Thursday, July 20, 2017

3 Month Update

So today is 3 months since I finished radiation for DCIS breast cancer.  The actual breast cancer treatment wasn't too bad.  I was lucky.  I sailed through the surgery & for the most part the radiation was easy.  Fatigued yes but I got through it without any major illness or time off work.

Last Day of Radiation
I took May very easy.  I continued to walk instead of run.  I did a couple short bike commutes to work.  We had a great vacation in Washington. I came back to work after Memorial Day feeling healthy.  I continued bike commuting a couple days of the week.  I slowly started adding run intervals to my walks.  I even hit the pool in early June.

Shillito Pool
Then came the second week of June.  It started with a scratchy, dry sore throat.  Then a little burn in my lungs with any exertion.  I figured I had a cold or allergies.  Several folks I knew had hacky coughs so I figured  it was my turn.  I managed to stay really healthy all through the cancer treatment so I was due.  I went to the work doctor & he said it was just a cold.  So I didn't think much about it.  Just went on my way.

The problem was I just wasn't getting better.  I dialed my workouts down even more.  No more jogging, only 1 bike commute each week, used fins at the pool but nothing helped.  I was tired.

We went to New York to visit family for a long weekend at the end of June. We always hike & explore while we are there but this time I was perfectly content to sit & hang out all weekend. That damn cold was really hanging on. Over 2 weeks since the first symptoms.

Queensbury, New York - Mom, Grandma, Steven, Jason & me
The following weekend was 4th of July weekend & we headed to Savannah to visit Nina.  I had to take naps every day.  We barely did anything.  By Saturday I knew I was heading downhill fast.  We had rented kayaks & I could barely keep up.  The effort was exhausting.  I felt bad but I had no interest in exploring Savannah. Just the thought was exhausting. I was so freaking tired.

Tybee Island - Me, Nina & Steve
I had 2 extra days off at home thanks to the holiday so I was just trying to get home knowing I could rest.  By the evening of the 4th I was done.  I was coughing, barely could breathe & my chest hurt something fierce.  I thought I had bronchitis.  I called my GP office first thing Wednesday (7/5) morning.  Thankfully they were able to see me that morning.

To my surprise the doctor told me I had pneumonia or possibly radiation induced pneumonitis.  Huh?  I was stunned.  She sent me to have a chest xray to confirm.  While waiting, I was googling radiation induced pneumonia.  I didn't like what I read at all.

Later that afternoon the doctor called me to confirm that I had pneumonia & that I needed a CT scan.  They got that scheduled for Friday morning & she started me on antibiotics. By Monday (7/10) morning I had zero improvement so I called to schedule a follow up with my GP.  When she walked in she said they are trying to get me in with a Pulmonary specialist ASAP because my pneumonia was severe.  My entire left upper lobe was full of pneumonia.  The CT could not determine if it was bacterial or radiation induced.  She assumed bacterial so they gave me a shot of antibiotics & a stronger antibiotic prescription.  She also told me no work for 2 weeks.  I thought she was nuts at the time but believe me I have needed every bit of those 2 weeks off.

I went to the Pulmonary specialist on Tuesday (7/11) morning.  He showed me my CT scan & explained how the next couple of weeks were going to go.  He re-iterated that they couldn't tell if the pneumonia was bacterial or radiation induced without a lung biopsy.  He treatment plans were this: 14 days of strong antibiotics & steroids.  If I get better, then it's bacterial.  If I am the same in 1 week then we do a lung biopsy.  If I get worse, go straight to the ER.  No exercise, no work, no being outside in the heat until I start to feel better.  Period.

See all that white?  That's pneumonia.
That bright white spot is most likely pneumonia on my right lung
Well, you would think being cooped up inside in July would be the worst thing in the world for someone that enjoys being outside & active.  The reality was I was so miserable I didn't care about the mandatory couch time.  The first 10 days were spent sleeping 9-10 hours each night, a morning nap & an afternoon nap.  When I was awake I watched the Tour de France & HGTV.  Each afternoon I would try to spend a few minutes online checking work emails but that was pretty much the extent of my working.

I had such a hard time determining if I was feeling better.  The improvements were so minor.  I remember telling the doctors that if I stay still & don't move I could convince myself that I am feeling better but as soon I got up it was a completely different story.  I was exhausted.

