Weekly Photo Challenge: An Eerie Feeling — Is it Cancer?

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When I saw the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week — Eerie — my first thoughts weren’t of Halloween costumes or fake blood or ghouls or goblins.  No, my first thoughts were of the sore spot and the “thickening” in my chest in an area that cancer once called home.

Since my bilateral mastectomy three years ago, I have been checking the area often enough. Monthly, I suppose?  Maybe less?  It’s often enough that I would notice a change.

5 days post mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection for stage 3c breast cancer

While I rarely have trouble with my right side since the surgery, my left side has been a different story. Because of the depth/extent of my left mastectomy and the resulting nerve damage, I have been plagued with a range of unpleasant feelings, from numbness, tingling, itchiness and dull pain, to searing pain and what they term “phantom pain.”

You may have heard of phantom pain before.  Maybe you’ve known someone who has had a limb amputated.  Or you’ve watched an interview with a war veteran who lost an arm or a leg.  Or you follow Grey’s Anatomy and saw the episodes when Arizona was struggling after losing her leg in the plane crash. Or maybe you’ve never heard of it and just think it sounds kind of eerie.

Well, it is kind of eerie.  And not just because of its name.

“Sometimes after a body part has been amputated, it feels as if that part is still there. This is called phantom sensation. It…is not pain, but is a “tingly,” cramping, or itching feeling where the missing part used to be.

[Phantom pain, on the other hand, is painful.]  The pain feels as if it is in the part that is missing. Phantom pain…may feel like a burning, crushing, or stabbing sensation.”  [UPMC.com]

This is a roundabout way of explaining to you that despite the wide range of sensations I’ve experienced on the left side, none of these feelings have ever prompted me to pick up the phone and call the doctor because I’ve always accepted them as my new normal.

But what I’ve been experiencing recently does not feel like the pain or other sensations I’ve become accustomed to in the past three years.  It feels different.  It feels like the pain I felt before my surgery. Like the pain I was experiencing in my breast when my cancer diagnosis came 3 1/2 years ago.

Now maybe you are thinking that doesn’t really mean anything.  I don’t even have that (or any) breast anymore.  I was thinking this, too.  But then I reached under my shirt and felt the area.  In fact, I’ve repeatedly “checked” the area over the past week.

And it feels different.  Like a thickened “something.”

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At first I thought maybe it was swelling.  Swelling has been an issue for me since I received my first intervention — months of dose dense chemo meant to make my inoperable cancer operable.  When I was finally ready for surgery, it was a different kind of swelling.  Swelling in my arms from lymphedema.  And despite having surgical drains placed to collect excess fluid/blood that can accumulated following the surgery, in the space where the tumor was, there was a significant amount of swelling in my chest/underarm/shoulder area. While surgical drains are very common with this type of surgery, leaving them in for many weeks is not typical.  But there was so much fluid that it was necessary. Even still, I developed large seromas [a seroma is a collection of serous fluid in the dead space of post-mastectomy skin flap, axilla or breast] that necessitated trips to the surgeon’s office every 2-3 days so he could insert a long, wide needle and manually drain the fluid.

But it’s been a while since I’ve had a seroma or swelling in this particular area of my chest.  And it does not feel like swelling.  In fact, it doesn’t feel anything like what I’ve become accustomed to.

Normally when I touch the area where my left breast used to be, since the tissue and muscle are missing, I feel rib bones (or the spaces between them) through a thin layer of skin.

It’s odd, really, to go from feeling the squishy, rounded softness of your breasts, to feeling the hard, unforgiving rigidity of bone.

It’s a difficult adjustment to make.

And though you may con your brain into accepting the new “normal” day in and day out, your fingers never really forget.  Touching the area where your breast used to be is still just as jarring for your fingertips as it was in the beginning.

So when something is different…less chiseled…more flexible…softer, your fingers notice.

So it is easy to recognize when something is different or awry.

