Living With and Without Cancer

This might end up being a post that I regularly update- I’m not sure yet.

“I’m not sure yet” pretty much sums up my life lately, both with and without cancer.

It’s almost mid August and I still mentally feel like it’s June (before I had my first cancer removal surgery). That’s weird. It’s weird that I still expect to celebrate my birthday and July 4th, and do all sorts of other summery things..but those have already passed.

I’m here, but I’m not here. That’s also strange. I’m here, but it’s not the me that was here before I had surgery. My entire body is different now.

I can’t even process alcohol the same way. I had 2 small drinks and thought I was dying the next day. I threw up all morning and in to the afternoon. That’s never happened in all my younger good-time-having years.

What worked for me to maintain my figure doesn’t work anymore now that I don’t have a thyroid.

I have developed a small protruding belly. I can’t run as fast as I used to be able to. I don’t feel as motivated to lose the weight because nothing I do seems to work.

I worry I’ll get to the point where I say “meh, I can’t get back to where I was- might as well have this big [soft pretzel/doughnut/piece of pizza/12 inch sub sandwhich]…” The old me would have turned my nose up at that junk.

I already ate well and watched my caloric intake before. I am swimming and running/walking on alternating days (or as weather permits). I wear my weight loss workout clothing, but I still can’t break through my post-op weight gain.

It’s only 4 to 5 pounds, but on my petite frame it sits right on my stomach, which is really irritating. I know, I know- I’m thankful to be alive-really. I just miss the old me, the body I worked hard for. The body that responded correctly to my input and exercise. I can’t figure out what to do to get back there, or if it’s even possible.

The scar on my collar bone makes planking uncomfortable, but I started again today anyway.

My doctor told me I was eating too few calories for a post-op healing body (at 1,000-1300 a day, which is what I was eating before surgery). but I can’t eat more. My stomach is much smaller than it used to be a few years ago.

I’m sick, but I’m not sick. I look fine, except for my scar. I’m struggling at work to keep up with my projects and not be the weakest member of the team. I’ve never been weak and inefficient, but I am now.

I have to ask for help, I have to turn down projects, I have to explain to coworkers from other teams who don’t know me and get frustrated with my work that “hey, I’m normally not this stupid/inefficient/inept at my job but I was diagnosed with cancer this summer and I’m trying my best to keep up-I’m sorry.”

Asking for understanding and forgiveness from others puts me at a disadvantage- it makes me look weak. They’re nicer to me and more understanding afterward I talk to them about it, but I don’t like being the weakest link. I feel like they feel sorry for me, and I hate that feeling.

Cancer has taken a lot of people I love from me in the past, and now it’s taken some things I loved about me away, too.

 

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My septorhinoplasty and thyroidectomy

In the spring of 2014 I discovered that my thyroid cyst from last year turned into a tumor and was growing steadily.

I am at an air base in Japan on my husband’s military orders, so first I had to go off base to a Japanese hospital to have the needle aspiration biopsy done because the base hospital couldn’t provide this service.

The surgeon at Yokota still needed to examine me first and noticed that I had a severely damaged nose from an injury I received in kindergarten. A girl hit me over the head with her heavy 1990’s lunchbox complete with an old, heavy thermos and my nose has remained broken ever since. After he performed some initial breathing tests I was amazed at the difference that being unobstructed made and he agreed to revisit my nose problem after I had some more work on my thyroid done.

The second appointment was a consultation at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, about 2 hours one way by train. I had to visit the bi-lingual doctor, then the surgeon for the needle biopsy, then re-visit the first Japanese doctor so that I could get the results back in English. February and March were exhausting with the back and forth appointments.

The FNA (fine needle aspiration) here was an experience I’ll never forget because Japanese medicine doesn’t use anesthesia like American medicine does. The doctor looked at me and said “don’t breathe, don’t swallow, don’t talk”  before shoving he long, thin needle into the left side of my throat. The needle could have been short, for all I know-it just felt like it was a foot long. My brain had no time to register what happened, so the pain didn’t come until an hour later.

He gathered cells twice (he called the needle insertions “punches”) and that still only took 10 minutes; the same procedure took 45 minutes with anesthesia last year in America.

The FNA results came back clear for cellular cancer, but the doctors were concerned with what we couldn’t see so I was sent back to Yokota to biopsy the tumor itself.

Here is another difference between eastern and western medicine; the Japanese doctors did not want to remove any part of the thyroid and only wanted to only take the tumor, but all the American doctors wanted to take both the mass and half my left thyroid.

