Another Surgery, Another Scar

My right ovary: 1980 to 2017. Rest in peace.

The surgery has come and gone, and now I am walking around with one less cyst and one less ovary. They have been expertly removed from my lady parts, and I am the proud owner of a 5.5-inch incision. 

This incision extends from my belly button and an inch into my… special area. The doctor stapled the incision together, and my metal buddies will be evicted tomorrow. My scars tend to fade after two years so my vertical reminder of January 10 should be nifty.

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Not pictured: the entire incision because this is not that kind of blog.

For this surgery, I had my first experience with a nerve block. The hospital’s pain team sold me  on this by telling me the block helps minimize the use of opiods and speeds up recovery. 

Sold! 

I vividly remember tripping hardcore on morphine after my mastectomy. I remember that I had a conversation with someone who wasn’t in the room. After that happened, I asked the nurses to please get me off morphine asap.

My wish coming into this surgery was to not recreate that experience. Of course I didn’t want to be in pain but I’d rather not be tripping. It’s not fun. I wanted to find a less mind-altering pain relief than morphine.

Unfortunately for the nerve block to work, I still experienced stabbing pains in each side as they jabbed giant needles into me. I screamed and proceeded to cry. Learned later they didn’t wait long enough to let the meds make me all loopy and not care about the giant side stabbing.

Oh well.

I woke up in recovery and learned I was on a morphine PCA.  At least it wasn’t a drip but it was still the dreaded morphine. I vowed to refrain hitting the green button as long as the pain allowed. Because of the nerve block, I got my wish.

I stayed in the hospital for two days. My lady doctor told me she was impressed at my progress and eager to get out of bed. Thanks to the nerve block and a nurse who understood how much I wanted to get off morphine, I made a handful of trips down the hallway, shuffling with my two IV poles and then with  my consolidated and heavy IV pole.

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Seriously. It was a heavy pole.

She had no problem sending me home on Thursday. 

It’s been a week since the surgery, and I am doing better than I was led to believe after this surgery. I take Advil during the day and the pain meds at night. I don’t move much, and every time I sneeze, I feel like someone slapped my incision. When I get up from a sitting position, I groan like an old lady and have to take a second to straighten myself out.

My ex was kind enough to watch the dogs for me as I recover, and I am beyond grateful. I do not think I would be in as decent shape as I am now if my 50- and 100-lb dogs were around me. I get them back on Friday. I do miss their company.

I don’t know if I am going to be off the full four weeks and then part time the next two weeks. That all depends on my doctor and how she thinks I am doing. I imagine the insurance company wants me back sooner than she does. 

Part of me agrees with them because time off means my finances take a hit, while the other part of me is screaming, “conquer that ever-growing to read pile you created, you damn fool!”  

I guess I am not used to resting. What a “weird” problem to have. My job and running take up so much of my time that resting is so foreign to me. I always feel compelled to be doing something. I like being challenged.

Until I am told otherwise, I am going to chill out.

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What is this rest thing of which you speak?

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Half marathon…. check

I did it.  I freaking did it.

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Pre-race selfie and post-race selfie

 

I ran 13.1 miles today, and I didn’t stop to walk.  (I did stop for water breaks, but I’m not counting that.)  I’ve been training for this day for months, basically since last October.  This time last year, I was still recovering from five surgeries over the period of two years.  I was 10 to 15 pounds heavier, and I lacked direction.  I didn’t know how to change my life and bounce back from all the crap done to me during breast cancer.  I hated what cancer had done to me physically with all my scars, weight gain and the reconstruction.

I’m now in the best freaking shape of my life.  I have never looked and felt like this, even before cancer.  I have a feeling of purpose with running.  During all my treatment, I remember how absurd it felt to hear people say to me, “Oh, you’re so strong.  You’re a fighter.”  That always struck me as odd because I had never felt so physically weak and just beat up.  Like, seriously, who was I fighting and winning?  Cancer treatment puts the patient in a very passive role.  I didn’t do anything – rather, treatment was done to me.

I feel strong now, and I have realized that I’m not strong nor was I ever strong because I had cancer.  I am now strong even though I had cancer.

