Five more years … and a back update

By | Thu November 28, 2019

It has been a whirlwind over the last two weeks – with an appointment with my oncologist and an appointment with my back surgeon.

I was pretty bummed out after my appointment with my oncologist. He again said that I was moderate to high risk for recurrence and that he wants me on some form of hormone therapy for another 5 years. We talked about options, since I really didn’t go through all the options when I stopped a couple years ago. When I stopped I was in pretty poor health. I had just been diagnosed with celiac and high blood pressure and was suffering from lymphedema in my left arm. There was just so much going on that I had to remove variables in order to figure things out, and the first variable was hormone therapy.

In our prior visit my oncologist floated the idea of 5mg of tamoxifen. I think it is something they are testing for cases of DCIS and previvors (BRCA without a breast cancer diagnosis). Anyways, I agreed to give that a try. And so, for the last four days I’ve been taking 5mg of tamoxifen at dinner time. It causes a slight headache (or at least it did the first couple of days, last night went better). Fortunately, I’m usually pretty mentally burned out by dinner time, so it doesn’t have a hugely negative affect on my productivity. So far, it is something I can live with, so I’ll try that for the foreseeable future.

I also had an appointment with my back surgeon. He confirmed that we would not do a fusion. He also explained that it would be a “partial laminectomy”. His goal is to remove the least amount of bone possible in order to still reach the nerves. Unfortunately, one of my disk herniations is on the side, which means he will need to move the muscle on the one side to get access. That is likely the part to cause the most pain, as it like spraining your back (ouch). I’ll have a 4 inch incision, but most of that will be superficial, as they will make a tiny hole in the area under L5 in order to access the nerve there and he will shave the disk herniation that is causing the pain. The other herniation at L4-L5 is lateral, so it means he needs to move the muscle to access it. As I understand it, it is about a 1-2 inch area.

In the end, I feel a lot better about the surgery. He is being as minimally invasive as possible. He is also doing the minimum that needs to be done to clear the nerve pain. I am hopefully that after this I can get back to hiking. It has been a year since I’ve been able to go on a decent hike and I miss it more than you can image.

What I wasn’t encouraged about is some of the degenerative changes in my back. These changes mean that at some point in the future, I’ll likely need a fuse – but he commented that if I’m careful to avoid lifting anything over 10 lbs and avoid too much strain in bending or twisting, it could be 25 years before the fusion is needed.

I can hope to live long enough for that to happen. He commented on maybe needing it when I’m 75. This might sound rather morbid, but I just cannot think about being alive for that long. With both my parents dying in their mid to late 60s, and my history of breast cancer, I think it would be a miracle if I can make it to 75! That being said, getting back to hiking and regular exercise will go a long way to helping make that happen. It certainly won’t happen if I become immobile.

Come January I ask for your prayers and healing thoughts as I do this surgery. I am not allowed to break a sweat for 6 weeks, as the surgeon wants to ensure the incision is fully healed before I do anything cardio related. I am also limited to walking about a 1/2 mile. I’m glad I asked the question, because all the paperwork says that walking is good, but that is written for people who generally don’t walk much. Had I not asked I likely would have been trying to walk 1, 2, or even 3 miles which would not give my body enough time to heal.

And with that update, I need to get back to work … and back to focusing on dissertation writing and end of term marking.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Feature image was taken at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

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