There’s an expression in the cancer community, that expresses the feeling most of us experience, when we are going in for routine mammograms and/or body scans.
We might be feeling well… or not. But in any event, even though XX number of past checkups and scans might have showed absolutely nothing to worry about… Our worry level tends to be high, till we get the “All clear.”
But what happens when we DON’T get an “all clear”?
Here’s where “we” and “I” are going to part ways. Although I had still had a fair of amount of scanxiety, part of me had become rather smug about being “over” my Cancer Lite. I didn’t even bother to wear a tiara to this routine mammogram, four years after my cancer diagnosis and surgery.
I did not get an “all clear.”
I wish I could say that I handled this with calm equanimity, understanding that this, too, is part of the cancer journey. But when they kept going back for more views and more views on Laverne (my right breast, always the noisy one, the one that already had cancer), and then an ultrasound, I might have looked calm on the outside, but inside, I was freaking out.
And when they said I needed an ultrasound-guided biopsy, I tried to make a joke about it. I’d had a surgical biopsy, a needle biopsy, and a mammography-guided biopsy. Apparently I was on track for collecting the entire set. (I am now given to understand there is such a creature as an MRI-guided biopsy. I. Do. Not. Want.)
A week after what should have been a routine mammogram, I was back for the biopsy. This time, I did not forget a tiara.
The procedure itself was fascinating. I could watch, on the screen, the needle going in and jabbing various parts of the problem spot. The device made a clicking sound as it collected tissue samples. It only took about five minutes, including the initial injection of local anesthetic, and after the samples were collected, one more jab to insert a tiny metal clip to mark the spot. Next, pressure by the ultrasound tech to stop the bleeding, and medistrips and bandaid applied. Then another mammogram to insure that the clip was in the spot they had been concerned about, and on to the wrap up.
They wrapped my chest tightly to reduce swelling, with an ice pack inserted among the layers.
Two days later, when the bindings came off, I had a small boob booboo, that almost couldn’t be seen unless you were looking for it.
I was advised to leave the medi-strips on, till they fell off naturally. This, I could do.
Worrying, I could NOT avoid. Thoughts that raced through my mind were:
- Wah! I don’t want to do this again.
- It’s probably nothing, right? The odds are in my favor.
- Is it time for Laverne to come off, and to join the flatties (women who have opted to go flat after breast cancer, rather than have reconstructive surgery)?
- Will it gross out my partners if I am one-sided? Who could blame them?
- Is this my fault because I’ve been gaining weight (which, fairly or not, I blame on the fucking Tamoxifen and stress from the current political regime)?
- Why is it taking so long to get back to me with the results?
- Why are the results taking so long? Why, why?
Which is what a few of those I confided in wanted to know, too. Individually, not a big deal, but when you have 6-7 of your closest loved ones in the loop, somebody is going to be asking, every day, “Results in yet?”
One week after the biopsy was a series of somewhat fortunate events. It was my sister’s and my birthday – which is also the anniversary of our mother’s death from breast cancer. Since this is often a time fraught with mixed emotions for me, I’d pre-arranged some distraction. My sister’s part of the country, Kern River Valley, offers some of the best whitewater river rafting in the country. And I’d always wanted to try it.
One of my partners was able to spend the weekend with me, which was another loving and delicious distraction. I brought multiple bottles of champagne, hoping to celebrate receiving good news.
Though I kept checking my phone, sure that any moment they would call, or release the results. They’d said 5-7 business days, and soon it became 6, 7, 8…
On the way to drop my partner off, my phone pinged. New test results in!
I logged into my healthcare site and checked for them with shaking hands. But all they had posted was the recap of my biopsy visit and mammogram – what drugs they injected, what area they scanned, how many samples they took, etc. Nothing I didn’t already know.
Friday – 14 days after my biopsy – they hadn’t called, and I was scheduled to go into the doctor’s and discuss my test results with an NP (Nurse Practitioner).
By this point, I had gone to a VERY dark place, emotionally.
- They haven’t called me with the results because they’re so bad, they need to tell me in person.
- Should I have both breasts removed, or say, fuck it, just let the cancer advance? I never wanted to live to be a hundred anyway.
- Should I pretend to all my friends and loved ones that the results were negative, when they’re really not, so I don’t have to “carry” their worry?
- I started planning more decluttering and purging of books (which is never a bad plan, in any event).
- At least I know how to access the Death With Dignity Act.
I was going through the motions, but I was a hot mess. I couldn’t write, I could barely tie my shoes, but was trying to get through the day, every day. Dressing for the appointment, I added all the talismans.
Aaaand… the results were benign. Although there is some question if they really “got” the spot they were concerned about, so, a follow-up mammo & ultrasound scheduled in six months, to see if there are any changes in the area.
Luckily, I had some leftover champagne. I’m celebrating the results, even if they come with an asterisk. But also, I am working to wrap my head around the idea that even with Cancer Lite, I am never going to be stick-a-fork-in-it, DONE. I will be dealing with dicey mammograms and more biopsies, and possibly, a diagnosis of either a new cancer, or a cancer recurrence, for the rest of my life.
And I have to find a way to be okay with that. I can’t eliminate that stress, but I can meditate and swim more and more time on my stationary bike, and look for healthy ways of coping with being a cancer sur-thriver.
Do you have tips for coping with this kind of stress?