Wednesday, November 19, 2008

FINALLY--some progress!

Today and yesterday were the most productive days I've had since I had surgery August 4. FINALLY, I can see noticeable progress in the healing of both of my wounds. The large one is not oozing anymore (most of the time) and it is finally starting to generate new skin. In this past week alone about 1/3 of it has gotten covered over, and that's really encouraging. It started with little raised white dots (I call them "skin volcanoes") that must have generated the skin cells, because shortly afterwards there were little islands of skin that eventually started filling in between. The new skin is not completely stable yet, and it's very sensitive, but at least it's not a huge gaping completely OPEN wound anymore. The smaller of the two wounds (in the crease of my knee) has also made considerable progress since the weekend, and I think that one will be probably heal over by the weekend at this rate.

Even better, the swelling in my leg around my largest wound (and also in the back of my knee) is starting to subside enough that I can bend my leg to a 90 degree angle (but still not much more) because the skin is extremely tender and thin right where the folds start when I bend my leg. The area that's a purple color around the wound has also gotten smaller and the fluid seems to be less noticeable, which I'm sure is due to the antibiotics.

Anyway, I got a lot of legwork (no pun intended) done for Advent in the last couple of days, and today and yesterday taught all the kids in the 4 RE sessions the music for their end-of-year Mass in December. It was a blast and I got a lot of nice compliments including from a catechist who asked if I was a music teacher--she said she'd been a teacher for 24 years and thought I was very professional and did a terrific job.

I must say I was REALLY, REALLY happy with all 4 sessions. I started and ended exactly in the time allotted, without rushing, and covered everything that needed to be done in an organized way. My voice held up better today than yesterday, but my cough is still persisting even after 5 1/2 days of Augmentin.

I was able to get through both sessions both days without excruciating pain in my leg, and I haven't used the gel packs since the weekend. Last night after soaking in the tub with epsom salts, which I've been doing almost every night since radiation ended, my largest wound developed a shiny hard coating for the first time. I've been able to leave my leg uncovered most of the day as long as it has either XClair or neosporin on it to keep it moist. I've also been using a lot of Vitamin E oil on my skin, still using my manuka honey (which is almost gone) and for the past week or so, "bag balm" to keep the skin around the wound soft since it has lanolin in it. Up until the last couple of days, it has been very difficult for me to do even the most simple tasks if they require walking into other rooms, standing for very long or moving around too much.

I go for my CT scan of my lungs, MRI of my leg and followup with Dr. Oskouei on Friday, and my followup with Dr. Godette on Monday. I am hoping that my leg will be almost back to normal by Thanksgiving, and what a happy one it will be this year now that all of this is behind me.

I've been taking pictures of my leg daily, and will try to post those on Friday after all my appointments. Bye for now,


Friday, November 14, 2008

Treating the cellulitis in my leg and sinus infection in my head

I went to the doctor a little while ago and just got a prescription filled for Augmentin, which the nurse practitioner said should also help resolve the cellulitis in my leg that's hurting me so much. I didn't realize that even though it doesn't SEEM infected, it actually IS! I probably wouldn't have needed to suffer so much this past couple of weeks if Emory had alerted me as to what to look for. But since they said "it will get worse for about two weeks before it starts to get better" I didn't know that this wasn't completely the normal progression of things.

I was able to direct both the kids choir and the adult choir last night for the first time in a month. My leg was swollen and stiff when I went home, and it was uncomfortable to drive home since I have to bend my leg to get in/out of the car and use the clutch, but at least it wasn't excruciating like it was up till now if I couldn't elevate my leg for that long. I did have to use the cold gel packs on my leg towards the end of the night, which at least makes it feel a little better temporarily. Hopefully with the help of antibiotics, that infection will clear up and my whole body will finally be able to get back to normal. It would be SOOOOOO great to be "well" by Thanksgiving!! (My CT scan of my lungs, MRI of my leg and checkup with the radiation doctor are all before Thanksgiving too.) I'll be amazed if I don't need physical therapy since I haven't had full range of motion in my knee since the end of July due to swelling from surgery, radiation and now this infection.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I'm sick!

I'm miserable!!! I can't believe this. I started getting a sore throat Monday night and it's been a full-blown cold with low fever Tuesday, yesterday and today. I've had what seems like a sinus headache all day (it's situated over my right eye) even though I've been popping Ibuprofen every few hours.

AACK! At least my leg is FINALLY starting to feel better. My assistant Bob offered to lead choir rehearsal when he heard how horrible I sounded on the phone so I took him up on his offer, even though he's led the last three for me . I had the "Saints Alive" LIFE event last Thursday, and he did the previous two since my leg swells when I stand, and I haven't been able to direct both the kids and the adult choir practices back-to-back since before Confirmation in early October.

I had already cancelled children's choir by email to everyone last night so I don't start an epidemic. 'Tis the season for cold and flu, and I really want to avoid a repeat of what happened a few years ago at St. James. A double-whammy virus made the rounds TWICE through every adult choir member in the months of November and December. It was AWFUL, and our Christmas rehearsals were severely impacted by the number of people out sick.