During the last three or four miles of the race today, I actually started getting flashbacks to my time in the chemo ward.  I could see myself in the chair, looking out at the other patient.  I remembered that feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.  I’d snap out of that flashback and just ran harder.  Then I flashed to my hospitalization after my double mastectomy, and how much pain I felt.  I’d snap out of that, too, and ran harder.  It was like Runner Lara was running like hell away from Sick Lara, like I am finally able to put that period of life behind me (knowing damn well that it can always come back).

Nothing I can do will prevent breast cancer from ever coming back, either local or distant.  What I do today, like putting on a pair of shoes and running, is what i can do.  That’s the only control I have – this very moment.

This race was such a huge deal to me.  It was to see if I could even do it and a big fuck you to cancer.  Now it’s done and in the (Lara) record books, it’s time to move on.  I’m definitely not cancer girl anymore.

I am a runner.

Get Up Running – Kerry

I recently just “met” Kerry through another friend of mine, Michele, who has had breast cancer and runs races.   I am meeting a lot of women who’ve had breast cancer and who are also runners – awesome!  Anyway, here’s Kerry’s story.

Name: Kerry

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Type of cancer and treatment:

Dx Oct 2008 @ 42 yrs, IDC, Stage IIIa, Grade 3   [ed note: breast cancer, for those who don’t know what IDC means – invasive ductal carcinoma]
Right Mx, no recon
FEC-T x 6
25 rads
Tamoxifen
Ooph
Arimidex (still taking)
3 years of Zometa, 2 x a year

Were you a runner before cancer?

No. I was always really active; I walked everywhere, hiked, canoed, gardened, etc, but hadn’t run since high school.

While I was in the middle of chemo, I decided I wanted to work hard at getting physically strong after I was done. Running seemed like an obvious choice. Chemo hit me quite hard. FEC made me throw up, and Taxotere gave me terrible bone pain, from which I was basically bedridden for a couple of days each round. I remember lying in bed feeling so terrible, so weak, and just wishing that I could feel strong again. I ended up hospitalized after my 5th round of Chemo (febrile neutropenia) and remember being taken from the ER up to a ward. There I was in a hospital gown, bald, IV pole, in a wheelchair, and I’ll never forget the look of pity and fear on the faces of people we passed. I never wanted people to look at me that way again.

I also did a lot of research about what I could do to increase my odds of survival, and time and time again I read that exercise would lower my risk of recurrence. It seemed like a no – brainer to prioritize exercise after active treatment ended.

I am also on an AI, one of the most common side effects is joint pain. I read one of the best ways to prevent this is, again, exercise. I do feel a difference in my body if I go a couple of days without running. I went through early menopause right after radiation, when I had my ovaries removed. I hope that running helps counter some of the negative long term cardiac effects of that, and some of the long term effects of chemo.

Did you run during treatment? How long after did you take it up?

I didn’t start running until after treatment ended. I walked during chemo, as much as I could, which towards the end was often just walking my kids to school and back. After chemo I started walking longer distances, and about 6 months after I finished up everything I started running a bit. (I live in Canada and had to wait for the snow to melt) I started off running small distances during my walks, and slowly increased how much I ran, until I was comfortably running 3 miles at a time. On a whim I decided to try and run 6 miles, which I did! Not long after that I decided to train for a half marathon, and about 7 months after starting running, (about 2 years after diagnosis) I ran my first half marathon. I have since run 2 more half marathons, and next month will run my 4th full marathon.

How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally.

Physically and mentally it has made me so much stronger. I truly think running is saving my life, and my sanity.  I came out of treatment with some extra steroid weight, feeling pretty weak and hammered by everything. Emotionally I felt quite vulnerable, it is such a shocking thing to happen, and I was not particularly hopeful about my long term survival. I think that when you are in the midst of active treatment you are in fight mode, but afterwards I think running gave me something positive to focus on, like I was still doing something to fight the cancer.

I also think that having gone through some pretty aggressive treatment, that cancer has helped me as a runner. I have often thought during a hard run, if I can get through chemo, I can get through this. I think it has given me the strength to not quit when the going gets tough.

What did your doctor say about your running?

My onc says it’s the reason I am doing so well. He is totally supportive.

