A Cancer Story: The 5-Year Mark

It was five years ago today that I had my breast cancer surgeries at Northside Hospital Women’s Center in Atlanta, GA. I have officially reached the five-year mark, which is apparently a big milestone. I’m flooded with memories on the days leading up to my surgery day.

I had a blood transfusion two weeks before to help boost my system for the surgeries. To this day, I am pleased as punch to know my blood type is B+ and not O. I thought it was hilarious and would yell out “I’m B+” in my cheerleader voice. In fact, I still do it. Maybe it was watching too much True Blood on repeat, but I felt special knowing my blood type wasn’t the common O. Of course, I nearly vomited when I got the blood transfusion – two bags of blood. Those suckers were huge! I had one bag of O and another bag of B+. It’s a strange and thick feeling having someone else’s blood infused into you. I had many thoughts whirling in my mind.

What somewhat brought me down from feeling like an actress on Grey’s Anatomy was thinking about whose blood I was getting? I hate to say that my first thought and fear was what if the donor was a racist? Then I paused again and thought what if the donor was a serial killer? After six hours of having two bags of blood slowly infused, I was shocked when I saw my reflection. Had I become Bella from Twilight? My face, neck, and chest were flushed red. What freaked me out for a minute was seeing my eyes red. I kept looking for Edward on my way home. My humor has always remained intact.

Now it was surgery day. It was outpatient with no overnight stay. I was only a little nervous because I had complete faith in my breast cancer surgeon and plastic surgeon. They worked exceptionally well together. I can honestly say I still have a total girl crush on them. My breast cancer surgeon has major personality and humor, plus brilliance! She really helped me push through the last three chemo treatments when I was ready to give up. My plastic surgeon is the gentlest doctor I’ve ever dealt with and has magic hands. I never felt uncomfortable with him. As he came in to draw on the areas on my chest, his voice was so calm and gentle. He talked me through everything he was doing and made sure I did not look in the mirror. Smart move.

As I was being prepped for the surgeries, I had another laugh because the nurse put this silver aluminum foil looking blanket and cap on me. I looked like a bloated baked potato!

The only thing I remember before the anesthesia knocked me out was asking if I could keep my favorite chemo hat on underneath the baked potato cap.

Lumpectomy of left breast

Sentinel lymph node dissection

Reduction of both breasts

Reconstruction of both breasts

I wish I could say I woke up feeling just groggy. Nope! I woke up in excruciating pain and terribly nauseous. Then, one of the tubes I was hooked up with came loose because I felt something wet on my back. When I turned…the sheets were covered in blood. I got hysterical and started screaming. It took three nurses to calm me the fuck down. So, I was moved to a different bed and the pain went to a high that I pray I will never experience again. After two hours, the nurses were still having trouble getting the pain managed. They almost had me admitted into the hospital, but I managed to talk myself down from the ledge. I just wanted my own bed and my cat Nathan Edgar (Baby Natey).

This cancerversary brings mixed feelings that I will get into another time. I will say it felt good to write again since I have been on a hiatus for a few months. I definitely feel a much needed therapeutic release.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

The Pink Age

Breast cancer is glamourized to look pretty, easy and fun. The commercials also show older women smiling with makeup on. No wonder other cancers hate us. I was diagnosed under 40 years old with stage IIA invasive lobular breast cancer five years ago. How come no one tells us how cancer drastically ages the body externally? Many of us internally feel older due to permanent side effects and other illnesses that were triggered by our cancer treatments and surgeries. I honestly never thought my face and neck would age.

Yes, I have always been on the vain side. When I was growing up, I performed in community theatre and ballet which meant always looking in the mirror. I always used to look years younger than my actual age, even in my early 30’s. This rapid aging is tough to accept because no amount of creams or concealer can fully cover it up.

I first noticed the aging of my neck four years ago. It used to be so smooth. Now it looks like lines of multilayered necklaces going down it. Quite shocking to see in the mirror. Why did I age in that area?

I honestly believe it has something to do with the radiation burns that went up the left side of my neck. I could see the beginning of lines then. I’ll never understand why I burned so terribly in so many areas (neck, back, under arm) aside from my left breast. Radiation was just as painful and horrific as chemo. That’s why I get so upset with another patients say radiation is a breeze. My flesh burned off on my under arm near the area of where my tumor once was. Yep, you read that right. It literally burned off. I felt like burned bacon. I know what it feels like to be a burn patient. The pain was excruciating.

These pictures below still make me cringe. By the end of my 33 treatments, the layered lines had formed completely down my neck. Instantly looking 20 years older in that area. As I look at this area now, it’s always irritated and itchy. It feels rough to the touch and scaly. Thanks to COVID-19, I haven’t been able to see my dermatologist. Why is it continuously itchy? I don’t use perfume or any lovely smelling lotions on it. It’s a big eye sore when I wear any type of shirt because there is no way to hide it unless I wear a scarf. I feel extremely self-conscious about it.

It has taken a full three years for the dark panda circles under my eyes to fade enough to where I no longer need to wear a pound of concealer to attempt covering them up. I only need half a pound these days. As you can see below in the pictures from four years ago, nothing could fully cover them up back then. Aside from looking fatigued, I looked haunted.

