My Panacea

My panacea … or at least that is what I’m hoping it is.

Not long after my major surgery in December, hubby noticed that I wasn’t breathing well when sleeping. I had started to snore (something I’ve never done before, honest) to the point of actually waking myself up. He also heard that my breath was shallow – it wasn’t so much that I was stopping breathing, just that I wasn’t breathing well.

I certainly notice the problem anytime I slept on my back. After surgery, this is really the only option, until you are able to sleep flat – which after my last surgery was about 3 weeks. Sleeping on my back meant more snoring, and more waking myself up. I was not getting a good night’s sleep.

I asked for a referral to the sleep clinic. After an absurd wait for an initial appointment, I was scheduled for a sleep clinic. During the initial appointment, the attending (a very old guy) took one look at my throat and said that I had sleep apnea. He spoke in code to the fellow (various measurements and such), and had me book a sleep study. Unfortunately, just as that was scheduled, I got a cold with a nasty cough. It wasn’t advisable to do the sleep study while sick, as it would make my results more extreme then perhaps they would otherwise be. And so, I rescheduled, and waited. It seemed like forever.

Finally, on May 26 (about 3 months after first reporting symptoms), I spent the night at Stanford and did the full sleep study. I was surprised when they did not wake me up in the middle of the night. Whatever was happening was not considered bad enough for an immediate intervention. This was both encouraging and discouraging – as I knew something was going on – something was messing with the quality of my sleep.

Two weeks later the results arrived in the mail. Obstructive sleep apnea and hypopnea. Mild, but not nothing. Fortunately, I did not have any cardiac events in the night. My follow up appointment wasn’t booked for another month, so I called the sleep clinic to see if I could get in sooner. After a little discussion (and prodding cause I still wasn’t getting decent sleep), I managed an appointment for July 2nd.

During the follow up appointment, the attending did a great job explaining things. The concern was less on the apnea (absence of breathing) and more on the hypopnea (shallow breathing) which brought down my blood oxygen levels. She recommended that I try out a CPAP machine for at least three months to see if that makes things better. I am now the proud owner of a brand spanking new ResMed AirSense 10 AutoSet for Her CPAP machine. This, I am hoping is my panacea. I am hoping that getting a good night’s sleep will help with the fatigue I’ve been struggling with. I’m hoping that it will help reduce weight gain (maybe even help with weight loss). More than anything, I’m hoping to have more energy and focus – less fog brain!

What was particularly interesting was that during my first visit, the discussion was around tamoxifen, and how when the estrogen is suppressed in the body, it can trigger sleep apnea. It is in part why men are usually diagnosed in their early 20s and women are usually diagnosed after menopause. It was very unusual for them to see someone of my age in their clinic.

During my second visit, the attending (a different one – this time a very fast talking women who I quite liked) casually mentioned chest mechanics and the role they play in hypopnea (shallow breathing that typically happens during what should be the most restorative part of your sleep). This got me thinking – you see, as part of the major surgery that triggered this whole thing – and before I even started taking tamoxifen – I had symptoms. This is the same surgery where I had all my breast tissue removed, my stomach tissue harvested, relocated and reshaped to form my new breasts – which also happen to sit higher on my chest than my original saggy breasts (yay, no need for a bra). What this means is that both my stomach – which is now rather tight – and my chest – which now has fake breasts that weight different – have different mechanics. The combination of the two does not bode well for deep breathing – especially deep breathing while asleep.

I did a quick survey of folks who had DIEP flap reconstruction, and several others reported that they too had sleep apnea/hypopnea that was diagnosed post-surgery. I think it would be an interesting thing to study – to see if there is actually a correlation – to see if one of the potential side effects of this particular surgery (or any reconstruction for that matter) is sleep disorder.

Either way, now that I have my new fancy machine, I am hoping to get a few good nights sleep, and with this hope to be feeling a whole lot better sometime soon! Crossing my fingers that this CPAP is a panacea for me!


  • Becky


  • Becky I had the diep flap reconstruction and bilateral mastectomy three years ago September 2012. It’s amazing how every six months my body feels like I am getting stronger and parts of my body are able to be felt more alive again. My stamina my sleep and my ability to do things I love to do like hike, bike, swim, golf, play tennis and the list goes on and on and I get better and better. And just recently I learned how to row. I just couldn’t do all of them right away. It was hard for an athlete like me and you I think. It takes time to heal. I had only surgery but that was a lot. You’ve had other treatments. There was a period of time where I was snoring. Eventually I was able to sleep on my side and now I even sleep on my stomach. There is still time I sleep on my back but I don’t find back sleeping as being very comfortable. In the first year I really slept best in a recliner or with pillows propping me up. Then the second year I seemed to prefer sleeping on my side with a long body pillow between my legs . Now I can sleep wherever and however I want. I also have tried to relax more before going to bed. Sometime taking a bath with lavender Epsom salts and also I did drink hot camomile tea to help me relax. During my first year of treatment I did too much research about breast cancer before bed, just because it was quiet and my husband and five kids were always up or around during the day. I needed time to think, make decisions, cry, but mostly just listen to my body. Now there are days I just try to enjoy living rather than surviving. What we went through was a lot. I remember saying I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck it doesn’t feel like that anymore. I did however lose my breasts and a relaxed feeling in my stomach. But the biggest impact was with my thinking. I was scared at first and really didn’t know it. I was being strong for my loved ones. I’m still cautious about if another type of cancer could appear but for now that is not a daily worry. We did everything we could to be cancer free and now we are learning to live with these uncomfortable side effects. For me they got significantly less I hope they do for you too. Thanks for this awesome blog. It is still aiding me in my own healing. You really help me to acknowledge that I am not alone with my feelings. You are very gifted. Thanks for sharing your journey with all of us. Diana

  • Hi Becky, Not sure you knew that I have sleep apnea–severe when I’m on my back, medium when I’m on my side. I’ve been using CPAP for 6 ½ years. It’s been a lifesaver. I had reached the point of thinking I had fibromyalgia because all my joints ached when the doctor asked me how I was sleeping. I said that I slept fine but my husband didn’t think so. He said I snored and stopped breathing. It was off the sleep lab.

    I hope the CPAP is working for you. Claire

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