24 November 2011

Epiphany at Thanksgiving

Epiphany - noun - a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely or commonplace occurrence or experience. 

You know the final scene of Dickens' Christmas Carol, where Ebeneezer Scrooge, enlightened by the meaning of Christmas, opens his window on the village below and wishes passersby a Merry Christmas?  Well, that's how it is for me this year with Thanksgiving.  Upon leaving work yesterday, I was wishing everyone (and I mean everyone!) a happy Thanksgiving.  I even hugged building security on my way out.

I have always loved Thanksgiving and the concept behind it.  A day to give thanks to God for all our blessings.  A day to enjoy the family.  But this year is different.  It's more than a "concept" and so much more than a day.  In reflection of all that has happened, healthwise, this year - recovery from gallbladder surgery, colon cancer, breast cancer round two/mastectomy surgery, my brother's colon cancer - it's actually been a very BLESSED year and I am so much richer, more blessed, and in a better place for it.  My heart is filled with joy, thankfulness, love, and compassion because of the experiences of this year.

Yes, we went through some tough times....BUT, today, on November 24, I am alive and well.  Not only that, but I am thriving.  This year, I saw my daughter graduate nursing school and move on to be a successful pediatric nurse.  I have seen my son thrive in his job as a project manager.  I have witnessed the love shared between my future son-in-law and my daughter and the respect and caring they have toward one another.  I have known true love from my husband who has been there for me every step of this journey...and who worries about me.  : ) 

I am blessed with a close family...that love and care for me.  That are there for me.  That support me, pray for me, cooked for me when I came home from the hospital.  I am thankful for a mom that came over to take care of me, even when she wasn't feeling well herself....who loves to spend time with me, watch dr. phil, judge judy and oprah with me....and give me advice on what vitamins to take and what books to read.  I am blessed with a closeness between my brothers and sister who send me sound clips of TV shows of the past - no brag, just fact - who text me to see how my doctor's appointments went, who buy me a bag of 36 popsicles when I just mentioned that "a" popsicle sounds good, and who share with me the stories of my nephews and nieces to put into perpective the beauty and preciousness of life.

I am blessed with a handful of true friends who are there for me through thick and thin.  Who email me throughout my day, one or two sentences, to commiserate about how we wish were were home now, or to share our days - happy or nerve-wracking --, or send me funny photos at just the right time.  : )   Who share crochet patterns with me, and laugh with me.  Who reach out to the homeless with me and who work toward making the world a better place.  Who rent a van and drive all the way out to Carpinteria, potluck in tow, to cheer my daughter and I cross the finish line after walking 39 miles for breast cancer.  AND THEN...who sign up to walk those 39 miles with me next year!  You have made my life better - every one of you. 

I have another family - a church family - that I am grateful for.  These are family members some of whose last names I don't even know. But it's not important.  We're all part of a larger family.  These are people that come up to me on Sundays, embrace me and ask how I'm feeling.  And tell me that they have been praying for me.  I know.  I can feel it.   I am humbled by them.

I am in tune as well to the blessings of my body and how it is working, despite it's problems.  The coordination it is taking for my brain to put the thought into motion, typing it on my screen right now, seeing the words pop up, hearing the clicking of the keys while being able to hear Segovia play Mendelssohn's String quartet No. 1 in E flat major.  Miraculous.  Smelling and tasting the coffee.  Feeling the warmth of my robe, enjoying the light in my dining room, and the love of my kitties that are "kuskurduvel"ing on against my legs. 

I am thankful for all my medical providers, whose hands - guided by God - helped me be here today.  My surgeons who removed cancer, re-routed me, created new parts for me -- I am truly grateful.  And for the nurses who took care of me around the clock ....and even the workers that cooked the meals in the hospital, and those who came and cleaned my room.  I appreciate them all so much more now.

I think I could go on and on...all day.   The Epiphany of Thanksgiving...on this very special Thanksgiving, is that everyday is a day of thanks.  The miracle of life is a blessing.  Our hearts beating, day in and day out since the day we were born; the wonder of our bodies working on their own...breathing without our conscious effort.  And the realization that we are not alone here...we all are part of one another.  We belong to one another. 

