Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Saga Continues

The demon mammogram machine, may I never see another one again.

 So when we last left the saga, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had made my decision to go flat.  (Which is a big change for this big girl; flat is not something I have ever been since I was a teenager.)

Carl and I left the 'team' meeting and headed back home once again.  I was told scheduling would be calling me with a surgery date, and the call came a few days later. 

September 13, 2021.

Ok, I had almost a month before the big, flat, surgery.

But first we had another big day coming up in a few weeks, the wedding of Alan and Leslie and a lot of work to get done.   Since we've never been responsible for an entire outdoor wedding before, the one thing no one can control is the weather.  The weekend before the wedding, it rained incessantly, 4" worth and we had standing puddles.

What would we do if the wedding weekend was a washout as well?  The couple had hired a caterer for the meal, and the tents and chairs were to be delivered, along with a dance floor, but we hoped for dry weather.  A soggy bridal couple and wedding guests would be no fun.

 We had cut down seven large declining spruce trees to make room for the wedding tent three weeks before the wedding.  Since I've been absent from writing, I need to mention we acquired a used excavator for use on the farm this past spring.  It has come in so useful already and we will be using it to remodel some of the gardens around here, too, as well as take down my mother's house.  (If we had owned one of these machines back in 2001, it would have been a lot easier to toss the big rocks around in the quarry garden, that's for sure.)

As usual, Joel hard at work helping his parental units with the garden.

I really wasn't on my game with the surgery pending in less than a month, so I didn't take as many photos as I normally would have.  We had Joel dig up the stumps from the old spruce trees and then replanted a new lawn which came up quite well, until the monsoon rains arrived and made the entire 'dance floor' area into a shallow 3" deep pond.

Carl and Joel rigged up sump pumps and pumped the water day in and day out.  Luckily, just a day or two before the wedding, the sun finally came out and the standing water was gone.  It was still soggy, though.

The groom, Alan, came out the day before the wedding and with Joel, supervised setting up the chairs for the ceremony, the tables and the signs.  He and Leslie did a wonderful job. 

I wish I'd taken more pictures, but my mind was all in a tizzy. 

Thankfully, Alan and Leslie's wedding day was picture perfect, no rain, pleasant temperatures and, thanks to Alan for having our yard sprayed for mosquitoes, no bugs during the ceremony. 

We were so happy for them!  They hired a Mariachi band to play for their wedding which was wonderful.  (I will have to see if I can do a post on their wedding using photos from the photographer.)

The wedding supper went beautifully, and the dance went on until around 10PM when the mosquitoes set in again.  The lights from the tent must have attracted them, but even though the evening was cut a little short, it was a beautiful wedding.

The next day was our annual booyah party and Joel was here bright and early with his friend Paul to start cooking for the crowd.  I didn't spend a great deal of time outside with the company as most of them were in the house surveying the remodel.  Once again, my hat is off to Joel for handling the outdoor activities.  Carl and I spent the day giving house tours. 

Once the weekend was over, it was time to start cooking in preparation for my upcoming surgery.  I made large batches of lasagna, chili, soups, stews, and cookies and froze them.  I knew I wouldn't be cooking for quite some time.  Carl can cook, but this was going to be a hard time for both of us and besides, the cooking took my mind off of the surgery to come.

I also went around and took pictures of the garden as I knew I wouldn't be able to do much with the flowers after the surgery for some time.

There were a lot of doctor appointments leading up to the surgery date.  Blood tests, covid test, heart monitoring, just to name a few.

Sunday night before my September 13 surgery, I was a bundle of nerves.  I was supposed to take a shower the night before with some special soap and again the morning of.  As I entered the shower Sunday night, I had a panic attack.  I'd never had one before, so I guess I can't say if it's exactly what happened, but I was a wreck.  I cried so hard standing under the water, letting it run over my head and down my body, knowing this would be the last time I'd be whole again.  I was scared.  Terrified.

After the crying jag passed, I felt a bit more calm.  I couldn't breathe, but I wasn't hysterical any longer.  We crawled into bed and I fought to sleep.  I had to be up again by 4AM to take another shower and report for surgery by 5AM. 

