The surgery scheduled in October was moved up to September, probably 14th. I had a second ultrasound a few weeks ago. It showed that the cancer in the left lymph nodes has shrunken to an unrecognizable size, but the one in the left breast hasn’t changed size compared with the first test which was done in May more than a month before chemo started. Doctors said it was not a good comparison because probably the cancer has grown already before chemo. Yet they recommended to have an operation holding off chemo just in the case that cancer is not responding any more to chemo. I will meet a plastic surgeon tomorrow to hear cons and pros of reconstruction. If I decide not to have reconstruction, or if I do and it’s possible to have it all together on the 14th, that will be my operation date. Hmmm….Finally the surgery is coming and I am getting uptight.
George and I drove about 40 minutes on freeways to Downy Kaiser to meet a plastic surgeon today. Usually health insurance doesn’t cover a plastic surgery, but breast reconstruction is an exception for Kaiser insurance.
I asked the doctor pros and cons of having and not having reconstruction.
I read that if there is only one breast, it causes unbalance and affects the backbone, shoulders, and posture, but the doctor denied it. The major reason of reconstruction is psychological and some want to change their breast sizes to be bigger. If you use muscles of abdomen or back for reconstruction, you will have a scar there. If you implant silicon, it’s not permanent and requires replacement in the future. Because your skin is also gone by mastectomy, you may use a deceased donor’s or pig’s skin, also for reconstruction. If you have reconstruction together with mastectomy and have radiation after, the radiation may mess up the reconstructed breast and may need a re-surgery. The doctor talked to us about 1 hour, measuring my breast and the fat in my abdomen.
I am no longer a young girl, my breast is not the center of the universe for me, and more importantly George says he is OK without reconstruction. Though I was already leaning towards not having reconstruction, I decided not to have it at this point because of its complication. If I get depressed too much looking at the lost breast, I will rethink reconstruction. When I got home, I e-mailed the surgeon to let her know I wanted to have a mastectomy on the 14th without reconstruction.
There’s No Place Like Hope – Vickie Girard
Praying through Cancer – Susan Sorensen & Laura Geist
Why Me God? A Doctor Looks at the Book of Job – Dr. Diane Komp
Letters from the Land of Cancer – Walter Wangerin
Happiness is a Serious Problem – Dennis Prager
- Cancer Society:
2. Breast Cancer:
3. Her2 Positive:
4. Muga Scan:
5. Bone Scan:
6. CT Scan:
If you are on chemo, you need to monitor your body’s functions such as heart, liver, and kidney. Last Wednesday when I visited the oncologist, I requested a urine test because recently I felt like it was difficult to empty my bladder. The result was negative, but the next day my legs were getting swollen enough to leave leg lines of socks and sandals. My mouth has been dry and I’ve been drinking a lot, also, on top of my weight gain in spite of the taste change, which reduces my appetite. I have been gaining almost 10 lbs since the fist chemo! So I let the doctor know about my swollen legs through e-mail. One of advantages of the Kaiser system is I can communicate with doctors anytime through e-mails. An oncologist on-call quickly replied to me saying this was probably the side effects of Decadron, a steroid,and Taxotere, one of chemo drugs, and suggested that I elevate my legs. I tried. Yet since it didn’t help at all, this time I asked for a diuretic. Then the doctor told me to check my potassium level in a few days as the diuretic could decrease it. I searched foods with potassium on line: raisins, bananas, watermelon, strawberries, nuts, beans, seaweeds, fish, turkey, avocados, spinach, tomato, etc. Thankfully there are so many that are rich in potassium. As this week my 5th chemo was put off due to the operation on the 14th, I’m going to cook those foods to keep my potassium level up.
Diuretic w/ a banana picture
Today I attended a pre-surgery teaching class in the morning and had a 2nd CT scan in the afternoon. The 2 hr. class was very helpful learning about how to prevent lymphedema ( which may be induced by lymph node dissection), post surgery exercise, drainage, prostheses ( Kaiser insurance covers them!) and so on. Especially knowing that the instructor was a breast cancer survivor was really encouraging.
Afternoon, I went back to the hospital to have the 2nd CT for my abdomen and pelvic area.
Yesterday my oncologist, who came back from her vacation, phoned and told me that the edema could be a chemo side effect but the difficulty of emptying my bladder was of concern; it could be cancer blocking the urination. So she ordered the CT.
Her concern is causing me anxiety, of cause; the same degree of anxiety as the time I found the lump.
I need to hold onto Jesus tightly. First I read “Praying Through Cancer-Set Your Heart Free From Fear”, the book George got for me: This has 90 stories of women with breast cancer who got encouragement and hope from the Bible. Today I read the 64th story. Then I read Psalm 31.
“So be strong and take courage, all you who put your hope in the Lord!”