What is your biggest challenge running after cancer?

Ha, well, I didn’t have recon, and sweat and a silicone prosthesis don’t mix! I had a couple of near embarrassing situations before switching to a foam prosthesis. It makes me look a bit lopsided if you looked closely, but I really don’t care.

I have had bursitis twice in my heels which I blame (possibly unfairly) on Arimidex.

I also have had occasional hand lymphedema after very long runs.

What would you say to someone just out of treatment who may be intimidated to take up running?

Well, I would say to start slow. You don’t have to be out running marathons. There is a huge benefit of just exercising for 30 minutes a day. Consistency is the most important thing. Start out with an easy, non-threatening plan, something like couch to 5k. Don’t worry about speed, don’t be afraid to walk. Just get out there and do something. Think of exercise as a key part of your treatment plan, the survival benefit is similar to chemo. And it’s far more fun 😉

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Get Up Running – Marjie

Welcome to the inaugural post for what I hope can become an inspirational series about running during and/or after cancer – Get Up Running.  This should go without saying but if you’re recovering from cancer and want to start running, clear everything with your doctors beforehand.

My first friend to respond to my inquiry was Marjie from Pink and Pearls.  This woman has the kindest soul I have ever encountered, and I am so privileged to count her as a friend.

Name: Marjorie Miller

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Type of cancer & your treatment: 

Breast cancer; surgery (I also had childhood Leukemia at the age of 12, and for that, three years of chemotherapy).

Were you a runner before cancer or any other sports before cancer?

I ran my first 5K literally the same day I found a breast lump. (race that morning, found the lump in the shower that afternoon). I started running a few months before diagnosis, but was never a runner before cancer.

Did you run during treatment? If no, how long after treatment ended did you take up running?

Yes, I tried to run in between surgeries. I had six total surgeries, including a double mastectomy with reconstruction and lat flap. After each surgery when I got the go-ahead from my doctor to resume physical activity, I attempted to run again. It didn’t always happen with the expanders but I tried.

How has running helped you during and/or after treatment, both physically and mentally?

Mentally it helps me feel like I have control over my body again. It helps me feel in control of my health and my life. Breast cancer took my breasts but it can’t take what I do with my body, which is running. When I run it’s just me and my body; I have complete control. I take myself as far as I want. I push myself as much as I can. Nobody else gets a say when I lace up my sneakers. Physically it’s made me stronger and healthier. It gives me so much self confidence. It gives me energy, helps me deal with stress and anxiety, and I feel it keeps me sane 😉

What did your doctor/doctors say about you running?

They applaud it and encourage it.

What has big your biggest challenge running after cancer?

Being comfortable with the implants. My chest still feels tight and I am still regaining muscles under my chest wall. Running sometimes hurts and pulls at my chest.

What would you say to someone ending treatment or just out of treatment who might be intimidated to take up running?

Take it slowly. Take it one day at a time. Start with what YOU feel comfortable doing. Remember: when you run, you run for you and nobody else. My husband said to me before my first 10 miler a few weeks ago: “Just run YOUR race.”

You’re only running for yourself. Not to impress anyone else. Start with walking, slow jogging, taking breaks, whatever you need. You’ll find with time your energy and stamina will grow. Your confidence will grow. It does get easier and the more you do it, the more you love it.

Run happy!

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11 Miles

On Sunday, I accomplished something I never thought I could do – I ran 11 miles in two hours and three minutes.  When I began Fleet Feet’s No Boundaries program last July, I wasn’t even sure if I could run a 5K.  I thought to myself, “Okay, you signed up.  That’s the first step.”  I ran the Pittsburgh’s Great Race 5K in 31 minutes, and I was so proud of myself afterward.  When I saw that Fleet Feet was offering a training program for either the half marathon or full marathon, I hemmed and hawed about it for days.

No way I can run 13.1 miles.  You are out of your damn mind.

After I shook those “I can’t” thoughts out of my head, I signed up for the training group, and I have no idea why I ever thought I couldn’t do this.  Now that I have an 11 mile run under my belt, I know that I can run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon this May 4.  I am going to do it.  Even more so, I am going to run the Pittsburgh Half in two hours.  That’s my goal.  Whether or not I meet that goal, I’m going to be proud that I crossed that finish line.

