Back Healing Progress!

A week ago, I expected to wake up in horrific bain pain. On Sunday, I had painted interior doors, vacuumed the whole upstairs, mopped, and danced a little while making dinner. All of these things had previously caused me so much pain. Dinner gets made with the power of a painkiller. I took one that evening. And that morning too. I had done everything lefty that day because the right side of my back hurt so intensely that I didn’t want to aggravate it.

Monday morning rolled around, and I got out of bed expecting to have burning pain radiating out from my spine into my ribs. I expected every movement to hurt, even breathing. I expected to reach straight for a painkiller on my way to the bathroom.

I didn’t.

I woke up and I felt fine. It was so weird and a welcome breakthrough in my pain and healing. I didn’t need anything for pain Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Thursdays I have a longer commute to work, and my back doesn’t like it, so I started rotating Tylenol and Ibuprofen that day and on Friday too. Friday I added a lidocaine patch to the mix.

The Thursday the week before, I had started listening to a meditation on healing on my Insight app. It’s really soothing before bed and only about 20 minutes long. I think it’s helping to focus some energy on healing.

Last Tuesday was the 10-week mark. I don’t know why it took me so long to start feeling relief from back pain. The standard recovery period after kyphoplasty is 6 weeks. I know my body is healing from more than just back surgery. I had ablation too, and that really upsets the bone. Plus the hip healing and cancer in general probably slowed healing down. I feel encouraged to have made progress and not hurt constantly! Managing pain 24/7 makes it hard to feel hopeful sometimes. I’m grateful for painkillers, over-the-counter and prescription.

Husband and I went for a walk tonight before making dinner. I like feeling like I can go for walks again! I did a little yoga, too, and held a plank for a few seconds. Also, I’ve noticed that I feel more compassionate when I see someone else walking really slowly in the neighborhood. Maybe that person is recovering from surgery too. Never know. I’m just glad to be out and moving and celebrate others doing the same thing!

One last thing, my back MRI results read as ‘unremarkable.’ So terrible pain happens for no apparent reason. My oncologist forwarded it to the Spine Clinic on Sept 23rd. I still haven’t heard from them. I kept saying that I knew it would get better, and it did.

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Horror Movies & Me? I tried!

My husband looooves good horror films! I’ve seen more scary movies during the time we’ve been together than I ever have in my whole life. This summer, we saw Midsommer. While parts of it were funny, and super creepy, or disturbing, I felt emotionally drained at the end of it. C was impressed I made it through the whole thing. I think I kept my eyes open during most of it.

Then we saw It: Chapter 2 last month. I couldn’t watch a lot of it. I’m jumpy as it is, and the movie did a good job at making me jump.

Anyway, I’ve decided that after watching scary movies, I feel drained and tense all at the same time. My jaw gets tired from clenching for however much time. My muscles, yeah they’re still coming back, feel sore. My brain gets overloaded with all the emotions a scary movie makes you feel. I don’t like it. It’s too much to process. Maybe it would have been better to watch at home where the screen isn’t so big.

I tried. I may try another. I enjoy movie dates with my husband, which is why I go in the first place. The horror movies, though? They’re not my fave. I really enjoyed Ad Astra! And Once Upon a Time in Hollywood! Can anyone else relate?

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10th Anniversary of the Most Horrible Day of the Year!

September 21st used to be the most horrible day of the year for me. Ex died 10 years ago. I have always said every year it gets easier. It’s still true. This year just wasn’t a big deal.

Little Guy and I went through a family grief support group this summer. He has been to a several weekend camps for kids who have lost an immediate family member. I had never experienced a group therapy setting. I went to counseling during the year after Ex died. It was by myself and infrequent.

With the help of a trained professional, I was able to tell Little Guy his dad died by suicide. Finally! We were both relieved. I had evaded the question and left things vague until the end of May this year. When Ex died, the counselor I saw said that I didn’t need to tell him then. He was only 4. She advised that I give him little bits of information over the years. Since he was so young, he ran the chance of forgetting all about his dad, too. That didn’t happen.

I had always intended to tell him with a counselor present who could help us both through it. She prompted Little Guy about the feelings that came up for him with every new detail and encouraged his questions. We had a really good talk, and it’s still hard for me to talk about the day it happened and what I believe led to it.

Little Guy’s first question was “Why?” Sorry buddy, the note Ex left was not helpful. I shared my theories. The second question was, “Did he do it with the chainsaw?” I thought this was hilarious! He asked it seriously. But no, he didn’t. He didn’t ask that day how his dad killed himself. That came up later in the summer during therapy.