Life is precious and I am so blessed to live the life I do.  A full life.  A life filled with love and fullness because of so many who grace it. 

It has been an amazing year!  A Blessed Year!  Happy Thanksgiving!

19 November 2011

Team In Her Shoes - Walking Glendale

It was a beautiful fall morning.  The air was chilly and crisp, there were clouds teasing us of a chance of rain, but seven of us on Team In Her Shoes met at the Von's market in Glendale at the 134 to train.  It was our very first training walk.  We met between 7:00 a.m. and 7:15 a.m.

We are Team In Her Shoes.  We're the sister organization of In His Shoes a group that rallies support for those who are suffering in the world.  This year, we decided to sign up to participate in next year's Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Santa Barbara because we are putting ourselves in the shoes of those who are fighting the battle with cancers of all types, but namely, breast cancer.
We have 19 team members signed up to walk.  And we have all committed to raising a minimum of $1800 for breast cancer.  Raising the money is not as hard as training.  The walk takes place over the course of 2 days, and we'll be walking 39 miles.  We started off today in Glendale with the goal of walking 3.2 miles. It was a fun walk.  We kept the pace and walked down and through the Americana and back up to the 134.

Along the way we stopped for photo ops at the new Armenian consulate building, and the Christmas tree at the Americana.  It was a fun morning and a great way to start off a productive day.

Would you like to donate to team In Her Shoes?  Please email me at anush@pomegranate-n-eye.com  I'll be setting up our team donation page.  Do you have a business that would like to sponsor our team?  Would you like us to walk in honor or memory of your friend or loved one?  We're here to do that.  We are putting ourselves In Her Shoes!

Like us on Facebook:  "Team In Her Shoes"
Find out more about In His Shoes outreach:  www.inhisshoes.org

PMPS? Or What?

You know the feeling of being bitten by an insect where you get that sting feeling followed by an itch?  And then you have that terrible need to scratch?  Now think of that same feeling, but imagine that your body was numb, so no matter how you scratch or try to remedy that the itch, it doesn't help, because the feeling is not caused by a bite on the surface of your skin, but by nerves that are damaged in your body.  This is what I've been experiencing for the past 3 days.   It's been rough.

Three days ago, I was woken up from my sleep by shooting nerve pains.  The pain started at my incision site below my underarm but deep inside.  It was so intense I didn't know what to do.  Rubbing the area was futile.  As hard as I rubbed, I still couldn't get relief since my incision areas and areas around them are numb.  That first night the itching/stabbing pain lasted about 15 minutes.  The next morning, it came back...on and off throughout the day for short bursts.  By the following evening, I was wincing in pain.  The attacks were lasting longer.  Unable to sleep, I tried an ice pack, then icy hot, then arnica gel.  Nothing worked.  Motrin.... 800 mgs.  No relief.  I got up and tried to research the net.  Googling "Terrible itching pain at incision site after mastectomy" I found a link describing my symptoms and a thread called PMPS or Post Mastectomy Pain Syndrome.  As much as I found relief in reading that others were having symptoms like mine, I am still concerned that this pain is going to be chronic.  What I read stated that there was no "cure" and people were living with the pain.  Up to 30% of post mastectomy women experience this, but the medical community often dismisses it because it's nothing that can be pinpointed, and there's no cure.  

The following day, exhausted, I had to go to work.  The pain was terrible, and throughout the day in my cubicle, I found myself applying pressure to my incision site....pushing, massaging, leaning forward in my chair.  Trying everything possible to get it to stop.  I called the doctor.  "My appointment is not til the 23rd.  But I'm having this terrible pain and I can't seem to get any relief.  I wanted to call and let you know.  The doctor had said that I did have some swelling at my last appointment and I still do.  Is there anything I can take for the pain?"  The receptionist told me she'd discuss it with the surgeon and get back to me.  Fine.  After an hour she called back.  Nothing can be done.  The doctor told me that as long as the breast was not red or hot to the touch, it was okay.  Otherwise, I would just need to let it get better on its own. "The nerves have been cut, and they're regenerating."    I mentioned what I had read about PMPS, but it was dismissed.  "What if I don't get better?"  "You will."  :::shrug:::

