worse above my hips. I had also noticed a tingling sensation in my legs and feet.
AUGUST 26, 1998--- At my 3rd therapy session, the therapist applied heat and massage to the lower back. Afterwards, she said she was going to call my doctor. She was puzzled by the persistent pain above my hips and in the lower abdomen.
AUGUST 27, 1998--- Lamar took me back to my family doctor. After a further examination, he found a digestive problem and prescribed medication for it. He told me I could postpone further physical therapy until the cause of the pain healed.
AUGUST 29, 1998--- On Friday night, I tried to lie down in bed. As soon as I stretched out on my back, severe pain attacked above my hips on both sides, and my abdomen contracted in severe pain each time I tried to get up. For about 10 minutes, I lay there screaming and crying while Lamar held my hand. I would not let him try to lift me. Finally, I was able to roll out of bed onto my knees. I spent the rest of the night in my recliner with a heating pad to my back.
AUGUST 30, 1998--- I again missed church because of the back pain.
SEPTEMBER 4, 1998--- I received a gift from an e-mail friend, a beautiful angel dressed in white lace and yellow ribbons. This friend made the angel herself. It's beautiful, and it lifted my spirits.
SEPTEMBER 5, 1998--- I was able to sleep in bed without severe pain. I was not completely well, but the medication and heat applications eased the pain so that I could lie down in bed to sleep.
SEPTEMBER 6 & 13, 1998--- I was unable to attend church because of being unable to sleep the night before. Also, I'm not sure I could sit straight up in a pew for the length of the service. I am better, but not yet well.
SEPTEMBER 18, 1998--- Lamar took me to the plastic surgeon for my check-up this afternoon. When the doctor first came into the exam room, he questioned me about my back pain. He seemed relieved when I told him that I was much better. He said that he had been worried about my back because of the level of pain I was obviously experiencing on August 18.
Then the doctor examined me and said that he was pleased with my progress. He said that I didn't need to come back for a check-up in October unless a problem developed. In November, he will check me again. If the expander is settled properly and the skin is soft enough, then we'll talk about scheduling the next surgery, during which the expander will be removed and the saline implant put in place.
(Note: The expander is still uncomfortable. I know that it's there. It isn't painful, but at times the skin feels tight, and sometimes I can tell when it shifts position.)
SEPTEMBER 20, 1998--- I was able to go back to church and to play the piano again. Though I was uncomfortable at times sitting on the pew, I really enjoyed being back with our group of the Christian forever family.
In the afternoon, friends visited us at home. I enjoyed the conversation, catching up on the news of various mutual friends and acquaintances. Also, I enjoyed the laughter of the two little girls as they played.
It was a very good day.
SEPTEMBER 22, 1998--- Two friends came over and spent the morning with me. One of them cleaned my house, which had been sorely neglected while my back problem kept me from doing even light housework. I appreciated her work more than I can say.
Even more, I enjoyed the time of fellowship and conversation with these two friends.
My back is still improving, but I have to be careful how I move. I still have some pain, especially late at night and early in the morning. Also there is still a sensation of tingling mild numbness in my legs and feet, especially on the right side; it feels as if they were coming out from under novocaine. There is feeling, but the tingling numbness is still there. I still take a muscle relaxer and a pain reliever.
I am trusting Jesus for complete healing. I appreciate everyone's continuing prayers for me.
SEPTEMBER 26, 1998--- Lamar and I went grocery shopping, the first time since my back injury. I decided at the last minute to go with him. When we got home, I was very tired, but contented.
SEPTEMBER 27, 1998--- Again, I was able to go to church and play the piano. Lamar spoke during the eleven o'clock service. He and Pastor switched roles today. Our pastor spoke during the Sunday School time.
I have alluded often in the poems and in this diary to the friends and family who have prayed for us. I want to write a few words about our local church. Our pastor Brother Reggie Roye loves our Lord with his whole heart. He is dedicated to preaching the Truth. During any crisis in any of our lives, we know that he and his family will be praying. During my illness, he and his wife have stood with us, and their support has been a comfort and an encouragement to both Lamar and me.
Our church is small, but what we lack in size we make up for in loving and praying for each other. These dear brothers and sisters have given of their time to pray for Lamar and me, and they have expressed their love and concern to us in many ways.
Our pastor suffers from chronic health problems. There are some Sundays when he cannot preach. Today was one of those times. We appreciate him for his steadfast commitment to the ministry, for the time he spends in preparation, and for his allegiance to our Lord. Please remember him and his family in your prayers.
OCTOBER 1, 1998--- We made it through September, thank the Lord! My back is improving. I had some pain in my right hip, but that's getting better.
The tissue expander in my chest is much softer than it was. The skin is stretching, and the expander is settling slowly into place.
After the final pump-up on August 3, the skin was taut, almost painfully so. The expander was hard, and I felt very uncomfortable.
A couple of days later, Lamar hugged me when he came home from work. He stood back, grinned, and said, "You know, you could hurt somebody with that thing!"
Thank God for humor.
OCTOBER 2, 1998--- Today I drove for the first time since my surgery. I felt like a newly licensed 16-year-old on her first solo trip as I drove to the local Wal-Mart. I could not believe my own excitement!
It felt great to see friends, to catch up on news, to feel independent and normal.
My back and hip still feel weak after I stand or walk for awhile, so I still have to be careful. But today's errand has given me a boost in spirit and a feeling of confidence. I'm getting well, and I thank God for it.
He will strengthen me; He has said that He will. (Isaiah 41:10)
OCTOBER 4, 1998--- Today would have been my mother's eightieth birthday. Six years ago, she went home to be with the Lord. She died August 5, 1992, just two months after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she had a mastectomy on the left side (same as mine), the surgery came too late. The cancer had already spread to her bones and to her liver.
