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Tag: breast cancer

Post-biopsy Recovery

Smaller breasts have more densely packed nerve endings and hence are more sensitive. I never knew that.

I learned this as the radiology tech pulled and stretched my breast – and eventually my shoulder, too – through the hole in the lead-lined table and into a position where she could clamp it tightly between paddles. Focused radiation beams transmitted digital images onto the computer screen a few feet away.

The invasive radiologist came in and opened a window in one of the paddles — everything happened though that window, I’m told. I was frozen in place for the duration and could only see the computer screen. The last image showed several dark holes around a u-shaped titanium chip.

“I got them all,” the doc told me with a warm smile and a squeeze on the arm, reminding me how glad I was that I didn’t get this done by the cold, clinical male doctor who was all business, the one who had read my original films and recommended this procedure. After talking with him I sat in my car in the parking lot and cried.

The breast surgeon had told me that her patients said good things about Dr. Kelly McAleese, and they were right. Dr. McAleese kept up a steady stream of conversation to distract me from the things that were happening. I felt like she was a caring person, and I like that in someone who has the power to save or damage my breast. She had good energy.

The best thing I did was take the valium to calm my anxiety. Instead of the uncontrollable steady stream of tears punctuated by sobs which have been the hallmark of so many other scary and uncomfortable medical procedures in my life, I was able to face the whole thing calmly. Because my body wasn’t tensed up and then depleted from the internal anxieties, the healing already seems easier. There were still moments of pain, but the anxiety was muted and the rest of my body wasn’t clenched the whole time.

Afterward, meeting me in the waiting room, my mother commented on how brave I was being – she’s been to many of these procedures with me over a lifetime – but it wasn’t me, it was my friend valium (or rather the generic equivalent, diazapan). 8 mg didn’t make me loopy, it just took the edge off. And it didn’t make me work to get the peace of mind, like I would’ve had to if I had chosen to use self-hypnosis techniques instead. As I joked with the doctor, it’s times like these that call for valium. Ok, maybe I was a bit loopy. But she agreed.

Because of my allergy to adhesive, the surgical tech used gauze and direct pressure to stop the bleeding, and then mummified my chest in an ace bandage and sent me home with my mom. I took some homeopathic hypericum in the car, then some bellis parennis and arnica remedies once we got home. (More about these homeopathic remedies here.)

Just because we may choose to adopt many natural paths to health doesn’t mean we have to omit other treatments. We can safely use homeopathic remedies, for example, at the same time we’re using antibiotics or sedetives or blood pressure medications, etc. One does not preclude the other. Most natural remedies can work safely alongside western medications, and often are used to help wean off of medications.

My kids were farmed out for the night, hubby away on a business trip, and I got to do nothing but sit in bed and gab on the phone to girlfriends all evening. What a treat!

This morning I unwrapped and removed the gauze, put a dab of Neosporin on the hole and covered it with a little spot band aid. I’ll have to change the bandage frequently to avoid hives, but so far so good. Rewrapped tightly with the ace bandage and supported further with a sports bra, it’s a little achey. I don’t want to move that shoulder much, especially since I don’t want to expand the hole that is only held together by a blood clot.

For “mild discomfort,” the post procedure instructions say, “take Tylenol.” But I haven’t needed to crack open the sample packet they handed me at the end. I rarely take painkillers anyway.

It has been incredible to receive such an outpouring of positive energy as I’ve been going through this anxious time. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and wishes. I will likely hear the results by Wednesday next week – I’ll keep you posted.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday weekend!

To Biopsy or Not To Biopsy?

Although I am choosing to get a stereotactic biopsy today on (from?) my left breast due to a constellation of stars on my first mammogram, it was by no means a foregone conclusion. There were things to consider first.

“So, what is this procedure?” I asked the receptionist at the imaging center when I booked the first appointment.

“Oh, it’s nothing!” she assured me. ” I had one during my lunch hour and came back to work in the afternoon!”

