Sunday, February 26, 2017

One Good Scare

As a breast cancer survivor, I get mammograms frequently. On my right breast, the one that had cancer, I get a mammo every 6 months; on the left, as-of-now-cancer-free breast, I get one every 12 months. And my mammograms are 3-D. So they're really not messing around.

On November 16th, I went in for my 6-month mammogram, and the Radiologist found two "new and unusual lumps" in my right breast, on the right side of the breast. What caused extra concern was that these two lumps were close to the surgery site from where the lime-sized tumor was removed back in March 2015. These lumps had never appeared on any other mammogram or ultrasound.


So the Radiologist ordered an ultrasound, which was done immediately. Like, stay in your gown, grab your clothes, and walk across the hall type of immediately. At least I didn't have to wait. Given my health history, they were not fooling around. The ultrasound showed that, indeed, these were "new and unusual lumps" and the Radiologist ordered an MRI with contrast.

Double fuck.

I left the appointment shaken up big time. In tears. Fortuitously on my way out of the Imaging Department, I bumped into Stacie, my first Port Angeles Friend; she works at the hospital. All I had to do was look at her and she knew. Stacie is an incredibly talented woman, but I know mental telepathy isn't her strongest super power, so I verbally filled her in.

And then I went home and called my Medical Oncologist's office because the order for the MRI with contrast needed to come from her. Get on it. Get that goddamed ball rolling. I'm a triple-negative breast cancer survivor turned possible patient in the last 45 minutes. Hurry up. I had an appointment with her coming up Tuesday November 22nd; two days before Thanksgiving. I had three business days to get a bilateral MRI with contrast done and read before seeing her.

Mother fuck.

Meantime, the backstory, if you'll kindly recall, was that I was the only person that can drive in my house because of Randy's tonsil cancer--and the fact that he had a goddamned seizure when they were placing his chemo port. I'm also just coming off of being sick to the point that the boys almost didn't make it to school for a few days because I was so weak and driving was difficult. All I wanted was to feel better. I was looking forward to celebrating my birthday and one year of being done with all treatments--which happen to be on the same day. Thanksgiving was coming. Christmas was coming. And then there's the entire autism thing and trying to keep life as calm as possible during the holidays.

So, after a lot of meditation, soul-searching, and discussion with my husband, I decided to not have the MRI with contrast.

Wait. What? 

I kept referring to the facts:
  • the lime-sized tumor that was removed from my breast on March 20, 2015 may have been the biggest baddest type of breast cancer a young woman can get, but none of my lymph nodes were positive for cancer
  • I completed all my chemotherapy
  • I had 21 doses of radiation shot into my breast
  • my Radiation Oncologist said she shot my right breast so full of radiation that the chances of something growing in there was incredibly slim
  • my PET scans and my CT scans all showed no cancer cells post treatment
  • I know my breast is at risk of lymphedema if I don't massage it regularly like the Physical Therapist/Lymphedema Specialist said to; and I do that shit twice a day because it's just what I do. 

I really intrinsically felt that the lumps were of a lymphedema nature. Call me crazy. But I know my body pretty well. My hypothesis was that if I did a deeper massage on the lumps, they'd go away. Cancer doesn't go away when you massage it.

And, so you know what lymph does in our body--it is part of the lymphatic system, a key part of our immune system. The lymphatic system helps white blood cells (and proteins and a bunch of other stuff) travel through our body. White blood cells are important because they fight infection. We have hundreds of lymph nodes all over body; our spleen and tonsils are lymph nodes. Many of the nodes are near the surface of our skin. In order to prevent lymphedema in my breast, I do these massages, which were tailored for me by a Physical Therapist/Lymphedema Specialist, who happens to have spent her professional life helping cancer patients not get lymphedema. And lymphedema is not pleasant. I have times where my right breast becomes really feels like a goddamned brick...especially when compared to my left breast...which feels like a breast. And my right breast gets really heavy and lots of pressure builds up from the inside. It hurts. So it's incredibly important to prevent lymphedema of the breast. If we move, lymph moves. So exercise is important. And so is drinking lots of water. The more hydrated we are, the healthier our entire body is, not just our lymphatic system.