She taught me so much! She and my dad did not just talk about religion; they lived their faith in Christ.
This summer as I've been recovering from my own battle with breast cancer, I've thought back often to the summer of '92. My mother was quite a lady, and she fought valiantly to live.
If you have not read the piece entitled "Remembering Mother" on my poem page, please do so.
My mother's and my different experiences with breast cancer illustrate and underscore the vital importance, the necessity, of early detection. The sooner the cancer is found, the greater the chance that treatment will succeed. Early detection increases dramatically the chance for survival and the return to a normal, healthy life.
OCTOBER 9-11, 1998--- Our church held a week-end meeting during which we were blessed to hear Conrad Murrell. He preached a series of messages entitled "Journey under Grace" based on Acts 27. These messages were very helpful and encouraging to me.
The weather was beautiful this week-end: cool temperatures, clear skies, low humidity.
OCTOBER 14, 1998--- I had my check-up with the allergist. The allergies are being controlled by medication. While there, I got a flu shot.
OCTOBER 18, 1998--- I was very uncomfortable in church. We have taken a child's step-stool to church for me to put my feet on during the service. This relieves the stress on the lower back. I also take a cushion with me every time. But on this day, neither the stool nor the cushion helped me sit comfortably.
For the remainder of the day at home, I used a heating pad intermittently and took OTC naproxen sodium for the pain. I felt discouraged and wondered if I'd ever get better. The lingering tingling numbness in both my feet was starting to worry me. Sciatic nerve?
OCTOBER 19, 1998--- This was a difficult day. I did some housework. Then I decided to make coleslaw. While washing the food processor, I sliced into my right thumb. After the bleeding finally stopped, I put an antibiotic ointment on it and bandaged it.
Then I realized how serious it could have been had the cut been on the left hand. The removal of the lymph nodes left that left arm and hand very susceptible to infection and to fluid build-up in that arm.
That evening, I was exhausted. My back was aching, and my feet were numb. I spent a half hour soaking in a warm bath and reading. I felt a little more relaxed, but I was still hurting.
By bedtime, I had developed pain on the lower left side of my abdomen; I assumed it was gastritis and took something for that. When I lay down, I was very uncomfortable. Lamar put a pillow beneath my knees then lay down beside me.
I felt extremely uncomfortable. I was afraid I would have to sleep in my recliner. I asked Lamar to pray for me and he did. About fifteen minutes later, the pain eased, and I fell asleep. I woke up around midnight. I woke Lamar and asked him to close the windows and turn on the air conditioner. The humidity was smothering me. As the room cooled, I went back to sleep.
OCTOBER 20, 1998--- When I got up, I saw that Lamar had unloaded the dishwasher for me. I did a little very light housework. I spent much of the day writing.
As I prepared supper, I realized the pain was much better. The tingling numbness in my feet had lessened.
NOVEMBER 9, 1998--- I saw my family doctor because of a urinary tract infection. I told him about the continuing tingling numbness in my feet and about the digestive problems I'd been having. He prescribed medicine for the UTI, ordered an abdominal ultrasound and a colonoscopy which were scheduled for Friday, November 13, and referred me to a neurologist to check for the cause of the numbness in my feet. He said it could be a pinched nerve.
NOVEMBER 12, 1998--- I had my appointment with the neurologist. I answered many questions. Then I was examined for strength, resistance, etc. Then I was told that I may have Neuropathy, a degenerative condition of the nerves.
The doctor ordered a battery of lab tests. I will see the neurologist again on December 10 when I will get the test results. Also that day, I will have two tests, Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV) and Needle EMG Test. The NCV tests the speed of a nerve impulse along the nerve. The EMG involves insertion of a fine, flexible needle into the affected muscles to test how the muscles react to commands.
(I can think of many things I'd rather be doing that day.)
Then, hopefully, I'll get a diagnosis and treatment options.
NOVEMBER 13, 1998--- First, the abdominal ultrasound was, of course, painless. Afterwards, I was told that everything looked good. She pointed out the gall bladder and said, "See how pretty it is." (I'd never thought of a gall bladder as being particularly pretty). There were no apparent stones or other problems.
Next, I had to go upstairs for the colonoscopy. I felt weak from the fasting, except for clear liquids, and the cleansing process the day before. I was very thirsty! Passing the water fountain was hard. I had taken nothing by mouth since midnight, and it was almost 10 AM.
The colonoscopy was painless. Though awake, I was sedated. I felt very detached and unconcerned about what was going on. I even watched the monitor as the scope moved through the colon. It was as if it were happening to someone else. I am very thankful for sedation! The doctor removed three small polyps. He said they looked benign to him, and he didn't anticipate the path report would differ from his analysis. Then he told me to call his office in a week to get the official lab report.
NOVEMBER 19, 1998--- The battle goes on.
Before last week, I had never heard of Neuropathy. This past week-end, Lamar and I did some Web searches on the topic. We know a little more, but not much. From what we read, some cases of Neuropathy can be reversed or cured depending on the cause of the condition. Other cases steadily worsen. We read one case history in which the patient told of progressively worsening pain and debilitation; his doctors are still working to find the cause of the Neuropathy in his case.
The neurologist who is treating me told me that Neuropathy is usually found in relation to Diabetes or to alcohol. He said that cancer can cause Neuropathy, that the nerve problem persists even after the cancer is gone.
I've also talked to friends who know people who have Neuropathy. One friend said, "You don't want that!"
Of course I don't!
This week has been very difficult for me. The spiritual warfare has been unrelentingly intense. Fear, worry, and doubt are well-armed and persistent. Self-pity also stands ready to invade. At times, I wonder if I'll ever get well. How many more hurdles will I have to face?