I eyed her. She had perhaps 6 inches, 50+ lbs., and two or three or four cup sizes on me. She looked pretty robust. However you measure, it was quite a bit more breast to work with than I have.

“So it’s a needle?” I have a pretty severe needle phobia. I was trying not to let it show by acting all casual and nonchalant and psyching myself up inside to face a needle. “And they, what, suck out a sample?” Needle biopsies, my husband would point out to me later, have become controversial as they may actually cause an encapsulated cancer to spread.

“Oh no,” she assures me. Oh good: no needle. “They’re going to make an incision, insert a vacuum tube and suck the grains out.”

An incision? A tube?

“Um,” My questions were starting already. “How are they going to close the incision afterward and keep out infection? Stitches?”

Nope. Steri Strip Skin Closures. Hypo-allergenic strips of surgical-grade tape that you leave on to keep a wound closed until they roll up and fall off, maybe ten days. Houston, we have a problem: Adhesive bandages, including hypo-allergenic ones. Leave ’em on me for more than a day and I start to hive. So much for the “hypo-allergenic” claim. Two days will be intolerable, not to mention that the inflammation of the hives will create an environment not conducive to healing the wound.

They call in a surgical tech who tells me that perhaps we can do Steri Strips for the first day and then return the next day to have the strips exchanged for paper tape. Well, yeah, I tolerate paper tape slightly better, but not for longer than a day. They won’t discuss stitches. Now I’m looking at follow-up care.

It’s really nothing, they both assure me. Unless, they accidentally nick a vein and cause a hematoma — a massive bruise, in other words. But that’s very rare, they say earnestly. We’ll give you a compression bandage to wrap around your breasts if this happens. It hardly ever happens.

A possible hematoma? You mean, a “side effect?” Yeah, I’m familiar with “unlikely side effects” from medical procedures. Two weeks flat on my back after a withdrawal of spinal fluid that most people “go right back to work after.” Six weeks of agonizing dry sockets after removal of my wisdom teeth. And more, of course. With side effects like these, you develop a healthy fear of being poked and prodded.

Oh, and one more whammy: “You shouldn’t lift anything for about two weeks.”

I tried to digest this. It became quite clear that this procedure best not be scheduled two days before a cross-country flight to an active family vacation at the shore with seven children under seven years old

The breast surgeon filled in the rest of the details. I’ll be lying on a table with my breast hanging through a cutout, smashed with mammogram paddles. They’ll use radiation to make a couple of images in order to locate the spots on several planes. More radiation from medical tests that I’d rather not be exposed to, all things considered.

Will I be sedated, I asked? I have MS and I’m dangerously sensitive to anesthesia and ibuprofen. No general, she said, just a local anesthetic like lidocaine injected directly into the site. A big, long needle, in other words.

And, they’re going to deposit a titanium chip as a marker so that the follow-up surgeon will know where to go, if necessary. I can choose not to get this piece of metal, but then if the biopsy came back malignant the surgeon would end up taking more tissue during a subsequent lumpectomy than she would have had to if the marker were there.

I called on my resources and I’m going into this well prepared, I think. I’ve got my homeopathic arsenal ready: hypericum to help heal the puncture wound quickly, if I’m in a lot of pain an hour later bellis parennis will help heal the tissue trauma, and arnica in case there’s bleeding or bruising.

Oh yes, and a prescription of valium for my nerves. That one’s not homeopathic, of course, but I will be grateful for it nonetheless!

So many of you have written and left comments that I feel surrounded by good energies. I’m honored and so touched to connect with you through my writing and cooking. Thank you for sharing your strength with me today. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Breast Health: Mammograms vs. Thermograms

I think about breast health sometimes more than others (for heavens sake, please wear a supportive workout bra during aerobic activity like Jazzercise! Those flimsy regular bras just don’t hold you in enough to prevent that delicate tissue from tearing and eventually (gasp!) sagging), but lately it’s been front and center in my mind.

