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Back in the Blog Saddle

ejourneys's picture

I last blogged here about four months ago. Enough was going on -- including the death of a dear friend whom I'd known for 40+ years and the various issues that preceded his passing -- that I opted to take a sabbatical. I've been on a reading jag, which I've been savoring. During chemo two years ago, short reads were about all that I could handle. This is a potpourri, catch-up entry.

1. Follow-up

My previous entry covered getting a rollator/transport chair and the delicacy of raising the issue of mobility aids to my partner. Fortunately, she is open to that option, which I had raised as a "Plan B" during one of our mall visits. We haven't used the rollator yet, but her car and mine now have live-in canes that are getting good use. Needing that kind of help is not an easy admission to make, so I am thankful for her ability to adjust.

2. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!

As I had reported in January, the first attempted blood draw at my cancer center following my port removal had been a complete bust. The second attempt in April had yielded a usable sample, but that one had taken four tries, including blood that filled the vial too slowly to be any good. Success had finally been achieved at my wrist, and that had been punctuated by my puking mostly dry heaves into the lab's wastebasket.

The sites of the second and third attempt had continued to bleed even when I removed the compression bandages hours later -- so I wrapped them back on for several hours more.

I had been hydrating for 24 hours prior in an attempt to plump up my veins. Clearly, 24 hours hadn't been enough.

My next blood work came in June, not at my cancer center but at my local Quest lab, requisitioned by my GP. This time I hydrated for three days prior to the tests, which also meant getting off coffee for that time.

When I told the phlebotomist of my experience back in April, she passed me on to their expert, who got me in one stick. (I asked her, "Can I take you home with me?") I was equally thrilled with the blood test results. My Vitamin D levels are now well within normal (up from low normal), and my thyroid function is now also well within normal. We'd been monitoring the latter especially; last year my thyroid had been underperforming to the point where we were considering levothyroxine.

I told myself that if I had blood work problems at the cancer center, I would ask to have the sticks done at Quest instead.

My next blood work at the cancer center was on Friday, July 22. I wasn't going to take any chances; I got off coffee late the preceding Sunday and spent the next five days tanking up on water. Five days of concerted hydration made my veins cooperative enough so that one stick did the job -- that is, after I was passed to their expert phlebotomist, who slapped my arm silly. :-) The first one who saw me took one look and didn't want to take a chance, especially considering what had happened in January and in April. (Conversation between the first two phlebotomists who saw me: "Take a look at this." "Yeah, that's weird." "I think it's a tendon.")

Thanks to the log I keep of every pill I take, I also learned that in addition to caffeine withdrawal headaches (which don't last long), going off coffee so that I can hydrate better now also corresponds to episodes of lower back pain. I had pulled a lumbar ligament back in '95, so I think the pain was left over from that. Now that I'm drinking coffee again, my back feels much better! That said, the tradeoff of a couple of crappy nights and the need for analgesics is worth the avoidance of tortured blood work.

I had gotten off coffee for all of chemo and radiation, though had not experienced associated back pain until more recently. During chemo I drank at least ten 8-oz. glasses of water per day, more on infusion days (including a whopping 18 glasses on one Adriamycin/Cytoxan infusion day). I drank at least eight glasses a day during radiation. This experience has taught me that I need to return to those habits when preparing for blood tests, now that my port is gone.

Surprisingly, my platelets are a little low (I say "surprisingly" because they were never an issue during chemo), but my oncologist isn't worried; these variations can happen. I'm waiting on more blood results, which should be available via patient portal in a few days.

3. New Mammo Machine

In June I had my second post-treatment mammogram. On arrival I learned that my imaging center had just upgraded to digital tomosynthesis, which "takes multiple X-ray pictures of each breast from many angles," reports Breastcancer.org. "The breast is positioned the same way it is in a conventional mammogram, but only a little pressure is applied -- just enough to keep the breast in a stable position during the procedure. The X-ray tube moves in an arc around the breast while 11 images are taken during a 7-second examination. Then the information is sent to a computer, where it is assembled to produce clear, highly focused 3-dimensional images throughout the breast."

Below is a comparison of images from the older and newer machines. The image on the right is one of close to 50. Scrolling through them is like taking a trip through the breast in layers. Both breasts were imaged; I show the left breast here, where my tumor had been:


I again got the all-clear (the shape distortion of my breast comes from the dual effects of lumpectomy and radiation). Ever since I learned that my very visible, slow-growing cancer had been graded as "benign" for years, I've made it a habit to ask for a CD every time an imaging test is done.

4. Quickies

I've continued my daily art quickies, producing one quick doodle per day by taking a photo with my tablet and then using ArtRage for Android to play with the shot. (I add my initials and date using the desktop version.) Here are a few examples:

About 45 minutes with this shot of a daisy growing beside my front hedge.

About 20 minutes with a shot of my kitchen floor.

About 45 minutes with a shot of my sneaker sole.

About an hour with my shot of a magnifying glass.

We recently had our HVAC compressor (still under warranty) replaced, but we spent three days in July without air conditioning. Temperatures were in the 90s with heat indices in the triple digits.

Conditions in my studio. Coping tools included wet towels, cold packs, fans, siestas, doing food prep in the middle of the night, and giving my computer frequent sleeps to cool off.

Broken air conditioner couture. The ponytail on top of my head retains its chemo curls. This shot became the next day's quickie, which took about an hour:


My full quickie album is here.


Rocquie's picture

I have been wondering about you and missing your posts. I'm happy to see you back. I always enjoy reading your blog and seeing your beautiful artwork. 




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