I spend time every morning reading the Bible, singing praises to the Lord, and praying. I know that He is my Healer, that He is greater than any problem, and that His grace is sufficient no matter what the circumstances. He is Lord. The battle is His. He has brought me so far since June 3, when the lump was found in my breast. He has proven Himself over and over. He honors His Word. I do not have to convince Him to do that; it is His Character. Any problem lies in my lack of faith and my failure to trust in Him. Always, forever, throughout eternity, He knows what He is doing, and He will do what is best.
I am thankful for what He has already done for me. I pray for grace to trust Him for this situation as well.
Tomorrow I see the plastic surgeon. Hopefully, he will give us good news. I hope we can set the date for the implant surgery.
(NOTE: Please continue to pray for Lamar and me. This situation is hard on him, too. But by the grace of God, Lamar remains patient, cheerful, and encouraging. Your prayers mean so much to us! Also, if you have any knowledge about Neuropathy, its causes and treatment, please e-mail us this information. God bless you.)
NOVEMBER 20, 1998--Earlier in the fall when the federal budget was passed, there was included a bill that, according to information that we have received, requires insurance companies to pay for reconstructive surgery after a breast cancer patient has a mastectomy. This bill also requires insurance companies to pay for any surgery needed on the unaffected side to achieve symmetry and balance needed to help the patient feel and look normal. If I read the information correctly, the insurance companies are supposed to inform their clients of the new law.
Today, I saw the plastic surgeon. We discussed the surgery and all the options. The date for the surgery was tentatively set for Thursday, January 7, 1999.
After we left the doctor's office, Lamar and I did some Christmas shopping for the grandchildren. That was fun! Everyone seemed in a holiday mood without the stress of late-season shopping.
A few days before, we'd found out that our daughter and her family would not be able to travel during the holidays because of her husband's work schedule. So we would have an early Christmas the next week when we went to their house for Thanksgiving week-end.
At first I was depressed at the news that they wouldn't be coming to our house during Christmas week. I went through the "why bother?" mood when I thought about the decorating and the special cooking. Then I thought about how different this Christmas might have been if my breast cancer had not been detected as early as it was. I looked at Lamar and saw his smile, and I knew we would have a great Christmas.
Shopping for Michelle and her family was a great start.
NOVEMBER 25, 1998--- The day before Thanksgiving. The past few days were a whirlwind of gift-wrapping and packing. When we headed out on Wednesday afternoon, the car was packed so tightly that there was barely room for Lamar and me. As we approached the interstate, I joked, "Well, like Naomi in the Bible, we're going out full and we'll come back empty!"
We had a safe trip, thank God, even though traffic was bumper to bumper at 75 miles per hour. We saw three accidents.
At almost 11 P.M., we parked in front of Michelle's house. This would be our first time to see their new home which they'd bought during the summer. Once inside,
Michelle and Mike gave us a tour. It was beautiful with spacious rooms and plenty of space for children to play. In the den, 5-year-old Brendan was asleep on the sofa where he'd been "waiting up" for us. As much as we wanted to wake him for a hug, we agreed with his parents that waiting until morning would be better for all of us.
I was tired, but I had made the trip well, better than I had thought I would.
NOVEMBER 26, 1998--- Thanksgiving Day dawned fair with a slight chill. First, we had our early Christmas. Later we went to Mike's mother's for dinner. It was a wonderful family Thanksgiving. I knew just how much I had to thank God for.
NOVEMBER 27-28, 1998--- These two days passed quickly, too quickly. We enjoyed Brendan and the twins Tristan and Tiffany and the time spent with Michelle and Mike.
On Saturday afternoon, I was forced to lie down with a heating pad for two hours because of back and leg pain. Before dozing off, I spent some time feeling sorry for myself and worrying about Neuropathy. In the middle of my solitary pity party, Lamar came in to check on me. He saw the traces of tears and took my hand. I asked him to pray for me, and he did.
After a short nap, I awoke, feeling much better.
NOVEMBER 29, 1998--- Time to go home. The visit had flown by. Leaving was hard. I was in control of my emotions until after I hugged Brendan. Then he just sat down on the sofa and stared at the coffee table. I melted. When I hugged Michelle, I just clung to her and let the tears come.
Finally, we made it to the car. Michelle and Brendan had come outside with us. Just before Lamar cranked the car, Brendan came running to the curb. "Grandpa!" he shouted. "I want you to come for my birthday. Come back for my birthday!"
We were able to leave with a smile.
DECEMBER 1, 1998--- I saw the surgeon who did my mastectomy; six months had passed. The doctor examined me and said I was doing great. He told me to come back to him in six months. He said he saw no reason to delay the reconstructive surgery.
DECEMBER 10, 1998--- I saw the neurologist today. First, they did the NCV and EMG tests. The tests were easier than I had anticipated.
The doctor said there was no nerve damage. All the blood tests, etc., had come back negative. He said I had apparently injured the sciatic nerve. But I do not have Neuropathy, praise the Lord!
The doctor said I should lose weight. He felt that was the major problem with my back, legs, and feet. He gave me a diet plan to follow and told me to come back in March.
He said he saw no reason to postpone the reconstructive surgery.
DECEMBER 2-19, 1998--- These days were filled with shopping, Christmas decorating, cooking, and cleaning. Lamar helped with the decorating and did more than half of the cleaning.
I did some sewing. My first project was a vest which should have taken me two hours; it took two weeks. I had a problem sitting at the sewing machine for very long at a time. The second project was making a Christmas tree skirt. This took about half a day. I'm getting better.
