Monday, March 21, 2011

3 Years and Counting

On Friday March 18th at 8am it made 3 years that I have been cancer free... 3 years and counting. I have an appointment with my surgeon on Tuesday and if that goes well, I will be able to stop my 6 month checkups and do them once a year now. I have spent a lot of time thinking of these past 3 years and I realized I never talked about the surgery, my thoughts at the time or sharing of myself.

I had (being a Cloutier and all) closed myself off pretty good after I heard the "you have breast cancer" words. It is not easy dealing with cancer in my family more so then most other families. Our success rate is not that great. I lost my dad to it, my only sister a few years before I was diagnosed. It was difficult having to tell my mom that I had been diagnosed as well.

As I lay on that OR table trying to remember to breathe while the anesthesiologist was unsuccessfully trying to start an IV, I promised the nurses that I had better wake up after the surgery otherwise my sister in law who is an OR nurse would come back and kick some serious butt.

As the drugs started to work and I could feel myself sliding under I thought of my would have been her birthday that was so young to die at 37 and I silently told her I wish she was still here. I felt that she was watching me and that she would make sure I was alright to not worry.

The blackness kicked in and I went under. What seemed like just seconds I had closed my eyes I was hearing people telling me to wake up. I felt immense pain in my chest. I tried to speak but there was some tube in my throat which was bothering me a great deal. The nurses would tell me to settle down, that I was going to be fine but I needed to settle down. They said the airway tube was to help me breathe as my one lung had collapsed during the surgery. I made a sign that I wanted to write something down. They got me a clipboard and paper. I just wrote in big letters KEITH. They knew he was my husband but told me that I was in recovery and that he would not be able to come in. I was getting increasingly agitated, from some reason for not being able to move my legs, from the pain in my chest, from my not being able to breathe on my own. I wrote his name on the paper again and put several exclamation marks next to his name.

They told me again I was in recovery and I needed to calm down. I tried pointing at my legs..I guess they understood I was asking why I couldn't move my legs. By this time the nurses had gotten one of my surgeons to come in to talk to me. She explained to me about my lung, about the fact that the veins in my arms kept collapsing on them plugging the IV fluids and that they had to start them in my feet and when I kept thrashing around and had snagged the lines on the bedding a couple of times they finally had to strap my feet down to keep the lines in, she told me I had started hemorrhaging on the side that had the cancer in and that surgery took a couple of hours longer then it should have.

This did nothing to calm me down..nothing.... I was expecting to go in, spend a couple of days and go home. Again I pointed at the clipboard..and she just looked at my face then told the nurses to get Keith. He came in very worried expecting the worse. He just took my hand, kept brushing my hair off my face, and told me he loved me over and over again. I finally knew I was going to be ok if he was there to stay beside me. When he told me nothing would get him away from me I fell back asleep...that and a couple of very strong shots of narcotics.

By the time I came to again I had been transferred to a private room. I was still hooked up with my airway and the pain was still intense but Keith was still sitting there holding my hand. I went in and out for several more hours. It was early morning when I finally woke up for real. I had written a note to Keith a few hours earlier telling him to go home. I laid in the bed just thinking when I realized I was feeling very wet. I thought it was from perspiration but I was only wet underneath me so I rang the buzzer. The nurse came in and I pointed at my sheet. She turned the light on and saw I was laying in blood. She called the other nurse to call in the surgical resident and got some dressings. My dressing, which went completely around me, was soaked in blood. Not a good sign. The resident came in and noticed my right side was very swollen and assumed some of my stitches had given way.

They brought in an ultrasound machine and saw that I had developed a hematoma that was 6cm X 4cm. It had plugges up the draining tube so all the blood had to go somewhere so it just kept backing up till the area was so swollen it popped my stitches. He called in the surgeon who came back in. She has a wicked sense of humour and walks in after getting the scoop from the resident and says "You are just determined to go down in my history books right"...yup that is it exactly!