We were in the car for the bleak drive into the hospital by 4:15 AM.  Neither of us said much; we both had heavy hearts. 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

2021 Was Supposed to Be Better than 2020

I am writing the depressing account of last summer's medical drama because in a way it is healing to get it out of my system.  So here goes...

So, as it turns out, my ultrasound technician found 'something' and the radiologist herself was called into the room.  After a prolonged session of rechecking the area and looking at the scan, there it was.  A shadow which the radiologist felt needed more exploration.  

"I'm afraid we'll have to schedule for a breast biopsy," the technician said.

 Oh.  Well.  Ok.  There's not much I could say, and I was glad I didn't have to speak anyway, because the panic was now in high gear and the tears were sliding silently into my face mask.  If there's one thing the masks are good for, it's hiding a plethora of emotions from public view.

The radiologist continued, "I'm wondering why your former hospital didn't see this on your 2019 scan, it's clearly visible.  I would have questioned it two years ago."

Wait? I've had this thing for two years?  And no one noticed?

 "I'm going on vacation for three weeks.  I could have another radiologist take over for me, but I want to be the one to do your biopsy.  The area I'm concerned about is very small, but I don't want it to be missed.  Waiting 21 days won't make a bit of difference in your outcome.  We'll send you out to get dressed and I'll have scheduling set you up for an appointment in August."

My biopsy appointment was set for August 2.

I left the room and headed back to the mammogram locker room to change back into my street clothes.  I was in a daze.  This is not good.

I met Carl in the waiting room and the moment our eyes met, he knew the same thing.  This is indeed not good.  On the way home from the hospital, I went all the way from tears to denial and back to tears again.  Maybe just like all the other times I had repeat mammograms, this would turn out to be nothing serious.

Though we still had a lot of work to do in the house and the gardens, my mind was not my own any longer.  Having to wait the three weeks for the biopsy was torturous.  I would have much preferred to have the procedure done right away just to have it over with, but sadly, there are a lot of people needing biopsies.  Wait your turn, please. 

In the meantime, life goes on.  We were to host a wedding here at the garden in mid-August.   Wedding ceremony, reception, dinner and dance were all going to be in our yard.  The groom is my son's good friend and coworker and his beautiful bride is such a sweet person.  We were honored they wanted to share their special day with us.  We wanted to get everything right, especially since this was the first time we had more than just a ceremony and reception here.   We had to clear an area of ailing spruce trees big enough to put up a tent to accommodate the dinner and dance area, so at least I had something to do.

Finally, August 2 arrived.  I didn't sleep very well the night before.  I arrived at the hospital and was ushered into the biopsy room.  The procedure was explained to me and I was given a little time to read over paperwork and sign, though I don't remember what I actually read. 

I'd never had a biopsy before, so the nurse explained the procedure.  The exam table was very high off the floor because the doctor and nurses have to be able to sit under it.  A rolling step ladder was in the room, and I was told to climb up to the exam table and then either sit on my behind and pivot around, or go down on my knees and crawl to the head of the table.  The object was to lie on my stomach and position my breasts through two holes in the table.  This way, they would dangle (great description, right?) through the holes so the radiologist could perform the biopsy. 

The problem was, I was very nervous and shaky and therefore not thinking very clearly.  The room was rather dark and all eyes were on me as I ascended the staircase and knelt on the tall table.  What I didn't realize was the holes in the table were covered with a paper drape, so when I went to crawl forward, my left arm went through one of the holes and I fell in up to my collarbone with a resounding thud. 

"Oh no!  Don't put your ARM through the hole!" one of the people in the room exclaimed.

I won't lie, it hurt.  By this time the tears were rolling again, I hadn't been sleeping well anyway and I was so, so nervous.  They were able to position me correctly and the procedure began.  Another nurse came in and was rubbing my back, trying to distract me from what was going on beneath me.  The area was numbed with lidocaine but I felt the punches of the biopsy nonetheless.  A titanium clip was placed in my breast where the lump was so they could locate it if need be later on.  It didn't take very long anyway, and I managed to make it back off the table without further incident.  Still shaky, though.