I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday activity. The Christmas carols were especially meaningful to me. I played CDs, listened to the radio, and played carols on the piano. Sometimes, Lamar would stand behind me and sing as I played the carols. My spirit sang the praises of the Lord Whose birth the music celebrated. I owe Him so much!
DECEMBER 20, 1998--- Lamar and I hosted our church's Christmas party. I loved every minute! The fellowship was wonderful. Everyone brought delicious food.
Some were concerned about my being not well enough to be hostess, but I felt great! Company lifts my spirits and helps my feelings. Rather than feeling tired, I felt energized.
DECEMBER 22, 1998--- I saw the plastic surgeon. The surgery was definitely scheduled for Thursday, January 7.
After we left the doctor's office, Lamar asked me if I were up to doing some shopping. A few days earlier, we had sold my music keyboard because I wanted one that was MIDI compatible.
We went to Circuit City and bought a keyboard. I have much to learn about using it to its full potential. I am much more comfortable at a traditional piano.
DECEMBER 23,1998-JANUARY 1,1999--- These last days of the holiday season were busy. I was able to make my traditional Christmas treats: Buttermilk Fudge, Divinity, and Red Velvet Cake. Lamar and I spent time with family, too.
The entire holiday season was great! From Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, I thoroughly enjoyed the season. Had it not been for God's mercy in providing necessary and timely medical care for me, this Christmas could have been very different.
JANUARY 5, 1999--- I saw the plastic surgeon for my pre-op appointment. He examined me; then we discussed the procedure.
The surgery was scheduled for 8 A.M. Thursday, January 7. Lamar and I were told to be at the hospital at 6 A.M., no later than 6:30.
The doctor said the surgery would be out-patient, that I should be back home that afternoon. Then he said that if any problems developed then I would be admitted to the hospital and kept overnight for observation. He wrote prescriptions for the antibiotic and pain medication that I would need at home after the surgery.
After leaving the doctor's office, Lamar and I went to the hospital for the usual pre-op procedures: paperwork, blood tests, blood pressure check, EKG, etc. No problems were found.
JANUARY 6, 1999--- I purposely kept myself busy cleaning house, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking. The day passed quickly.
I also filled the prescriptions for the antibiotic and pain pills. I put them on the dresser beside the bed where we could get them easily Thursday afternoon. Then I smiled as I set my small bell beside them. With the bell, I could keep Lamar busy waiting on me. (He has threatened to throw the bell away, but so far I still have it. Besides, I have an extra one, just in case.)
That night, Lamar prayed for me. In fact, we prayed for each other.
We slept well.
JANUARY 7, 1999--- At about 6 A.M., Lamar and I arrived at the hospital. We went upstairs to the Out-patient Department. For only a few moments, we sat in the waiting room. Lamar checked out the coffee maker and found a place to leave his books that he would read while I was in surgery.
Very quickly, we were called and taken to a room where I put on a hospital gown and lay down. Lamar asked the nurse for an extra pillow to put under my knees to ease my back.
After a few minutes, "my ride" arrived. I shifted from the bed onto the stretcher. As Lamar put the pillow under my knees, the lady who had come for me asked why. We told her about the back problem. She said she had a lower back problem, that she was going to try that, too. So I gave her some of the tips that the physical therapist had given me last August.
Once I was settled on the stretcher, Lamar kissed me. He walked beside us as far as the waiting room.
Then I was pushed through several hallways; we finally came to a stop in the holding room.
The doctor came in and asked that my stretcher be curtained off. He made some markings on my chest. Again he talked about the surgery. The expander on the left side would be replaced by a saline implant. I would also have a mastopexy on the right side in order to achieve symmetry.
After the doctor left, there was a flurry of activity. The last thing I remember was a mask being placed over my nose and mouth. There was a strong smell like a plastic shower curtain.
I woke tasting the shower curtain smell. My throat was sore and dry, and I felt nauseous. (I had been told to take my regular medication before leaving home that morning with just enough water to swallow. I think that may have been a mistake). Beside me, a nurse was talking to me about cooling down. My feet were uncovered. I asked for something to drink. I was told that when I got back to the Out-patient Department I could have something.
I do not remember the trip back through the hallways. My next memory is seeing Lamar standing beside my bed and the out-patient nurse handing him a cup of crushed ice and a plastic spoon. When the nausea eased, she said, I could have some Sprite. Finally, I was able to drink. The nurse discussed post-op instructions with Lamar and me. She told me to take a series of deep breaths throughout the afternoon and night. She said that would help to rid my body of the anesthesia. I was told not to remove the surgical bra that had been put on me until I saw the doctor the next Tuesday morning. The nurse cautioned me not to get the bra wet. I would have to take sponge baths.
There was one drain on the left side. The nurse talked to Lamar about emptying the drain. He told her he'd done that before.
The nurse showed Lamar a couple of blood stains from the incisions. She said to call the doctor if the bleeding increased, if the stains spread.
After awhile, I was allowed to sit up, then stand. With help, I got dressed. Lamar went to get the car. I was pushed in a wheelchair to the front door of the hospital.
I remember very little about the trip home. I came into the house, changed clothes to a nightgown, took my medicine, lay down, and went to sleep.
That evening, I sat in my recliner in the den. I ate some chicken noodle soup and drank iced tea.
Throughout that day and night, I took pain pills every 4 hours as well as the antibiotic as directed. I also did the deep breathing often.
I slept fitfully that night. Twice, I woke Lamar to ask for a pain pill.
JANUARY 8, 1999--- When I woke, I was hungry. I drank some cranberry juice and ate some raisin bran. Then I took my medicine, including pain pills, with a full glass of water. I lay down. After about ten minutes, I became nauseous and lost my breakfast.