The words in the Bible comforted me tenderly. Doctors and medicines are important, but my ultimate hope is in God who knows everything about me and has promised to be with me all the time.
It takes 3-5 days to get back the result. I am not going to think about “ What if” – that will drown me. Instead of looking at the stormy wave, I am going to walk on the water only focusing on God who is almighty.
As George and I came back from LAX to pick up my sister from Japan who has come to help me after the surgery, I found an e-mail from Kaiser. It must be regarding the result of CT-Scan, I thought.
“I’m so happy to report that the CT results did not show any masses suspicious for cancer. What a relief”, said the doctor.
Thank God!! I am so happy! George and I hugged each other! There is a still possibility that the cancer is not responding to the chemo, but at least metastasis was denied. This is all because of lots of people’s prayers and thoughts for me. I am so thankful!
Although my CT scan came back negative, as I stopped the diuretic, it was difficult not only to empty my bladder but also to even urinate. After midnight, getting nervous, I got up and sat at the computer to attempt making an appointment with my general doctor. Yet her schedule on the computer is full until two weeks from now. On Saturdays the urgent care is open until 7pm, but I am going to Temecula with my sister and sons to visit my parents-in-law driving 2 hours today. Should I try a same day appointment on Monday? I wonder.
Yet, George says I should see a doctor today instead of Monday, when I have an appointment with the surgeon already. So around 4 pm I left Temecula and stopped by the urgent care on the way home.
I was asked to collect a urine sample again, and the result was positive. I have Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) again! Although last week it was negative, it seems like this was the cause of all stress of this week regarding the metastasis. That’s it! Nothing else. However, the doctor says I can’t have surgery without fixing this UTI because I will have a high risk of infection. He prescribed an antibiotic, Cipro. Although the pharmacist tells me to take it for a week, the doctor says it should cure my problem by Tuesday so that I can have the surgery. Though I still have to confirm with the surgeon on Monday, if I had waited for the doctor visit until Monday, it would have been definitely too late to fix the UTI and I wouldn’t have been able to have the surgery. I am so glad I went to the urgent care today.
At 10 am, see the surgeon. Urinary Tract Infection will not be a problem for tomorrow since I had started taking an antibiotic on Sat. Yet there might be a blood clot that has caused swelling in my left leg, and if so, I have to take anticoagulant for at least 24 hours prior to the surgery, according to the surgeon.
After paperwork for the surgery and EKG, I had an ultrasound to detect blood clots. The result was clear! So now I am going to have surgery tomorrow. As the first person to have on operation that day, I will check in at 5: 15 am, have a surgery around 7am which will probably take about 2 and a half hours, and be discharged the next day if there are no complications. I used to get sentimental about having a mastectomy, but after I learned that under this pinkish skin there was dreadful cancer hiding and even chemo might be struggling to fight it, I am 100% ready for the surgery. Being encouraged by so many people’s prayers, I only hope the victory of the surgeon who will chop off this hateful cancer tomorrow.
Today at 7:30pm I got home from the hospital. Yesterday I remember seeing George at the bedside after listening to instructions of anesthesia and the next moment I was already in the recovery room. George was next to me, again and said everything went well!
I used a button of Morphine, which was connected to my right arm through IV, several times to ease my pain in the afternoon, but by 7pm when my sons visited me I felt so much better without pain or nausea that I could even laugh.
I need to recuperate about two weeks at home, see the surgeon on 9/27 and restart chemo on 9/30. The next hurdle is the pathology report on the 27th: I will find out if my cancer has responded to the chemo or not, and if I am cancer free or not. Anyway I could overcome this important surgery because of lots of people’s prayers. Gratitude!
It is not a good idea to stay in bed doing nothing after a surgery because you may develop pneumonia or blood clots, according to a nurse. On the 15th, the day after my surgery I was told to do respiratory exercises by inhaling and coughing ten times every hour. Yet, the next day I started coughing without exercises and by Friday I had a running nose, headache, and fatigue. Being persuaded by my family, I visited the urgent care again on Sat. yesterday. “ You have a cold,” said a doctor. I don’t know where I caught it, maybe at the hospital or maybe from George, who has been coughing for a while, but I need to fix it by next chemo on the 30th of this month. The prescribed syrup is very effective to stop my cough immediately but makes me sleepy. I am so glad to have my sister, who cooks every meal, does laundry, and vacuuming, here. I can rest being taken good-care of.
Spirometer Coach 2, a device to prevent pneumonia
A new school year started two weeks ago in Torrance. Because of a budget cut, there were big lay offs this year, again. Though I, a para-educator for Special Education, took a long-term leave until the end of Nov., I have a promised assignment because I’ve worked for them for more than 10 years. I can keep good health insurance, also: My payment for the surgery and admission is just $100, and that is a really good deal. I am thankful for that. I started receiving disability payments also because of breast cancer. I could say this is my right because I’ve been paying taxes. Yet I am grateful as I didn’t expect it at all. I wonder if we will still have such nice benefits once Obama health care comes into effect. Anyway I am glad that I can get a good health care.
