Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolution

I have already hinted at my resolution for the year 2011: I plan to take the entire month of January off from being a cancer patient and just live like a normal person. No doctors, no appointments, no tests, nothing medical. After 70 appointments in 16 grueling months involving pokes, prods, chemicals, scans, treatments, sticks, pain, mutilation, radiation, x-rays - after being questioned, examined, sliced, pulled, poisoned, sickened and finally healed - I want to start the year fresh, and out of the medical world.

So far, in 2011, I have only 8 visits to my oncologist scheduled, one surgery left, and a mammogram. With proper planning, I might only have to enter a medical office every other month, which as you can imagine, is a great relief after the past years of sitting in hard chairs several times a week listening to Joy Behar scream on some CRT TV.

Thus, my New Year's Resolution: No medical appointments in January.

Be careful what you wish for.

It would seem that I have not quite recovered from my last surgery November 18th. Oh, the boob looks good, in clothes at least. (Gentlemen, don't look down my blouse or you are going to get a shock.) But, once the surgical pain wore off, once the swelling went down, I was left with a reluctant shoulder - one that refuses to do what I tell it to, just like my greyhound when he spies a squirrel.

No squirrels were harmed in the taking of this photo

Fly like Superman? (Okay, realistically, reach for a coffee cup?) Nope, only one arm goes up - my mastectomy side won't cooperate. Reach around to snap a real bra, (which I am very excited to put on again?) Well, not without a jangle of pain and some creaking and stiffness. Lift a carton of milk? Hah! Not a chance.

Good thing I don't like milk.

Something has gone awry. Not only does my shoulder feel like it's burning, I've lost range of motion in my right arm.

How did this happen? Why now, after a year of carting around that rock-hard expander under my skin?

In my imagination, on the surgical table after my last surgery, the doctor said, "Let's sit her up and see if they look even" and some nurse hauled my unconscious body up by the right arm, damaging my shoulder ligaments. In real life though, it may just be a complication related to breast cancer and reconstruction, and a not uncommon one at that.

The truth of the matter is, I don't care how it happened.

Now, the old Ann would have ignored this shoulder problem forever. Either it will go away or it won't. But, now I know that some things not only don't go away, but they can get worse and sometimes even kill you. Like, you know, breast cancer. So, after a month, I realized this stiffness and pain is here to stay, and while it's not life threatening, it might not get better on its own, and pretty soon I'll be doing nothing but chasing squirrels.

So, I called my doctor and I was given the choice: Physical therapy or a consult with an orthopedic surgeon.

Guess which one I picked?

Give yourself a point if you said Physical Therapy.

I know you doctors. I know what you like to do. First chance you get, you'll stick me in a machine. And, as much as I enjoy those MRIs and CAT scans and the little break they provide during a hectic day, I've been baked enough. Not to mention that anybody who has the title "orthopedic surgeon" is probably going to want to fulfill his destiny and cut something.

So, physical therapy it is.

My first appointment is January 11th.

I blew my New Year's Resolution before the year began.



  1. Ann after you complete your physical therapy it's important to keep that shoulder moving. I have found reformer Pilates to be a godsend in keeping me fit and the shoulder mobile. Many of the pilates instructors have taken special certification courses for breast cancer rehabilitation and exercise and can tailor their classes or programs to fit your needs. Best wishes for 2011.

  2. After I completed surgery, chemo and radiation, one day I, too, suddenly had shoulder problems. First one shoulder followed shortly by the other (on my surgical side). I was diagnosed with "Frozen Shoulder" on both sides. Apparently it's quite common in people with breast cancer, though it seems they're not sure why anyone ever gets it. It has to go through some phases before it starts to thaw and mine have finally started to thaw about 7 months after they froze. I may never get full range of motion back but working at it with stretching, exercise, physio and/or massage should get it almost there. A couple of weeks ago I could finally ... with difficulty ... do up my bra in the back (YEAH!), which is quite an accomplishment considering I couldn't even move that hand farther back than the side of my hip a few months ago.

    I don't know if you have frozen shoulders, of course, but when I read your post, it's the first thing that came to mind.

    Know that I'm cheering you on from afar as a fellow reluctant pinkie.

  3. Thanks ladies. I'll keep the pilates in mind. I was going to start doing some sort of regular exercise after I was healed from surgery - this shoulder thing has set that idea back. I thought maybe hula hooping might be fun, there is a class near me. But, not sure I should start anything without my shoulder being examined. It really hurts and it's frustrating not being able to move it the way I want to. Especially sleeping - my favorite sleeping position is impossible because my shoulder won't move that way.

  4. Hi Ann, I am new to your blog but have started reading it from the beginning -- haven't made it all the way through yet so maybe the answer to the question I'm about to ask you is in there somewhere and I'll find it at some point. But did you work during your chemotherapy. I read in one of your posts where you got permission to be on leave for a while. How long were you "out" on leave? I will soon have to start chemo and don't know what to expect. Everyone keeps telling me that I'll be fine, that I'll be able to work through it without a problem. You've been through it, so I'm asking you. Thanks so much. Oh and Happy 2011. -Megan-

  5. Hi Megan,

    I sent you an email response because the answer was kind of long to post here. Basically, if anybody else comes across this - I was off three months, but went back after my 2nd round of chemo. I could have worked the whole time but was very, very tired at the end. I recommend people take the end of chemo off rather than the beginning if they have to do it that way.

  6. Ann,

    It really stinks that you had to blow your New Year's Resolution before it even took off, but what is a patient to do?

    Winter is the time when I see doctors, as I'm off from my job in winter. Time for me to pick up the phone....

    Hang in there; I love your blog!!


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