So, I decided to not have the bi-lateral MRI with contrast. Not right now.

And really, the Radiologist, his entire job description is "order more tests" because that's what they do. And he looked a little like Dick Cheney

Not that I made my entire decision on the idea of my Radiologist looking like the former VP.

Anyway, I met with my Medical Oncologist on November 22nd and we discussed my health history, my current state of life, and then proposed we repeat the mammogram and ultrasound in 2-3 months. She happens to by my husband's Medical Oncologist, too. So she knows we deal with a lot of heavy shit in life. She agreed that doing the MRI can wait; and ordered a repeat of the mammogram and ultrasound in 3 months. On the condition that I do the deeper massaging of my breast regularly. And lots of yoga. And drink lots of water and eat as healthy as possible and go for my acupuncture treatments and go for my massages. And on the condition that if the lumps are still there on February mammogram and ultrasound, we do the MRI.

Also, every three months, my Medical Oncologist checks my blood and my labs have been coming came back stellar. Like, hang a gold medal on those reports, type of illustriousness. My lab results at the meeting with my doc were awesome.

So I massaged. And massaged. And massaged my breast. And did yoga. And drank water and ate healthy. And did everything right. And the new and unusual lumps started to get smaller. Randy even agreed. It's important, in this case, that he feels me up a lot.

But maybe it's my imagination. I'll know more in three months. Get through one day at a time. Get us through the holidays. Get Randy back in the driver's seat. Get them all off to school.

It's been three months.

I had the repeat mammogram and ultrasound on Thursday February 16th.

The "new and unusual lumps" that were found on November 16 were "significantly smaller and nearly gone" so no MRI with contrast. YES!!!

Not so fast.

The mammogram showed there was another "new and unusual lump" near the bottom of my aerola, in the 5 o'clock position. And the mammo tech, who was absolutely lovely, used so much pressure on the mammogram that I ended up having some kinda fluid lean from my nipple. I didn't feel any pain when my DDD size boob was almost as flat as a pancake because my breast is so dense from all the radiation, there isn't a whole lot of sensation there anyway. In a mammogram, it's a radiation perk. In my sexuality, it's rather depressing.

Keep your gown on, let's go across the hall for your ultrasound, Mrs. Anderson. This is your ultrasound tech (a lady). Please lay down and make yourself comfortable.

Dick Cheney, enter stage left.

He doesn't like the "new and unusual lump" near my areola. Or the leak from my nipple. He doesn't like the thickened skin near the "new and unusual lump." Or the indented nipple. Yes it's new. Yes I can feel the lump. It's been there a couple of weeks. Ever since I sat in a training for 6 hours to help other special needs families in my community. I had a bad case of lymphedema and increased my massages and yoga. No I'm not able to walk outside. Have you seen the snow? Yes, I've been wearing the foam chip pads the Lymphedema Specialist/Physical Therapist gave me, even though my boob looks like a cantaloupe when I take them off. And a sports bra. The counter pressure helps decrease the pressure. And sometimes, I wear my bra to sleep.

Needle biopsy.

Goddamn mother fuck.

Tomorrow? Friday February 17th at 8:15 am at the hospital? Yes. I'll see you tomorrow. Will I have the results before I see my Medical Oncologist before I see her on Thursday February 23rd? The same day Priya and I are supposed to be in Olympia for me to receive that award from the State of Washington.

I went by myself to the biopsy. I'd been through it before and it was not as scary the second time. And, no, I don't need everyone to stop what they're doing to be there. I need to be alone for this one. But thank you, everyone, who offered.  

It takes 48 hours to get the results. Right. Holiday on Monday. President's Day. Tuesday afternoon? Probably Wednesday.


Thank you Doctor.

Wait. What just happened? Do I have cancer again? Fuck. I don't want to go through this again. Please. Please universe, have a little mercy. On me. On my husband. On the boys. Please. 

