Sorry Gulch, Arizona, by Eric Talerico

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm back and I'm gonna do better with this blog!

My posts have dwindled, but my health and good spirits have not. I'm more than a mere procrastinator - I'm World Class. But, I am going to keep up my blog this time.

My breast surgery was last July. I'm an American living and working in Germany, have American Foreign Service insurance. Therefore, I'm treated according to German medical practices. I had a tiny private room in the Frauenklinik in Heidelberg, and my stay for breast conserving surgery (called lumpectomy in the US) was six days. They would not release me, or any patient, until all drainage had stopped and drainage bags could be removed.

The nurses were friendly, compassionate, and surprisingly humorous, and though most spoke little English they sympathetically understood and encouraged my German "med-speak" language attempts. My doctors spoke English and I welcomed their visits each day.

A few days following surgery I was given a liver scan in an alien part of that enormous hospital, and so learned to find my way there and back on my own. Given an invitation to attend a question-answer session about breast cancer in the conference room - I found that pace, too. During the forum with German and French doctors, I asked about Hormone Replacement Therapy. Guiltily, I thought my breast cancer might have happened because I took HRT medication for 13 years, only quitting six years ago when I heard there might be a problem. The doctors assured me the breast cancer would have occurred while I was on HRT, not 6 years later.

I was asked to decide about chemotherapy. Radiation was not an option. I was given all the facts, all the understanding, about chemo at my age. I was told there was only 10% chance chemo would help me. My doctor asked me if I wanted to know what he would tell his own mother. Yes. "Mom," said he, "don't take the chemo." I was 76, had been taking chemo for a myeloproliferative disorder for five years. I was happy to decide to not take chemo for IDC, HR2 breast cancer as well. I am taking an aromatase inhibitor for five years.

Radiation, however, was not an option. Six weeks of daily sessions started out fine, but as time passed I became more fatigued. At the end of radiation therapy my left breast and axillary were raw, burned. I couldn't report to work because I couldn't wear clothing above the waist.

That passed, of course. I was given a bone scan, and they saw a problem at the seventh cervical vertibrae. Spinal metastisis was suggested. A CT scan showed this to be not a tumor but spinal degeneration. Never thought I'd be happy to hear my spine is degenerating!
The 6 months Discreet Exam by CT revealed no abnormalities in breasts, lungs, or liver. However, there was "something" in the liver they believed to be cysts. Suggested blood test for liver tumor markers. Taken - negative. In July I must have my first post surgery mammogram.

I can see this is going to be one test after another - could be a continuous fear. I won't let it be so. I'm back to walking ten thousand steps a day, have dusted off my good camera - thank God every morning, and love every minute of my life.

At the time of surgery they removed 18 lymph nodes. Cancer cells had metastisized to one node, therefore, radiation was concentrated in the axillary region and clavicle. The one complication I've had is lymphedema of the left breast, chest wall, and arm. I'm told it's incurable, but I'm doing all that can be done. I have manual lymph-drainage massage twice weekly, wear a compression sleeve from fingertips to shoulder. I take extraordinary care of my left arm and hand, guarding against injury: no blood test sticks, no BP. Otherwise, nothing left to be done. It's a small price to pay.