Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Day 545: Looking Good
I fully intended to blog about my second post-cancer follow-up mammogram yesterday. However, after spending five hours at Northwestern doing the damn test, then waiting for the surgeon and then the oncologist, I decided to do more productive things instead. So I went shopping, and then I had a beer, and then I took a walk.
Because it was normal.
Well, not normal in normal people language. The box for "no abnormalities detected" was not checked. I got the "shows findings that are probably benign" situation that means look, you had breast cancer so your breast is abnormal, but in the grand scheme of things it looks good. I can't really tell you how relieved I felt, but this is my blog so I'm going to try.
I think that the results from yesterday's test answered the soul-searching questions I was asking in my last post. I felt physically relieved--I felt like I could breathe normally again. I had no idea how scatterbrained I had become, or why, how distracted I was from the rest of my life for the past several weeks. How I held it together like a somewhat normal person for my kids for Halloween is beyond me. I did kind of lose it when they came in after Gabe took them trick or treating on the second block (we went with the kids from the old block first--how about our Wizard of Oz themed costumes, huh?!). I was yelling about dinner, scrambling around doing dishes, altogether acting pretty manic. Now that's not entirely unusual for me, but I was taking it to another level. The kids were so high on sugar I don't think they noticed, or at least that's what I'm telling myself.
I was so out of it that I forgot about a conference I was supposed to attend a few weeks ago. Luckily it was local, and I remembered a few hours later and I didn't miss much. I was a complete mess at work and at home; I was doing writing projects in a half-assed way and even screwing up the damn laundry. It was like I was living that dream where you show up naked at work or forget to take your final exams in high school. Except this was real. I've never been like that! But today, my productivity returned, my memory seemed on target, and I felt more like myself. Maybe not entirely like the old Katy, but who was she anyway? Some crazy lady who never knew how to sit down. I'll always be that human version of a Jack Russell terrier on some level--little and crazy and hyper. I'm just not usually so incompetent, so let's hope that part is over.
The process of getting a mammogram is complete bullshit, if you ask me. It's terrible for anyone, but if you've had cancer it's a nightmare. Why don't they let your husband (or mom, or friend, if it's an issue with not wanting men in the waiting rooms with women in their gowns) wait with you? And why does the test have to be so incredibly painful? This time I only had to have the left side scanned, and until about two hours ago--36 hours after the scan--I still had red marks where the machine had crushed my breast and my breastbone. You have to love a test where they say things to you like "now this one will feel like it's crushing your back." "Now this one will feel like an extreme weight on your chest wall." When they got to the scans that were imaging my tumor site and scar tissue, tears sprang to my eyes. She didn't need to tell me to hold my breath; that was involuntary. I have so much pain there anyway (my surgeon finally gave me a prescription for a physical therapist so I can work on the pain and weakness that I still have on the left side of my chest and my arm); and I have a VERY high tolerance for pain! Ugh. Someone needs to figure out what a similar test would be for men (read: testicle-crushing vise) and then we could see whether mammograms as they are today would be the standard of care. I think we would be headed for the painless 3d ultrasound.
So you wince and grit your teeth while the technician moves you into ungodly positions. Then, you finish, and the woman (I can't imagine a man doing mammograms, even though I never feel that gender matters in medicine. But it's such a violent test with a woman contorting and smashing you that it would seem obscene with a man doing it.) tells you that you need to wait for the radiologist to decide if more pictures are needed, and what the results are. In the meantime you have the following text exchange with your husband, who has been a nervous wreck himself:
K: Done but waiting for results
G: OK. I don't understand why they don't let me be with you. How terrible was it?
K: Hurt pretty bad but it's over
G: I love you. I'll see you soon and you will be fine. I hate the wait as much as you do.
K: You could probably come back it's waiting room C&D (I thought they would allow this since a woman was accompanying her mother, but that was because she didn't speak English. Gabe was ultimately denied entry to the waiting area).
G: OK I'll ask up here
K: Results back I'm fine!! Getting dressed
G: Thank goodness! They won't let me back there so I'll meet you at the doctors waiting room
And that sums it up. The technician had told me that I only had one more six month follow up before I go to annual scans. So look out May 8, 2011. That will be an important graduation for this triple negative girl, who is at highest risk of recurrence in those two years.
I was so relieved and happy when I saw Gabe that I couldn't stop talking. We had all kinds of annoying waiting to do for the other visits, but damn. It was crazy how I suddenly felt like myself, suddenly felt hungry even, how I could tell myself that maybe I might make it out of this mess after all.