Little Guy and I had some great discussions, often late at night, in the dark on the couch or in his room. And some heartbreak for him too. At first he didn’t want to believe that his dad died by suicide and that it was an accident. I had to reassure him that no, it wasn’t an accident. That sounds weird to reassure Little Guy of the truth in this case. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

The first few weeks after I told Little Guy brought up the most questions and feelings It got better after that. We were a couple weeks into the group counseling, so I had some tools to help him through it this time! Yes! And myself! Double yes!

Little Guy also told me that he had blamed me for the divorce. I still need to talk more with him about this. I’ve gone the route of it was a mutual break, and it was. Of course, there’s more to it, and I want to explain little bits at a time. Be honest, gently honest.

Anyway, Little Guy had a pretty easy time through his counseling sessions. The kids were separated into small groups by age, and all the adults (all moms this session) went together in a room for counseling weekly for ten weeks. He related to a lot of the other kids, who had gone through much more recent losses by suicide. Since it wasn’t as fresh, he didn’t remember a whole lot from when his dad died. I still remembered a lot and cried at some point during every week’s meeting. Sessions stirred up memories in a healthy way and let me release some of the burden by sharing parts of my story with the group.

I dreaded this year’s anniversary. I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be harder after going through group counseling? Easier? I also knew that I had a high chance of having to work that day, a Saturday this year. I was right. Since I was still dealing with extreme back pain, I was tracking my medication and remembered the anniversary when I wrote down the date that morning. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to notice and remember. Probably would have been at work filling out a form. Woof! I’m glad I remembered at home before I had to face the public. I had my whole drive to face grief and put it to the side when I got to work. I kind of forgot about it the rest of the day. Snippets here and there. It was pretty easy.

I hope that I gave hope to the other moms in my group that it does get better and being a full-time single mom becomes normal and less hard as time goes by. I struggle more with physical pain now than emotional. That’s also getting better.

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Podiatrist visit

I’ve had pain in my left foot where the third and fourth toes connect to my foot ever since I trained and ran two half marathons three years ago. It aches constantly, but not so much now that I’m not working out or running. If I stand too long or walk too far or my foot gets stepped on, it doesn’t like that.

Since I now freak out about bone pain because I think it’s fractured and will therefore get a tumor, I had it checked out with a CT scan. Nothing. It was clear. My oncologist sent me to the podiatrist with a guess of a Morton’s neuroma.

I saw the podiatrist on Friday, and she did a bunch of tests, like squeezing my foot from the sides, and pushing on the pain point with her fingers. Then she started tapping on my ankles and legs, which didn’t feel very good on both legs. Her diagnosis: not a Morton’s neuroma. She thinks the pain is related to nerves in my back.

It makes sense. My feet feel numb when I’m standing and I look down. I can feel it shoot all the way down my back, back of my legs, and to my feet. My back is still healing from surgery, and I swear something is sitting on a nerve, even if the preliminary MRI read otherwise. She also told me to wait to hear from the Spine Clinic for a better MRI interpretation because sometimes they subcontract those out to people all over the world and get less-than-accurate results.

I expected to get an injection in my foot for the pain, but she said it would probably make it worse. She and I talked patient-to-patient about pain and anxiety, and how the two can feed each other because it can remind us of when we weren’t well and what it meant then, and the tension increases, then the pain, then more tension, etc. She recommended a few things I already do, like meditations to address anxiety, and some new ones, like aromatherapy and acupuncture, which I haven’t tried yet but have wanted to. I have always heard it’s amazing for back pain. The hospital has an integrative medicine clinic that offers acupuncture. I will call next week.

We talked about shoes, and she gave me a shoe guide. The good ones cost money that I don’t mind spending to keep my feet happier. She pointed out what to look for in a work shoe that would support my feet and let them relax better in the shoe. I need shoes with sturdy shanks that support the mid-foot when walking, and a shoe with a strap, so if my shoes are loose, I’m not gripping the shoe with my toes to keep it on. She recommended two orthotic insoles and said her husband swears they cleared up his back pain. I’m already wearing good, supportive work shoes, but I don’t have a strap on them. They used to fit a little loose, but my feet have some minor swelling post-surgery that have filled the gaps.

Ok. My painkiller is kicking in, and my brain is feeling numb, so I’m going to go back to bed. I’ll keep healing! Pain will get better!

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Milestones – Take a look at me now!

Six months ago today, the cardiac department wouldn’t let me leave the hospital after an echocardiogram and admitted me to the ER for emergency heart surgery that saved my life! All that pressure on my heart being gone relieved my cough eventually.

Next Wednesday, Oct 2nd will be the 6-month mark of femur surgery. I couldn’t walk or dress my lower half by myself, and now look at me cruising around and not needing help to change outfits. 🙂 Still not fully recovered. I get around just fine though. Going up stairs is still challenging and a little painful in the hip, and totally doable!