Last night I was exhausted from pain, and lack of sleep.  I tried the heating pad on the area.  During the day I had my Rx for Norco refilled.  And today I have been taking it around the clock.  It seems to have helped a bit though it leaves my  head wonky.  I've also limited my caffeine as I read that it over stimulates the nerves and makes you more susceptible to the pain.  The attacks are not as bad though they are still there.  I've also been trying to stretch my arm out during an attack.  In my thinking, I imagine that it's "stretching the nerves" that may be rebelling or pinched or unhappy.

I wanted to post this because this pain was completely unexpected...and not explained to me as a side effect of mastectomy.  You think when you're post op, and healing that you're out of the woods...and then BAM it hits you.  And from what I read, this can be experienced even a year or two (or more) after surgery.  I also wanted to put PMPS out there, in case others are having these feelings/pain.  There's not a lot of info out there, but we're not going crazy.  That feeling of being wrapped in barbed wire is not in your head.  It's in your nerve endings and very real. 

I hope and pray that this will get better and that I do not suffer from this syndrome, but that I'm just healing.  I'm still trying to figure it out.  For now, the pain seems managed, and I'm going to try to get some sleep while I can.  

08 November 2011

Fall Seven Times -- (One Week Post Op)

I went back to work this week -- Wait!  It was only yesterday.  Geez...okay, so you can tell how exhausting it's been....felt like Thursday.  Thankfully, I don't have a physically demanding job -- I work at a computer all day -- but still, sitting in one place and dealing with work demands has been draining.

The drain site is still sore even though the drain is out.  It's going to take time to heal.  I am still heavily bandaged...and I always forget to allow extra time to my morning/evening routine.  Changing dressings takes me an extra 10 minutes.  I was told that there can be absolutely NO PRESSURE applied to the wound site, so I have layer upon layer of gauze stacked up to help me achieve this.  
Tomorrow is my post op appointment with the surgeon.  I'm curious if he'll remove the stitches.  The Steri-Strips are still in place (they haven't fallen off yet like they said they would).  We'll see.

Another big change has been that Ani has started working the night shift at Children's Hospital.  This is going to be a "regular" thing for the next year.  I'm so used to having her around.  And now, when she's working, I don't get to see her but for an hour, when I come home and she's getting ready to leave.  We are getting creative in our texting.  I've been staying up late working on jewelry, and we'll send a text here and there at odd hours just to "check in".  But the house is quiet now, and it's a big change for me.  That, coupled with the darkness after the time change, and it's a bit gloomy.  : (

That being said though, all in all, I am feeling optimistic.  I have been thinking a lot about this past year now that we're just a couple months from the end of it.  It's been a tough ride, and 
I'm ready for the New Year to start.  But I am also grateful.  Yes, it's been a tough year...but I am alive!  I made it through, and I'm still fighting!  : )  

"Fall 7 times - stand up 8." Japanese Proverb
That's it right there.  Just keep on standing up!  Keep fighting for what you believe in.  Life is precious!

04 November 2011

Rain, Drain and BlogWorld Again!

It's November 4, just 3 days after surgery.  Today was the BlogWorld Expo at the L.A. Convention Center, and DV, Suzie and I had planned on going prior to my surgery.  It rained today and my brother didn't want me driving so soon after surgery, so he decided to come pick me up at the house and we'd go together.  I'm doing well...for being only three days post op, there's been very little drainage and after a call to the surgeon's office it was decided that I could have my drain taken out today.  This is a wonderful thing.  The drain leaves my body right under my right arm pit....with tubing that continues to a Jackson Pratt drain that hangs from a clip attached to my waistband.  Not only is it ugly, but it's very painful.  So the idea that I can have this removed today is wonderful.

