While I was diagnosed as cancer-free in September, cancer stuff will never completely go away. One of the PAs in the Cancer Center met with me a few months ago to outline my long-term plan: mammograms and ultrasounds every six months for five years, then annually after that; appointment plans with oncologists (every three months for a year, then six months for two years, then annually), radiation docs (every six months), breast surgeon (every six months for a year, then annually), and plastic surgeon; and my final surgery.
I had my final surgery during spring break last month. This time to reconstruct the left breast to match the right one. I had to wait six months after radiation before I could have reconstruction, which meant eight months (surgery was in July, then waiting period, radiation, and another waiting period) of two completely different breasts. The new right breast was perky and sat high on my chest. The left breast showed signs of my 40+ years and the tolls of gravity. There was more than an inch difference in nipple placement, and because of areola resizing, the left was twice as big as the right.
Since June, I’ve worn a “regular” (nonsurgical) bra only a handful of times. I had to lift up the left side to try to get it to look like the right. I used breast inserts to try to get the shapes to match. It always started out okay, but within a few hours, gravity won, the inserts shifted and everything looked lopsided, lumpy and weird.
Reconstruction surgery went well. It’ll be another month or so until everything settles, but I’m pretty close to “matching.” I’ve retired the scarves and asymmetrical necklines that have helped mask the difference. And the scars are very faint already.
Unfortunately, in follow up with my oncologist over the last few months, my blood work has shown some abnormalities indicating a concern about my liver. Levels of certain liver-function/enzyme tests were elevated. Between October and February, four of the five liver tests were elevated. By April, one test was one point higher than the normal range, but a second test (ALP levels) just kept getting higher in the five times my blood has been tested since October. It wasn’t at “dangerous” levels, but my oncologist was “mildly concerned.” He ordered a bone scan, since this particular enzyme could be indicative of something wrong with the bones as well as the liver (since the other liver tests were closer to normal, concern shifted to my bones).
So I was injected with a radioactive tracer, sent away for three hours for it to collect in my bones, and returned to lay on a table for two hours while a machine took images of my skeletal system.
I could tell what part of my body was being imaged by the questions the tech asked:
Have you ever broken a bone in your arm? Yes, my wrist when I was like 11 or 12.
Have you had issues with your hips? Yes, I was born with hip dysplasia.
Which hip? Both hips.
Have you ever had spinal issues? Yes, I was diagnosed with an S curve in my spine and treated for scoliosis from elementary school through high school.
(Side note: after 18 months of all kinds of medical tests, hospital stays, and doctor visits, anything that requires minimal invasion and just laying on my back listening to music WINS. Bone scan = not bad, perhaps among my favorite tests of 2014-2016.)
The results came back a few days later – all clean, no issues. With lack of any other areas of concern, we’re now working on the assumption that I have naturally high ALP. Or I’m growing.
Otherwise, I’m feeling great. Work on my stamina continues, after a four week hiatus post-surgery. After being fairly non-active for the last 18 months, it’s a pretty big hurdle.
WHEW. You had me super scared there, JLT! xo