Now I was faced with the decision of the actual surgery. I received a referral to the naval base even farther south (about 3.5 hours by train one way) and it was the same process. A consultation, a return trip for the surgery, and a lengthy stay.

I was really frustrated with the idea that I would have to miss more work to go even further away so I emailed the ENT surgeon I first met at Yokota.

This was around late April and as it turns out my surgeon was set to leave Yokota Air Base in July, so that is why my referral was for the naval base. I was able to talk with the surgeon and get him to accept my surgery before he left- both of them, actually. We decided that he would do both the  septorhinoplasty and thyroidectomy at the same time. The  thyroidectomy took priority, of course, and would be the first procedure he would do for me.

My surgery was the morning of May 28, 2014 and this is the story of my surgery and recovery.

I have never had surgery before, except for having my wisdom teeth removed, so I was pretty anxious about being down for so many weeks.

Luckily all of our bills, deposits, and withdraws are automatic so I had nothing to worry about there. I highly suggest you put as much of your life on “auto pilot”  as possible, it will make your life so much easier.

I finished graduate school a few weeks ago, so I have no loose ends to tie there, either. I only had to get my work assignments and tasks set up so that I can easily have someone followup on my work.

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Wednesday after waking up from surgery

It took 3 times to get the IV into my arm, and my wrists have the bruises to prove it.

The last full day I remember is Tuesday, and that feels really weird to have lost so many days.

Immediately after the surgery I felt great, which really alarmed me because I wasn’t sure if that was the drugs, or if I really did feel okay. I was eating, walking, and sleeping relatively well. I had crackers that night, and the morning later was able to eat everything on my hospital tray.

The incision on my throat is fine, and I have minimal pain and discomfort. I can’t really put my head all the way back, but that’s no big deal.

My nose? That’s another story. I never expected the most painful and irritating of the two procedures would be my nose, even though I read about nose work beforehand and expected the itching. I’ve got both a nose cast on the outside and splints on the inside, and the itching is driving me crazy.

May 31 was the worst day for swelling so far because it felt like my nose was going to break my cast in two. I was able to get the swelling down with ice packs throughout the night. June 1 I was reduced to putting on gloves while I slept because I had been waking up scratching my nose and the rest of my body like crazy.

The next day I had to file my newly-grown nails down quite a bit just to avoid accidentally hurting myself. Benedryl isn’t dealing with the itching anymore, either, but luckily I had a prescription for itching already.

I’m taking my pain medicine on schedule, and have not needed to take the full dosage but a few times, so I’m happy with that.

Overall it feels like have serious sinus pressure and/or a cold because of the nose pressure, my need to carry around a Kleenex to catch drips, and having to sleep propped up at at angle so I can breathe.

The saline flushes 4 times a day has already become my least favorite thing to do during this whole recovery process.

By Sunday the bruising is starting to change colors from black to yellow. My nose cast comes off this coming Wednesday and I’m really excited about that.

I have had some light numbness on my left fingers since the surgery and have read that it might be a calcium deficiency, but I’ll wait for my doctor to monitor my thyroid levels to see what he thinks.

Wednesday 6/4

1 week post-op and I had the cast and splints removed today.

The ends of the splints are wider than my nostril is, so the initial pull was both painful and satisfying as it passed though. There there was the weird sensation of what felt like pulling spaghetti through my nose (that was the rest of the splint).

Then I had to experience that again on the other nostril. While it didn’t hurt enough to make me cry from pain, the pulling and tugging around my nose area made my eyes water and tears began to run down my cheeks.

Then the cast came off. I expected that to hurt worse than the splints, but the cast was no big deal. Immediately after everything removed I recognized how freely I could breath.

My doctor says that my recovery experience isn’t typical and that I am bouncing back earlier than most people do. Now this could just be him trying to make me feel good, but I wanted to mention it here since other people may have a harder time than I did.

I was cleared to go back to work as soon early as Friday and I will be back to scuba diving and will get to try sky diving in about 2 months post-op.

I asked about the light numbness in my fingers and he said that, considering I had 2 procedures that was about 4 hour long, that he thinks the tingle comes from how they position your hand tightly against your leg during the surgery and that the tingling sensation should go away in a few weeks.

While I know I am swollen, I see a big difference already- no crooked nose and no bump! And most importantly, I can breathe correctly!

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2 weeks post-op 6/11

Wednesday 6/11

Today marks 2 weeks post-op.

6/4 was the last day I used the pain medication, so I’ve been managing my pain very well. Most of the bruising is gone and I’m only left with some light yellowing on my cheek and the throat incision.