I hope I'll be mostly over this cold by the weekend, and my leg seems to be under control. I am praying that it will be noticeably more healed this time next week, which will make my life a LOT easier. Right now even though the pain has subsided to a tolerable level, it's still really hard to get around or do anything but sit on the sofa with my leg elevated, and it has to be covered almost continually since the wounds are still oozing a little and are far too raw to leave exposed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day 2008

President Obama. God help us. That's all I can say for today's entry, except that's a far scarier development for 2008 than my getting cancer.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Radiation is finished, but it ain't over yet...

Yesterday was a good day (and so far I'm OK today; I'm sitting with my leg up and a freezer gel-pak on it to keep the swelling down.) That helped me SOOOOOO much yesterday. Saturday night my leg was so swollen and it hurt so badly, I sobbed throughout the entire All Souls Vigil Mass and for probably a couple of hours after that.

Unfortunately, lymphedema is a common problem after radiation therapy. I really hope mine is only going to be temporary (acute) and not chronic, which is a possible long-term side effect. Click here for more info on lymphedema.

As of 10/24, my wounds are a little too gross to post here, so I'm posting them at a separate link now: I updated my post of 10/27 today, so even if you read it before, there is a little bit of new" info there. I still have to catch up between my birthday (10/17) and 11/2, but I'll do that in NEW posts so it won't be so confusing.

Aren't the roses my friend (and cantor/choir member) Becky sent me much prettier to look at? Thanks, Becky!! I got these on 10/22, and I still have about 6 that look pretty good! They brighten my spirits every time I walk into my kitchen.

Since radiation ended, my "recovery" has been a series of sharp contrasts of good and bad from day to day--I never know what to expect. It wasn't nearly as bad DURING the radiation as it has been this past week, so they were right that it would "get worse" before it gets better. (At least they warned me, but I just didn't have any idea that it would be FAR worse than what I had become accustomed to.) I've told people that it's kind of like a stock market chart (a rollercoaster is too smooth in this case.)

Here's a chart that kind of looks like what I'm going through. The initial downturn is the last 3 weeks of radiation. The steep decline after that is the past 11 days or so, and the jagged peaks and valleys with the upward trend are where I hope I'm headed now. I consider the red and green like good and bad days mixed in together. I got this chart here.

I didn't know how on earth I would be able to make it through two Masses on Sunday after Saturday night was so awful, but God had mercy on me. I brought the gel packs to Mass in an insulated lunchbox and wrapped the biggest one around my leg as inobtrusively and often as I could while seated at the piano during Mass, and that was a huge help. It seems that keeping my leg from swelling is the key to keeping the pain under control.

I've also been trying to take Ibuprofen on a regular basis to keep the inflammation down, instead of waiting till it hurts. Although I tried to stay away from the stronger drugs, I've had to take Vicodin a few times these past few days. My healing definitely seems to be on an upward trend, but the valleys are emotionally and physically painful, and I can see where more damaged skin is definitely going to have to come off before it can heal over. I just hoping that the skin underneath these outer margins will be more healed by the time that happens than the parts that came off already, so it won't be as painful. (Right now the area that is exposed is getting LARGER, not smaller, (the largest one is about 2" x 1" and it's almost certainly going to join the one speading out from the crease of my knee in a couple of days) but the redness and swelling around them isn't as severe as it was last week, and my wounds were never infected, so I think I'm relatively safe there--I would assume that the greatest danger of infection has already passed.) Also, some of the skin in the crease of my knee has healed noticeably just in the past couple of days, so that also gives me hope.

Again, I'm grateful that I didn't have to have chemo, but honestly, the after-effects from radiation have not been a walk in the park for me. But I'm ALSO grateful for the timing of this, because I have been offering up the only suffering I've ever really had in my life for a bunch of different intentions including the souls of specific loved ones who have died, for souls in purgatory who have noone to pray for them, and for a pro-life outcome to our election.

I can't tell you how much your prayers and support (and everyone's prayers who have helped me through this ordeal) have meant to me. I can't imagine the despair non-believers must feel going through this without God.

I am working from home today if anyone needs me since I can keep my leg elevated and iced. It really hurts when I stand or sit in a regular chair for any length of time. Even within just an hour it starts throbbing. They said that radiation destroys some of the lymph vessels and small capillaries, so my circulation isn't as efficient as it was before. I sure hope that I'll heal quickly from this particular side effect, but I've also been forewarned that lymphedema can be a long-term side effect from radiation therapy. Oh joy. At least when my skin is healed I'll be able to massage the area a little bit to help get everything moving.

Last night was the first time in over a week that I could bend my knee 90 degrees without significant discomfort, since my leg wasn't as swollen as it has been. The tendons/ligaments/muscles in my left knee are kind of achy since I haven't had full range of motion in that leg for at least 3 weeks now (and since my surgery in August I haven't been able to sit on my heels. I really hope I'm not going to need physical therapy for my knee because of all this, but if I do, I will ask to go back to the place I went last year for my shoulder (which was killing me due to an old injury.) They did a fantastic job in a short time considering how long I postponed getting proper care for it.