So first things first, the three of us checked in at the BlogWorld Expo.  It's so much fun.  We went around to all the booths learning about blogging, marketing, monetizing, promoting, and picking up great swag from tshirts, and back scratchers, to insulated cups...you name it.  Belesh!  "The Next Step with Fr. Vazken" Podcast was nominated for a People's Choice award for best religious podcast.  As Suzie is the producer of the show and DV is the host, we were anxious to find out if they had won, but found out that the winners will be announced tomorrow (not today).  Here they are relaxing at the SouthWest Airlines both at the convention center:

Blogger also had a cool photo booth where we took our individual photos.  Here's mine:

After several hours of the show though,  I have to admit that I was exhausted.  My arms and shoulders were aching, and I was just pooped.  We decided to drive out to Encino, closer to my surgeon's office and find a place to have lunch rather than staying around L.A. and risking the traffic.  It was raining, and things were getting messy.

We had lunch together and then made it to the doctor on time.   After a definite okay from the nurse, they removed my drain!  I also have permission to shower now, rather than taking a sponge bath.  More great news.  

Hand bruised from three tries to get the
IV line started
Forearm is bruised as well....
another two tries there.  Imagine, he wanted
to then try my neck!
I am still bandaged but healing okay.  I'm still pretty bruised up from the whole IV line fiasco.  I'm posting a couple pics so you get the idea.  So I went to the doctor today, and the nurse removed my drain!  Afterward, the doctor checked in on me.  I showed him my bruised hands and arm and thanked him for not letting the anesthesiologist tap into my neck vein.  He said, "Well, at least you have a sense of humor about it...I just didn't see why we couldn't use your bad arm for the couple hours we'd be in surgery."  Okay by me!

I have a follow up appointment on November 9 -- next Wednesday, when hopefully, I'll get my stitches removed.  Til then, just taking it a day at a time.

02 November 2011

In Praise and Appreciation of My Mom

It's day one of post-op.  I got the call yesterday from my mom.  "I'm coming over to help."  I am blessed to have such a sweet mom.  At 78, she has health issues of her own: arthritis in her knees, back and shoulder.  Still, when her babies are hurting, she wants to be there for them.  I had to admonish her this time, "Mom, I love that you're coming, but please, don't bring food!"  Even though she agreed, I know that she's bringing something that she deems "healthy" for me.  So maybe some fruit, or some Trader Joe's tomato/red pepper soup, some produce that she picked up at the Armenian market.  She won't come empty handed.  That's how she is.

My mom has always been there for me.  She has been my mom, my friend, my prayer support.  To this day, when we go to visit her, or drop her off, she stands at the door waiting for us to pull out of the driveway.  I tell her to relax, we can show ourselves out, but she stands there so she can pray after us for a safe 3 mile journey home.  I have to say there is comfort in this....as a mom myself now, I do the same when Ani leave for work every morning (really early...even on weekends!).   I make her wake me to say goodbye.  I stand at the door and say a prayer for her, for my son, for my family...that God keep them safe and wrap them all in the wings of His angels.

This year, with all my surgeries, we have had a lot of mother/daughter time as I have spent over 10 weeks off work recuperating from the cancers.  This week I'm off 4 days.  Our time together is good.  I am more of a "peace and quiet" person...I like to read or listen to music.  Mom is more of a TV person.  She likes to fill me in on all the shows that I miss while I'm at work.  This runs the gamut from The Doctors, to Judge Judy, Dr. Oz, Oprah (back when she was in her final series) and of course, Dr. Phil.   For the time that I'm home recuperating, when mom is over, we have the TV on.  It's always great to shut it off at the end of our time together...but don't get me wrong, when we are together, it's a change of pace for me as well and I love the time that we share talking through the show, predicting outcomes.  I'm always the cynic when it comes to Dr. Phil and his advice, or Dr. Oz and his generalizations about how this/or that is good for the general populace.  But she doesn't listen to me.   She takes notes during Dr. Oz, and goes and researches the various vitamins.  At 78, I have to say, she has taken a few falls and thank God, she hasn't broken anything (knock on wood!), so I'm guessing all the vitamins are working for her!