The numbness in my fingers is nearly gone and I’ve been able to crinkle my nose when I smile for the past few days, as well.

About 4 days ago I noticed a very strange droop/sag in both cheeks and I panicked.

It looked like I needed a facelift before I was 30. I emailed my doctor and he said it was likely just swelling and not to worry.

In the days since the swelling has indeed gone done and my cheeks are starting to look normal again.

I still have some swelling around my nose and cheeks and a little numbness on the tip of my nose, but I’m still breathing well and everything seems to be working out.

I did, however, get news yesterday that my biopsy results did come back positive for cancer.

The tumor had papillary thyroid cancer with a follicular variant. The doctors say that this is very treatable and My husband and I are staying positive and we both feel really good about it.

I’m scheduled for another surgery later this month to remove my right thyroid just to err on the side of caution. I’ll be on a thyroid supplement for the rest of my life, but it’s better than the alternative.

The other thyroid will be biopsied, as well, but it will be about another 2 weeks from the date of surgery to find out if they discovered any more cancerous tissue.

I will keep this post updated.

3 weeks, 2 days post-op

3 weeks, 2 days post-op

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Monday August 4

It’s August now and I’m recovering pretty well. The tip of my nose still feels pretty stiff, but it’s not painful or uncomfortable.

My second thyroid surgery was successful and I was told I am cancer free at the moment, so that’s great news. That scar is healing up nicely and I feel so much better without the cancer in my body.

I did end up gaining 4-6 pounds after the second surgery, but I am working on getting that under control. Sometimes a few pounds take more work to lose than double-digits.

Overall I’m glad to have had the procedures, even though surgery and recovery took up the majority of the summer. I’m having some trouble remembering that it is August already because it still feels like the beginning of summer for me.

I hope writing about my experience can help someone who is looking to have either of these procedures done!

If you’re about to have one of these operations done-stay strong. Wishing you a smooth surgery and recovery.

Manicures for Short Stubby Nails

If you found this, then you probably have the same problem I do- short, stubby nails (and in my case hands, too).

I was blessed with terrible hand genes. My hands are tiny and my nail beds are wider than they are short (think “squatty”).  31 years later (and many months after I first wrote this post) I learned I actually have hereditary clubbing on most of my nails. Yay for bad genetics!

This makes my nails look short and unattractive.

Lately I decided that, unless by some miracle of cosmetic science they discover a way to completely replace your fingernails (or even give me robot fingernails- that would be cool), then I’m stuck with these stubs.

I started googling it and discovered that, to my dismay, I’m pretty much out of luck. I’ve tried the hair and nail vitamins, I’ve tried acrylic nails (they destroy my real nails), and I’ve tried the Sally Hansen pink nail growth polish (I’m allergic to it).

Nothing seems to help. My nails are brittle, snag easily, and grow out strangely- they’re still wider than they are long and the nailtip is very flimsy.

Yesterday I decided that I was going to try to do something about it. I was going to try to embrace my nails since I’m stuck with them.

If you also have short, stubby nails, fear not. Think like an artist and use illusion to add length while you try to grow your nails out.

Here’s the steps:

1. Apply a basecoat

2. Find a design

3. Draw!

4. Spray your nails with hairspray from several inches away- too close and the Sharpie will smear.

5. Wait until the hairspray is completely try, then apply a thick topcoat. A thinner topcoat made my Sharpie design smear.

6. Do not clip your nails, file them. Clipping damages nails like ours.

1. I opted to buy a light nude color as a basecoat. I found Covergirl’s Outlast in “Forever Frosted” # 115. I’m very fair, so this color matches my skin tone.

At this point I have to say that I am incredibly inexperienced with painting my nails, considering I have never cared about them before. My paint jobs are always uneven, so I usually opt for a glittery or frosted polish because they seem to be forgiving.

Protip: if you don’t paint all the way to the edge of your nails and nail bed it will make your nails look a little longer. It won’t magically give you longer nails, but hopefully the results will be better than what you expected.

Use a small paintbrush dipped in nail polish remover to “cut in” around the edge of your nails. I also read drawing around the edges with Elmer’s white glue works, but I haven’t tried it yet.

I didn’t even even have nail polish remover (I told you I never cared about my nails before!) so I just tried to leave that gap around each nail by hand.

2. I started thinking about art and illusion. Vertical lines help lengthen the body, and patterns help hide imperfections.

I’m too cheap to go to the nail salon and I’m too embarrassed of my stubs to go if I wasn’t cheap, so I started researching something I had seen on Pinterest- Sharpie manicures. Here’s another great site for ideas.

