About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Michelin girl

Just call me the Michelin girl. Not the green travel guides that are stacked neatly on my bookshelf, although I did schlep 3-4 of them with me over the Atlantic on my recent vacation.

It's the arm.  I'm not sure what exactly is causing it. Perhaps its a combination of several factors: the travel; the heat; probably gaining a couple pounds from the different diet during vacation.Whatever it is, my left arm is noticeably puffier. Last night, I was flossing my teeth and zoning at my image in the mirror. Not really thinking, just wanting to get into bed as soon as possible.  I'm still jet-lagged and had been up since 2 a.m. the night before.

Since both arms were bent with elbows facing the mirror, I was able to compare the two. The left was much rounder than the right on the inner part of the elbow. I could feel the puffieness when I bent my arm throughout the day. Kind of like having a swollen joint from a bee sting (without the pain.)

Sigh. I've been massaging daily and wrapping each night.  I even did it when we arrived home after nearly 24 hours in transit. 

I need to be a little more aggressive. Last night I did a really thorough manual drainage and concentrated extra time on the problematic part of the arm. I decided to attack it with a chip bag on the forearm and foam on the upper arm.  That isn't an easy maneuver-I need Eric to hold the bag and foam in place while I secure it with the bandaging. I finished wrapping around 9 p.m. and wore it until after my workout this morning at 10:30 a.m.  It was a little difficult to work out with the wrapped arm, but I remember my physical therapist telling me that the best thing I could do is work out in the bandaging.  After my shower, I did manual drainage again and put on my Juzo compression sleeve. Perhaps I should have re-wrapped. But it is very hot right now and the thought of doing my child-fetching errands this afternoon with 5 layers of bandaging on is not very appealing. Plus, some of the bandaging was wet with sweat. (It was a good workout!)

I have not yet measured the arm. I'll do that later when Eric gets home. It will be interesting to compare it to the measurements I took when the swelling started in France.

My prayer request is that this episode of swelling goes away. I need to have it under control before the 3-Day Walk in November. I would rather not be messing around with bandaging at that time. Its going to be exhausting enough just walking 60 miles in 3 days. I don't mind wearing a compression sleeve, but the bandaging is unwieldy and cumbersome. I'll do it if I have to-I'm not going to let lymphedema interfere with my plans!

Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You just never know

We traveled back home from France yesterday. Paris to Dallas was 10 hours, then from Dallas to San Diego was another 2 1/2.  Needless to say, by the time we did the first leg of the trip, waited in an excruciatingly long line at immigration, went through secondary customs (thanks to the confit of duck that my mother in law gave us), went through security in Dallas and finally got on our airplane, we were pretty wiped out. We didn't have very good seats-we were all split up for one thing. Olivier was in row 17 by himself. He probably didn't mind that because it put some needed space between him and his 3 year old brother. Eric and Isabelle were in the very last row that did not recline. Jean-Marc and I were one row in front and across the isle. We were right next to the engines. At that point, it didn't really matter. Although I got to be the sole parent on "potty duty" with Jean-Marc.

Anyway, as the flight attendant served me a ginger ale, she saw my compression sleeve and gauntlet. She asked me if I had lymphedema in my arm, to which I sighed, "yes."  But it did raise a flag for me. Someone who knows what that is probably has some connection to breast cancer.  On my next foray to the bathroom with Jean-Marc, she was standing there at the back of the plane. As we exited, she asked me if I had had (past tense) breast cancer. To which I again sighed, "yes."

As it turned out, she also is a survivor. Bing, bing bing!  Immediate connection with a total stranger. Of course, we got to talking. As it turned out, we had a lot in common.  She was also 40 when diagnosed, although now she is 5 years out. She also had an almost 2 year old when diagnosed.  Her tumor was over 5 centimeters, but she only had 3 lymph nodes involved. Like me, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy.  We compared notes on chemo. She had adriamyicn as well as two other drugs that she didn't name. I'm assuming they were the same I had, since Adriamycin-Taxotere-Cytoxan is a pretty common combo.  She chose expanders for her reconstruction and said it really hurt a lot. Besides, her nipples are all misaligned and as she put it, "Playboy won't be calling me for any photo shoots."  For me, that was reassurance that my decision not to reconstruct is a good one for me.

We talked about our common fear of reccurence. Her cancer was not estrogen receptor positive, so she was not given tamoxifen. Her understanding is that her type of cancer has a higher recurrence rate.  Even at 5 years out, she is still thinking about it. I think we always will.  I told her what my oncologist said about recurrence:  "If it comes back, it isn't going to be curable."  She nodded and said quietly, "Yes. That would be Stage IV."

Despite my fatigue, it was really good to talk with her. Someone who really got it.  We share a bond that we would rather never have, I'm sure. This thought also struck me, though.  With breast cancer rates as high as they are. The chances of there being others that I share this bond with in a large group of people are very high. You just never know who that woman is. It might be the person standing right next to you, or serving you ginger ale on an airplane.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The thorn on the rose

I'm writing this post from France.  We are having a pretty good time so far, having been here for nearly a week now. Everyone is getting along, and even the in laws and I are getting along. Jean-Marc is charming the socks off of them, of course.

We've been pretty busy. Every day has some sort of activity or destination.  We've biked the gardens of Versailles, walked the streets of Paris, toured the battlefields of Verdun, and toured the Loire countryside. This week, Eric and I will take a few days to ourselves and go to Strasbourg. In between, there have been the typical French lunches with family and friends that take hours.