Of course, truthfully, for someone who is triple negative like me, I might be more likely to have cancer metasticize than recur locally. But as long as I don't have symptoms of that, I am going to try not to think about it. I kept asking doctors why they aren't doing ultrasounds of my breasts, given the problems that mammography presents for young women/women with dense breasts. Their answers were long and actually satisfied me for a change. The surgeon thought everything looked great, and we talked a little bit about my bout with mastitis. Is there anything that can be done to avoid that in the future? No, not really. A bug bite can cause it. And mouth to nipple contact can cause it too (she said, purposefully NOT looking over at Gabe) so you should concentrate on the other side for that. Right, I said. We got that message loud and clear.
She sent me on my way and I went to the oncologist. Check this out...I actually made the guy laugh. I didn't think that was possible. He shook my hand and asked how I was doing. Great! I said. Well, I'm sick, but otherwise great. He thought this was hilarious. You feel good since it's just a normal sickness, huh? You got that right, brother. He has been growing on me since I've finished chemo. I think his complete lack of human emotion is absurd, and obnoxious when you are dealing with something as terrible as the effects of cancer and chemotherapy, but when you're happy with your test results and you don't need anyone to be understanding, the stoicism doesn't offend so much. He did his exams, undressed me from my gown like always, asked his questions, and surprisingly, answered all of mine. Then he said his normal parting words: You look good. You look really good, especially from a cancer perspective. Enjoy the holidays. You look good.
I heard that, doc. I wanted to say, what do you mean, especially? Weirdo.
I visited my old chemo nurse afterwards, before I headed over to the mag mile. I don't know why I still feel the urge to do that. I have had doctors who have saved my life, helped me walk again, delivered my baby, and I had no desire to ever see them again. But my chemo nurse, and my ob/gyn, are exceptions. I think I just like them, as people. I like to see her, to let her rib me about thinking I would be bald and in menopause forever. But god is it weird to be in that chemo area, listening to the sounds of the machines, hearing the beeps that tell the nurses to increase the saline solution, watching them tap arms, patiently trying to coax the vein out, seeing the women who are cold and bored and sometimes alone and there are so damn many of them, in just that one floor of that one hospital. What bullshit.
Then after Gabe got home from work I started texting teenagers from the neighborhood. I decided we just had to celebrate. Ultimately one of the girls next door came over, and we went to greektown for dinner. I got a huge martini, as you can see. While driving over we realized that the kids had been looking at photos with the babysitter, and there were a bunch in there when I was bald. There was even one the kids weren't supposed to see, of my bruises after surgery. I thought holy shit, I don't think she knows I had cancer! Well, Gabe said, she knows now. We asked her about it when we got home and she played it off like she knew already. Good god, the things I put these kids through. Isn't it bad enough that Gabe gives me those sappy puppy dog eyes in their presence? Then they have to sit there while Augie points out "that's my mommy!" in a photo of a woman with no hair to speak of, until he goes onto the next one: "Daddy kissing mommy!" and again, there's Gabe kissing my bald head. I was loving all the teenagers last night though as I looked for a sitter at that extreme last minute. How great is it that we live in a place where a 17 year old texts me she'll be over in 15 minutes after I ask her to babysit RIGHT NOW, and she puts her slippers on and knocks on our back door to come in? Because let me tell you, last night of all nights, I needed to celebrate, and I needed a drink!
Those who are friends with me on facebook probably saw my rant about the new study saying that moderate alcohol use can increase breast cancer risk. Jesus Christ. Has there ever been a study done on a woman's health issue that DIDN'T try to blame her for her disease? And further, that focused on the so-called sin issues? Shouldn't everyone try not to drink too much, exercise, and eat right? I'm waiting for the study that says: "Save yourself for your husband, or you might risk contracting breast cancer." Or "honor and obey or you will surely get invasive ductal carcinoma" or just "be a good girl or you will get breast cancer!!" I mean shit, you have 30 years to study this disease and that's the best you can come up with? Couldn't you study the environment, additives in food, effects of birth control, or something? And how do you explain the lower rates of breast cancer in countries like France where women drink EVERY DAY?
Can't drink, can't smoke, what can you do? Must exercise like crazy, must go vegan, yadda yadda. I was healthy, and skinny, and nursing, and I was never much of a drinker, and I got breast cancer. A really aggressive kind of breast cancer that was probably predicated on something else, other than lifestyle factors, entirely. So just let me live my life, let a girl have a little vice. I've been hearing this song my whole life. I know there are certain things that trigger seizures, for example. I know that strobe lights are bad for me. But the number one thing that triggers seizures is being unlucky enough to have epilepsy. "Normal" people do not start having seizures from strobe lights, or video games, or roller coasters, or because of insomnia. Sometimes shit happens. Study that phenomenon, perhaps. It would be just as useful, in my opinion: Medical team spends 30 years researching life cycle phenomenon and concludes that shit happens, all kinds of shit, and you just have to deal with it and live your life anyway.
I'll drink to that! Right now, things are looking good.