Monday, October 10, 2016
And Then Life Kicks You Right in the Face Again
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2012, I’ve had to go in for regular check-ups with my lumpectomy surgeon and oncologists. In the span of nearly four years, I’ve had eight mammograms and ultrasounds, PET and CT scans, and five MRIs along with doctor’s appointments every three months until I finally graduated to every six in 2014. When I asked my surgeon how long I’d have to keep going in for check-ups, she said, “The rest of your life.”
Ha, ain’t no way I’m sticking around this city for that long, I thought. I still had dreams of living elsewhere and the idea that I’d have to keep seeing these people every few months year after year didn’t sit very well with me. The only comforting thing was that there were so many eyes on me, radiologists, physicians, gynecologist, and oncologists that should anything else pop up, you’d better believe someone would be on it immediately.
During a typical check-up with my surgeon two and a half weeks ago, she discovered a lump under my arm. It was one I’d felt before, but neglected because there was a similar lump of scar tissue, which was being monitored closely, where the previous tumor used to be. This new lump was right under the scarred spot where a lymph node was removed during that lumpectomy and even though all my previous imaging had come back clear, she wanted to have it biopsied then and there.
What is usually a quick appointment in which I get felt up for all of two minutes before being sent home to go on with the rest of my day, turned into an unexpected emotional blow. I have cancer again.
The tears had already began pouring out by the time the needle first pierced my side during the biopsy. Yes, it hurt enough for me to yell out, but I was also terrified. I’ve walked into every single test with my head in a cloud, telling myself it’s just this fact of my life, no grand deal, let’s just get this over with. But then after every test, when I’m still waiting in my oversized gown for the radiologist to give me the all clear, I cannot breathe and a tiny voice inside asks, "What if it’s back?"
Since my first diagnosis, I knew that I would get it again. No doubt in my mind that it would return perhaps as a way of preparing myself for the eventual fall. I was in my early 30s and in all the years I hopefully have left ahead of me, I imagined that something would happen again. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon. I still haven’t even finished my five-year-long run with medication and my radiation treatment should have lowered my risk of recurrence to less than 10 percent. What the hell did I do wrong? Did I think about it too much? Did I stand in front of the microwave too long? Was it something I ate? Did I spend a year breathing in carcinogens at my last place? Did I miss one too many medication doses? Was it all those mammograms? It didn’t make sense. What was it??
If I thought 2012’s situation was incredibly quick - a week between lump discovery and diagnosis - then this time was dizzying. I was undergoing surgery just five days after that appointment and while I’m grateful for my medical team’s quick response, it left very little time to process what the f was going on. So I turned to my usual coping mechanism: I cried and then I plowed on.
In the last couple of days I got a few more answers as to what was going on and what’s happening next:
1. Cancerous cells were found in this new lump as well as where the first lump used to be. So much for benign scar tissue.
2. It's recurrent breast cancer and both lumps were caught in early stages and with characteristics identical to the previous lump.
3. A swollen lymph node was removed, but no cancer was found there. Cancer in the lymph nodes = really bad.
4. Unfortunately, pathology results from the surgery showed that the margins for one lump was not clear, meaning that not all the cancerous cells were removed. Today, I find out if I'll need to have surgery again.
5. I’ll have to undergo radiation again and to reduce complications that could arise from going through radiation a second time around in the same area, I’ll either have to go in twice a day for 15 days or once a day for 25 days. Either way it’s going to suck.
6. My medication, Tamoxifen, is meant to keep estrogen from reaching the receptors of these cancer cells because it uses the hormone to grow and spread. Clearly that wasn’t enough in my case so beginning today I’ll also be receiving monthly hormonal therapy injections to suppress my estrogen levels. Basically, my body will be slipping into menopause for the next year. I’m more nervous about this than surgery or radiation. I’ve been through both, I know what to expect. This? God...
So with the exception of chemotherapy, we’re pretty much throwing everything we can at this. I’m just tired of having to deal with one blow after another and when I think I’m just starting to finish a plate full of crap, I get dished another. I won’t be able to live abroad for an extended period of time next year. Whatever money I was hoping to save up by giving up my apartment will now go towards paying for my treatments. It’s a chance to reassess, I’ve been told, go back to the drawing board, prioritize what matters. Thing is I thought I had, but it feels like life just served me one big Nope.