I'm trying to get my workouts in as much as I can, but it is really hard. Another difficult thing is all of the delicious food that is being presented to me by our French relatives. It is yummy, of course. But it is also very lacking in vegetables and whole grains. I was happy today to be given some fresh from the garden beets from Eric's uncle. I sauteed some of the greens with garlic and had that for dinner. I was really missing my greens.  Despite this, it has been a pretty good trip.

There is one thorn in this rose, however. Yesterday while we were in the Loire Valley celebrating my mother in law's 80th birthday, I noticed that my left forearm had a different texture to it. It didn't look huge, but it was "harder" than the other arm. There was some swelling that was noticeable to my eye. We were spending the night in a hotel and planning on coming back "home" today. After I noticed this I was preoccupied for the rest of the day and was anxious to get back to the hotel to do a good session of manual drainage and bandage for the night.

Once we got back, I discovered that in the chaos of packing and getting everyone out of the house early, my bandages were left back at the house. I kind of flipped out. All I could do was to massage and hope for the best. As I massaged, I did not feel any kind of tingling or movement. All I felt was the hardness of my arm.  It had been two days since I had any significant exercise. I was missing my vegetables and feeling like an overfed piggie.  I resolved to get up early the next morning and do some Jillian videos in our tiny room.  (I would have run, but was afraid I would get lost in the village we were in! Instead, I did level 2 and level 1 of the 30 day shred from my iPod!)

As I tried to sleep in the uncomfortable bed, I tried not to freak out. All I could do was to try and rest. I also planned to drink extra water the next day.  The lymphatic system drains into the bladder so the more you pee, the better you can drain.

We are back at Eric's parents house now and will measure my arm tonight before I massage again and bandage. I'll add some foam to the forearm and wear it longer tomorrow morning.  I think I'll also wear the compression sleeve most of the day as well. That is, when I'm not fully bandaged.

I'd appreciate your prayers that this swelling get under control.  I'm not going to let it ruin the trip, but it is a thorn on an otherwise pretty lovely rose.

Jean-Marc and I right before I noticed the swelling

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August already??

Time flies when you are having fun, I guess. This summer is simply flying by.  To be sure, this summer has been so much better for our family than last summer. At this time last year, I was recovering from surgery, and preparing for chemotherapy.

Now I'm preparing for taking the whole family to France!  We used to go as a family more often, but as our family grew, it got expensive.  I know it sounds glamorous, and maybe some parts of it are. But we are visiting my in laws.  Eric's mom turns 80 years old in August, so we are going in part to celebrate that milestone. The last time I was in France was at Christmas when I was pregnant with Jean-Marc.

So much has changed for me in 3 1/2 years! I had a baby.  I lost 50 pounds. I've been through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. I have lymphedema. I'm paying MUCH more attention to what I eat and how much.  I'm training to walk 60 miles in 3 days. I'm probably addicted to exercise. I'm going to do as best as I can at keeping with my exercise program and making good choices about what goes into my body, at least as much as I am able to. I don't want to be an irritating guest who is overly picky and annoying, though. When in Rome.....

I am looking forward to a few days with Eric in Strasbourg. His company is headquartered there, so he has a couple of days to work.  That justifies them paying for his airfare. I'm going to go with him on the TGV and explore the city while he works. I should be able to log several walking miles that way!  We also will be shown the area by Eric's boss and his wife. It should be fun.  I also hope we can take the kids to visit the Verdun battlefield with the kids.  Eric's grandfather fought in that battle during World War 1.

I am a little concerned about the lymphedema issue. My hand and arm have been pretty good this summer. In fact, I've slacked off on massaging and bandaging a little bit. My arm is doing good, but 12+ hours at 33,000+ feet may have an impact. My plan is to wear my new compression garment on the flight and bring my bandaging supplies and wrap at night when I get there. I sure hope that is enough to prevent an episode of swelling. It would be miserable to have to bandage during the daytime!

I also want to be able to keep training for the 3-Day walk. I've been logging about 30 miles a week so far. The training schedule had an easier week last week, but I kept the mileage up. I figure my "easy" week will be one of the ones abroad. I've got a few Jillian DVD's on my iPhone that I can do. I'll do what I can. Not only do I want to keep exercising for all of the physical health reasons I do now, but it keeps me sane.  I'll need that after a few days at the in-laws! We get along okay, but its always hard away from home.  We'll be 7 people sharing 1 bathroom! Oy!

As you can imagine, there is a lot of logistical planning that goes into taking the whole crew on such a long trip. Not only that, but we get back less than 48 hours before the kids start school!  I will have 3 kids at 3 different schools. Olivier in middle school, Isabelle in the 5th grade at the Elementary school, and Jean-Marc will start preschool 3 days a week. Right now, I don't have a carpool arranged for the middle school. Adding that to the kids' extra-curricular activities, I'm gearing up to be "mom's taxi."  Needless to say, I've been pretty busy the last week or two getting the kids ready for school as well as getting us all ready for this trip.

So this trip for us signals the end of summer. Sigh. Can it already be over so soon?

My prayer requests:

  • That we have a safe and smooth trip. We will be schleping suitcases, computers, roller bags, a big car seat and stroller. I'm NOT looking forward to the security screening!  Please pray that we get through it all safely. 
  • That my arm not swell. Not only the travel, but if it is overly hot in Europe, I may be at risk. Did I mention that hardly anyone has air conditioning there?