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    MaryMoo shared an experience

    Radiation (External radiation ): I had daily radiation for 6 weeks. The actual radiation didn't hurt at all. I did not feel a thing. The harder part was mental - going every day (except weekends) for 6 weeks felt like an eternity. I was the first appointment of the day and it was very close to my house, but it felt like a ball and chain after a while. One of the nurses was a bit cranky, so I decided I was going to tell her a different joke every day to try to get her to laugh. After a while, she caught on and asked me why I was doing this. I told her that I figured she probably had a lot of challenging patients - kids, old people in pain, etc. and that I wanted her to start off her day with a laugh and that hopefully she would look forward to coming to work to hear a joke. It made a huge difference and she was never cranky with me anymore. I also hired a yoga teacher (thank goodness I could afford this) and she came to my house every day after radiation. We first did Qi-gong, a Chinese technique that is said to remove the extra, negative energy. After that we did yoga and meditation. I am very fair skinned and prone to sun burns. My skin did not even turn RED during six weeks of radiation nor afterwards. My radiation oncologist (MD Anderson Cancer Center) said she would not have believed it unless she had seen it with her own eyes. I think this was instrumental in allowing my reconstruction to proceed as well as it did (see my post on reconstruction surgery). The thing I was NOT expecting was that several weeks after radiation, I started feeling very tired. Four years later, I am still struggling with fatigue. So, some people will tell you they "prefer" radiation over chemo, but that's not always the case. I have NO residual side effects from chemo and I would more chemo if I could have avoided the fatigue and tightness from radiation. The good news is that it slowly gets better every day.

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    Drug or Chemo Therapy (Chemotherapy): Chemo was not easy but I thank the patients who have gone before me as they have helped the doctors really reduce the nausea effects. I did 4 treatments of A/C (each 4 weeks apart), followed by 12 weekly treatments of Taxol. The day after each A/C treatment, I was confined to bed. Thanks to the steroids, each day slowly got better so that about 7 days afterwards, I was pretty much back to normal, work-wise and around the house. I had very little anemia. By the 28th day (again, thanks to the steroids), I was feeling great! And then it was time for another treatment. Taxol was much easier on me. I would feel crappy that afternoon and then after I had a bowel movement (no pun intended), I felt good again. During Taxol, I even went skiing on Spring Break with my daughter. My goodness, did it feel good to be on the ski slopes. If I had known how good skiing would make me feel, I would have moved home to my mom's house in Colorado to have my chemo - seriously! My advice is to find something physical that you love to do and DO it! Of course, like most folks, my hair fell out. I was ready for that. I was NOT ready to lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. That was a bit tougher than I thought it would be. My white blood count fell pretty low after the first treatment, so they gave me a shot with each A/C treatment after that. The shot cost insurance $7000. From the insurance company's point of view, this is a bargain if it keeps you from getting a bad infection and going to the hospital. However, it sure felt like price gouging to me and I felt very bad for patients who did not have access to this drug. I think the drug company has more than made their money back on this medicine and they should consider a more reasonable price.

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    Procedure or Surgery (Breast reconstruction - implant AND flap): I had a rather unusual reconstruction experience that I would be happy to talk to anyone about. During the mastectomy, it appeared that the doctor got clean margins, so the plastic surgeon put in a tissue expander. The plan was to expand the reconstructed breast over 3 to 6 months and then replace it with an implant. Unfortunately, about 10 days after surgery, the detailed examination indicated that the margins weren't clean enough. My surgeon had done the best he could, so I don't blame him at all. It was very much borderline and they said the decision to do radiation was up to me - it was not strongly recommended. I decided to do radiation but that made the reconstruction more complex. During the six months of chemo, we slowly expanded the breast. Just prior to radiation, we deflated it. After radiation, we re-expanded but it was pretty painful and we could not fully re-inflate as the tissue was pretty tight already. For the reconstruction, my plastic surgeon (the BEST one in Houston) did a latissimus dorsi (back) flap to create a small pocket for the implant and then put the implant inside the new pocket. Implants can't go next to radiated tissue - they tend to get encapsulated. Although I am happy with the result, I still can't wear a bra 4 years after the surgery and I have to work constantly to keep the muscles flexible. I see a massage therapist twice a month to help as well. This surgery took longer to recover from than the mastectomy - a good 6 weeks. It was another 6 weeks or so till I felt like I could start my normal daily life.

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    MaryMoo shared an experience

    Procedure or Surgery (Mastectomy): I had a wonderful surgeon and the procedure went as expected. The recovery was very tough, though. I had never experienced soreness like this in my life. Pain medicine helped but all I wanted to do was clutch a pillow to my chest and keep pressure on it. It took a long time to get the strength and flexibility back. You MUST do the stretching exercises they give you EVERY day and do NOT lift things before you are allowed to. I was not able to do much of anything for 3 solid weeks and my doctors said that was a fast recovery. I was in pretty good health before the surgery - not overweight, normal blood pressure, etc. It was a good 6 weeks before I felt like I could do simple tasks like go to the grocery store by myself. It does get better, but you have to be patient and do what the doctors and nurses tell you.