Then there are the books and magazines.  My mom is an avid reader.  She is usually reading a couple books at a time.  These are either financial self help books, or biographies about anyone and everyone (Dr. Phil's wife, Winona Judd, and who knows who else.)  When she finishes these books, she always brings them to me to read.  I never accept them because I don't have time to read the books that I'm reading.  But she tries.  : )  She also brings over magazines with notes written on the cover as to what page the articles I should read are on.  These articles range from news on refinancing our home (which we've been trying unsuccessfully to do), finances, health articles, breaking news about how chocolate is good for you, and how a handful of blueberries can help stave off cancer.)

So I'm sitting here, knowing that mom is coming over soon.  And I'm so grateful and feel so blessed for the relationship that I share with her.  Our time together is precious to me and I am blessed to have such a wonderful, warm and caring mom in my life.   When she comes over, I'm going to share this with her...and I know that she'll get her "bunny nose" -- as we call it -- when she gets all choked up and her nose crinkles.  She's the best.  I love you, mom!

Surgery Part Two: Reconstruction

It's a little past midnight.  The wind is howling in Sunland this early morning rattling my doors.  I've been napping on pain meds since I got home from outpatient surgery this evening and now I'm awake til the next dose kicks in.  My day started at yesterday midnight when the doctor's orders were "nothing to eat or drink after midnight."  Eating is not a problem; but no water or the morning coffee is a bit tougher.  Still, I did okay, and made it to the Surgi-Center at New Age Aesthetic's - my surgeon's practice in Encino.

I met with the anesthesiologist who attempted to start my IV line.  Attempted.  I have only one good arm for this type of thing, and that one they can't use because of all the surgeries, lymph node dissection, and because the veins have been scarred beyond use from all the surgeries.  Not wise to use it anyways, unless it's an absolute necessity.  So SEVEN tries on the left arm.  I have never had such an experience.  I usually get the comments that my veins are very small...and they attempt my crook of the arm...and usually advance to the back of my hand.  But this doctor tried 7 times.  Two in the crook of the arm, three in the back of the hand, 2 in my underside of my forearm...and then gave me the option:  Either we try in the neck (EWWWW!) or we try the right arm.  All this time I'm praying for him to find a vein.  I asked him to please call the surgeon in the other room, and ask him what he suggested.  We opted for the back of the hand on my right, and thank God he finally found it.  Needless to say my left arm is nicely bruised.

Then I had to be photographed...the "before" pictures.  Humiliating.  But because it's reconstruction from a medical point of view, it's required by the insurance.  Okay.  Then meet with the surgeon for markings.  It's totally like the beginning of the TV series, Nip/Tuck when you see the doctor marking up the patient with dashed lines on the skin.  He explained to me what he was going to do.  I had a lot of hard scar tissue under my arm area where the incision was made 18 years ago for the lymph node dissection, and then more scarring on top of that from the mastectomy.  He wanted to remove that a bit.  Then some contouring to remove the necrosis (more hard areas), and then creating a nipple.

Then into the operating room where I was put in the usual "crucifixion position".  Arms out to my sides and restrained.  As always, in my head at this point...and at points throughout this whole cancer, I start reciting the 23rd Psalm in my head.  This beautiful Psalm helped me get through my daily radiation treatments and brings me a lot of comfort when I need it most.  I love the verse, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."  It's beautiful.

Anyways, I woke up in recovery.  My hands are still swollen from the IV fluids.  And I DID have to have a drain, despite my positive thoughts not to get one.  Hopefully it will come out on Tuesday.  I have a lot more pain than I thought I would have.  Especially in the exit point of the drain.  Every time I get up from sitting, or lying down, it's a sharp pain.  I have to empty the drain 4 x a day and log the drainage.

I am hopeful that this will be the last surgery for the year.  For now, I'm just going to think positive, work on healing, and taking care of myself: mind, soul and body.

If you are dealing with breast cancer, reconstruction, etc, and need to ask questions, talk about it, etc.  I'm here to help:  write me at ahnoosh@ca.rr.com