I could get two of Mastectomy camisoles with drainage container-pockets ( $53 for each) for free with Kaiser insurance.
My sister Yuka, who was taking care of me, left for Japan. Two weeks she was here were almost like a vacation for George and me. Being relieved from lots of house chores such as cooking, laundry, etc, George could focus on his job, I could not only rest but also enjoyed the time being with her and even our dog could have a bath. For my mother-in law, who was going to come to take care of me taking day off from her work, it must have been a great help, also. If the surgery were in October, my sister would be too busy as she signed up to be a volunteer administrator for a Census, yet because the surgery was moved up into September, she applied for a passport in a week, left her family behind, and flew to L.A. While she was here, though I was concerned about my 87-year old father in Japan, who transferred to a senior hospital and recently has lost his appetite, he was also in God’s hand and could stay stable. Calling help from a family living far away is not always possible and I realize this was another blessing. After Yuka left, George and I, who went back to being two alone, thanked God for this grace. Without forgetting this grace, I need to get well soon and take good care of my two precious families in Japan and in the U.S.
Welcoming Yuka before the surgery
It was 13 years ago when I began organ transplant volunteering. A picture of Miyuki, an 8 year-old girl coming from Japan to L.A. for a heart transplant in a local Japanese paper was so much like my niece that it drew my entire attention. She passed away without finding a suitable organ, but my letters written to her and her family led me to volunteering. Looking back at those 13 years, though it looked like I was helping people, I realize it was me who was saved.
When I started volunteering, I didn’t know God. Or I should say I was a typical Japanese who bought everything such as charms, fortune telling, worshipping at shrines and temples – whatever people said worked. And if it worked, we believe it usually. Yet, what I saw through volunteering was a little different.
Families waiting for organ transplants but who lost their loved ones were crying with appreciation saying “ We’ll never forget your kindness.”
Families who lost their loved ones all of a sudden, at the most vulnerable moment, donated their loved ones’ organs without telling their names and knowing whom were the recipients.
I witnessed God who was called Immanuel-God is with us. I saw the cross Jesus died on so we could receive eternal lives. From then I fell in love with Jesus and decided to follow him.
“ Your path is tough, but you are now coming close into God’s big arms,” I used to say to patients and their families I met.
Since I found my breast cancer, this has become my own story. The path battling with cancer is not easy, but I’ve been in God’s big arms. God, whose name is Immanuel, wraps his arms around me who am weak. If I hadn’t begun volunteering, if I hadn’t known Miyuki, I might not have met God. I was the one who was saved through volunteering and Miyuki was my guide who escorted me to God.
George and I saw the surgeon today, two weeks after my discharge. One of two drains was removed from my body, and hopefully the other one will be removed in a couple days. We heard a pathology report, also: The size of cancer in the breast was 25mm, which was the same size as the first ultrasound’s report in May when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the grade (not stage) of the tumor was 3. The surgeon dissected all my lymph nodes under the left armpit, but 13 out of 21 were cancerous. Disappointingly, the chemo was working only minimally and the cancer may be still in my body. According to this report, I will meet a radiology specialist tomorrow, and the oncologist on Wednesday and hear about new treatment options. Though I hoped the chemo would be over soon, I will face the new challenge.
Meeting with the oncologist.
While a surgery and radiation therapy can get rid of local cancer cells and prevent reoccurance at the local area, chemotherapy takes care of the whole body, killing spreading cells.
In my case in which many cancer cells were found in the axiliary lymph nodes, there is a high chance that microscopic cancer cells are still flowing somewhere in my body through lymph fluid, and chemotherapy is a must.
I was using 1)Taxotere, 2)Carboplatin, & 3)Herceptin. 1) & 2) are chemo drugs that kill cancer cells and Herceptin is an antibody that prevents cancer cells from dividing and growing.
According to my pathology report, most cancer cells removed by the surgery were not dead but viable and this indicated the chemo was failing. Sometimes tough cancers like mine are seen among African-American women but it is rare in Asian women, said the oncologist.
Anyway we have to come up with new chemo. The problem is there is no manual for that, according to the oncologist.
However she will research, talking with her colleagues, and even with a non-Kaiser doctor such as at UCLA Medical Center and find the best chemo for me.
If I had had a surgery first and chemo second, I would not have noticed that the chemo was not effective until the cancer comes back. It was fortunate that we learned it during the chemotherapy. I can have a second chance to redo chemo and I should be thankful for this.