Update from the mountain

Last year this time, I was in the midst of chemo.

Last year this time, I was still sore from surgery.

Last year this time, I was still ‘looking forward’ to radiation. TakeBreaks

Well, it’s not last year this time. The time is now, and I’m declaring myself healthy and (in the charming cancer vernacular) ‘NED’, no evidence of disease.

So….I’m off the cancer merry-go-round, folks, and unless I have something to report, I’m so outta here!

Confidence and the lack thereof

Dear Diary,

It’s been six months since my last chemo. And guess what, another ‘side effect’ that no one ever told me about. Post cancer treatment, my confidence really took a dive.

Why, why, why? I’m usually a very confident person, taking everything in my stride. But now? For no reason in particular, I’ll feel a bit wobbly, like I can’t quite handle what might come my way. This is so not me.

courtesy of modifylifestyle.com

courtesy of modifylifestyle.com

So I looked it up (I always research everything – that is not always A Good Thing). I found loads of articles talking about a lack of confidence – yay! But reading the articles, they were talking about confidence in your body image post breast cancer, not about inner confidence. Body image, rightly or wrongly, has never been a problem for me.

I figured maybe it’s because, after years of feeling healthy and pretty invincible, I felt like my body had betrayed me. How sneaky of it to turn off that good ol’ cell death! There is nothing like staring death in the face to make you feel rather vulnerable, right? But … the big ‘but’… was this a ‘normal’ thing, or was I going quietly nuts?

I finally found an article written by a guy working at NBC. He said that post cancer treatment, all of a sudden he was insecure when submitting articles or interviewing people. If criticism of even the gentlest sort was offered, he was totally flummoxed.

Right, that is me, I thought. The good thing? It gradually goes away, you gotta (sic) just keep doing the stuff you always did, until ol’ Ms Confidence is back.

I can do that.

Scanxiety

Scanxiety:

the anxiety and worry that accompanies the period of time before undergoing medical exams and then receiving the results

The scan date on your calendar is slowly approaching. You mostly think that, surely, there is nothing wrong with you, you’re fine. Then another day you think death is imminent. It’s those wee small hours of the night that are the worst. Those times when anything that liza-bernstein-6-638can be worried about, will be worried about.

So then you have the scans. And you wait for the results. In some particularly unlucky cases, you wait a long time. Even if the results are ready, you won’t know the score until you see the doctor.

I had my first post-treatment scans on Thursday – mammogram, breast, thorax, abdominal and pelvic ultrasounds, the lot. (Many doctors post-breast cancer don’t do scans at all, other than a yearly mammogram, but my doctor doesn’t feel comfortable with that. He also wants to avoid subjecting your poor mistreated body to yet more radiation, so he schedules non-radiation type tests, and if there is anything suspicious, he will then order CT or MRI scans. That seemed a reasonable approach to me, so we went with it.)

My doctor’s appointment isn’t until 15 December, so I was assuming I had to wait until then for the results. Almost a month! I wondered how I was going to manage that. But miracle of miracles, they were ready in one hour! And I could pick them up and take them away with me!

You really, really cannot imagine my relief when I read them – they were all perfectly fine.

So, what’s my recipe for avoiding scanxiety? Get the results immediately. I know this isn’t always be possible, but it avoids so much mental and emotional torture that I wish medical institutions would try harder to do it.

 

Congratulations are in order!

…to my New Zealand friend, who has her last chemo next week

Yup. (image from feedwire.com)

Yup. (image from feedwire.com)

…to my Canadian friend, who just had an ‘all clear’ 5 year scan

…to my Australian friend, whose last chemo was this week

Congratulations! It’s been a long walk down the road.

When do you stop?

We had a long talk the other day, my husband and I. We were on holiday in Scotland, and talked about everything – the difficulty of the past year, our hope for the future. stop

I said how hard it was to focus on the ‘normal’. To not worry about what may (or may not) happen cancer-wise. To really believe that it’s over and will remain over. It’s hard not to obsessively read the stats on survival, to hope you’re in the good side of the percentages, to not worry about the upcoming scans. To not worry that some of your indicators from the biopsy are good, some bad.

My husband listens. And, as always, understands.

Do you think it’s time you stopped writing about it? To stop reading your forum?

I’m shocked. But then I consider. Is it time? Do I stop this blog, or should I still write and share? Do I stop reading the forum, and answering? Or, does even reading the digest make me think too much about cancer?

I don’t know. I guess I figure I’ll know when it’s time to stop, and most days I don’t think about “it” at all. But then…

One year on

There is no set time to start counting your ‘cancer anniversary’, from what I’ve read. Some start the count from diagnosis, some from surgery, some from other significant points. I’m counting it as my ‘anniversary’ today, as one year ago, on 22 Sept 2014, was my very first doctor appointment for a suspicious lump.

I count mine from when we first saw the look on the gyn’s face as he did the breast exam. I think that’s a cyst, says I. Hm, he said. I’ll send you for a mammogram.

The mammogram didn’t show anything – how could it, as with such dense breast tissue, it looked like a field of snow? (even when we knew exactly where the tumour was, the surgeon couldn’t make it out on the mammogram)

The doc then sent me for an ultrasound – which showed nothing. This, I believe, was a potentially deadly mistake, a rush job by the doctor doing the ultrasound.

The gyn and I were puzzled. How about if you come back in 6 months and we do another mammogram, he asks. Although sensible, given the test results, this made me nervous. But I have pain here, said I, is that normal?

He stops. He thinks. He looks at me. He sends me for one last test, a breast MRI, which shows…without a doubt…cancer.

Believe it or not, I read the MRI results a year ago with relief. Relief that finally we knew and could get on with a solution.

4 months post chemo

4 months post chemo

So, a year on, I want to say “thanks, Dr Cano”, for listening to what I said, and believing in your own physical exam, instead of relying on initial test results. You just might have saved my life!

All cancers are not the same

That might seem like an obvious statement! One thing I’ve found, though, is that once people find out you have cancer, they always know someone who has/had:

  • the same cancer as yours, with possibly good (or bad) results
  • a different cancer to yours, but they are sure the story must be the same
  • the same cancer as yours, but different treatment
  • the same cancer as yours, the same treatment, too

Whatever the choice, take this to the bank:

Your cancer and treatment, and your reaction to it all is 100% unique to you!

You’ll see on the forums or Facebook groups that when someone gets a new diagnosis, the first thing they ask is

what is chemo/surgery/radiation like?

They will receive a variety of answers, mostly trying to be helpful. But none of them mean a thing, as someone else’s reaction will not be the same as yours! You can rely on none of these helpful people for a prediction as to how your treatment will go!

This came as a shock to me. After reading various forums and articles, there I was, ready to start some of the worst chemo around for breast cancer, and I was ready for a rough ride. In the end, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The next drug, which supposedly had fewer side effects, I found more annoying, as there were no known drugs around to counter the side effects (which plague me to this day).

So when a friend was diagnosed, what did I do? Did I keep schtum, with my new knowledge that any info I passed on was useless? No, I did not. Trying to be helpful, I gave her the benefit of my experiences. Note the use of the word “my”.

As I should  have known, her experiences have been totally different to mine, rendering my advice useless.

So sorry about that, maybe I’ll be smarter next time, but I don’t think we can count on that.