I had my first follow up with the pulmonary doctor on Tuesday (7/18).  I had little to go on from my perspective on whether or not I was truly improving.  I resorted to my Garmin data & a couple of things others said to me.  First, one of my friends said it didn't sound like I was as out of breathe when I spoke.  OK, that's good.  I still felt like I was out of breathe but that was good feedback.  Second, the same pulmonary nurse saw me each week & she said I looked better even though I still felt rough.  The rest was on my Garmin data. Yeah, total data nerd.

I looked at Garmin Connect to check my average resting heart rate & sleep trends.  My average resting HR on June 4th was 57 bpm.  Through the month of June it creeped up to a high of 67 bpm by July 2nd.  I started antibiotics on July 5th.  By July 9th it was down to 60 bpm & by the 18th it was down to 54 bpm.  The antibiotics & the rest were clearly helping even if I didn't feel better.

The next thing I looked at was my deep sleep time.  Prior to starting antibiotics my deep sleep was 3-4 hours per night even though my total sleep time was 9-10 hours each night.  After two weeks of antibiotics I was sleeping deeply 5-7 hours each night out of the 9-10 hours.  I interpreted that as I was breathing better & not coughing nearly as much in the night.

Using this data & feedback from others we decided to delay the lung biopsy which relieved me greatly.  This was not something I wanted to do AT ALL.  My next follow up is 7/31 & I am optimistic that I will be feeling much better.  I still have a few days before going to work but I have gone 2 days without a nap.  I have much more mental energy than I did even earlier this week.  I am definitely breathing better.  I am still very fatigued & don't see myself doing any real workouts for several more weeks.

In addition to my inhaler optri-chamber, I got a breathing apparatus called a flutter valve this week.  The way the pulmonary nurse practitioner explained it was it is like doing bicep curls for your lungs.  I use it 6 times a day & I noticed right away that it noticeably improved my breathing.

Flutter Valve

The doctors said the total recovery time was 8-12 weeks provided I don't have any other underlying issues.  I go back on 8/21 for a follow up CT scan to see how much my lungs have cleared up.  At that point we should be able to determine if this was just a nasty case of pneumonia or something else is lurking.  Fingers crossed it is the former.

Sammie - My couch surfing buddy
While on rest, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Tour de France this year.  I have watched all but 2 stages so far.  It has been the highlight of my days this month while recuperating.

Conversely, I am entirely sick of HGTV.  I'm so over those shows. I think HGTV will now always remind me of radiation treatment & pneumonia.  That channel is always on in the waiting rooms.

I read a few free prime books this month nothing worth noting.  Just easy reads. My biggest accomplishment this week was that I finally got our paperwork in order to meet with a financial advisor. I have been putting that off forever.

Tomorrow I go for another craniosacral massage.  It helped a lot during radiation treatment so I am hoping it will help a bit with my fatigue since Monday I go back to work. I am hoping that I can make it a full day but we shall see. 

Stay healthy, y'all!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Adirondack Camping

My mom finally retired in June.  One of her first trips was to visit Grandma in upstate NY.  We decided to fly out there to visit.  Since we just broke the piggy bank in Washington we decided to give camping a go.

During one of my many campground searches I came across this website.  They take photos of campsites across the country.  This was so helpful since we were planning to bring our hammocks & we needed to make sure we had trees.  They had a video of photos showing every site in Luzerne Campground.  The campground looked perfect. It had plenty of sites & didn't look like they were filling up for the weekend we were going to be there.  Plus it was about a 15 minute drive from Grandma's.

I called a few days prior to leaving Lexington to ask some questions about availability & if they accepted walk ups.  Then on a whim I asked if hammocks were OK.  With some hemming & hawing the women on the phone said technically they can be used but not as your main sleeping arrangements.  Huh?  Puzzled, I asked if they had any signs posting this & she said no.  She said if we had any issues we could just get a cheap tent at Walmart.  Huh?

After some more google searches it appears there have been some issues of nudity amongst hammock folks in campgrounds so the government put some caveats on hammocks.  I found a forum discussion that talked about this crazy rule.  After talking with Steve, we decided to go ahead & bring our stuff anyway.  He was able to fit his 2 person tent in the suitcase along with our hammock gear.