  I was led back to the mammogram machine again and two more images were taken of the breast to make sure the titanium clip was placed correctly.  Before I left, I was given a cold pack and post-biopsy instructions on what to do for the next few days. 

We'll call you when we know results, it could take up to two weeks.

Carl decided to take me for a ride that afternoon since I wasn't supposed to do much of anything physically.  I grabbed a spare cold pack from home and we drove aimlessly in a northerly direction.  Going for short road trips has always been a thing we loved to do since we were teenagers. 

We ended up over two hours from home and both of my cold packs had warmed up, so Carl stopped at a small gas station to see if he could buy something cold enough to put on the biopsy site.  We ended up with a pint of chocolate ice cream which worked very well and when we got home, it was the consistency of a milk shake.  It worked out well; we drank it for dessert after supper that night.

Another week went by, and finally on the tenth day, I received a phone call from the hospital.  The lump turned out to be cancerous.  Very small, less than 3/8", but it was invasive ductal carcinoma, Stage 1. 

"The good news is this is very treatable," the nurse said.  "We've caught it early (Not too early, I thought, since the radiologist said it was clearly on my 2019 mammograms) and I don't want you to panic."

Too late, lady.  Panicking already.  Actually even before the biopsy.  Right after the call back for the repeat mammogram in June, panic was already present.

"The next step will be for you to meet with your cancer team."

  I have to admit, I've never been much of a team player.  I really dislike sports.  

A week later I had one appointment with three doctors.  I simply sat in a room with Carl and all three doctors came in to talk with us, one at a time.  The first one was the oncologist.  He told me that his role would come into play after the surgeon and radiologist was done with me.  He asked if I had any questions.  I asked a few, but didn't have much to say.  He wished me luck and departed.

Next up was the breast surgeon.  She was in her early 60's and very tiny and perky.  She outlined that my best course of action would be a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. 

I had done some homework before this appointment and decided that I wanted a double mastectomy.  With dense breast tissue and constant repeat mammograms at every yearly visit, I felt it would only be a matter of time before the other breast was involved, too. 

The surgeon was not in favor of my decision. "Having a double mastectomy is not warranted.  It will not increase your chance of survival at all.  This is an early stage breast cancer and a lumpectomy would suffice to rid you of the tumor.  I really do not recommend this course of action.  Other countries around the world laugh at America because so many needless mastectomies are done here.  As I said, it is not necessary in your case."

With that said, she left the room and the radiologist was next up to present his case.

He was a pleasant man with bright green and yellow argyle socks (weird what I notice when under stress) who told me that with the size of my tumor he felt fifteen rounds of radiation to the lumpectomy site should suffice unless after surgery they were to notice a need for more.  

I asked what side effects the radiation would have and was told that there's a special breathing technique wherein I would hold my breath which would expand my lung and protect my heart from 'most' of the radiation.   Ok, but what about my lung?  Well, just the top of the lung would be affected, not all of the lung.

I asked if I had a mastectomy, would I need radiation?  He said, no, not unless the surgery turned up something more dire.  After the radiation was complete, I would be coming in for mammograms every six months for at least a few years to make sure nothing else pops up.  Mammograms every six months?  For years?  No.

I asked if it would be possible to see the breast surgeon again, and he said he would send her in again.  I thanked him for his time and he left.

When the surgeon came back in, I told her I had now decided that a double mastectomy or DMX, for short, was what I wanted, and I wanted an aesthetic flat closure.  I did not want any reconstruction, I wanted to be flat and one and done.

She did her best to dissuade me, more or less saying I was burning down a house to kill a spider, but I had my mind made up.  Fine, she would schedule me for a DMX if that is what I really wanted.

Of course it was not what I 'really' wanted; I wanted to not be there and have cancer at all, but hey, let's get it over with.

A Big Change of Life

I haven't written anything for a long time, but I have a good excuse.  As it turns out, my health has taken an unexpected turn.  

With the remodeling going on here at the house from June of 2019  and into October of 2020, I did not go in for my routine mammogram.  Mostly my reason for delaying my physical in 2020 was due to the pandemic and all the pandemonium we all went through and are still struggling with now.  

