Breast cancer and the treatment of it can bring changes to your body both welcome and unwelcome. Of course removal of the offending cancer is always something to be relieved, if not happy, about. But we all know there is a cost associated with said removal. It can change the way you look and feel in ways you may not have imagined.
I am a breast cancer survivor and my story is one of the better ones. My invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) was detected early so I had a lumpectomy and one lymph node removed from under my arm. I have no obvious disfigurement to anyone who sees me fully clothed. I have a scar for each of the removals, one on the left breast and one under my left arm. I also have a lump that wasn’t there before in my left breast about the size of an almond, which I have to monitor for change in size and shape. The oncologist tells me that lump is fat necrosis. I know nature abhors a vacuum so it filled the void left by the lumpectomy with fat cells that apparently died…at least that’s how I understand it. And the surgery under my arm affected my nerve causing numbness in the area. You would think that’s no big deal but you would be wrong. If I get an itch in that area, which happens fairly often, I can’t relieve it. Remember the area is numb so I can’t feel it when I scratch so the itch persists until it finally goes away on its own.
My tumor was progesterone receptor negative (PR-), estrogen receptor positive (ER+) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 positive (HER-2/neu+). What does all that mean? In my simple mind it means that the estrogen in my body helped to support the tumor development and the HER2 factor allowed it to be more aggressive. Knowing these facts about the tumor allowed the medical team to determine a proper course of action in my treatment. I was treated with two types of chemotherapy and a special, relatively new drug for the HER2 factor.
When you go through cancer treatment, you are told to expect certain temporary side effects. Of course I experienced hair loss which I was told about. I had my chemo treatment from February through June and that year I remember we had a pretty cold winter. Having hair is much more advantageous than I ever realized. When I was bald, I often wore a hat to bed so I could stay warm. What they didn’t tell me was when my hair came back, it wouldn’t be any thicker than the hair an infant has. Prior to treatment I had a full head of shoulder length hair. I now have to keep it very short so it doesn’t separate into stringy strands on my head. I also have very sparse eyebrows and almost no eyelashes. But at least I have hair. The treatment I had is the subject of lawsuits from people who have permanent alopecia from the same drug.
The way chemo works in your body is, again my simple explanation, it kills any fast growing cells, including the good ones. That’s why your hair falls out. But it also impacts your fingernails and toenails. You have to keep them very short because they will separate from the nail beds and are subject to damage from catching on clothing, etc. This is all well and good but they don’t tell you that the condition doesn’t always correct itself. (WARNING:SQUEAMISH ALERT) The nails on my big toes are not completely connected to the nail beds, and I’m nine years out.
I also developed tear duct stenosis. It made my eyes run constantly while I was in treatment. They ran so much and likely contained some of the chemo because I actually had burn trails in the corners of my eyes from the tracks of my tears (nice title for a song, right?) I no longer have the burn trails but my eyes continue to run daily. Because my eyes were always running, my nose felt the need to get in on the action too. So, you guessed it…my eyes and nose are always very productive.
All of the drugs I was given have the side effect of peripheral neuropathy. While I was in treatment, my feet would burn and my hands would tingle. I would get numbness and cramping when I walked. I still get spontaneous foot and leg cramps and periodic spasms in my feet. This is especially prevalent when I walk long distances or am on my feet for a long time. And I love to go for long walks.
After having said all of this, I am still so very grateful for my survival. I have minimal damage to my body and the residual side effects do not keep me from having a very busy and fulfilling life. While I would love to have a healthy head of hair, eyes and a nose that don’t run like water, and feet and legs that don’t betray me, this is the experience that changed the trajectory of my life and led me to my passion. It’s a gift I was given and I’m happy to accept it all.
As a health coach, I work with women to find their power to overcome health challenges and live a fuller, happier, more energetic life. If you would like to have a free consultation about the health challenges you have and the improvements you would like to see in your health, click www.karensammer.com/contact to schedule a no strings attached call.