I write today primarily as a record for myself and for those women with breast cancer who follow my blog. There is, after all, hope.
For the past few months I've had a truly bad case of fatigue. I would get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, and want to go back to bed. I needed, absolutely, a nap once or twice a day. Then I learned that my TSH level (had a physical with my primary care doc) was off, indicating malfunction of my thyroid. This is not uncommon after radiation. I was rather relieved to hear there was an answer for my fatigue and hoped my latest prescription, Levothyroxine, would kick in sooner than anticipated.
While waiting for the thyroid pill to kick in, I had a prophylactic mastectomy and port removal. I expected this to be a breeze. After all, it was just a handful of tissue, right?
My surgeon talked me into having a sentinel lymph node biopsy along with the surgery. She removed two nodes (in the armpit), and tests for cancer were negative! Healing from surgery, though, becomes messier when your surgeon's been digging for lymph nodes in your armpit.
When the two weeks' anticipated recovery period was up and I still had enough discomfort to warrant pain pills, I began to wonder. I pondered the painful burning sensation across my chest and around my back for ANOTHER two weeks before it dawned on me: I think I have recurrence of shingles without the rash. I started taking my leftover Amitriptyline from the last bout with shingles, and lo and behold, I saw improvement the very next day.
Now, after a week on Amitriptyline for shingles, that seems to be well under control.
Another complication I developed after surgery is called "post-mastectomy cording." For some reason, since the natural flow of lymph is messed up due to nodes being removed, the body's fascia (connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves) forms "cords." My physical therapist pointed these out to me . . . the reason for my lack of range-of-motion in my arm on the new surgery side. When she held and flexed my arm, the "cords" became visible under the skin and hurt like hell.
"They're like guitar strings," she told me. "Very tight guitar strings that need to be stretched and popped."
So while pills have been stepping up my energy and controlling the pain of shingles, my aggressive physical therapy sessions have been "popping" my guitar strings. When PT-Teresa popped one of the larger cords yesterday, not only could we hear it pop, but it felt like a gunshot -- with tremendous relief to follow.
Today was the first day I didn't nap in months. I could successfully reach the top shelf in my kitchen with my right arm, and I felt no symptoms of shingles. IT WAS AN AWESOME DAY.
(Here are pictures from my birthday in 2011 a few days after chemo began and in 2012 painting ceramics with grandson Simon. The year between these two photos will long be remembered as "my year from hell.")