Strong pain medication nearly always makes me nauseous, especially when I first start taking them. I have found that if I eat a ginger cookie and take the pills with ginger ale then lie down for at least an hour, preferably sleeping for awhile, then I can tolerate the medicine better. Taking the pills with milk does not work for me.
I spent most of Friday sleeping.
Around noon, I noticed a large blood stain on the front of the bra. It was dried, but it was definitely larger than what was there the night before. Remembering the nurse's instructions, Lamar called the doctor. He said that the bleeding was to be expected and was nothing to worry about unless it became much worse.
That night I was able to eat some vegetable beef soup and drink some iced tea. Afterwards, I was able to sit in the recliner and watch a movie.
The nausea seemed to be gone.
I slept better that night. I woke Lamar only once to ask for a pain pill.
JANUARY 10, 1999--- Sunday morning, Lamar went to church. I spent the morning watching "The Hiding Place," the story of Corrie Ten Boom and her family. I highly recommend this movie.
Through my experience with breast cancer, God has shown me that He is definitely the Hiding Place.
When Lamar came home from church, he was carrying a big bowl of stew and a plate of cornbread sent by one of the ladies at church. The food was delicious! The gift lifted my spirits.
JANUARY 12,1999--- I went to the doctor for the first post-op check-up. I was feeling nauseous in the car, but the fresh air after we stopped helped. I attributed the nausea to the pain pills.
The doctor said I was doing well, but the drain needed to stay in place for a couple more days. He told me to come back Friday.
JANUARY 15,1999--- This day was the 2nd post-op visit. Again, I was carsick on the way to the office. The doctor teased us and said it was Lamar's driving.
He removed the drain. He said I was doing great and told me to come back in a week.
I was delighted to have the drain out. That meant I could take a shower again. No more sponge baths!
JANUARY 17, 1999--- I was able to go to church. I had planned to try to play the piano in spite of the soreness in my chest. But a dear lady who serves as a missionary visited our church that day, just a few days before returning to her mission work. She graciously agreed to play for us.
After church, a couple invited this lady, Lamar and me to join them for dinner as their guests at a local restaurant.
I enjoyed the day very much, but afterwards I was very tired. I slept through the afternoon.
JANUARY 22, 1999--- I woke early to storm warnings. The spring-like temperatures were leaving with a bang. The weather system had spawned over 50 tornadoes west of us the night before.
Normally, I'm not that scared of bad weather, but that day was different. We were in the storm system's path. Plus, I had a doctor's appointment that afternoon. Though there were as yet no warnings in our area, weather forecasters kept up the refrain, "Get ready; it's headed our way."
Around noon, the wind began kicking up. At times the gusts were very strong. The sky was dark. As time passed, I grew more afraid.
About 12:30, I got my Bible and read every instance in the Four Gospels of Jesus' encounters with storms. I prayed and praised. Then I sang the hymn "Peace, Be Still." As I reminded myself of Who is the Master of the storm, I grew calm. He gave me peace.
Still, I was not looking forward to getting out in stormy weather.
Around 1:15, the doctor's office called to reschedule my appointment. They said we probably didn't want to take a chance on making the long drive in the bad weather that was expected. I was relieved.
The bad storms didn't materialize for us. We had thunderstorms, rain and wind, but no tornadoes or damaging, dangerous weather.
JANUARY 24, 1999--- I was able to play the piano at church. Afterwards, I was sore, but that was no real problem. I was thankful.
I did not take any pain pills. I had been having problems with side effects. When the side effects are harder to deal with than the pain itself, then it's time to part company with the pain pills.
JANUARY 26, 1999--- I saw the doctor. He said I'm doing great. There's some swelling on the left side. He gave me some new instructions. Then he said I could wait a month to come back. He told me to call if any problems developed. My next appointment was scheduled for the last week in February.
JANUARY 30, 1999--- Today has been dark and wet. I've felt tired, though I've done nothing.
I still have discomfort on the left side beginning at the surgical site and extending to the middle of my upper arm. There is some swelling. If these symptoms don't improve, I'll have to call the doctor.
Maybe it's the weather, like rheumatism.
I've had a lot of time the past 3 weeks to reflect on my experience with breast cancer. Naturally, I've thought a lot about my mother and about other family members and friends who have died with cancer.
Cancer is a dreaded disease, one that prompts the question "Why?" I've asked it many times. I will not pretend to know the answer. But I do know the One Who is the Answer.
In my case, He has used my illness and recovery to prove to me that His Word is true, that He loves me, and that He is in control.
From the moment I heard my doctor say during a routine check-up, "I feel a lump," I battled fear, doubt, and confusion. I knew little about surgeons in our area, little about treatment options, and nothing about reconstructive surgery. Yet God was ahead of me every step. Even before that "routine check-up" on June 3, He was providing for me. All my doctors, their staffs, the nurses, and all the hospital staff have been super!
My Lord did that for me.
From the beginning, I've had the comfort of the prayers of family, friends, and other Christians I've never met. My name has been on the prayer lists of many churches in several states.
My Lord did that for me.
Since the mastectomy, every report from every test has been good news. I never heard the word "hopeless" from any doctor.
My Lord did that for me.
What about the future? I have heard the words "high risk category," and I know what that means. I also know there are many Christians who have died with this disease, among them my own mother. Even in these cases, God works grace and strength and faith. He does not abandon His own. "Never, never, no never!" This life, this human body, is not all there is.
We human beings hate to lose control. In crisis, when we've said all we can say, done all we can do, and exhausted all our human resources, we tend to shrug our shoulders helplessly, look disconsolately toward the ceiling, and say in a dead, hopeless voice, "It's in God's Hands now."
Through my illness and recovery, I've learned that it's always in God's Hands. That's where our hope is.