I turned 40 this year and dragged my feet into the imaging center to get my first mammogram last month.

What I really wanted was to find a thermogram and avoid the radiation from traditional mammography, but my ob/gyn/midwivery practice didn’t know of any thermogram centers, so I bit my tongue and went in for the radiation of a mammogram even though they are finding the radiation from medical screening procedures can contribute to cancer. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

What I really wanted was to not do this at all. I waited more than six months, until I was ever-so-gently prodded into going by my fabulous life coach, Rachelle Disbennett-Lee. She was right: it was time to go.

A clinical breast exam performed by highly trained fingers can identify 61% of tumors that turn out to be cancer.  Adding a mammogram, increases the ability to find a cancer to 84%.  Research done in Montreal in the mid-1990s demonstrated that adding a thermogram to breast exam and conventional mammogram increases the ability to find cancer early — and do something about it — to 95%. (Read more about breast exams.)

I figured I’d do the mammogram this time and keep trying to find a thermogram for next year. I guess I’m glad I did it, because they found something.

Some things, I should say. In my left breast.

They look like specks of dust on the original contact print, and more like jagged rice grains when magnified 90 times. But they’re definitely there, and there shouldn’t be anything there.


Natural Underarm Deoderant

One of the bloggers from 5280 Magazine recently posted about how her aluminum-based antiperspirant/deoderant is leaving ugly yellow stains in the armpits of her white shirts. While her biggest complaint was that these stains were ruining her clothes, my concern centers around the aluminum in her deoderant.

Aluminum is a heavy metal that is bioaccumulative, that means that once it enters your body most of it doesn’t leave (except through breast milk, scarily enough). Accumulation of aluminum builds up over a lifetime and can cause neuro-degeneration, along with other problems. So far, aluminum toxicity has been linked to Parkinson‘s, Alzheimer‘s, and — particularly from antiperspirant/deoderant use — breast cancer.

For years I have been searching for a viable alternative to aluminum-based deoderants and antiperspirants to use in our sweat-phobic culture. For a while I used the Crystal Body Deodorant, which you wet and apply to your armpits, but I was never very satisfied with how it stopped sweat or managed odors.

For a few months I tried Tom’s of Maine Natural Long-Lasting Deodorant, the Lemongrass scent, but didn’t like the way it interacted with my body’s chemistry, mostly it made my sweat acrid smelling. Yuck! (I really like Tom’s of Maine Natural Care Toothpaste, though!)

Then I stumbled across this video from down under on Youtube by HighOnHealth about using “soda bicarbonate” as a deoderant. I thought I’d give it a try and spent several hours scouring several grocery stores before realizing that we call it “baking soda” in America. Since more than one grocery worker sent me to the soda pop aisle to find “bicarbonate soda,” I don’t feel all that foolish. Well, kinda.

Anyway, I’ve been using it for a couple weeks now and have to say that I really like it. I definitely seem to sweat less, and due to the anti-bacterial properties of baking soda, I seem to be odor-free. Watch the video and she’ll give you a step-by-step demonstration of how to use baking soda as a natural underarm deoderant.

I confess, I’m hooked. Let me know if you try it, or if you have other solutions/suggestions for natural sweat control!

Toxins in Nailpolish

You may be surprised to learn this natural girl keeps her toenails prettily polished in fun magentas and reds. It’s a monthly ritual for my mother and I to steal an hour together at the nail salon while enjoying the decadent pleasure of a pedicure.

That’s why I was pleased to learn that OPI Products, the worlds’ largest nail polish manufacturer, responded to pressure brought on by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics by removing dibutyl phthalate and toluene from its nail polishes in 2006. These are petroleum byproducts (i.e., waste from refining) that are cancer-causing endocrine disruptors.

So when big companies whine that they couldn’t possibly find safer ingredients and still offer an effective product, we should remember the example of OPI and the millions of bottles of nail polish no longer emitting toxic fumes to sicken salon workers or leaching toxins through the nails of polish wearers.