Cancer is something that my body does.  Running is something I choose to do.

When I cross that finish line in just over a month, I hope my mother is looking down from wherever she is, shouting, “HUFFMAN RULES.”

More than just a pet

In the months prior to my diagnosis, the Boyfriend and I had been discussing when it would be a good time to get a dog.  One of the many reasons we had bought the house earlier that year was its double lot – perfect for a dog.  For about five months after moving into the house, we devoted most of our time and energy into clearing up the backyard, which the previous owners apparently forgot was a part of their home.  Weeds, years of un-raked leaves, literally garbage behind the detached garage, and so many “garbage” trees and a fence falling apart.

Once we got that all cleaned up, the next step was a dog.  However, that fall, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Two months into my treatment – including the initial shock, lumpectomy and beginning chemotherapy, I had come to the conclusion: it’s not a good time to get a dog.  I couldn’t see managing a dog, working full time and undergoing treatment for cancer.  Even though I was working from home, I still thought it would be a terrible idea to get a dog.

When the Boyfriend called me from the local animal shelter in mid December because he couldn’t think of a Christmas gift for me and somehow found himself at this shelter, I didn’t protest at all.  In fact, I forgot about all the reasons why I shouldn’t get a dog, and all I could think was:

omgpuppiesomgpuppiesomgpuppiesomgpuppies

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Boomer at 8 weeks old

The shelter named her Brandy Butter, but we named her Boomer, after a character on Battlestar Galactica.  (Back story: when he and I first started dating, one of our favorite things to do when we hung out was watch this show together.)

Two days after we adopted Boomer, or she adopted us, my hair fell out.  I vividly remember going into my bathroom, taking a pair of scissors, cutting off my shoulder-length hair because my scalp hurt like a mutha.  I stared at my reflection (and a crazy-looking woman looked back) for a couple of moments, and then I said aloud, “Fuck it.  Go downstairs and cuddle your puppy.”

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This is me, cuddling a puppy.

During chemotherapy, Boomer wasn’t just a pet to me, she was a welcome distraction.   Before we adopted the dog, my brain was pretty much all cancer, all the time.   What if it’s really not Stage 1?  What if I can’t withstand chemo?  What if I go into anaphylaxis?  What if this is just the beginning and will never end?  When Boomer came into my life, I had to worry about her.  Did she need to go outside?  Is she hungry?  Wait, it’s way too quiet – what shit is she chewing up?

Boomer was a positive light in a very dark time.  Sometimes she tested the very little patience I had, but at the end of the day, she was a cuddle monster.   She followed me around (like a puppy, har de har har) and when I was crying because I was positive I just couldn’t take any more treatment, Boomer would just stare at me, head tilted in worry.

Why so sad, Mom?  You can just pet me, Mom?  I’ll make it better.

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Boomer was also something positive I could talk to friends and family about during treatment.  I would tell them about my most recent treatment or surgery, but then I would tell them about the newest cutest thing the Boomer dog just did.  My Facebook status updates were half cancer, half puppy shenanigans.

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When I was recovering from chemo, Boomer was my reason to get outside and start walking.  If it wasn’t for her, I would have stayed inside much more than I did.  I’d get out of the house 45 minutes a day, or I’d take her to the dog park on the weekends.  She kept me from becoming a complete shut-in during chemo and radiation.

Me and Boomer after my double mastectomy

Me and Boomer after my double mastectomy

After my double mastectomy, I was on FMLA leave for six weeks.  Boomer kept me company while I slowly shuffled up and down my stairs and slept off my pain medication.   We posed for selfies, we slept on the couch and we went to the dog park when I had to get out of the house.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have children and sometimes, I don’t know if I want to have any children.  This might be the part where you think, “Oh great, she’s going to compare her dogs to children.”  Nope, not in the slightest.  Boomer and Mal are my beloved pets, and I adore them with everything I have.    I’m going to take as good care of them as I can until death do us part.   I love Mal, but Boomer is definitely special to me. Boomer is more than just a pet – she’s the creature that got me through two of the roughest years of my life.  She was my lifeline during treatment.