Even while I was blissfully ignorant that a malignant lump was growing in me, I was in His Hands. Even then He was making provision for me.
During that time, that awful time, between the biopsy report and the mastectomy, He gave me the miracle of victory over fear and the gift of His peace that passes understanding.
My Lord did that for me.
I do not owe my healing to luck or chance. I found the help I needed when I needed it because my Lord had so ordered it.
It is the Word of God that has strengthened my faith and sustained me through this long battle. Because of this battle, I have learned that the Bible is not just a collection of wise sayings; It is Living Truth.
Whatever the future holds for me, I know with a certainty that God is in control and I am in His Hands.
I wish that I could say that I constantly ride on the wings of faith, but the truth is that fear, doubt, self-pity, confusion still knock at the door of my mind quite often. Sometimes, I entertain these unwelcome visitors far too long, and I suffer needlessly by delaying Bible study, prayer, and praise. But when I go to God, He helps me.
Any insight that I have has come from the depths of real experience, from the fires of suffering, from the comfort of His Presence during the worst storms.
My Lord does all this for me.
JANUARY 31, 1999--- I thank God that I was able to be in church this morning, and I was able to play the piano.
PRAYER REQUEST: Lamar and I have a prayer request to share with you. Our pastor, Brother Reggie Roye, suffers from serious chronic health problems. He took the month of January off from preaching in hopes that the rest would help him. He is scheduled to begin preaching again Sunday, February 7.
We ask you to join us in prayer for his healing. He loves the Lord and has a strong desire to preach the Word and serve God. We know that God is able to heal him completely.
Our God is truly awesome!!!
FEBRUARY 6, 1999--Today was our grandson Brendan's birthday. I thought about him all day and wished we could be there for his big day, but I wasn't yet up to traveling that far.
We called and talked to him. He'd had a good day and was busy playing with his presents.
Lamar and I went shopping for the next week's groceries, etc. I was unable to lift and carry bags, but I enjoyed being out again.
That evening, we visited friends and enjoyed the fellowship with them.
After we got home, I became aware of increasing pain and soreness in the surgical site on the right side. The pain became so bad that I had to take a pain pill so that I could sleep.
FEBRUARY 7, 1999--When I woke, the pain was better. I took an over-the-counter pain reliever and went to church. Our pastor resumed the pulpit that morning after taking a month off due to his health problems. He preached a good sermon, but it was obvious that at times he was really struggling with discomfort.
That morning, I was able to play the piano, but during the service the pain came back and gradually increased. The soreness was such that movement of my right arm hurt.
At home, I began taking the prescription pain pills every four hours. I slept most of the afternoon.
FEBRUARY 8, 1999--The pain was no better. Again, I checked the surgical site. Beneath the right breast, two incision lines intersect in a T-site. At this point, there was an area of white that looked like pus beneath the skin.
I called the doctor, and they told me to come in and let the doctor check me.
Lamar came home early to drive me to the doctor's office. The doctor and the nurse checked me. The doctor said that I did have some infection, but nothing to be alarmed about. He said that approximately 50% of mastopexy patients might develop an infection in the T-site. He told me to keep an antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, on the site and take pain pills if I needed them. But he said I didn't need a prescription antibiotic.
As Lamar and I rode back home, I still felt pain, but we were both relieved.
FEBRUARY 9, 1999--Today would have been the 83rd birthday of my dad, George W. Faircloth. I thought about him a lot all day.
He died with a heart attack in May, 1989.
I miss him. He taught me so much about faith, about humor, about how to deal with life's difficulties.
Knowing that he is in Heaven, that he is forever ageless and free from worry, pain, and sorrow is a comfort to me. I will see him again.
FEBRUARY 10, 1999--The pain and soreness in the right breast was much better, but I still felt miserable. I had developed a urinary tract infection and sinusitis. I called my family doctor who called in a prescription for an antibiotic for me.
FEBRUARY 13, 1999--On this Saturday morning, I woke feeling much better. The week had been difficult, but family and friends were praying for me. God had helped me.
Lamar and I did the grocery shopping.
That evening we went out to eat to celebrate Valentine's Day.
When we got home, I began preparing the ingredients for Cajun Peas to cook in the crockpot overnight. Lamar came in and said, "You look good in the kitchen!"
To which I naturally responded, "I look good in any room!"
Then he answered, "I mean that it's good to see you able to be up and able to do things. I'm just glad to see you feeling better." By his smile, I knew he meant it.
I must admit, I liked being able to cook something besides canned soup and frozen dinners.
FEBRUARY 14, 1999--I felt much better. I was able to go to church, thank the Lord! I played the piano. Lamar and I sang a couple of songs together.
Our pastor was able to preach, but he said that, after preaching last Sunday, he had a very difficult week; he had experienced a great deal of debilitating pain. His doctors have told him to stop preaching and pastoring. But he loves the Lord, and he has a strong desire to keep preaching and to continue pastoring the church that he loves. I ask all of you to pray for him, for his family, and for our church.
Also, I ask for your continued prayer for Lamar and me. God has been good to us, and we give Him praise.
Up until now, I have not been able to attend prayer meeting on Thursday evenings. I'm praying that I'll be able to go with Lamar this week.
God bless you!
FEBRUARY 23, 1999--- Today was my check-up with the plastic surgeon. He said I'm progressing well.
I asked him about the numbness and sensitivity in my upper left arm. I asked if that were caused by removal of the lymph nodes.
He said no, that it was caused by interfering with the nerve that is positioned in such a way as to interfere with the removal of the nodes. He said that since these symptoms had improved in my case that they might eventually go away.
He said that his office would call me to set up an appointment in 6 to 8 weeks for another procedure to be done in the office. Basically this will involve the tattooing of pigmentation on the reconstruction.