We flew into Albany on Thursday around noon.  We picked up our car.  We had a few options & choose the Nissan Rogue which happened to be brand new with only 3 miles on it!  It was a great option since it gave us the extra room we needed for all of our gear. It was also a very comfy & nicely designed car.

Brand New Nissan Rogue
After a lunch stop in Glens Falls we headed to the campground.  The folks at the gate gave us a map, told us to drive around & pick out a few sites we liked.  The campground is huge with several loops.  Reading the reviews on the web the first loop was to be avoided if possible. Too close to the main road.  The second loop was completely empty & about 1.5 miles from the entrance.  We checked out the main loop which pretty full since it was right on the lake plus the sites were pretty close to one another.  I don't think we bothered checking out the last 2 loops.

We had picked one site that we really liked in the second loop & a few other back up sites in that same loop.  We got our first choice. Site #22 was available all weekend long but we only booked the first night in case we didn't like it.  We spent the next hour setting up the tent & both of our hammocks before heading to Grandma's.

Site #22

Very deep site

Loop Road - So Many Trees!
The first evening we spent a couple hours visiting Grandma & mom before heading to the store for some supplies like water, beer, bug spray & a few snacks. Mom brought us a cooler to use to keep our beers cold.

The thing about campsites with so many trees is it feels like it is almost dark for like 3 hours.  The sunrise was around 5:15AM & the sunset was around 8:30PM.  The first night we were in our hammocks early & I got an amazing nights sleep.

Friday morning we drove to the little store across from the entrance for coffee.  On our way back in we booked the following 2 nights stay.  Steve spent the next couple of hours re-arranging his hammock before we headed out to the grocery to pick up some food for Grandma's. When we got to her apartment only mom was there.  Grandma was out running an errand. While she was out, she had a dizzy spell & ended up at the ER.  At 94 people don't take chances.  Grandma didn't want to go the the ER but her friend pretty much made her go.  So that is where we spent the afternoon.  Waiting in Glens Falls ER while they ran tests.  In the end, she was fine & we were home around dinner time.

Friday night Steve & I had a fire at the campsite.  During the night we woke up to rain.  It was warm that evening but the rain was soothing & brought in a cool front. The tarps did their job keeping us dry.

In the morning, Steve woke up & did his morning run while I went for coffees.  Afterwards we went back to Grandma's to make breakfast & to await the arrival of my 2 cousins from Connecticut.  None of us had seen them for 20 years so we didn't know what to expect.

They arrived around mid afternoon.  You are never sure what to expect when you haven't seen someone for 20 years. Plus they were 5 & 7 the last time we saw them.  They really didn't remember any of us.  The reunion was perfect.  They are such great young men.  The conversations were easy.  I am so glad they came up. It is only a 3 hour drive for them to visit so I do hope they will visit her more now.
Mom, Grandma, Steven, Jason & me
After dinner, Steve & I headed back to our site.  Since the cooler weather came in there were a few more people in our loop but it still wasn't full.  Thursday & Friday there was only one other person in our loop.

Sunday morning we again got coffee & started taking everything down. We had to cram everything back into our suitcase so we had to make sure we took our time.  As we drove around the campground we saw a few other sites with a tent & hammock so we weren't the only ones.

We were all packed & showered up by 10AM.  We again spent the majority of the day hanging out at Grandma's.  Steven & Jason left early afternoon & we headed back towards Albany around 4PM since we had an early flight out in the morning.

Overall the camping trip was a success.  We really didn't spend much time at the site but used it like a hotel room.  We also didn't do any hiking like we usually do when we go to New York.  I was still feeling sluggish from what I thought was the radiation treatment.  I didn't know it at the time but I had the early stages of pneumonia.  The pneumonia wouldn't come out in full force for another couple weeks though.

We got all our camping gear in one suitcase that we checked.  Plus each of us had a carry on bag for our clothes, shoes & toiletries.

Camping Gear contents:

  • 2 Hammocks & Straps
  • 2 Sleeping Bags
  • 2 Under Quilts for Hammocks
  • 2 Tarps
  • 1 2-person Tent w/poles
  • 2 Thermarest Pillows
  • Bag of tarp & tent stakes
  • 1 Camp stove --> Never used on this trip
  • 1 bag of plastic wear
  • 1 Helinox Camp Chair for me
  • 1 Seat mat for Steve


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