Saturday, July 28, 2012

The TV is on Vacation

One week ago, BB watched about 7 hours of t.v. because of how much I had to do.

I am a bad mom.

That night she was crabby and cranky, so I made the decision that the t.v. had to go.

When Rhett and I met, neither of us had a t.v. By choice, not poverty. My how times have changed.

I told BB that the TV would come back when she learned how to read.  The first couple of days were great. She's definitely been spending more time with books. Then one day I had a meeting I had to take her to, so I took the iPad.

It has now crept into the #1 time-sink spot. It appears that I have to send the iPad to the beach, too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Axillary Webbing or Cording

I titled the post what I did because I want to anyone else looking for information on that condition to find my blog.

I'm not above using my mastectomy to increase my blog traffic.

Just kidding.

Seriously, though, there just isn't much out there about this condition from a first-person perspective that isn't utterly scary, so I wanted to give an upbeat, optimistic view.

This will be a bit repetitive as my last post was about this, but I wanted to provide an update.

About a week and a half ago, I noticed something that felt like a tendon extending from my armpit when I would raise my affected arm (the arm on the side of my mastectomy). It caused great pain around my bicep and inside my elbow, and it restricted my ability to raise my arm or straighten it. Severly. I was incapable of straightening my arm without feeling pain, and I was unable to raise my arm above my head and straighten it at all.

A few night ago, I began researching on the 'Net. Apparently, this is not an uncommon side effect when lymph nodes are removed.

In short, the news on outcomes was more than a bit depressing. However, the treatment indicated is exclusively physical therapy. From a P.T. experienced in working with axillary webbing. After reading a couple of studies, I was not optimistic. In fact, I was downright scared that it was something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. I was decidedly freaked.

I indicated in my last post that I didn't want to share the picture that I took, but I've decided to go ahead and show it, in the interest of providing information to other women looking for someone who has gone through this.

Just so you know, it ain't pretty.

This is what it looked like on Tuesday of this week.

Let me assure you, it feels a lot worse than it looks.

You can kinda' see how the cord curves up towards my bicep. Follow the shadow. In all the pictures and information I could find on the Web, the cording or webbing traveled straight down the arm. This cord curved around my bicep. That freaked me out even more.

So, the next day after the depressing Internet research, I went to my P.T. for a regularly scheduled follow-up. In response to her "how are you doing?" I told her about the cording and asked her if she knew about axillary webbing. She said she did and got right down to business.

I stripped to the waist (not something you normally do during a P.T. appointment) and lay down on the PT table. She conducted the usual measurements, checking for swelling and range of motion improvement. The results were not good for either: Increased swelling and not a lot of improvement in my ROM.

After measuring, she began working on the cording in my armpit, manipulating, massaging, pushing, pulling, squeezing, and in all ways tortuous, caused me the most bizzare kind of pain I have ever experienced, and let me tell you, I have experienced some various kinds of pain in my life. 

It got so bad that I made her stop for a few minutes because I thought I was going to throw up.  

After the nausea passed, I laid back down, and she went at it again. Oh. My. Heck. I now get why some people call P.T. pain and torture.

I was flat on my back and she had my upper arm at a 45 degree angle, so that my arm pit was right next to my ear. Her hand was also right next to my ear.

After just about 20 more seconds, I heard her finger crack and pop, and it startled me so much I flinched. I immediately asked her if she was okay, and she laughed a bit. She told me the noise I heard was my cord "releasing."

Wow. I raised my arm straight above my head. I got up and moved it every which way. No pain. Tremendously improved ROM. Wow.


This is what it looked like later that night.

She tried to explain what happened, but without knowing the technical terminology, the best I can explain it is to say that the cord was kind of stuck to something else, but she got it unstuck through the manipulation and massage.

Words cannot express how relieved and happy I am about this outcome. So, so happy. So, so relieved.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Recovering From Mastectomy, Part II

Up until 2 weeks ago, it had been about 35 years since I had regularly gone bra-less and that's because I had not yet developed a reason to.

It is an odd experience to go bra-less in public for the first time in 35 years. It's a self-concious experience. But you know, nobody probably even noticed. And likely no one  noticed that I had only one breast. But I feel like a hippie.

Half a hippie?

Even after two weeks, it's a little weird. It is still incredibly uncomfortable to wear a bra, mostly because I'm swollen and sore underneath my arm right where the bra hits.

The "sunburn" feeling on my suture/scar area is lessening, though.

I've been doing my physical therapy almost everyday.

But I feel like I'm making absolutely no progress. I think that is because of something called axillary webbing syndrome (AWS).

It looks like this:

image from
 That's not my arm. I did take a picture of mine intending to post it, but I was too freaked out about my inability to get a clean shave (more about that later in the post) to share the picture, but it looks just like this. If you can't figure out what is wrong in this picture, just raise your bare arm above your shoulder and look in the mirror at your armpit. Then look at this picture again.

You will not have that cord popping out in the middle of your arm pit, and you also won't feel a pulling in the bicep, elbow, and/or lower part of your arm, where the cording connects to other muscle tissue. Some women with the AWS even feel it in their wrists.

I've been reading about this issue just tonight, and I'm freaking out. I will be calling the nurse practitioner in the morning, just so that she and the surgeon know about it, but I already have an appointment with my physical therapist on Wednesday. Apparently, the only treatment is physical therapy, including stretching and "scar release" (Yikes! What is that?).

This is a self-diagnosis so far, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.

So, about that 'not shaving' thing. After lymph node removal, it is recommended that the patient not use a razor to shave under the arm of the side that the lymph nodes were removed from. For me, that's the right. In addition, the use of anti-perspirant is verboten. I assume it's from the aluminum used in anti-perspirants, but I'm not sure. No razors because nicks may increase the risk of lymphedema (chronic swelling) in the affected arm, one of the most common (and for me, dreaded) side effects of lymphectomy.

10 years ago, when I had my lumpectomy, the scar from the lymphectomy was so minor, so not near my "hair patch" (ewww, did I just write that, let alone think it?), and so very well healed after just a few weeks, that I continued shaving with a razor. But I did not wear anti-perspirant. Or deoderant.

Do you know how few deoderants are just deoderants? VERY few. I found one brand, and it only had one scent. And it was men's...Speed Stick, I think. Finally, about a year or so ago, I discovered Tom's. Why it took me so long, I'll never know.

Yeah. 8+ years without using deoderant. I hear ya'...gross.

But really, I learned that if I shaved frequently, washed frequently, and laundered my clothes well, I had no problem with odor. But all that diligence (and by "diligence" I mean the shaving frequently) is tiring. Hence, the onset of a search and the discovery of Tom's.

But with this scar, even with "just deoderant," I'm not supposed to apply anything to the affected underarm, probably ever, but certainly not until the scars heal/close.

Because of this, a few days after my mastectomy, I ordered an electric razor so that I would not run the risk of nicking my skin on the affected underarm. But with that cording, I can't get a clean shave. And it's been over 95 degrees every day for more than a week now. And hair traps moisture. And moisture plus heat equals bacteria. And bacteria equals odor. Body odor.

I stink.

But only under one arm.

I. am. sick. of. smelling. like. a. men's. locker. room.

Trust me. I wash under that armpit daily. Sometimes two or three times a day. I change shirts during the day.

It doesn't help much.

Who would have thought that this would be the worst part of a mastectomy?

Am I blessed or what!?