Until then, it's just a matter of healing. He said that I didn't need to come back until then unless a problem developed.
I told him that the reconstruction is basically numb. He said that I would get back "protective" sensation, meaning I would feel enough to know if the skin were being hurt. As he explained more, I was left with the impression that it was possible that more feeling would come back but not to the same degree as the unaffected side.
As we left the office, he told me to "just hang in there."
After we left the doctor's office, Lamar asked me if I were up to shopping for new cookware. (Silly question! If I can crawl, I can shop.) My cookware was falling apart. So we went shopping, and I am well-pleased with what we bought.
MARCH 5, 1999--- I saw my family doctor. I had been sick for two days. He did tests and found that I had a urinary tract infection, pharyngitis, and sinusitis. My throat was so irritated that the doctor ordered a mono test and a rapid strep test. The strep test was negative. I would have to wait for the mono test results. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic for me.
MARCH 9,1999--- I called the doctor's office to check on the mono test. The receptionist told me that if the doctor's office had not called, then either they didn't have the results back or the test was negative. She assured me that if the test were positive I would be notified.
MARCH 11,1999--- I assume the mono test was negative since I have not heard from the doctor. The antibiotic he prescribed seems to be helping a little. I feel a bit better, but I still feel miserable at times.
I've had mono twice. The first time, back in 1984, it literally almost killed me. The virus affected my liver and caused hepatitis. I was hospitalized for two weeks with high fevers alternating with severe chills. My family doctor called in an internist who worked hard to help. After I recovered, my family doctor me that the internist had said that he'd seen only two patients with my condition; they had both died. My family doctor said that, though it was touch and go for awhile, he wasn't really worried. He said that he knew my faith and my family's faith and that many people were praying for me.
God healed me then, and I thank Him for it.
The second bout with mono was not nearly so dramatic. Just a matter of bed rest for a few weeks.
These days, discouragement is hounding my steps. It seems that I've been fighting for so long. But I know that I do not struggle alone. The Lord is with me, and the battle is not mine, but His.
I appreciate every prayer that is prayed for me! Many of you have stood with Lamar and me in prayer ever since my cancer diagnosis, some of you long before that. I am so very grateful. I am better. I have been able to go to prayer meeting each week for about a month now. That is a great blessing to me!
To those of you who have been praying for our pastor, thank you. He is preaching every Sunday morning, and his spirits seem better. He still tires easily. We ask your continued prayers for him.
My prayer is that God will bless each of you and keep you in His Hand.
MARCH 17, 1999 --- A few days ago, an insurance agent came to our home to present a new life insurance plan. After he outlined the benefits and premiums, he said, "Of course, Diane can't be insured under this plan."
I knew that. I knew that having had cancer will automatically exclude me from taking out more life insurance. Nor do I wish to. But hearing the words for the first time was difficult. This exclusion is just one more example of the legacies of cancer.
My life is in God's Hands. This truth is a comfort.
MARCH 23, 1999 --- Today, I feel better.
This past week-end, Michelle, Mike, and the children were here. Being with them was a joy! The grandchildren, Brendan, Tristan, and Tiffany, always lift my spirits.
The house seems so empty after they leave.
APRIL 28, 1999 --- I saw my gynecologist today. I've been having chronic abdominal pain. He ordered an ultrasound, scheduled for May 7.
MAY 4, 1999 --- This afternoon I saw the plastic surgeon. He said that I'm recovering on schedule. He also discussed the next step, tattooing pigmentation on the reconstruction. Color matching was done, and the procedure was scheduled for May 12.
MAY 11, 1999 --- Last Friday, I had the pelvic ultrasound. Today I called the gynecologist's office to get the results. I was told that I have a small fibroid and an ovarian cyst, neither of which is serious. I was told that I could wait to see the doctor until my yearly check-up in August.
Thank God for good news!
MAY 12, 1999 --- Today, I had my first, and I hope only, tattoo. The procedure was done in the plastic surgeon's office.
The reconstruction is still basically numb, but I can feel pressure. Nearer to the body, there is more sensitivity. The entire area was deadened with injections. In some areas, I felt a sting; in others, I felt pressure.
The procedure itself was not bad. The nurse put some music on in the background to help me relax.
She and the doctor were both very considerate. If I grunted or flinched, they stopped and questioned me. Just before they finished, I could feel the sticks in one area. The doctor asked if I wanted him to numb the area some more. But I refused; the sticks were about the same as the sting of the injections.
MAY 14, 1999 --- I saw the plastic surgeon for a check-up. He said I was healing nicely and told me to come back in two weeks.
I am feeling fine. There was little pain or discomfort after the procedure.
MAY 28, 1999 --- Today I had my check-up with the plastic surgeon. I have healed as I should have. No problems.
The doctor and I discussed a minor procedure that he could perform in the office to improve the symmetry of the reconstruction with the right side. He would remove a crescent of skin on the right side, thus providing an extra lift to balance the two sides.
Lamar and I discussed this option. Closing the discussion, Lamar said, "If you want to do this, go for it!"
I agreed to the procedure and made an appointment.
JUNE 1, 1999 --- This morning I saw the surgeon who performed the mastectomy for my sixth-month check-up. He said I seemed to be recovering as I should.
He said that, since the oncologist dismissed me after one visit, he would be my acting oncologist. I will see him twice a year until we reach two years, then once a year until we reach five years. He smiled and said, "After that, we'll have to find something else to operate on."
To which I answered, "Let's hope not!" He laughed.
He ordered some blood tests and a mammogram. Then he told me to come back in six months.
JUNE 3, 1999 --- Sixteen years ago today, Lamar and I were married.
One year ago today, a lump was found in my right breast.
