Surviving Breast Cancer Survivorship

I couldn’t be happier. Ok I might be a little happier if I had my original breast. And if I didn’t ever have cancer. And oh if only I had my 22 year old body back. But I am recovering from another surgery and am so happy with the results. Here’s what happened.

As we were planning our move to Canada, we had to gather lots of documents, including our health records so I could transition my case to an oncologist here in Ottawa. I am in what’s considered ‘survivorship’ mode, which means over the next 4 more years I will continue to take cancer meds, and have a close eye kept on me through exams and mammograms.

One of my areas of frustration was the chronic pain I was experiencing on my left side (chest, trunk, arm, arm pit). I had been discussing this pain with my doctors over the past year and it just wasn’t improving. I decided to talk to my plastic surgeon at UW to get his opinion on a long term plan for managing, or some possible solutions.

We decided that we would remove the large implant that was put in at the time of mastectomy and replace with a much smaller one in an effort to improve a portion of the pain issues. This also meant he would be reducing the size of my right breast, by removing an old cosmetic implant and replace with a much smaller one.

The solution sounded like it was worth trying as I was literally starting to go crazy with the pain. But we had a problem. Monty & I were moving in 6 weeks, and fitting a surgery spot into Dr Poore’s schedule was likely impossible. As luck and fate would have it, while we were discussing this in the exam rooms, one of the staff said Dr Poore had a cancellation next week (this was late January). So they asked me if I wanted to take the slot and have surgery a few days later. I said ‘yes!’.

The surgery went very well, although it ran a little longer than expected. The reason for that, once they got in there, they found and removed a LOT of fibrosis nasty tissue. This explained a lot of my pain. This bad tissue was a result of being super-cooked in radiation.

About a week into recovery I was already feeling improvements in those areas that gave me so much grief before. I literally have wept a few times for the relief I am experiencing. My swelling has improved, and I don’t feel the tugs and pain in my chest from strain of an implant. I am so happy I underwent the surgery, because we NEVER would have been able to resolve the pain from the fibrosis through anything but surgery.

I am so happy with how my new chest looks. More importantly I have less pain! So what if I’m a little lopsided. I am proud of my scars. It means I survived and I’m tough.

This is tough to read but it’s a pathology report of the skin and fibrous tissue they removed. Important take-away: negative for carcinoma.

I am not pain free. I do still have nerve pain from my radiation that drives me crazy, but we are trying other ways to manage it vs taking opioids. However I would say my pain has been reduced in half. And that, is huge.

I am sharing this with you for a couple of reasons. The first of which is I know many of you are interested in my health updates.

Secondly, this serves as another reminder that breast cancer survivorship and associated issues extend for so many of us beyond the initial primary treatment plan that first year after diagnosis. Many of us are left with residual pain, issues and mental and emotional scars that are significant. I’m sure this is the case for many people who have dealt with other cancers or other health issues.

So let’s once again be mindful of each other and take care of each other. I internalized my suffering (and still do) because I feel like I just wear people out. But for me just getting acknowledgement is often enough to help me feel a little better. I try to make an effort to listen to other people if they care to share, things that are troubling them, and showing care and interest when I talk to them.

I admit I do feel a little validated after the doctors told me what they removed. From the outside, of course you can’t ‘see’ what was causing me pain, so I kind of felt a little like ‘told ya’.

Finally we must take-away the importance again of advocating for oneself. My husband was the one who encouraged me to pursue this and I’m so happy he did. I think I have been so beat down with trying to explain my pain, and visiting with the doctors regularly over the years, that I just kind of gave up and dealt with it. I’m so glad we kept pushing forward. The results are worth it. I hope you find the strength to advocate for yourself. I know it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable, but it will hopefully be rewarded.

Thanks for reading and listening to my story. See I feel a little better again by sharing. More importantly I hope it helps you find your voice or remind you that you are not alone. xo Pdub

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