I LOVE Sharpies. For our first Valentine’s day as a married couple I asked for Sharpies- and I still have most of them. That was 9 years ago, so they last a while.

Then I picked a color I liked- I’m really into teal and turquoise. image (1)

3. I just started dotting. Heavy dots, and light dots, in quick movements. The best part is that the Sharpie comes off with rubbing alcohol, so if you mess up or if you’re a perfectionist like me you can just take it off and try again.

I’m happy with it and I hope that it will encourage me to let me nails grow, stop picking my cuticles, and embrace what nature gave me.

4. Spray your nails with hairspray from several inches away and let them dry completely.

I discovered step 4 after trial and error. If you apply the topcoat without this step the Sharpie will smear (or at least it did for me)

5.  Add your topcoat. Also discovered through trial and error- if you use a thin layer of topcoat you risk more smearing. I used a thick layer and even then a few of the dots smeared to streaks. The picture above was taken before I added the topcoat.

6. Never clip your nails, file them instead. I read several articles that talked about how clipping short nails like ours causes more damage to our already delicate nails. File them lightly to shape them.

Eat This Not That

Disclaimer: the next several posts are going to be health related…and recycled. I wrote these recently for an internal office newsletter and thought someone else might find them useful.

Last week I shared with you all how to add some color and nutrition to your meals by eating foods from the 5 major color groups.

Now let’s talk about choices. My mother has always said “life is about choices.” As a kid I didn’t really understand that, but as I have gotten older it makes more sense. Making bad choices is how I gained over 70 pounds, so I can attest to the fact that life truly is about choices.

choices-signWe are in a fast paced convenience-based society so we are bombarded with quick meal options all the time. Most of those grab and go meals are terrible for us and most of us are just too busy to care.

What I’d like to do is challenge each and every one of you to start caring and to start critically evaluating what you fuel your body with. It sounds really difficult which is why so many people just go for the easy, quick meal.

The first step is the hardest, but trust me it gets easier with time.

So how do you get started?

You look at what you’re about to eat and think “what can I eliminate or skip to lower the calories of this meal?”

• Cheese is very high in calories and comes on most everything you can get when you drive through someone. Get a sandwich, skip the cheese. Save about 70+ calories.

• Get a burger, take 1 bun off, or pinch the middle out of the bun. It looks and feel weird at first, but it lowers your caloric intake and is just one step you can take to have a healthier meal.

• If you have a chance to order a combo, skip it. The fries are terrible for you and drink water instead of the soda. Or, if you feel you need the combo, get a small size and a diet soda or unsweet tea. Add some sweetener if you need it.

• If you have a choice to have grilled or crispy, choose grilled.

• Think lean. If you have an option for other meat like fish, buffalo, or turkey, go for it.

• Skip the sauces or dressings, or go for a light version.
It is little things like this that can really make a difference on your daily intake and helps you both lose weight and get healthier.

Eating Healthy Means Eating Your Colors

Disclaimer: the next several posts are going to be health related…and recycled. I wrote these recently for an internal office newsletter and thought someone else might find them useful.

Last week I wrote about fueling your body with the right kind of fuel. This week I wanted to provide you all with a guideline on how to introduce healthy choices into your daily meals.

A good rule of thumb is to be sure to have a variety of colors on your plate. Seeing all brown or tan foods on your plate usually means it is all fried or foods that are high in carbs such as gravy, potatoes, and such. Some researchers argue that, while there are some good carbs, that items like those listed above are bad for the body when consumed on a consistent basis. However, even I enjoy some of these “bad” carbs once in a while. There is something to be said for enjoying starchy carbs in moderation.Healthy-Foods

A well balanced meal would include items from several color groups; think a meat and a few vegetables. For our vegan and vegetarian friends- I’m sorry, but you’ll have to research that because I am unfamiliar with those lifestyles. I did think about you all when I wrote this, though!

When shopping for fruits and vegetables look for things in the 5 major color groups :

Green: Leafy greens, lettuce, green pepper, broccoli, green beans, peas, green cabbage, green apples, green grapes, honeydew, asparagus, artichoke, brussels sprouts, celery, okra, zucchini and kiwifruit.

Orange/Yellow: Carrots, yellow apples, apricots, yellow figs, sweet corn, tangerines, pumpkin, pineapple, sweet potatoes, butternut and winter squash, cantaloupe, oranges, lemons, nectarines, peaches, mangoes and papayas.

