My oncology team…

I was excited to finally be meeting the team of oncologists that would be overseeing my health. To me, it was a symbol of moving forward. Now, more questions would be answered and with that came a better idea of what my future would be like. My first appointment was with the oncologist. I remember walking into the office that morning and feeling overwhelmed with emotions.

Even though I had already completed my surgery, it wasn’t till I was in a room full a patients all being treated for cancer related issues, that it really hit me. We were all cancer patients. I recall being handed the stack of paperwork to fill out regarding my demographics, insurance, personal and family history. Somewhere in the world there must be one less tree that would have had my name on it as I’m convinced it must have taken the whole tree to make my packet alone.

I began filling out the paperwork and within minutes was called back into a small office. “Already?”, I thought to myself. The young lady asked me to sit in a chair located next to her desk and she began to verify my insurance and demographic information. She also asked me what pharmacy I preferred and made sure to save it in my file. Once we finished the verification process, I was asked to pay my portion of the consultation with the physician. I felt a little strange already paying for a service I hadn’t received but, I did so anyway and after receiving my receipt, I was directed back into the waiting room.

It didn’t take to long before a young man called me into the back room. At this point, the entire waiting room was full and the phones were ringing nonstop. I followed the young man down the hall where we made our way into a room with several recliner like chairs lined up next to each other. I was asked to sit in the very first chair. This room was designated as their laboratory/draw station.

The phlebotomist drew some blood which thankfully was painless. I watched as he processed my lab order and placed a label with my name on each tube. He worked so quickly and gracefully. Once he finished, he turned to me, smiled, and asked me to follow him again. Still with the stack of paperwork in my hands, I followed him into an exam room just down the hall. Here, he asked me to wait patiently for the doctor.

As I waited I finished filling out my paper work. The office was cold but well lit and surprisingly felt full of life. A gentleman knocked on the door, came in, and introduced himself as the physician assistant. He reviewed the records that had been sent to the office as well as provided me with his thoughts on my recovery and treatment plan. He explained himself very well and asked if I had any questions for him at that time. My mind was still processing some thoughts in that moment so I said no. After acknowledging my response he excused himself and returned with my physician.

My new oncologist was a complete joy. I was impressed with his attention to detail, patience while explaining my condition to me, and his ability to talk to me as a real person. When he spoke to me, he genuinely took the time to get to know Elizabeth, the athlete, and not just Elizabeth, the cancer patient. In our conversation I learned that he too was a triathlete and instantly we had formed a bond. He understood my need to get back into my athletic routine which for so long had been very important to me.

This was already an amazing start to our doctor/patient relationship. I remember him taking off the wristband he was wearing and handing it to me. He joked, expressing the wristband hadn’t helped him win any races and that maybe it would bring me better luck. I was touched by the gesture and accepted the gift. The wristband read, ” The power of positive thinking”. It couldn’t have been a more appropriate reminder.

After a small physical examination of the surgical site, he reviewed my records. In summary, his recommendation was for me to establish with the radiation oncologist to discuss radiation treatments, schedule an appointment with my gynecologist to further evaluate the area of concern in my pelvis, and to schedule an appointment with Moffitt for a second opinion on the 1 lymph node positive for a single cluster of individual tumor cells.

I immediately asked if he thought this meant I would need chemotherapy but, he assured me that his recommendation for me to go to Moffitt for a second opinion was not because he thought my condition was worse than I had imagined. Instead, it was him wanting to cross all his “t’s” and dot all of his “i’s” before starting any form of treatment I may or may not have needed.

This was comforting and once again I was filled with peace. All in all, this appointment was full of good news and I was extremely pleased with the doctor and other healthcare professionals that were now involved with my care. I felt safe and understood, two of the most important things a cancer patient could ever feel…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚

*** Note to reader ***

You can view the wristband given to me during the appointment in my photos tab. πŸ™‚

My athletic desires…

I wasn’t ready to jump on the bike or go for a run but, I was determined to start setting goals and accomplishing them during my two weeks of recovery. I didn’t want to just lay in bed doing absolutely nothing. I was an athlete. Prior to my journey with breast cancer I had a very active lifestyle. I had run several 5k’s, a 10k, 2 half marathons, completed a metric century, started mountain biking, and in September had just done my first triathlon. My next goal was to run a marathon.

It wasn’t about exercising to be skinny, it was a lifestyle. I was addicted to the adrenaline I felt after each race and training session but, most of all I enjoyed the amazing people that I met along the way. I had developed an extended family and I missed them. I also missed the outdoors and how healthy and energized my body felt. What I had been feeling in that moment was so foreign and uncomfortable. I needed to find that place again so, I did what every athlete does, started setting goals.

It wasn’t anything drastic but it was a start. My main goal was to regain the range of motion I had lost in my left arm. I could barely lift it to wash my own hair so after about three days of recovery that’s what I tackled first. I found the shower to be the perfect place to start my therapies because the warm water would loosen my muscles enough for me to start stretching. My first goal was to get my arm up high enough to wash my hair comfortably. It had been days since I had been able to do this on my own.

I started by placing my hand on the shower wall and using my finger tips to slowly climb up while bringing my body closer to the wall. Most people refer to this technique as the “wall climb”. Β It allows the muscles located in the area of the armpit to stretch out. It was very difficult and I admit painful at first but I progressed quickly and before I knew it only days had passed and I was finally able to wash my own hair. “Yes, I did it!” Seems like a silly thing to feel so excited about but, you’d be surprised with the things we take for granted when they come so easily.

The next goal I tackled was brushing my hair. I’m not a lefty but I wasn’t able to lift much weight at the time and I thought using my left hand to brush my unruly curly hair would be a good way to use a bit of force without injuring myself. This too helped with my range of motion. I started doing the wall climbs outside of the shower to allow my muscles to stretch without the assistance of heat and began working on reaching up over my head and bringing my hand as far down my back as I could. I was shocked to see how little I could do when I had always been more flexible on that side.

I used the assistance of a small towel to help me get to my desired goal of reaching my hand right into the space between my shoulder blades. In order to do this I would grab the towel with my left hand, raise it above my head and bend my elbow enough to allow the towel to hang on my backside. I would then place my right hand on my lower back, grab the towel and slowly pull it down bringing my left hand closer to my goal.

It was tough and in all honesty there were moments I wanted to give up because it just seemed so easy yet I was struggling so much. I felt like I was starting from the very beginning after having come so far. Everyone around me was progressing at incredible speeds in their prospective sport and here I was taking baby steps to perform the simplest tasks. I had to constantly remind myself how far I had already come within a week and that it wasn’t going to be like this forever.

I was reaching my goals, big or small, and I needed to stop being so hard on myself. I was able to brush and wash my own hair, I was reaching for things in the pantry and making myself food. That’s something I couldn’t do before. I was accomplishing what I set out to do and soon enough I would be the athlete I once was.

While achieving my physical goals however, I was also facing another struggle. One I chose to ignore from the start of my journey. It was during those two weeks of my recovery that the emotions I had hidden for so long exposed themselves and I was forced to meet face to face with a side of myself I never wanted to encounter…

Stay tuned,
Elizabeth πŸ™‚