Hanging on to Fitness and a Few Strands of Hair Through Breast Cancer Treatment

I am a Medical Oncologist, a wife, a mother of 4, runner of 12 marathons training to run my 13th with a goal to qualify for Boston when the diagnosis of breast cancer caused a significant detour in my well-planned life. When I asked for guidance on how to continue to stay fit while receiving treatment, I received blank stares and found little data. While I never intended to be in this experiment, I find myself now generating my own data about fitness through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I am writing this in hopes to help others who find themselves in this same situation.


The Surgery

Day 1 after surgery and I am feeling great! Especially emotionally. It feels so good to get this step in this treatment process behind me. The day started yesterday with having wires placed in the cancer under ultrasound guidance. That was a bit nerve-racking. There was the fear of pain which actually turned out to be unnecessary because this was essentially pain free except for the initial bee sting that comes with getting lidocaine. But mostly I realized how important this step in the process was. These wires would provide a road map for the surgeons to get all the bad guys out. Every time I heard the radiologist say the word "perfection", my nerves were calmed. Then I was off to the surgery waiting room where I got a pager much like when waiting for a table at a restaurant. Then after about an hour, the buzzer went off to indicate that my "table was ready". Turns out, it was just time to go to another place to wait for a long time. The time was filled by having all the people who would be involved in the surgery stop by and ask a bunch of questions and tell me what they were going to do and what the risks of all of that would be. To update you on the tests that I had in order to better understand the extent of the cancer, is that there was some concern that the breast cancer could be growing into my chest wall. It was not possible to know for sure based on the MRI and CT scan, so I got to know a Thoracic Surgeon last week just in case it was determined when they opened me up that a more extensive surgery was needed in order to get all of the cancer out with good margins of normal tissue. This more extensive surgery could include removing things like ribs and muscle beneath my breast tissue.

Over the past 4 weeks since receiving this diagnosis I feel like I have come a long way in accepting and releasing control over all of this. But I have to admit, my control freak instincts kicked into high gear again as I had to hear the plan and the potential risks involved. I didn't like hearing the anesthesiologist tell me they were using a larger than usual endotracheal tube, aka breathing tube, for me just in case the thoracic surgeons needed to collapse my right lung in order to remove pieces of my chest wall. Then the thoracic surgeons came in to remind me that if they needed to take out big pieces of my chest wall including rib, they might need to put in some kind of mesh so that my chest would have some kind of normal shape when done. Needless to say, none of this sounded very fun. I worried about that large endotracheal tube. What if my trachea is smaller than expected and they poked a hole in it while putting this tube? And it is probably not hard to imagine that I was not really excited about any of the activities that the thoracic surgeons talked about doing if needed. But my desire or ability to control things came to a pretty quick halt when I was brought back to the operating room and given a bunch of strong drugs. My last words before going out for the count were: "I love all of you and thank you so much for taking care of me". I guess my strategy was to create a bond with these people who held my life in their hands. :-)

The next thing I knew, I woke in the room where I started surrounded by the doctors, my husband Jay, and my brother Thor. This was a really strange experience. It felt like no time had passed. I kept asking, are you really done? It was only a few hours I guess. And the best news, those very nice Thoracic Surgeons didn't have do any work! I still had all my ribs and my chest wall was intact! One of the first questions I asked my surgeon was when I could do kettle-bell swings and start running again. I believe he just shook his head and said “six weeks”.

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