Kelli with Cancer.
Hi, My name is Kelli Salkin. I was first diagnosed with breast cancer February, 2014. At the time, I was diagnosed I was a stage 2.8, almost a stage 3. Due to my many other health problems, it’s been a long and complicated process, but I’m now on the other side of it and happy to be moving forward. I’m currently living in Winston Salem, North Carolina, on permanent disability. I’m a lover of romance books, but unfortunately due to my health issues (which I’ll get into later), I’m not able to read nearly as much as I used to. I miss it.
I first became sick (not from the cancer) when I was living in Tampa, Florida. I’d been there for about 15 years working in a call center, when I developed a disease in my legs called Chronic Venous Insufficiency, with Stasis Dermatitis, and also at the same time my Pyoderma Gangrinosum from many years past decided to come back in my legs as well. The first is basically no more circulation in my legs. The blood gets to the bottom and just won’t go back up again. The second is due to elevated white blood cells, which I’ve suffered from my whole life. That normally causes annoying stuff like psoriasis, etc., but the PD is way worse. It’s ugly, it’s scary. I won’t go into the gory details. Let’s just say it is not a good thing.
I also have developed over the years a nasty case of osteo arthritis in both my hips, and degenerative disc disease and other issues in my lower back. Along with other high blood pressure, sleep apnea, etc., the Breast Cancer was just a bonus. Unfortunately, the cancer has added two more major pitfalls to my arsenal. Chemo sucks. Let me tell you. It has side effects that nobody tells you about until it’s too late. The first pitfall I got was chemo induced neuropathy in my already suffering legs. I now must either walk with a cane or a walker. My legs are getting weaker and more spasmodic over time. I’m currently taking three different medications to try to keep all the spasms and pain at bay and am already at the highest dosages.
The other “fun” side effect is called chemo fog. It’s like pieces of my memory just vanish right when I need them, and I go totally blank. I don’t mean, oh gee, I forgot your name, sorry. I mean, I forget whole sentences, how to spell common words. I can forget whole blocks of memories of whatever I’m trying to pull up to say. It can be so frustrating. They say it sometimes gets better over time. I hope so. I was first diagnosed February, 2014. I had just gone in for my annual mammogram. (EVERYONE ALWAYS GET YOUR ANNUAL MAMMOGRAM!!!!!) They told me right then that they saw “something” and were sending me for an ultrasound. My appointment was in 3 days. At THAT appointment, I think they assumed I already knew what was going on. They did a second mammogram, and the woman showed me the lump, like I knew what I was looking at. At that point I started getting scared. After the ultrasound, they set me up for a biopsy, but still no one told me I had cancer. The Doctor came in and said they were testing me for it, that was all.
I was so scared, and all alone. I was kind of freaking out at that point. I remember that afternoon going to Ruby Tuesday straight from the lab, just to have somewhere to go. I think I needed to get somewhere quick where I could just sit and think. Ruby Tuesday’s was closest. I remember I called my sister to tell her what was going on, and then I kind of lost it a little bit. I sat there in the booth and just cried. I know I scared the poor waiter half to death.
A few days later, after the bioposy, my sister and brother in law invited me to drive down to their place, about 2 hrs away. I was almost there when I got a call from my primary Doctor. I’ll never forget that call as long as I live. The first words out of his mouth were, “Kelli I’m so sorry to hear this has happened, to you, but don’t worry. We’re going to get the best cancer team on this, and everything is going to be okay, blah…blah…blah…etc., etc….” I almost wrecked the car. He had apparently thought the biopsy surgeon had done his job and told me that I’d tested positive for cancer. But he never did. No one did. Needless to say, the process was not off to a good start.
I was told during my first visit with the surgeon that my lump was 2.8, almost a 3.0, and that due to all my other health issues, there were going to be some complications in handling my case, mainly with regards to the radiation. The Plan was surgery, radiation, and then chemo, if needed, depending on test results. The surgery was fine, no complications at all, except it was two weeks before that year’s RT Convention, and I was determined to attend. So even though I really shouldn’t have gone, I did anyway. Unfortunately, I was so sick when I got back, I threw up for 8 days straight before I was well enough to get to a drug store to get anything to help stop it. Man, I learned my lesson there.