Stay busy. Three day weekend. Take boys to two birthday parties. Keep cancer out of your mind. Talk to Priya, who suggests we respectfully bow out of the dinner in Olympia. Priya is brilliant. She has a PhD in a hard science. I don't know which hard science, but I know Priya used to work in a lab for a pharmaceutical company. She's a bad ass. Yes, let's not go to Olympia. I don't want to sit in the car for over 5 hours of travel there and back. And sitting in a formal ceremonial dinner, regardless of the results I get on Thursday, isn't mentally something I can do right now. I want to be home that night. I don't want to sleep in a hotel room. I'll call on Tuesday. I've had the appointment with my Medical Oncologist for 3 months. I found out about the dinner and the award last month. One thing has to go. Bye-bye awards ceremony. They can mail me my award.

The little dude ends up with a scratchy throat and a low-grade fever Sunday afternoon and Monday. He stays home with me on Tuesday. It was helpful, actually, to have him home that day. Momma Teresa came over and she is a goddess in her own right. We've been friends for about 10 years; her daughter is 6 months older than my oldest son. She is a professional house cleaner, and when I was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, Momma Teresa decided she'd clean my house every other week, for free, because she loves me and my family that much. And pretty much every other week for the past 2 years, Momma Teresa has come over. I agreed to this on the condition that sometimes she will not clean and we will only talk and have lunch, because sometimes I need my girlfriends. She was gracious enough to extend her offer when Randy was diagnosed with tonsil cancer...but I now pay her; she's a professional business woman, and I want to honor the deal. Besides, until I hear otherwise, I'm free of evidence of disease. I filled Momma Teresa in as we changed the sheets on the boys' beds.

On Wednesday, the day before I was to meet with my Medical Oncologist, her nurse called me, and left me a message saying they had "good news about my needle biopsy." ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!? Call back immediately! Voicemail. They call me back. Voicemail. GODDAMNIT! I call back. Good news. "Benign scar tissue" says the nurse. Hallelujah! Thank you universe!

Thursday, Priya picks me up and we head to the appointment with my Medical Oncologist. Since we were going to go to Olympia, she had the day off anyway, and I know as a scientist, she secretly wants to go to a meeting with a cancer survivor and talk to a Medical Oncologist. And, Priya is East Indian. And my Medical Oncologist is East Indian. I was totally being a Matchmaker. I was also going to be the dumbest white woman in the room, and I was totally ok with it.

My Medical Oncologist, the lovely woman who helped save my life, said in her East Indian accent, "Well, it certainly was one good scare, wasn't it?" Yes, Doctor. Yes it was.

She said yes, we do need to do the bilateral MRI with contrast, but not until August, which is 6 months after the biopsy. They're watching it. I'm doing my best to not worry about my "new and unusual lump" at the 5 o'clock position at the bottom of my areola. No small task, given the last two years. Because, basically, as a cancer survivor, every single twinge, no matter how small, I wonder if it's cancer. It's typical in both survivors and care givers. Eye twitch? Cancer of the eye. Stub your toe? Cancer of the toe. Not kidding. Cancer creates that type of anxiety.

After the appointment, Priya was so excited about what the doc said, we had to find a place to sit down so she could jump on Google and look up some stuff that was explained to me, that was way above me, even though the doc explained it at a level that a second-grader could understand but went in one ear and out the other because all I really heard was "benign scar tissue. The 'new and unusual lump' is not cancer." It's not because I don't care. But I don't need to know about HER2 and estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors and blah blah blah. I need to know that, although my triple-negative cancer has a high probability of recurrence, my cancer has not come back. I need to know that I'll get my port flushed in 6 weeks. I need to know that I'll see my Medical Oncologist again in 12 weeks, and the only test I'll go through before is a blood draw. And I'll see her again in August, after the bi-lateral MRI with contrast. And after that, we can talk about the possibility of having my chemo port taken out, which my Medical Oncologist wants to leave in for two years after I'm done with all treatments...which means November. In the mean time, I'll live with the large piece of plastic and rubber implanted in my chest, above my left breast, underneath my bra strap, that has a catheter to my heart. Because if my cancer does come back, please universe, don't let this happen, then my doc can start chemo immediately.

And yes, this is a terrifying thought.

But it's also my reality.

I am cautiously optimistic that my one good scare is good enough.

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