Six months ago, my back and ribs hurt so much I ate ibuprofen all day every day. Hmm, well, this one hasn’t really changed that much. Back surgery aside, I enjoyed the effects of radiation to my spine for a couple of months because it relieved the majority of my pain.

Six months ago, I would go to work, not really wanting to. What I wanted to do was just lie down, or at least put my head on my desk and take a little nap. All day. Cancer was killing me right before all our eyes, and I just thought it was bronchitis or pneumonia or the most persistent cough in the world. And my everything hurt.

I still have days when I just want to lie my head down on my desk at work because I’m tired and hurting. I don’t. I can go to my car and take a rest if I need to during lunch. I often do because it helps my back chill out for a little bit. The feeling of wanting to lie down at work alarms me and reminds me of how I felt last winter. Now that feeling goes away though. Yes, with the help of a pain pill here and there. I get relief. I can breathe. I can do meditations that require breathing and not have to stop to cough or because I can’t breathe. I know it sounds silly to be so grateful for something so essential. I did a  breathing exercise the other night, and I thought to myself, six months ago, I couldn’t do this. Take a look at me now!

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5-month checkup 9/20/19

I had my five-month checkup on Friday. My cancer antigen (carcinoembryonic antigen that measures inflammation) went from 4 to 2.3! It’s in a “normal” range. My doctors and nurses assure me that I am not normal. Haha.

I had a brain MRI and back MRI starting at 7:45 a.m. Results show the two brain lesions, which were millimeters in size to start, have continued to shrink. My back has given me round-the-clock pain to manage since surgery on July 30th. I don’t have the results of that scan yet. I hope the doctor will be able to tell me why it hurts so much. Also, lying in an MRI machine for an hour gets uncomfortable.

Next I had CT scans of my chest, abdomen, and left foot. Lung mass decreased from 1.5×1.6 cm to 1.4×1.1. In total, it’s about a third of the size it was in March. My left foot has hurt for a long time, like since I ran those two half marathons three years ago. I had worried that I had a tumor or a broken bone in my foot. I have neither. My oncologist Dr. P, also a runner, suspects a morton’s neuroma. He thinks it’s a bundle of nerves and sent me to a podiatrist. Whatever it is, I hope something can make the pain stop because it’s really annoying all the time, especially in the middle of the night when I’m not sleeping due to back pain. I have an appointment next Friday.

Blood work all came back within normal ranges for everything, except that I’m a little anemic again. It could be due to my period. Even though it’s extremely light, it might be enough to throw my levels off. It’s explains why I’ve been so cold lately. Anyway, did you read about the normal ranges for everything else! Normal!

I met with my oncologist next and didn’t have a ton of questions for him this time. I really think my back will get better and that I need to give myself time. I asked about a flu shot and he said, “Yeah! Do you want one?” I said, “Yes! Wait. Right now?” He said, “Yes!” Boom! A nurse came in and got that done.

Infusion, or my bone shot, was worthy of mention, only because I got a treatment bay all to myself that was second to last in the whole, long row, #35, and it had the best mountain view. Debbie was my nurse this time. She’s good about injecting my shot really slow so it doesn’t hurt.

Next I had a break for about an hour and a half until my palliative care appointment at 4. I read. I laid on a bench. The podiatrist’s office called. I replied to texts from work. I listened to some gentle stream track on my Insight meditation app.

Palliative care went well. I saw Dr. T this time. Appointments with him give me an emotional hangover almost. Like his questions mull in my mind overnight, then I feel overwhelmed by it all the next day. I’m not very needy. He tells me to work on this. We discussed pain killer use because I am using them again for my back, not a ton, not even a whole dose. It’s the only thing that works when I wake up at 2:30 in so much pain that ibuprofen or acetaminophen don’t touch, so I have a snack and take a pill, and then I can go back to sleep after it starts working 20 minutes later. I need a pill about once a day, almost always in the morning, and then the pain’s knocked down for the rest of the day. I can manage the rest with over-the-counter meds. Just have to put the pain in its place from the get-go and stay on top of it the rest of the day! Anyway, he said not to worry about my use and that pain killers are essential in cancer treatment. He said to let him worry about my use, and that if he saw something concerning, we would have a conversation.

I read an article/booklet produced by the Lung Cancer of Colorado Fund while I was waiting to see the oncologist. Another lung cancer survivor had written an article about living with the disease for the last 10 years. 10 years! He runs, he hikes, he does all the things I hope to do again. The article gave me so much hope! He wrote that he focused on healing from the disease as opposed to fighting the disease. When I was really sick in February and March and couldn’t figure out why, I would listen to a meditation on Insight’s app called “Our Power to Heal & Repair” by David Ji. Same mindset about healing ourselves, and I think it’d be worth focusing on again.

