Thursday, September 3, 2009

News Flash: Cancer chips away at the enjoyable things in life

This is the latest news flash discovered in the on going effort to have a real (insert the word 'enjoyable' here) life. I went to the monthly support group that I try to go to yesterday (actually, it was my second visit and the first one was nearly a year ago- but I really mean to go more often. Its very different than my weekly support group that I went to for two years as it is structured with speakers, etc.) Last night a massage therapist came to discuss massage (and give demonstrations on all of us) for sick people. She usually does a lot of hospice massage (meaning end of life care). She talked about a lot of things and how you have to be careful not to get a very deep massage if you have any issues.

But here's the earth shattering news. If you have had any lymph nodes removed - and every breast cancer patient has at least one, most 15-20-30, you should never, ever get a massage on that quadrant of your body. This means that if you have lymph nodes removed under your left arm, you should never get a massage, other than a very light one done by someone who knows what they are doing, in that quadrant of your body. Your lymph system is divided basically into four quadrants (again a non-medical, technical explanation). You can draw a line up the middle of your rib cage and then I think across the bottom of your ribs to get the four quadrants. No massage in that quadrant for you! And if you have had lymph nodes removed and the masseuse doesn't consider it to be a big deal, skip that massage.

What's a massage if you say, okay, you have to stay away from that upper quarter of my back and shoulder and arm. I think it would be uneven. Its that the stupid pesky lymph system is under the skin and the theory is that a massage could induce lymphedema which is that pesky incurable, hard to treat symptom where you arm swells up pretty much permanently.

Other things that can cause lymphedema include sitting in hot tubs, any cuts or scratches, overly dry skin, burns or rashes on the quadrant where you had lymph nodes removed. Also, carrying heavy things, weight gain, and long plane flights are thought to contribute to lymphedema. (But you get weight gain as a result of treatment and from the medications they put you on after breast cancer.) Just another example of how cancer chips away at the enjoyable things in life.

So between my back and my lymph nodes, I got a five minute neck massage yesterday... Everyone else got a chair massage. Grr.

This is clearly in the case of be careful what you ask for. Yesterday I went to the hospital to get my blood test out of the way that needed to be done this month, pick up a print out of the results of my PET scan and my liver MRI last year. (I was curious what is in the results of a PET scan.) And if I combined these with my trip to the support group, I wouldn't have to go back to the hospital for four weeks. That may not sound like much but I like to maximize any break I can from going there.

I got my PET and MRI results and the over all conclusions at the bottom basically say I am fine. But its the gobbledegook in the middle that has me confused. I know know to read to much into it because I don't really know where the 'dome of the diaphragm through the iliac crests' are in my body (other than to say somewhere inside me) and that these tests pick up all sorts of things that are normal and not to be worried about. For example, lots of things were 'Patent' in my MRI. I was concerned and looked up 'patent' in a medical dictionary and this is what I got: 1. open, unobstructed, or not closed. 2. apparent, evident. So in other words, patent things are good things and not to be worried about. But there are some other terms I might ask my doctor to decipher.

Also, at my support group, I found out all about my new oncologist (at support groups we don't just talk about cancer, we talk about our doctors and nurses and tests - a great little rating system). I was very concerned about the switch and wanted to avoid one doctor because I had heard not so nice things about her. I ended up with this new doctor who I go see in November. Two women were there who have seen her already and she apparently is nice, reads your chart, asks questions, and is ready to try all sorts of things. They couldn't say enough nice things about her. I am much happier now. And don't see her for another two months.

Anyway, another over scheduled day for me. Coffee, work, feed a friend's cats who is out of town and make something creative for dinner. But I have all day to ponder that one.

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