Red: Tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, red peppers, red onions, red kidney beans, red lentils, red apples, pink grapefruit, red grapes, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, raspberries, pink or red grapefruit and cranberries.

Blue/purple: Eggplant, purple grapes, plums, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, purple figs, dried plums and black currants.
White: Cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, garlic, parsnips, ginger, dates, shallots, turnips, white peaches, white nectarines, white potatoes, bananas and pears

Now, not only will you be eating healthier your meal will be more visually appealing, too!

Your Body is a Machine

Disclaimer: the next several posts are going to be health related…and recycled. I wrote these recently for an internal office newsletter and thought someone else might find them useful.

One of the key components of weight loss or weight maintenance is about what you consume. I prefer to avoid referring to it as a diet or dieting, because “diet” generally has a bad connotation and often reminds people of yo-yo or fad diets, failed weight loss attempts, and the like.

In my own experience I’ve found these types of fads or practices have the potential to be very unhealthy because they keep your body from gaining valuable nutrients and can put stress on your system as it tries to perform using only the diet food. I’ve tried many plans over the years. Weight Watchers, Atkins, NutriSystem, The Hollywood Juice Diet, and more. None worked long term, if they even worked at all.

I did eventually discover a meal plan that used to be prescription only that changed my life. I lost over 50 pounds by only eating the food. I was in an ankle brace and was unable to exercise. I in no way sell or earn any money from the plan, but will tell anyone about it if they ask.

What I found so amazing on my own weight loss journey was that your body will actually tell you what it needs once you get all the junk cleaned out of your system. Once I ate nutritious food for a while and had a sugary treat my body reacted to it in a way I had never noticed before.

I got a headache, my stomach hurt, and I felt sleepy. You might not find that as fascinating as I did, but I remember being astounded at how negatively the human body reacts when those kinds of things are reintroduced to it.exercise1

I like to think of the body as a machine. It only works as well as the fuel you put in it. If  you load up with sugary, salty, carby foods think of that as dragging the machine down and hindering its performance. Eating a good balance of protein and good carbs can provide high energy levels and increased performance without any pills or supplements.

It suddenly made sense why today’s society has a health problem as a whole. We as a culture fuel our bodies with junk food so our bodies are then trying to compensate for that in an attempt to run efficiently.

Next time I’ll go over some simple guidelines to help you transition into eating healthier. Until then, keep drinking water, get up and move around a little bit, and think about what you’re about to eat. Is it fuel, or is it junk?

Hydration 101

Disclaimer: the next several posts are going to be health related…and recycled. I wrote these recently for an internal office newsletter and thought someone else might find them useful.

Nobody wants to be nagged about their lifestyle, so instead I hope to be able to provide some tips, tools, and practices I’ve found useful to me as I’ve embraced a healthier lifestyle over the past few years.

Let’s kick this off by discussing water intake. We all know water is essential to life; even your body’s principal chemical component is water.

This means that water is essential to your well being and health.

The Mayo Clinic (see above link) recommends that men take in about 13 cups of water a day, whereas women need an estimated 9 cups total.

Increasing your water intake has several benefits:

  • Generally improves skin/complexion
  • Flushes out toxins from vital organs
  • Carries nutrients to your cells
  • Increase your energy levels (because your body is functioning with optimal hydration)

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So how do you get started?  Drinking water is hard! I know, because the old me would  grab a soda or sweet tea before I’d even think about drinking water. I used to joke that the only water I drank was the ice in my tea.

Then I spent a week in Nevada and in 2007 and drank primarily water during because it was readily available…and crazy hot outside.

I noticed I felt better and was more energetic during the trip (even though I was still fat) and just kept it up once I got home.

You now see me with a 33 oz. water bottle all the time. Why? Because if it is in front of me I will drink it. And so will you.

It wasn’t exactly easy to give up the things I thought quenched my thirst, but as I kept practicing drinking water instead of the other junk it got easier. It just took time and required me changing my habits.

Looking back I realize those types of drinks only made me more thirsty for the product I was drinking; there was no significant hydration taking place.

I can honestly say I am happy drinking plain ol’ H20. But, if you’re not quite ready to drink plain water you can try zero or low calorie water flavoring products like Crystal Light drops or packets.

Still not enough to make you switch?

Try seltzer water or carbonated flavored water. My husband prefers seltzer water because it still feels like you’re drinking soda because you get the carbonation and the feel and sound of opening a can like you would with a soft drink.

Whatever way you choose, just start. Starting means you’re serious about changing your lifestyle.

So get out there and start hydrating!