Next was the radiation. Because of my arthritis, and other problems with my back and legs, the doctors didn’t think I’d be able to lay still for the extended period of time for the standard 12 weeks necessary for traditional radiation. So they used a radical treatment on me called Balloon Catheter Radiation. They surgically inserted this big pile of tubes in me that stayed there the whole time, and I went in twice a day for five days, and plugged into this little machine that reminded me of R2D2. By day 3 I was throwing up like crazy, and I’m surprised my boob wasn’t glowing in the dark, but it was over so fast. I’m glad we did it. I can’t imagine 12 plus weeks that most women go through of radiation. It must be horrible.
One aspect of radiation that people don’t think about, or about breast cancer in general, is something you don’t realize until you’re going through it. And, again something that they don’t warn you about either. It’s the humiliation aspect. For example, by the 3rd day, maybe the 5th or 6th round of radiation, we’re going through the setup process. The technician was the nicest guy, I’m sorry I can’t remember his name. I’ll call him Bob. I’m lying on a stretcher naked from the waist up. Half a dozen total strangers are in a room watching me on video screens. Bob is positioning me in a CT donut and has a camera taking my pictures, to make sure the tubing hasn’t moved any inside of me. So, I’m on my side. My cancer boob facing up, that arm up over my head (Think of that Titanic movie charcoal pose that Jack did of Rose). I just HAD to start laughing. I couldn’t help myself. I told Bob I felt like I was on the set of some weird porno movie. You HAVE to have a sense of humor to survive this.
Next was the chemo. Twelve weeks of hell. Because I had no family in town, my brother-in-law’s sister who lives in my town, insisted on bringing me to chemo every single trip. God love her. She’s had breast cancer twice, and she dove in head first. I’m totally grateful for her help. There’s no way I wanted to go through that part alone. It was pretty rough. My hair was falling out by the handfuls by the third treatment or so. I think it was the fourth treatment where I had a friend come over and shave my head. I had a wig, but I actually never wore it. It was just too uncomfortable, and I really didn’t see the point. I had a couple caps and scarves that I wore some, and I went out bald some as well. In this day and age, there are so many of us out there, we have nothing to hide. Nothing to be ashamed of. I never once had anyone look at me funny, or say anything, or had any issues with it at all, really. After the radiation, and all through the chemo, I had a situation where the hole from the surgery was filling up with fluid. My chemo ended the end of November. By the first of the year, the lump in my breast was swollen to the size of a grapefruit. It was drainage from the radiation that should have absorbed back into my breast, but wasn’t doing so. My Doctor suggested another surgery to repair it.
One week after that surgery, one stitch popped, and left a tiny pinhole, which never closed. We tried everything. Long story short. After a solid year of this open hole in my breast, that was constantly draining, and leaving itself open to possible infection, it was determined that they had to do something. The problem was that the skin on my breast was damaged from the radiation and was never going to heal. The only resolution was to remove it. So, after two-and-a-half years of everything else that I went through, I still had to back up and have a mastectomy April of this year, 2016.
I think that was the most discouraging, depressing thing of all. After everything else that I went through, to know that I still had to have the mastectomy after all. At this time I’ve opted to not have any reconstructive surgery. For now at least, I’m done with it all. I’m sick of it all. I don’t want anything else to do with it. I couldn’t care less if I have two breasts or not. There’s no way I’m going through any more major surgery voluntarily. I’ve had enough, thank you.
I still have problems with chemo fog, and with neuropathy in my legs from the chemo. At this point I believe that I’m all done, but I also have learned that with breast cancer, it seems like you’re never all done. It seems like there’s always something. But at least I’m done for now. I’m moving forward. I’m working on healing my other health issues for a change, and that’s a major deal. For the most part I don’t even think of Cancer. I don’t want that energy in my soul, I want it behind me, where it belongs. Only positive energy and love before me.
And for all of you currently going through it, stay positive, don’t let it get to you. You have to just accept it for what it is and push through it. One day at a time, with love.