Not much else to say. Still feeling really good, aside from the back pain. I’m looking forward to getting my back MRI results and going to the podiatrist! Next check up is in 4 weeks.

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I Can Put On My Own Socks! – Recovery Overview

As much as I loved coming home from the hospital, it sucked to not have nurses taking care of me and keeping my pain pills on a schedule and helping me to the bathroom. Also, by the time I came home, all of the milk of magnesia and laxatives had started taking effect and gave me the opposite problem: exploding diarrhea! That lasted for a few days.

Going to the bathroom was one of my biggest challenges. My walker didn’t fit width-wise next to the bed, so I would have it sideways next to the bed. To get out of the bedroom, I scooched my way sideways with the walker to get to the end of the bed, turned it 180 degrees to the right, then had to wade through a snake’s nest of oxygen tubing to get to the door, open the door and then go forward a foot, then scooch sideways to get into the bathroom because the door didn’t accommodate the width of the walker either. Add to this exploding diarrhea and a bladder infection from the catheterization. I had to go often and with urgency! Now make it nighttime, and I’m navigating all of that in the dark. I had to wake C up in the middle of the night for the first couple of nights to help me get to the bathroom, if I could even make it in time. If I didn’t, I had to ask for help to change my underwear because I couldn’t dress myself yet. Also, if I went too fast on my journey, I had trouble breathing. The process of getting to the bathroom was sooo hard for the first week or two!

I looked forward to getting into our new house so much while I was using my walker. In our new house, the bathroom would be attached to our bedroom and a straight-shot from my side of the bed. C and I both daydreamed about it. We closed on the house on April 26th. I was still using oxygen 24 hours a day and had progressed to crutches. I could walk independently a little. Took my first few steps the next week, exactly 4 weeks after surgery. We moved over Mother’s Day weekend, on May 10th because C’s family could help us. Thank goodness!!! It also gave me a little more time to get stronger, though I was still only able to direct the packing, moving, and unpacking. No lifting for me.

A lot of my co-workers and both my bosses visited while I was at home recovering before the move. I got cards in the mail, food delivered weekly for the first month, and one of them brought me ice cream from my favorite ice cream shop. I got fun presents in the mail that made me laugh. The food helped out though. C and I appreciated not having to think about dinner planning.

I started working from home part-time the week after we moved into our new house. I also did radiation to my hip and femur that week midday. It was tricky. Lots of driving. And I still needed to nap at least once a day. I remember wondering if I would be able to work four hours a day when I first started. Aside from the first week, it was almost too easy. I was off oxygen during the day as of May 10. Three weeks later, I was ready to go back and work 30-40 hours a week, and work half my hours at home. I’ve worked full-time at work since July. It took about a month to build my endurance.

As far as treatment, I’ve had a doctor’s visit every 4 weeks until this month. Every visit involves blood lab work, then a visit with the oncologist, then a bone shot to regenerate some bone growth. The first visit was on April 12. After a week of being on my treatment pill, my cancer antigen number had fallen significantly. It started at 1700. On May 10th, the number had decreased by half. I wanted to cry some happy tears. C’s sister had accompanied me on that visit. As a nurse, she nerded out over everything. This antigen falling trend continued every month. When I went in August on the 9th, my number was 4. Four. That’s right. Four. A normal person’s range is between 0 and 3. I had an MRI and CT scan in June, and those showed that except for in my bones, the tumors in my body have shrunk by more than half, and some of them completely went away. Treatment is working! I’m feeling great! Aside from some fatigue and lingering pain, I seem normal.

I had surgery on my spine on July 30th to stabilize two vertebrae which were at risk for collapse because the cancer had eaten away at too much of the bone, and I had fractures. Still have fractures there and in other bones. The doctors did ablation and kyphoplasty. Ablation heats up the bone to kill any remaining cancer cells, and kyphoplasty is bone cement. Walking feels better, more stable, but healing from this procedure has taken a lot longer than I expected. I still can’t lift anything without it causing terrible pain. I have to take pills to manage it around the clock at the moment, and the pain wakes me up at night. I want to do stuff, like go for walks, strengthen my legs, do some pushups, and I have to do mostly nothing. I know it will get better. I just need to give myself time to heal. The best news from that surgery was that my bones are finally starting to grow back.

Next oncology visit is on September 20th with scans. Also, I can put on my own socks now. I had to ask for help for months with that. I could do everything else by myself by June when I went back to work.

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