Maybe it’s nothing.  Maybe it will be fine.  It’s probably nothing.  It will probably be fine.  I haven’t even mentioned it to anyone in my life other than “you” because I’m almost sure it will be okay.

But the eerie feeling I had this past week each time my fingers were drawn to my chest was enough of an incentive enough for me to call the office of the breast specialist who diagnosed my cancer.  And it was enough to make me accept (and not cancel) an appointment for 7:30 this morning so I can find out for sure.

I will leave you with my “eerie” photos…

mastectomy drains cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com blood bilateral breast cancer

Even more eerie than fake blood is real blood… These are my mastectomy drains.

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halloween orange

Kevin looks for ghosts amid the cobwebs this Halloween

As always, thank you for being here.  And if you would like to participate in The Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click on this link.

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58 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: An Eerie Feeling — Is it Cancer?

  1. Prayers for you. I’m sure 7:30 can not come soon enough for you, but also that you do not want it to come. How well I remember my gut giving me conflicting messages; wanting to know, not wanting to know….. I will hold you in my heart as you face this day.

    • Thank you, Melissa, for you message and for your empathy. I’m sorry you understand that wavering gut feeling. Thankfully my “thickening” turned out to be swelling — it looks like a lymphedema flare-up that extended into my chest. Which, of course, is’t great, but compared to cancer it’s good news. Thank you for your kind words and support…

      • I have been anxiously awaiting the results of your appointment. So glad it isn’t cancer, but sorry it is the lymphedema spreading. Luckily, mine has stayed localized to my right arm and hand. And when people ask me about my compression garments, I respond that it is better than the cancer!

        I am hoping that things at home have resolved for you. I know also, the feeling of living with a very abusive spouse. But that is behind me (as he is), and my husband is a very loving, kind person. It took me a long time, but I am so glad that I gathered the courage to leave my first husband. You have enough on your plate without dealing with him on top of everything else.

        Let me know if you ever go to Camp Good Days again. I would love to meet you, and talk with you face-to-face. I’m less than five minutes away from there.

        Blessings on you and your boys.

  2. You’ve been through so much friend. I hope it’s nothing serious keep us updated. I have phantom pain too sometimes. I lost my bladder 14 years ago and I still get it, it is painful. I also had sweat glands removed twice from both under arms, so I get nerve pain, itching and numbness. xo

    • Thank you…I’m sorry to hear about your bladder and sweat glands and the resulting phantom pain and nerve pain — and to hear that it is still affecting you… That’s a long time to experience pain… Thankfully, my it looks like my problem is a lymphedema flare up that’s extended into my chest area. Not a good problem, but at least not cancer.
      Thank you for always taking the time to visit & comment, friend…
      xoxo

  3. You win! I think some of those first few photos are more eerie than I want to see..even for Halloween. I think the picture of the cemetary as related to cancer is eerie enough! Bless you and stay strong!

  4. Thank you for sharing this part of you. The pictures of you are not eerie, (although the cemetery shots are a little eerie) they are part of you and I think you are beautiful inside and out. Wish I lived close to you, I would certainly go with you today for this appointment. Thinking of you today..xo

    • Thank you, Tammy. I appreciate your support! Thankfully, it looks like it’s spread of my lymphedema and not cancer? I’ll take it. The things this disease makes you thankful for!?!
      How are you feeling? I just saw your new post in my inbox so I will read it, actually…Thank you…

  5. you are such a hero. you addressed something that I used to occasionally think about with regards to my mother who had a mastectomy in 1988, and later on another one in 2001. I often wondered how she coped with the post mastectomy body.
    Here’s hoping for good news. Glad you went to have it checked. After what you have been through you have earned the right to bug the dr’s over everything.

    • Thank you, Orli. I’m sorry for what your mom has been through… It must have been difficult for you as her little girl…
      Thankfully, my problem looks like an extension of my lymphedema. Not good, but better than cancer…
      Thank you for your support!