I have been dealing with chest wall pain and back issues since 2014 and when I finally met with my family doctor in June 2021, a CT scan was ordered, along with other blood work labs.  Nothing was found wrong with any of the tests, so though I was still in pain, I was relieved it wasn't anything terribly wrong. 

Along with the physical, an appointment was made for my mammogram a week later.  Mammograms have always been fraught with dread for me because I have dense breast tissue and there was always a need for more images, meaning more painful compression and the cold sweat that always accompanied the wait to see if all was well. 

We had changed insurance from 2019, so I was now back to a hospital I hadn't been to for a good many years.  When Carl was working, it seemed as if we were changing health insurance plans every year or less, which meant many times having to bounce around between the covered in-plan doctors and hospitals.  It's really not like it was in the old days when a physician would often see patients from birth to middle or even old age.  Now it's a revolving door of health care providers which is a whole lot less personal. 

Anyway, I didn't think much about the mammogram after the usual need for three more views as is standard with me.  I was told the results would be mailed to me in a week or so.  However, my notification came in the form of a phone call a day later.

"Hello, I'm calling from the Breast Center.  The radiologist sees an area of concern on your films.  We would like you to come in for another repeat mammogram and possibly an ultrasound.  Can you come in next week?" the nurse asked.

It was the last week in June, and the dread and my ever-present worry alarm was fully engaged.  Oh dear, this is not good.  The followup mammogram was a week later, in early July.  After nervously disrobing in the little cubicle and putting on the token exam gown (which we all know is kind of silly, since we won't be wearing it for long anyway) I was ushered back into the room with the demon mammogram machine.  This time only the left breast was of interest and another four views were taken at different angles.

"Alright," the kind technician said, "I'll take these films to radiologist and if you'll just take a seat here, I'll be back to see what she decides."

Again, the cold finger of dread starts up my spine.  Maybe I'll get lucky, maybe it was just another problem with my dense tissue, it's all going to be ok.

That is, until the returning technician said, "The radiologist would like you to have an ultrasound, you can follow me."

Then I knew, this sounds like trouble.  And it was.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Remodeling Our Hut Part 38: Concrete and Colonnades

 Continuing this seemingly never-ending saga of the remodel, I'm going back to September of 2020.  Due to the pandemic, our final cabinetry was delayed, so Carl and I turned our attention to the mundane tasks of burying drain tile, installing a retaining wall and getting ready to pour a floor in the new garage lean-to addition.

Our friend Cody, who helped us with everything from framing up and roofing the garage extension to installing our crown molding and so much more, came over on a Friday afternoon to help with the concrete floor along with Ann and Joel, too.  Pouring concrete is a big job and the more hands the better.

The cement truck was ordered for 3PM and we were all running in circles getting ready.  The biggest problem was figuring out how we were going to get the cement to the backyard.  Carl was thinking we would use three wheelbarrows and wheel the cement between the shop and the garage, but I had my doubts about that plan.  Wheeling heavy cement is extremely difficult.

I came up with the idea of using the tractor bucket which Carl wasn't crazy about since he didn't think it would work.  Joel was game to give it a try, and luckily, my idea panned out.  We had the cement truck park on our farm lane and Joel went to and fro with the tractor fetching cement for Carl and Cody.

Joel managed to skillfully fit the tractor bucket as far into the lean-to as he could and Carl and Cody filled the wheelbarrows and wheeled the cement to where they needed it.  I didn't do much more than shovel the cement around and help with the screed board to level it off.

Though this was a small area, the work was intense.  Cody spent a few more hours troweling the entire floor smooth and was done just before dark.  We ended the night with a cookout and some good conversation.

The picture above was taken in January 2021.  Since we are also in the midst of demolishing my mother's home, we removed the doors from her garage and put them on the lean-to.  Carl also painted three doors for the garage and the mudroom and rehung them just before winter.  A lot of snow slides off the roof, making it a challenge to get to the chicken coop but at least the doors keep it out of the garage.