Today we can celebrate. The past sixteen years have held much heartache for Lamar and me. Still, through everything our love has survived and strengthened. Our marriage has been and is a blessing from God.
JUNE 10-13, 1999 --- This nice long week-end we spent with family, my sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, and nieces and nephews. I savor these family times. We do not live close to Lamar's family, so time with them is a treat for us. The only problem is that time passes too quickly during these visits.
JUNE 15, 1999 --- Today I had a mammogram. This time there was only one breast to x-ray. On seeing the reconstruction, the technician couldn't believe she didn't need to x-ray it, too. She said it looked like a real breast. She even told me to check with my doctor to be sure I didn't need the left side x-rayed, too.
Her words cheered me.
Still, I will never again take a mammogram for granted nor think of one as merely routine.
JUNE 23, 1999 --- This afternoon, I had the minor surgical procedure to lift the right breast slightly.
The doctor numbed the area. Then he removed a crescent of skin. He then closed the wound with sutures. He prescribed pain medication, and I was on my way home.
The mail brought good news. I received a letter stating my mammogram was normal. Praise the Lord!!!!!!
JUNE 28, 1999 --- Not again! My back went out this morning. Low-back pain. Muscle spasms. The doctor prescribed a muscle relaxer. I'm also taking two over-the-counter naproxen sodium tablets three times a day for inflammation. This is so frustrating, especially since we've planned a vacation trip next week.
JUNE 29, 1999 ---Today was my one-week check-up with the plastic surgeon.
My back is still a big problem, so I'm moving slowly. Thank the Lord, Lamar was able to get off work early to drive me to the doctor's office!
The site of the minor surgery is healing well. The doctor told me to come back in two weeks.
JULY 4, 1999 --- Praise the Lord, we were able to make our trip. We're spending the week with Michelle and Mike and our grandchildren.
After a week of muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory pills, alternating ice packs and heating pads, and sleeping in the recliner, I am able to function again during the day. I still have pain and spasms when I try to lie down. I have to be careful about lifting the babies, but being here is great!
Of course, this week will pass far too quickly! I do miss our family so much when we can't be together.
JULY 13, 1999 --- My check-up with the plastic surgeon went well. There were no problems. He told me to come back in a month.
AUGUST 10, 1999 --- I had two doctor's appointments today.
First, I saw the plastic surgeon. I was having a problem on the site of the minor surgery. A suture had become infected and caused a draining wound. The doctor treated the wound and told me to come back once a week until the site healed.
Then I saw the gynecologist for my yearly check-up. We discussed the fibroid and the ovarian cysts. He said these growths might go away with time. He recommended leaving them alone unless they begin causing serious problems.
That was good news to me.
AUGUST 17, 1999 --- I saw the plastic surgeon. The infection seems to be healing. He told me to come back next week.
OCTOBER 7, 1999 --- Since the last entry, I have seen the plastic surgeon three times. The infection has healed. My next appointment is in December.
Today, I am bringing this on-line diary to a close. The past year and four months brought so much. I began this diary as a cancer patient. By the grace of God, I close it as a cancer survivor.
There is no easy way to have breast cancer, but for me the experience was as "easy" as it gets.
Having a mastectomy was difficult, but it was my choice. I do not in any way regret that choice. I am very thankful that neither chemotherapy nor radiation was necessary.
The reconstruction process has been difficult, but I do not regret any of the procedures involved. The results are worth all the difficulty. Also, the plastic surgeon and his staff have been super to Lamar and me. They have boosted our morale with humor and expressions of concern. I thank God for them.
I have come a long way since June 3, 1998, when the lump was discovered.
This time has been a spiritual journey. I have learned the power of God's peace over fear. I have learned that I can trust God in all things. He has shown Himself to me in so many ways.
I know that He could have healed me instantaneously apart for medical procedures. But He chose to use doctors and healthcare professionals to bring about my healing.
Through it all, He gave me the priceless gift of family, friends, and Christian brothers and sisters who loved me and prayed for me.
Knowing of the prayers in my behalf encouraged me. My name was on the prayer lists of many churches. Cards and e-mail messages were tangible expressions that I could and did re-read many times to lift my spirits.
I wish I could list the name of every friend and family member. But they are in my heart and our Lord knows each one. He keeps a record.
God bless all of you!
I wish to acknowledge the following healthcare professionals:
- Dr. Melvin Russell, my family doctor;
- Dr. Alex Johnson, my gynecologist, who found the lump;
- Dr. Terry Treadwell, the surgeon who performed the biopsy;
- Dr. Randall Cook, the surgeon who performed the mastectomy and who is handling follow-up testing;
- Dr. James Ben Burke, the plastic surgeon who performed the reconstructive procedure;
- The nurses and office staff who work with these doctors;
- The mammogram technicians at Tallassee, Alabama, Community Medical Arts Center;
- The nurses, assistants, technicians, and staff of Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama.
Thank God for bringing all these people into my life when I needed them. May He richly bless them all.
Thank you, all my on-line friends who have followed my story. May God bless all of you for your concern and for your prayers.
Again, I want to emphasize that breast cancer no longer has to be a death sentence. Advances in medical technology have greatly increased the survival rate. Still, the key, the vital factor, is early detection. Believe me, early diagnosis makes the difference. Self-exams, regular doctor's check-ups, regular mammograms are our first line of defense in the battle against breast cancer.
In conclusion, I want to thank my husband Lamar Thompson for fighting this battle with me. Those of you who have read this diary from the beginning have an idea of the blessing he has been to me.
He and I know that God has been wonderfully gracious to us, and we ask you to join us in praise to our Lord.
May this diary honor our Lord Jesus Christ and bless all those who read it.
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