  6. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie Tomb | Processing the life

  7. Hello, beautiful :-) The best way to deal with fear is to whack straight at it – good for you for getting the appointment, and for listening to yourself (“proud I am, brave girl you are”, said with best Yoda voice). You put so much energy into Halloween: I’m impressed! And that Darth Vador pumpkin absolutely ROCKS. Hugs xxx

  8. Wow,….you look like you’ve been through one heck of an ordeal. I sincerely hope that you have some support where you are. I’m no doctor, but I can tell you that the “thickening”, as you call it, could very well be scar tissue. It is always wise to have anything and everything checked out- whether it’s superficial, big, small, or even seems silly. If it concerns you,….call. Make sure your bandages are changed often, in order to prevent infection; and I’m only saying this because you do have an awful lot of fluid coming out. Sometimes when when have children to think about,….we forget about the little things like changing bandages. Try to pamper yourself in any way that you can. Tell your friends that “hot homemade soup” might be nice,….yes, ask for things to help get you through all this rough stuff. A warm pair of cozy socks-some nice facial cream-sounds superficial, but it helps. Who are your favorite authors? Do you like poetry? It’s time for others to give to you. Let yourself rest as much as possible. Peace and love to you.

    • Thank you, Cecilia, for your kindness. I felt pampered and cared for just with reading your message…
      I am thankful to be a ways out from surgery so the fluid that drained for months ceased a while back. Thankfully the thickening doesn’t look like cancer, but most likely an extension of my lymphedema — so I guess still fluid, but not the type that can be drained off with a syringe. (I didn’t consider scar tissue as you mentioned until reading your comment and wonder if this is also contributing to the thickening? It would certainly make sense…)
      And though it’s been a while since my last surgery, I have been going through a rough time lately and have to tell you that all of the things you mentioned would probably do wonders to soothe my soul.
      Thank you for your kind words and suggestions.
      My warmest wishes, Leisha

  9. I was dismayed to read your post but so relieved to read the comments! While I’m thankful your eerie feeling was not cancer, I am thankful that you trusted your instincts! You were right that SOMETHING wasn’t right, so your instincts were right on target! Smart woman!
    Lymphedema isn’t a cake walk by any stretch … but better than the other BIG EERIE!
    Take care – we’re here with you!

    • Thank you so much! I agree! Though I am disappointed (and that’s putting it mildly) about more/worsening lymphedema, I am thrilled that it’s not cancer.
      It’s such an odd feeling to be glad to find something awful behind door #1 because it is less awful than what’s behind door #2!
      Thanks so much for your comment and support!
      How are you feeling and how is your recuperation going? Thinking of you!

  10. You are a brave and beautiful and powerful woman and this post, these photos moved me deeply. I saw your comment at Rebecca’s site and “cancer in my thirties” grabbed my attention. Drawn to you, I stopped by. I’d love to talk to you, sit with you, be with you, it’s what I do, in life, and so this is my little hello and communication to let you know you’ve permanently entered my heart. Love, Paulette

  11. just found your blog and was sad to read your fears, and decided to comment – glad I did as I am so happy to read that it isn’t cancer. I know how scary those waits can be. You must be relieved. Hope the fluid settles down and behaves itself and that you are happy and strong today.

  12. You continue to be a ray of sunshine, a beacon of loveliness in spite of all the cruelty life is showing you. Your eerie photos show the reality of this far from pink or easy disease. Sending much love and a long sigh of relief xoxox

  13. Thank you for your blog! I need inspiration and your blog is a great source of that for sure! I am fighting thyroid cancer. I am a 27 year old mother of 2 (an almost 3 year old little boy and a 1 year old little girl!). Good luck and God bless!

  14. Add me to the list of your followers. I am one of the “newbies” to your blog, introduced by a friend’s facebook post.. I love your writing and your photos; I appreciate that you’re sharing your life, and that it’s difficult to do. Thank you.

  15. Pingback: Misguided, 10 Myths & Missing the Point | FEC-THis

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