Once the garage floor was done, we moved on to the driveway. Audrey pitched in to help with gravel leveling in mid-September 2020.  
Notice Audrey's 'gloves'?  She was playing in the mud and dipped her arms in up to the elbow. 
As the weeks went on in the early fall of 2020, I kept pestering our cabinet maker to see if we were still on his list for the colonnades and some extra cabinets I wanted in the mudroom.  I hate to be a bother, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease, they say, and I really wanted to get this house done.  I talked to him in late August, and he assured me we were up next.  He couldn't give me an exact date, but I understood.  These things take time, especially in a pandemic. 
In the meantime, I was working with Joel on Mom's house demolition.  We removed the one hundred year old maple hardwood from her house and made piles of it as we went along. 

I have to admit, this has been a sad experience for all of us.  As I've mentioned before, Mom was very proud of her home, and every inch of the house holds so many memories.  After four parties looked at the house in hopes of moving it to another location, they all eventually backed out, so we have no choice but to take the house down.  
It has gotten a little easier as we went along with the demo, because the house looks less and less as it did when Mom was alive.  That said, I also confess to having more than a few solitary crying jags while working on my own when Joel wasn't there.  Tearing up her carpets and pulling the hardwood made the tears begin.  Grief sneaks up on me at the oddest moments, and at times I feel such guilt at destroying her home. 

 Joel and I worked for weeks on the hardwood removal up until winter set in.  The house has no furnace any more, and neither of us felt like working in the cold. 
Mom's once-tidy, spic and span kitchen, now littered with the removal of the flooring and the cupboards.  I took the ceramic tile backsplash down and have hopes of installing it here in our house as a memento of Mom.   Joel has been able to sell some of Mom's furniture that we have no room for and some lumber, too.  None of it brings much money, and sometimes Joel delivers it to the people who contact him.  We've also given many things away for free.   If other people can use any of the items, all the better.

While Joel and I were working on Mom's house, Carl's assignment was to finish the staircase railings here in our house.  Divide and conquer with the work; it is the only way to get stuff done.
Carl had a lot of math calculations to make to get the railing to come out right.  He welded the designs up at the shop, brought them home to see if they fit, and then back to the drawing board until they were right.  
My idea to build the railings with a 'Craftsman' design which I thought would be relatively easy, proved to be anything but. Carl had to remake the railing several times before he had the desired look.  
And, to make this job even more difficult, I decided we should have wood newel posts instead of the wrought iron curved ends we'd had previously.  Carl had made the original railings back in 1979, and was very proud of the the curved laterals he'd built back then.  He wasn't keen on changing to the wood newels, but ended up humoring me in the end.  

Off we went to the big box store and came home with two newel posts in need of staining.  (And installing, which meant Carl had to do more math.)

Carl spent a few hours hand sanding the oak posts, seated on my exercise ball.  (He said it was handy and moved easily, but as a chair, it lacked lumbar support.)  Once he had them sanded to his satisfaction, we propped them up to see how they looked.  The posts came very tall, and the idea is you need to saw them off to fit your staircase.
Finally, the last week in September, the cabinet maker called to say he was nearing completion with the colonnades and cabinets.  I asked him if he would stain and lacquer the newel posts too, and he agreed.  We dropped them off at his shop the next day.

A few days later, he called to tell me he was going to bring out the cabinetry to make room in his shop, but wouldn't be installing until the next week. 

Below, the pillars and colonnade cabinets are awaiting installation.
October 1, 2020, our cabinet makers extraordinaire, Don and Jamie, arrived to begin putting them up.

 I was working outside in the garden in the morning to get the garden ready for winter.  When I came back in the house to make dinner at noon, I was surprised to see the progress.

The two man crew worked steadily for two days.  They had the pillars attached to the cabinetry and the next step would be the beams to go across the ceiling to attach to the pillars.  Those would be delivered the next week.

After another day and a half of work the following week, the colonnades were complete. 
 We have one colonnade and box beam between the kitchen and the formal dining room.

And a matched pair and beam between the foyer and the dining room.

Our house is not large, but the room dividers give it the Craftsman feel we were looking for. 

The cabinets for my laundry/mud room were also installed.

So, now we're caught up to October 2, 2020.  We'd come a long way from June 2019, when this whole remodeling adventure began, but there's still a lot more to do. 

Thank goodness we have Audrey to come and give us a much-needed popcorn and painting break now and again.

She reminds us old folks to have some fun. We all need a little time to rest and be creative.