Me then and me now on a really good hair and makeup day

It’s only recently that I no longer need a pound of makeup to cover the visibly aging skin. I just need half a pound instead! Seriously though, I continue to struggle with externally looking so different and just so much older. Then add medically induced menopause to the mix, and all hell has broken loose.

It has been four years since the radiation days, and I don’t know my skin post-cancer. It’s dry and scaly in some areas now. The skin underneath my eyes took one of the biggest beatings due to constant rubbing and contact dermatitis. I was constantly trying different creams trying to find the right one to truly hydrate my skin.

I finally got to the bottom of the contact dermatitis that was so painful last summer. After an allergy test at the dermatologist, I’m allergic to the dye in antibacterial soap. Every single time I was washing my hands and using the orange colored antibacterial at home and at the cancer center and using orange or green colored hand sanitizer, I would touch my eyes to wash my face with clean hands not knowing my fingertips were causing the irritation. Now everything is clear including hand sanitizer.

Don’t even get me started on my lips! They used to be smooth. Ever since the chemo days, I continually struggle with peeling and cracked skin on each corner of my mouth. Fortunately, my dermatologist gave me some cream that I use on my lips and under my eyes to help with the dryness but it’s not a permanent fix. I never know what will cause another skin flareup. It’s a good thing I am chronically single and a hair away from being thrown into a convent because these lips would only be kissable for an alligator.

It just boggles my mind that all this aging happened without zero warning.  The physical changes are just so jarring. To everyone else, I look super healthy. Once the makeup comes off, I look a little gray, burned, wrinkly, and forever fatigued. A constant reminder of the trauma which is why I can’t ever NOT think about my cancer experience. It stares me in the face and plagues me daily.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

One year BLOGversary

My blog actually turned a year old on the 1st. I’ve taken time to reread every single post I’ve written. What I have discovered is the rawness, anger, and heaviness continues to weigh on me. On the flip side, I’ve felt more love, creativity, passion, excitement, and acceptance than I ever thought possible.  

Going through cancer, while utterly traumatic and painful, has given me a voice I never knew existed. Where does my resilience come from? I’ve been knocked down by so many events in my life, yet I keep standing back up. Sometimes I stumble and other times it takes longer to get back up, but I always do.

Since my last post, I’ve been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. Am I 42 or 142? At least now I know why my body pain has been so debilitating. I can finally move without crying. I can breathe without wincing.

I haven’t fully processed either diagnosis or what that means for my future and quality of life. It’s a little too much for me to handle at this time.

More than anything, I’m filled with gratitude for the support from ALL of the warriors and friends who read my blog and continue to follow my rocky cancer path thus far. It means the world to know my voice matters and is being heard.

I thank those who don’t try and diagnose me, too. Though my written thoughts can be dark at times, you only get to see one side of me. I still exude a lot of humor and positive light. I have to recharge my batteries more frequently than I used to, but that’s okay.

This quote sums it up best…

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”― Oscar Wilde

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Survivor’s Envy

I no longer have moments where I can ‘forget’ I had breast cancer. I’ve never bounced back after all my treatments and many surgeries.  My body continues to deteriorate instead of growing stronger. The physical pain continues to increase instead of decrease. The skin issues on my face, neck and chest continue to flare up.

This can’t be my permanent quality of life, can it?

I’m plagued by Survivor’s Guilt but also plagued by Survivor’s Envy. How is that possible?

I see others who I met during the start of my cancer path and see how well they bounced back afterward. I see those starting families, getting better jobs or continuing to kick ass at their current job, dating, getting engaged and married, working out and just looking fabulous.

Am I seeing only what they want others to see? Are they really struggling privately? Is it a show for the masses because social media never shows the whole story?

Then I get mad at myself because I know that other warriors are suffering in many ways post treatment or experiencing recurrence and metastasis, but don’t reveal it on social media.

My reality is I no longer have the strength to mask the physical and emotional pain. My quality of life plain sucks. This isn’t a pity party. I’ve tried to push through the physical pain. I get told to just exercise and will feel better. Well, all that movement is actually causing more inflammation and severe pain. My weight is going back up because the pain has become excruciating to the point of almost debilitating most days. It makes exercising and just moving incredibly hard and painful.

I just want to feel better.

I want to have energy.

I want to not feel envious of those survivors who are truly enjoying life. They’ve been through hell and back, too.

For me, my hell continues. The more intense the pain, the harder it is to manage other life stresses. It has increased my anxiety level to the point where I’m waking up nauseous each morning. My sleep is off cycle again.

I underestimated the effects of being medically induced into menopause, becoming officially barren and zero sex drive. How can I even think about dating when I feel and look like crap?

I’m having a tough time igniting my spark and passion. I’m so worn out from working and dealing with the office nonsense that I can barely write or do what I need to do to press forward.

I feel guilty for being envious of other survivors. I feel like October or PINKtober brings out the Grinch in me.

I want to celebrate my life, but is this really a life when I’m single and can’t date? When the pain is so debilitating that I cry out in agony and only my loving cat Nathan can hear me? When I’m so fatigued that I can barely do the laundry, vacuum and dust or make dinner?

For me, life post cancer has its many ups and downs. It seems these days are more down because the constant pain and fatigue is tearing down my defenses.

I fought so hard to try and not die from this. It’s not all smiles, pink tutus and walks. It’s shocking, stressful, utterly painful and exhausting to pretend I’m okay because I look healthy.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie