Andrea's blog


Time for a Haircut

Other than the front pieces, I'm officially cutting my hair now to *keep* it short and shaped.  Since I started from bald, I consider that a winning accomplishment.  In fact, I've gotten so used to having it OFF my neck and the ease of taking care of it, that I just don't see myself ever going much longer than I have it now.  For reference, my hair started growing back after AC chemo almost exactly two years ago, and I've had several trims along the way to keep it shaped and to continue to grow out the top and front layers. 

If you can believe it, I go to Great Clips for my haircuts, and since I don't color it, I just go whenever I start feeling annoyed with how it's laying.  I like the immediacy of being able to walk in and get a haircut, though I do realize there's a risk of disaster in that process. 

But, when I showed the girl who cut my hair today these photos, she appreciated the visual and did exactly what I asked her.  I made sure to remember her name (Desiré) so I can go back to her again.

Lifted volume in the back and the length angling down to my chin. 

I also showed her these photos below on the left as examples (that's me, after my haircut on the right) for what I was looking for.   I'd say she did a GREAT job!

Current Hair Routine:

I wash it about twice a week. Otherwise, I just use dry shampoo and a diffuser and shake out the curls.  I do use a small barrelled curling iron to clean up the top layer throughout the week when the curls start to wilt.

I use a claw clip to hold the top section back when I'm working out, which doesn't destroy the curls much.  And, I sleep on a regular pillow (not a satin one or anything fancy).  The low-maintenance is wonderful, and I like the way it looks--feels very "me."

Going through the curly girl method process all those years ago set me up for a great head of naturally curly hair.  Not everyone gets to start from scratch.  Though it wasn't my favorite to go through chemo and lose my hair, it's turned out ok after all.


Health Update

I've been meaning to write a Health Update (or several) since about February, but have been perpetually behind on blogging and documentation this entire year.  In a way, I guess the reason for that is part of the health update. So, I'm finally going to dive in and give it a try.

Physical Recovery

After I made the decision to close my sign-painting business, and we got through some home projects and the holidays, I spent December, January and February just trying to physically recover from the past two years of trauma.  I quite literally slept most of January and February.  Naps everyday, reading lots of books while laying on the couch, and disconnecting from everything else as much as possible.  No matter how much I rested, I was always tired and had little to no capacity for anything other than just getting through each day.  I remember having to give myself a huge pep talk while sitting in the Walmart parking lot, just to walk inside and do a quick grocery shopping trip.  I could hardly make myself get out of the car.  

Medication Adjustments

In February, I had an appointment with my oncologist, who after hearing about my steady decline in energy, suggested I stop taking Tamoxifen, the estrogen hormone blocking pill I'd been taking for the past year (and was scheduled to take for 5-10 years if it was tolerable).  While initially it didn't seem to have much side effect, as the year went on, I became more and more sluggish, had constipation stomach issues, and continued confusion and trouble focusing.  He said taking Tamoxifen was an "extra insurance policy" on what had already worked with chemo and surgery, and since my tumor was so mildly estrogen positive, he was 100% comfortable with me coming off of that medicine. 

After about two weeks off of it, I noticed a big difference in my energy levels and finally started feeling a little more like my (albiet, older and a little beat up) self.  A few weeks after that, I also stopped taking a probiotic I'd been on for a long time which significantly improved my stomach issues.  Around March, I was down to taking only a daily multi-vitamin (1/2 dose), Claritin and 5mg of Methimazole for Graves Disease.  It felt very good to be reducing my daily meds.

Spring in my Step

As the spring went on, I had several fun social events, trips and activities on the calendar that I was able to rally my energy and enjoy. Some took a LOT of prep and recovery to devote energy to them, and some were restorative and restful.  I was intentional about not putting too much responsibility on my plate, to leave large blocks of time in the day and week empty for quiet, reading, and sleep.  I've continued to exercise at Burn or walk 3-5 days a week all year.  Some days I can do it all and have great energy.  Other days, I'm struggling to do the minimum modifications. I've continued to deal with moderate elbow issues, both with my original injury on my left elbow and a new golfer's elbow development on my right elbow.  I've been very thankful to be able to physically feel (mostly) good, feel like I *looked* good, and have the energy to enjoy all of those activities.  But don't be fooled.  In between each activity was a lot of laying on the couch, resting, and recovering.  

I have (finally) learned that I need to say NO more often in order to have enough energy to do the things I want to say YES to.  This spring, that has meant I don't spend as much time cleaning and straightening and planning and prepping, I'm not likely to volunteer for extra jobs or responsibilities, I'm not good at regularly checking in on friends and family, I aim to accomplish only one or two things a day, I don't do as good of a job of documenting, taking photos and blogging, and honestly, I look a lot lazier and disconnected than I once prided myself in being.  I've prioritized enjoyment and rest instead of productivity and dependability.  For now, that's what I've needed to do. 

Mental & Spiritual Health

Mentally and spiritually, I have continued to struggle.  I'm not comfortable looking too far ahead into the future, making big plans, firm commitments, setting goals or having expectations.  Day-to-day and week-to-week is about all I can (and want) to manage. I'm easily overwhelmed when there is too much to think about at once, especially if the topic is complicated or includes drama.  I'm better at enjoying things in the moment, which is good, but I can tell that's because I'm only confident in the *right now*.  I fully expect any long term plan or expectation to fall apart for one reason or another, or for life to throw another curveball that derails the entire thing.  Instead of allowing myself to look down the road, I focus only on what is right in front of me, and the next step.  Consequently, I have no idea where I'm going, and I remain afraid to allow myself to head toward anything I might want or need in my life, for fear that it too will be taken away from me.  

After ALL the things, if I'm being honest, I feel angry and defeated and worn out more than I feel thankful and hopeful.  While my instinct is to run away from God, church, and anything that gives up control over my own life, I have tried to heed the advice I was given early on in my breast cancer diagnosis:  "The Lord will fight for you.  You need only to be still."  So, although yes, I'm physically healthy, cancer-free, and everything looks "good" and "fine" on the outside, I'm still waiting to be healed on the inside and while it is slowly improving over time, I have a long way to go.

Telling My Story

If you follow my personal accounts on Instagram or Facebook, you may have noticed my feed has all but stopped, which is atypical for me.  Around May, when I found myself very behind here on my personal blog, I decided I would not post on Instagram or Facebook until I was caught up, because the documentation of our family's life events is ultimately for me and my own family.  I wanted to prioritize that over sharing it immediately with everyone I'd ever met. 

It took me until now (July) to catch up, and I found that in the meantime, I've really enjoyed the freedom of not having to immediately "wrap up" everything I did with a post of photos and writing and sharing in-the-moment stories of what is happening in my life. 

For one, that practice has kept me more "in the moment" and interacting with the people I see in person and on a regular basis instead of communicating with such a wide variety of people on a constant basis. 

Second, it allowed me to rest instead of "work" after each activity.  My job with Burn keeps me on Instagram and Facebook writing and creating graphics and answering comments and DMs all day, every day, so by the time I was done working, I didn't want to do the same thing with my own photos and life. 

And most significantly, if I was posting about all the fun things, I felt like I was telling only half of the story.  That no one would understand that between each of the fun and pretty and active things were hard, slow, challenging days.  I was worried that (like we all do), people would make up the story in their heads that if I was out having fun and looking good, and traveling and spending time with friends and family, I must be "all better"-- and that still doesn't really feel true.    

After sharing some pretty raw and real parts of my life over the past couple of years, I'm just tired, and I don't want to use my limited energy to talk about those things as much--but they're still there.  So I released myself of the responsibility to constantly tell that part of the story until I'm ready to tell it. And if those who are  interested are willing to be patient, I know that eventually, I'll be ready and will.  In fact, though this post is backdated to July, I'm not actually writing it until September 2022.  Today I felt ready.  


TTFF Cahabaque

One of To The Fullest Foundation's first events was a table set up at Cahabaque, which is a fundraiser put on at Cahaba Brewing Company, specifically for breast cancer research with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama.  To the Fullest Foundation was invited to join them as well this year. 

They spent the day collecting email addresses, telling people about who they are and what they're doing, and enjoying getting to hang out together.

Follow and support their efforts here:

Instagram: @tothefullestfoundation

Facebook: To The Fullest Foundation

Tiktok: @tothefullestfoundation


To The Fullest Foundation - Student-Led Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation

My daughter Ayla (currently 15 years old) is part of a newly formed non-profit called "To the Fullest Foundation" -- started by nine young high school women who are working to increase breast cancer awareness and raise funds for treatment research.

The foundation was established in honor of Theresa Hancock (mother of Sara Hancock, the Founder & President of TTFF) who encouraged her daughter to live life "to the fullest" even throughout her illness and battle with breast cancer.

Some of them have already lost far too much in their young lives to breast cancer, yet these ladies are leaning in and using their trials and gifts for a greater good!

Ayla and her best friend Karis are Social Media/Marketing co-Directors of the Executive Committee for the foundation, and while they're all definitely having a lot of fun together, they take their jobs very seriously and are already doing a phenomenal job.

Speaking of social media, we would be honored if you would follow and support To The Fullest Foundation via the links below:

Instagram: @tothefullestfoundation
Facebook: To The Fullest Foundation
TikTok: @tothefullestfoundation


Obviously, the subject matter is very close to our own family, as I am now considered a "Breast Cancer Survivor" (you can read about my full journey through it at that link), so we are particularly proud of the stance and action Ayla has chosen to take on the subject. 


One Last Shot

Before the year ended, I decided to give my elbow one last shot -- quite literally.  Ben came with me to my appointment for a steroid cortisone shot.

The thought is that this could help reduce the inflammation that was created (and hasn't resided completely) from the surgery, which was 6 months ago now.  

While it has finally improved some, it's still tender to the touch, weak, and the joint aches at night and in the mornings.  I'm able to do most things as I was before the surgery without pain, but there is definitely still an uncomfortable "not right" feeling that persists.  I would say overall it is a marginal improvement over pre-surgery and at this point, I'm not certain it was worth all the hassle if it continues to always bother me in some capacity.  We couldn't know that at the time though.

So, before the years ends, I figured, one last shot to see if it'll speed up the process is worth it, and otherwise, I'm moving on and living with it as is.

Update: (1/6/22, two weeks post cortisone shot) I didn't notice much improvement or difference after the shot.  So much for that.  It is not a constant bother, and I'm not painting signs anymore, so that will surely help it have a chance to heal more completely over time.  Meanwhile, I'll just slowly keep building back my upper body strength, with the expectation that it's going to always hurt or be uncomfortable on that arm.  Getting old stinks.


End of an Era - Signs By Andrea

It is with mixed emotions that beginning November 1st, 2021, I am no longer accepting wood sign ordersIt's finally time (and I'm ready) to close up the shop and move on to a new chapter in my work life. I'm looking forward to more time for rest, less personal and physical stress, and having just one job to mentally focus on each week. 

I'm doing my darndest to simplify and minimize to try and keep my body and mind healthy. The stress of the past 5 or so years has taken a toll and I just don't have the capacity I once did. I'm heading into 2022 with a "less is more" mindset...
As of today, all the signs are shipped
I'm very thankful for what Signs By Andrea has been and meant to me and my family over the past 12 years. It's allowed me to work from home with a flexible schedule for nearly our kids' entire childhood, and was far more than a "little side hustle" most of that time. I never expected it to grow like it did, but am honored that well over 10,000 signs that I've made are displayed in homes all across the country (with a few special signs sprinkled across the world).  
I put one of these stickers on every box that went out.  And I think I got my own "sign" that this is the right time and right decision. 
Just after we'd made the announcement that I was "retiring" from painting, I got a call from my storage unit that it had flooded and there was water damage in it.  I was allowed to move anything that *wasn't wood* over to a new unit--any wood pieces had to be removed.  Welp.  The whole reason I HAD that storage unit was to store my wood.  (Yeah...that wood from a fence that I had painstakingly pulled apart and have been dealing with an elbow injury since.)
So...sign clearly recieved.  I took what I wanted to keep out of the storage unit, closed up my account, and left the wood for them to throw away.  That was a little painful. I'm not gonna lie.  But I guess I'm thankful that *I* didn't have to move it all or figure out how to get rid of it.  

So, I finished up my last round of orders with the wood I already had prepped and cut in the garage, and thankfully had plenty to complete them all. 

I did have to turn ordering off a few days early before my sale was supposed to end though.  I had too many orders to be able to complete before we left for our Las Vegas trip...and when we returned, we had scheduled to get new flooring and the exterior of the house painted.  So my office and painting porch were both going to need to be completely dismantled for several weeks.

So, I spent about three weeks here at the end pressing through and painting 5 days a week (a huge increase from the 2.5 days I'd been doing more regularly).  By the time I was done...I was ready to be done.  

These are a few of the last orders I fancy photos, just snapped before shipping.   As always...the custom designs were my favorites. I *will* miss making those.

It's been a good long run.  I'm very grateful for the life this business has given me, and the opportunities it has created for our family.  Thank YOU for supporting me all these years by buying my signs as gifts for family and friends.  It has meant the world.


I'm Not "Fine"

Octobers are going to be interesting.  Let me lament a little bit...I think maybe it'll be therapeutic for me.

While I'm very thankful for the awareness and fundraising and research all the pink brings to Breast Cancer, the truth is that I struggle with seeing PINK everywhere when I'm doing my best (at least this year) to try and put my breast cancer experience behind me and move forward.

The pink bows and pom poms and cute shirts and products are so good for awareness, but the joyful nature of all of it can be a little off-putting to those of us who have been hit directly by it.  It's most definitely a trauma trigger for me, that forces me to pause and reset my headspace, to remember that the pink is there because people care, not because anyone is trying to flash my trauma in front of me at every turn.    

The flood of pink reminds me of all that was taken from me as I tried to maintain as much of "me" as I could while going through treatment. It reminds me that recurrence will always hang over my head.  The pink reminds me of people I know and was close to who died because of this disease.  

When I look at the picture on the left, which was taken last year in October 2020, just after I finished chemotherapy, I want SO BADLY to be more proud of where I am in the picture on the right, which was taken this October.  I want to see "recovered" and "healed" and "whole".  But, instead I see a tired, worn down, hurting, angry, and less hopeful person than I once was.  

The truth is, I was in much better shape both mentally and physically last October than I am this year.  Even though last October, I had just been through 14 weeks of chemo in the middle of the Covid pandemic, suffered through my father passing away from cancer, and caretaking for my mom while she was in the hospital.  What could possibly be harder than all of that, I thought?  

But since that photo was taken last October, my body has now been through three more surgeries, two were cancer-related and one was for my elbow injury (the first was incredibly difficult, the second much easier, and last has not gone as well).  A week does not go by when I don't have a doctor's appointment of some sort to arrange the rest of my responsibilities around.  Every single day is a constant evaluation of how I feel, what I'm capable of, and what I'm NOT capable of. 

The "normal" that I thought I'd be able to return to when all of my treatment was finished just doesn't exist anymore, and I haven't successfully let go of that expectation.  The capacity I have to be involved in all the things and people's lives and activities that I used to be a part of, that brought me joy and gave me purpose, is so significantly and disappointingly diminished.  I just don't have the space for all of it, physically, mentally or practically. It feels like over the past couple of years my world has been forced to shrink considerably down to the bare minimums of health maintenance, work and carting kids around--and I think maybe that's been harder for me to accept than anything else. 

I miss all the extra--the fun, the energy, the excitement, the wonder, the events, the get-togethers, the relationships, and the activities.  Those aren't all gone--you can look at my Instagram and Facebook feed and see that there's plenty of things happening in my life that are fun and social and enjoyable and good.  But my anticipation and participation in them has had to change.  Instead of excited anticipation, I have to "fuel up" and reserve energy and say "no" to a lot of things I'd really like to say yes to.  (Are you familiar with the Spoon Theory?) 

I don't know if that's permanant, or maybe I just haven't recovered yet from all the things and need more time.  Perhaps I shouldn't have expected to be "fine" yet. I just don't have as much bounce in my bounceback as I used to have.  I guess that's normal and reasonable--in fact, I'm sure it is. It's what I'd say to anyone else telling me the same thing.  But internally, it feels like a concession.  Like giving up.  Like being forced to accept myself as less than I think I *should* and *want* to be.  And clearly I don't do that well or happily.  

My body refuses to heal from this last surgery.  My mind is often clouded and cynical--or just numb.  My spirit is tired of fighting and believing and hoping for better.  I spend everyday writing about and encouraging other women to take care of their bodies, to believe in themselves, and in what they can achieve and overcome, and yet, I'm wallowing in disappointment because my body and mind won't cooperate with what I think I deserve and am trying to achieve for myself.

I regularly ignore or get angry at this post it note I leave up in my office, posted right in front of all my upcoming labwork, doctors appointments and paperwork.  

I don't know if I'll ever truly learn the lesson. I haven't yet.

Obviously, "pink" is not my problem...but more what seeing it brings up for me that IS the problem. It reminds me that I don't have as many spoons each day as I used to (seriously, read the Spoon Theory).  It reminds me of all the trauma I've experienced over the past few years, not just cancer related.  And it reminds me of the loss and disappointment that came with all that trauma.

I would love to be the face of encouragement and positivity, fight and success, especially in October--but today, I'm just not there.  Maybe by next October...


I appreciate you reading my lament, listening to my wailing heart, and maybe even relating to some of these feelings.  It's taken me a long time to find the words, name the feelings, and be ready and willing to publicly express how I've been feeling in the aftermath of all of this, so I do it tentatively.  But, it's a continuation of the story I started to share a year and a half ago.  I feel like being transparent and honest throughout the journey might be helpful for someone else, somewhere--and maybe then they can cope better than I've been able to lately!   



14 Week Post Elbow Surgery Update

The short version of the past 8 weeks is that my elbow is still hurting.  While I do have good flexiblity and mobility and decent strength in that arm now, it still hurts in the same places where it did before I had the surgery--only more intensely, and it's a little tender at the outside of my elbow as well. It is slightly improved from the 6-week mark (when I was still wearing a wrist brace), but definitely NOT healed and well. Something in my body is staying inflamed and angry about being poked and scraped and cut and it JUST WON'T CALM DOWN. I'm pretty frustrated and at this point, beginning to regret the surgery, but trying to continue to be patient.  
Thankfully, my energy has significantly improved since the 6-week mark, and after a few days of using Voltaren arthritis cream on my right wrist, I noticed that my entire body felt less inflamed and sore.  I'm thinking that fatigue and exhaustion was an autoimmune Graves Disease response to recovering from surgery and the Voltaren helped calm down all the inflammation I was dealing with.  Since then, I've been feeling much better on that front.
When I saw my surgeon at 12 weeks out, and told him how it had not improved, he suggested resting it again for about a month, trying to avoid activities that irritates it, and really attacking it with anti-inflammatories.  So, for the past two weeks since I saw him, I'm taking 4 naproxen a day (increased from the 1-2 I was already taking) and doing 3-4 applications of Voltaren each day. I've stopped going to PT (so I'm not doing any concentrated exercises using my arms at all) and have tried to let it rest in more of my everyday activities.  That's pretty difficult when I feel it flare up when I am washing my face, washing dishes, pouring water into the coffee pot, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down countertops, holding and turning the steering wheel, opening and closing door handles, writing, painting, typing, pushing a shopping cart, carrying anything with a straight or bent elbow, and pretty much ALL THE THINGS I do all day long. But...I'm trying to "rest" it.  No significant change so far--and my right wrist issues also continue to hurt, though it doesn't seem to be getting worse (or better).  
I'll see the surgeon again in a couple of weeks. He ordered another MRI which showed that there is still some tendonitis in my elbow, which is both discouraging (because it's still there) and validating, because I'm clearly still feeling pain from something.  He suggested that a hand & wrist specialist join the appointment when I see my him next to look into nerve impingement.  He also wanted to suggest some kind of ultrasound procedure, though his assistant wasn't specific about whether that would be another cortisone shot, PRP, or perhaps Tenex -- two of which I've already done, and one of which I asked about before having surgery.  PRP & Tenex aren't covered by insurance based on what they've told me before. 
It feels a lot like starting over at the beginning of this injury.  I've been through physical therapy, lots of anti-inflammatories, tape, needling, massage, a cortisone shot, PRP treatment, more physical therapy, and then surgery, more PT, more tape, more needling, more massage, more anti-inflammatories.  I'm SO TIRED of not having full use of my upper body.  But it's beginning to look like I may just have to learn to live with the pain.
Here's the more detailed journaling week-by-week, which is mostly me whining that it still isn't improving.  But I'll want to  be able to look back later and see how long healing process took, what was actually happening each week, so that hopefully one day I can say it DID finally heal.

Week 6 to Week 7 - Not wearing the wrist brace constantly and knowing that every time my elbow "hurts" it's not because I've done something I shouldn't has definitely helped me mentally not focus so much effort on protecting it and noticing every little pain.  It's definitely still very tender, but strengthening it some during PT and being able to use it more normally without the brace has helped.  My energy has remained low and limited and my brain continues to feel foggy which makes it hard to focus.  I exercised three times this week, but struggled through all three workouts. I rested or only did PT exercises on the other 4 days.  My physical therapist (who is also my brother-in-law) suggested I try some Voltaren arthritis cream on my right wrist to see if that would help calm it down, so I started using that several times a day.  I had a large batch of signs to paint this week, which took me three days to get finished, in addition to my Burn work, and would probably have rather been resting on the couch all week long instead.
Week 7 to Week 8 - I woke up on the first day of the 7th week mark feeling great.  It was like the inflammation in my body had subsided and my brain was clear and everything didn't hurt so badly.  The pain was still there, but it wasn't taking over my entire body and thoughts. My internal dialogue that day was positive and I found myself wanting to check in with friends, make plans and make jokes--NONE of which I had been doing willingly in weeks.  I told Ben that I felt more awake than I had since my surgery.  I've decided it's the Voltaren, reducing the inflammation all over my body, because I continued to feel good, have plenty of energy and feel much more like "normal."  My left elbow is definitely still tender and not as strong as before surgery, but it is less dominating of my every thought and movement.  My right wrist is definitely not "better" and still hurts pretty bad when my wrist is flexed or I touch the spot where it's been hurting, but it is *slightly* improved from what it was.  I think maybe we've turned a corner...
Week 8 to Week 9 - At PT, I've moved up to 6lb weights.  Most of the exercises don't hurt, with the exception of two; bicep curls and extended arm tricep extensions with a band (even the lightest weight band).  I still feel tenderness when I try to press a button with my arm extended, but when I'm washing my face and brushing my teeth it is less noticeable.  At the gym, I'm still avoiding any arm-centric activities. I was able to gingerly use a 10lb med ball this week, but I mostly used my right hand for the lifting. On leg days, I wear a 20lb weighted vest so that I don't have to hold heavy dumbells, and when I hold them, I usually rest them on my shoulders. I did one round of half-burpees in a fully extended plank, but slightly elevated, holding onto a Burn bar (not hands on the ground). I was a little sore after that, but not terribly, so I'm hopeful I can incorporate a little more of that sort of thing, especially because my legs and feet are getting tired!  I was able to sand my own signs last week, which was a big step toward healing.  My energy has been great all week. My right wrist is improving, though it still hurts to the touch and if I were to flex my wrist, but less than it was, so that's good.  I have a few more days left to use the Voltaren cream. I'll be interested to see if my energy and inflammation changes a lot when I've finished the three weeks of 4x daily application.
Week 9 to Week 10 - I still wake up with my left elbow very stiff and sore, and have to be very careful holding or lifting anything of substance.  I have moved up to 7lb weights on PT exercises.  I've finished my 21 days of Voltaren, and while my overall inflammation has definitely been down, unfortunately my right wrist is still hurting pretty badly -- especially after working at my computer.  Sometimes I tape it up to add pressure to it, which makes it feel a little better. I think I have a little bit of numbness in my right ring finger and pinky.  I made the mistake of pushing myself out of the pool last weekend, which hurt BOTH arms and was a terrible idea. But thankfully, it didn't seem to do any residual damage beyond hurting in the moment.  My left forearm muscle is still tender (but improved) and the spot right at my elbow bone is very tender when I press on it while my arm is extended.  Inward pressing (on buttons, closing doors, washing face) still hurts significantly enough that I notice it.
Week 10 to Week 11 - Not much improvement.  I power-washed wood this week for my signs, which was frustrating and discouraging, because the last time I did that was before surgery, and I was hoping by the time I needed more wood washed my elbow would be feeling much better. It's not.  And this is from the same pile of wood that the original injury came from.  So, I'm a little (a lot) bitter toward it already.  At PT this week, Derek started working on my neck and shoulders, thinking maybe some muscle tightness there would be connected to my elbow not completely healing. My body clearly does not know how to relax.  Since I'm not using the Voltaren anymore, I take one or two naproxen each day, which does seem to help with my overall stiffness and soreness and inflammation.  My oncologist said as long as that doesn't irritate my stomach, that was fine to take daily.  I had some additional bloodwork done to check for Rheumatoid Arthritis and any other autoimmune markers, but all came back normal, including my Graves Disease TSH marker, which is great news.  So, it seems like maybe I'm just "normal" old and creaky?  It doesn't really explain the 6 weeks of incredible fatigue and inflammation that I was dealing with.
Week 11 to Week 12 - No improvement in my elbow that I can detect. It's maybe even a little more sore and bothersome.  My PT guy even said, let's wait till you talk to the surgeon again next week before we do anything else and see what he wants you to do next.  I'm pretty frustrated.  I feel pain when I am washing my face, washing dishes, pouring water into the coffee pot, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down countertops, holding and turning the steering wheel, opening and closing door handles, writing, painting, typing, pushing a shopping cart, carrying anything with a straight or bent elbow, and pretty much ALL THE THINGS I do all day long.  It's still far more painful than it was before I had the surgery, and at this point, I'm regretting doing it at all.  Plus, my right wrist hurts like a bear when I do too much with it, but I haven't really addressed *that* problem, because I'm still waiting for my left elbow to get better before I go opening up another can of health issues.

Week 12 to Week 14 - Saw the surgeon.  Had another MRI.  Taking lots of anti-inflammatories (naproxen & voltaren).  Stopped PT and am trying to rest it as much as possible. Not much change.


Elbow Surgery (6-Week) Recovery & Health Update

"You look so good!" 

"I'm so glad you're doing well." 

I hear that sentiment pretty often when I run into friends and acquaintances who know my story.  Then I have to tell them that I'm the "healthiest-looking sick person you'll meet." 

Below is a week-by-week account of the past 6 weeks since my surgery. 
I want to be honest about the struggles of dealing with all these issues, especially when I've been pretty open about the whole process from the beginning. I know I don't cope perfectly and have a lot to learn about stress management (clearly), so please don't consider me an example of "how to get through it." Instead, if you're reading this and following my story, I hope you can see how a person doesn't just get "over and past" big traumatic events and illnesses.  We have to learn how to live with them as part of who we are.  I'm still struggling with that.   
The short of the long is this: My elbow still hurts worse than it did prior to surgery.  My energy levels are extremely low and getting worse, not improving. My mood and motivation and attitude have been waning and declining at a pretty rapid speed.  I have at least 6 more weeks to go before I'll know if it's actually "fixed."
Now you can scroll down to the 6-week evaluation if you'd prefer to skip all my weekly whining and journaling...

Week by Week Healing Process

Lacertus Syndrome Release & Epicondyle Debridement Surgery Recovery

Surgery to Week 1 - Wearing the wrist brace 24/7. Physical therapy is only for mobility and flexibility. I've taken occasional tylenol or a pain pill, but not much.  I didn't attempt to work (much) or drive at all.  I had trouble focusing and my brain always seemed fuzzy...especially by the end of the day.

Week 1 to Week 2 - Wearing the wrist brace 24/7. I've been doing daily PT and a few short, easy walks in the neighborhood (15 to 35 min). Swinging my arm hurts a little, but once it's warmed up feels ok.  I've taken occasional ibuprophen or tylenol.  I'm having LOTS of nerve pain at the end of the 2nd week, which is in line with the 2-3 week nerve pain I had after my other surgeries too.  I had my stitches removed on day 13, which was uneventful, since they just trimmed the edges (didn't have to pull anything out).  

I am still very tired every day, and completely exhausted both physically and mentally by 5pm, if not before.  I have very little energy or motivation. Everything I do takes extra effort and calculation to use my right arm instead and not hurt or strain my left arm.  I went back to typing and computer work for my Burn job, but doing only the minimal so that I wasn't sitting at my keyboard for long periods of time.  I did one batch of painting signs, with help from Paxton prepping the lettering and then using my right arm for spray painting, and struggling through paintbrush touch ups.  I had to take lots of long breaks and it was very discouraging.  Ben is doing the sanding and hammering for me, and Paxton helped me with shipping. 
Week 2 to Week 3 - Wearing the wrist brace 24/7. For exercise, I'm doing daily mobility and stretching PT exercises, plus a few walks (35 min) and lower-impact modified Burn workouts from home -- nothing weightbearing on my arms or holding anything. My left arm is aching and painful. I have trouble resting it on anything because of all nerve pain, which hurts when anything touches that area.  I'm very tired every day, for most of the day. Paxton is helping me prep signs, and I'm able to spray paint with my right arm, and do touch ups with my left hand with LOTS of breaks.  It makes it very stiff and sore though and feels VERY difficult and overwhelming.  Also, the bottom outside bone on my right wrist has been hurting for a while (I think from using my mouse, and maybe holding my phone), but it's getting significantly worse, which makes using THAT hand painful too.  So I end up just sitting and resting instead of trying to accomplish anything that requires my arms or hands.
Week 3 to Week 4 - Wearing the wrist brace 24/7. Doing PT two times a week + Burn workouts (very modified) + walks, which equates to about 45 minutes a day, with one day of full rest.  I decided to cut added sugar out of my diet for the month of July to try and help reduce some of my joint achiness and pain.  I also brought back my gallon water jug in an effort to increase my water intake again, which had been difficult to keep up with since I couldn't carry it around with me.  Exercise in the AM helps me throughout the day, but I'm having to talk myself into doing it, which isn't like me.  I wake up hurting all over (aching elbow, screaming right wrist, sore feet, sore left knee), but once my body gets moving, I can get several hours of focus and output (though significantly less than normal me would attempt). By the afternoon my brain gets foggy and I'm tired from pushing to get just the bare minimum accomplished.  Everything takes huge pep talks to make myself go and DO anything.  Errands and small tasks feel completely overwhelming and not worth the effort.  I had to majorly caffienate myself to be at STILL very low-energy output over several 4th of July weekend activities we had planned. They were enjoyable, but took a lot of recovery and even during the events, I found myself struggling to want to be there.

Week 4 to Week 5 - Wearing the wrist brace 24/7. Exercise this week has been two days of PT plus a couple of Burn workouts (modified, no arms, less impact).  I didn't exercise at all two days this week. I'm getting very discouraged at how little energy I have. I am still falling asleep by 8:30 or 9pm every night.  Though I'm sleeping well, it doesn't seem to be enough to energize me throughout the day.  I wake up at 6:30 and am able to get a few good hours of chores and work accomplished, but then I end up spending most of the afternoon/evening laying on the couch. And my "good hours" still feel very sluggish, even with full caffiene coffee, which usually gets me moving like an energizer bunny.  We drove to South Carolina this weekend to see my family, and while it perked me up a *little* bit, it was not as much as I had hoped it would. I still have a very limited amount of energy each day and don't trust my energy levels to be high enough to "plan" for anything. Nerve pain has subsided, but my elbow is very stiff and sore in the mornings especially, and still extremely tender to the touch.  I've started being able to gently brush my teeth with my left hand, but pressing on my face to wash it is still too difficult to do without it hurting. 
Week 5 to Week 6 - Wearing the wrist brace 24/7.  I had two days of mobility and flexibility PT plus I did 4 modified no-arms Burn workouts, but I am struggling to get to and through the workouts.  I took three complete rest days this week. I feel so fatigued and have to really slow down all the exercises to be able to keep doing them. Workouts aren't feeling energizing like they normally do for me, but my energy level isn't any higher when I don't do them.
My elbow still feels about the same, significantly worse than pre-surgery still, so it's hard to know whether it's going to be "better".  I still can't lift or hold much in my left arm without pain, though gentle movements and non-weightbearing activities are easier than they were.  It will still ache in the morning and again by the evening. I still have trouble holding the steering wheel for long with my left arm, pressing buttons with the fingers on my left hand, opening and closing the car door, writing with a pen/pencil/paintbrush, etc.  My right wrist has also continued to hurt, though I've tried different mice, changing my posture, and stretching it out.  I ended up buying a second wrist brace to wear on it, which does seem to help calm it down. 

6 Week Evaluation

My elbow has improved since right after surgery, so it IS progressing, even though it doesn't always feel like it. I'm able to USE that arm to type, hold lightweight objects, and it has good and full mobility, especially once it's warmed up. It still hurts more than it did prior to surgery though, where the debriedement was, along the scar, and where the Lacertus band was released and tied to the muscle--so it's hard to tell whether it's "fixed".  Certainly, it isn't fixed YET.  
I saw my surgeon today and explained my varied symptoms and ailments.  He assured me that 6 weeks is about how long we had to wait for the injury to heal from surgery.  But at this point, it should be healed enough that using my arm isn't going to damage the work done.  He said I could stop wearing the wrist brace all of the time, unless I was doing an activity where I was more comfortable having it on, and I could begin to do some strengthening exercises.  He also said it was going to take another 6 weeks to strengthen it and continue healing before we'd be able to know that it was "fixed" and not hurting anymore.
After talking to him, I felt a little better.  
1) I wasn't damaging it everytime it "hurt". I was trying so hard to avoid pain because I thought it meant I was doing too much and damaging the work done to try and make it better.
2) I knew that not having to wear the wrist brace would help me mentally be less hyper-focused on every little ache and pain, which can get my mind spinning in overtime.  Every little ache and pain potentially has more significance and has to have a little more attention when you're on watch for cancer recurrence, so it's best not to get bogged down in normal aches and pains.
3) None of that explains my extreme fatigue and brain fog and aching joints, but I was hopeful that being able to feel more normal "physically" would help me in that department too.
So what's causing the fatigue?  Well, it could be any number of things, but I've really noticed it since this particular surgery.  So I tend to think it's related to inflammation from healing that injury, or mentally and physically adjusting and accomodating for it with every little movement I make all day long.  Since it's really been pronounced AFTER this surgery it makes me think things like my thyroid levels (which have been great for several years) or the Tamoxifen medication I take to help prevent cancer recurrence (which was working fine through the spring with very little side effects) or lingering chemotherapy effects probably aren't the culprit. I felt really pretty good in May and early June before the surgery, while not quite at my 2016 energy levels (or even early 2020), it felt like a normal amount of energy and output for an active 42 year old. 
More and more I'm guessing that my increasing fatigue is connected to situational depression and just a lack of the adrenaline and "fight" that has carried me through the past several years.  If you go back to my Graves Disease diagnosis in May 2018, I've had a LOT of pretty constant stress in my life and have been focused on one health issue or another and trying to get "better" from something for almost 4 years.  While I've mostly bounced back physically and mentally after each event, it's clear that my body doesn't handle stress well and it comes out in the form of inflammation, illness, injuries and fatigue.
Since I've been wearing a FitBit watch for the past couple of years, I can look back at my activity levels and sleep levels and very clearly see the stressful times (both physically and mentally) and how my body has shut down and required more rest and sleep during those times.  But when I'm "out of the tunnel" of those events, I perk up and have so much more daily energy.  To be honest, this graph is kind of a "DUH" result. I'm not sure I learned anything remarkable other than visual support for my fatigue being likely from situational and mental health, not necessarily a hormonal or medical inbalance.  I'll need to do bloodwork to officially rule that out -- and I may still do that.
January 2019 through July 2021 monthly breakdown: I just need an attitude adjustment? Maybe. But more than ever, "muscling through" doesn't just feel impossible, it feels futile when there's always something else lurking around the corner (currently my *right* wrist)--and I guess that's just life. 
Does that mean I need anti-depressants? Perhaps. I'm not opposed, and have taken them before (post-partum), but I've also been through depressive seasons in the past and have pulled back out of them without medication. I hesitate to add another medication to mix with the two hormone-affecting drugs I already take for Graves Disease and cancer prevenion.  
Mostly I am just recognizing that I'm SO TIRED OF FIGHTING to be and feel healthy when it doesn't seem to be working very well.  But...I also fear NOT trying to work on improving these ailments, because it seems like it would make me feel even worse if I don't try to combat them.  So, I'm stuck between the two--give up and accept I'm chronically "sick" with something or press through and "fix" the ailments so I can live life fully and energetically.  The first option feels like defeat. The second option feels unattainable.  
When I feel like this, I want to just escape to an extremely minimalized life with no responsibility or outside stress and obligations.  (A three day trip to the beach, where I completely relaxed and de-stressed once *actually* did the trick and healed some physical ailments I was struggling with.) I also know that when I'm feeling well, the things that feel overwhelming when I'm *not* well are mostly small and minor tasks that I don't even think about doing, so I don't want to let them go--I feel the need to maintain and hold onto those and press through them.  Because when I'm WELL, I like being busy and doing lots of things, and having lots of responsibility.  WELL me gets UNWELL me in trouble because she can't take a REAL break.
I tell people all the time, "you have to be adaptable," but I'm probably the hardest to actually get through to on that front. Because when I tell myself that, what I really mean is adapt until you can be where you want to be, not adapt permanently and accept it as the new normal.  Over time, I've reluctantly released some of my need to be the "me" prior to all my sickness and injuries, but from an outsider's perspective, probably not by a significant amount. Maybe it's time to adapt again and reduce my personal expectations another notch and accept myself at a lower energy and output.  Not gonna lie...that feels like I've lost, and hurts--A LOT.
Or maybe I just need a week at the beach.
Just keeping it real folks...So if my social media feed photos or even seeing me in person at the gym or out to dinner suggests I'm doing great and having fun and feeling well, it's good to remember that might be the ONE moment of that day that I was.  Or maybe I'm not at all and struggled to get there.  Or maybe I am having a good day and feeling well.  You just truly can't judge a book by it's cover.

Elbow Surgery - Golfer's Elbow & Lacertus Syndrome

I thought it had been too long since I had a surgery...

Not really.

But after all my breast cancer treatment and surgeries were complete this spring, I realized that my Golfer's Elbow injury from tearing apart an enormous fence two years ago *still* wasn't any better.

The initial injury...

I've tried physical therapy exercises, dry needling, rest, a cortisone shot, plasma rich platelet injection, a wrist brace, elbow compression sleeves and lots of modifying for daily activities. But it just wasn't going away.

Dry needling efforts...

Compression sleeves and lots of modifications...

Platelet-rich plasma therapy injection...

Wrist brace...

I finally talked to a surgeon a couple of weeks ago, who diagnosed me with both Golfer's Elbow and Lacertus Syndrome.

It turns out the Lacertus Syndrome (a fairly rare condition, often seen in throwing athletes) is an unnecessary band that was restricting the muscle in my forearm and keeping it from expanding when it was exercised. It finally made sense as to why the PT exercises to strengthen my forearm muscles to solve the Golfer's Elbow weren't working.

So...I found myself with another surgery on the calendar (yesterday) to do an epicondyle debridement, to remove unhealthy tissue from Golfers Elbow, and a Lacertus release to remove the restrictive band across my forearm muscle.
The doctors assure me that recovery isn't terrible. (We'll see.) I'll start more PT on Monday and will be in a wrist brace for 4-6 weeks. I'm hopeful this *finally* solves my elbow issues. 
In the meantime I'm going to have to work on becoming ambidextrous. Having your dominant hand restricted is no fun at all! 



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