She had to go back in and clean the site up and redid the stitches. The anesthesiologist and she decided that my lung was re-inflated enough to take the tube out and just keep me on an oxygen mask. I woke up again in the recovery room but wasn't nearly as anxious this go around. I slept in and out most of that day and when I woke up I noticed Keith was there. We talked for awhile and he just sat with me when I dozed off and on. I remembered forcing him to go home. At one point in the middle of the night I called the nurse to tell her I neede3d to go to the washroom.She told me I had a catheter in there was no need and I told her she had better check it because I NEEDED to go to the washroom. She checked and sure enough that tube had blocked itself out. She said she would remove it and put another one in. Uhhh thanks but no..I did not need any more tubes in me I already had the oxygen mask, 2 draining tubes, an IV and a blood bag in my feet. She finally agreed. I had to sit at the edge of the bed for a few minutes to get my bearings and that was when I noticed a hard cover pink journal sitting there.

I figured the hospital gave it to all breast cancer patient and asked the nurse and she said it wasn't theirs. So when I came back I asked to sit on the chair for a bit so they could change my bedding and I went through the journal. I have been writing in journals for decades and here was this pink one with the pink ribbon emblem on it. Inside was a very long letter from Keith. It was so heart warming and touching that the nurses were crying when I was reading it out loud for them. He told me how much he loved me, that my breasts did not define who I was, that this was just another blip on our relationship radar.

4 pages of thoughts and words and pure love that came from his heart, mind and soul. Now you have to understand that Keith is not a writer, he is lucky if I can get him to sign his name to cards that I send out. I decided I was going to use this journal just for my journey, the good as well as the bad. All my cards, emails, and notes would go in here. That journal became so fat at the end of my first year it became my source of sunshine that first year when I had to have 6 surgeries in 10 months.

My family never gave up on me. My daughter, my mom and sisters in law came with me for my surgeon visits. my 4 year old granddaughter that I babysat would tell me when my drainage bags needed to be emptied and on days when I could not keep my head out of the puke bucket she was there with tissue and wiped my face cause she said she was my nurse. The women from church came day after day to clean my house and bring me meals. When I kept telling them I was fine and could take care of myself they ignored me and just came anyway. Not easy as a woman to accept help. For some stupid reason I felt it made me weak if I accepted help.

The people at my work (considering I had only been there 2 short weeks) never batted an eyelash as they covered my shifts. I was too stubborn to believe how badly I was. I refused to give into this disease. It was not going to take me down. I tried a support group once and never went back. I don't know if it was just this particular group or if all were like that but I have never been around so many negative people at one time. I could not see how being with so much negativity was going to help me in my recovery. I knew I had a huge support team that would bring me so much more positive reinforcement I left and never returned.

Every six months for the last 3 years I have gone for checkups and tests. This past Wednesday I had one lest nuclear scan and if all goes well, I will have graduated into a yearly maintenance and tuning checkup. I took this disease and turned it into a positive thing by helping others going through this process. I started volunteering with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I started fund raising...every dollar I brought in meant one more day that my mom, my daughter, my granddaughters, my sisters in law, my nieces would not have to be sitting in their doctors' offices and hear those words "You have cancer". This will be a fight that I will continue with my every breath.

People tell me all the time that I need to slow down, that I do too much... well in the words of Tim McGraw..."Live like you were dying". My life is too short to be spending it in bed, sitting around worrying about what might be, will the cancer return, what if I die...that's not me. I was at a Breast Health Series this past month and one of the speakers who was a Radiology Oncologist stated that people who say they are cancer free are not being honest with themselves. She went on to say that once you have had cancer you can never be free, you can be in remission but you will never be free from it.

I beg to differ. My grandchildren believe I am cancer free and that is good enough for me. If anyone wonders what it is that gets me through my day through all I have been through..what motivates me, what makes me beleive...see the pictures below and you will get your answer to that. Thanks for listening and letting me unwind.