Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 735: KatyDid Cancer...For Real?

Wow, what a week.

What a couple of years, actually.

I have so much to say, and yet I don't know where to begin. So I guess I will begin with yesterday's news.

Most of you know that I had a clean mammogram, though saying "mammogram" in the singular is misleading. I had ten of them yesterday: six on the left and 4 on the right. I have never gone in for a mammogram and had fewer than 8 radioactive pictures taken. But regardless, the results were as close to "normal" as someone with a history of breast cancer is allowed to have. The innocuous sheet of paper that at one point warned me that I had breast cancer told me that findings "appeared to be benign." I have been so nervous, in a way that those who have not done follow-up scans post-cancer-treatment cannot understand. I have been someone else, someone stuck in a strange place where I wanted a time machine that could either stop time or speed it up, all depending on the results of that damn test. While I rubbed my sore chest after the procedure, I had the following text exchange with Gabe, waiting three rooms away:

K: finally done with images waiting to see if I need more and to talk to radiologist
G: OK. I love you! I hope you don't need more.
G: Did you get either of these jumble words? ISOTH or DOBRIF
(K thinking to self, fucking jumble words? ARE YOU INSANE? Then thinking to self: Hoist. And Fibroid. Oh wait, there's only one i. Wait a minute...forbid, that's it. Fibroid? Can you say TUMORS ON THE BRAIN? Meanwhile, mammo tech comes to get me and says, Ms. Jacob, follow me. Why, do I need more pictures, I ask in a panicked voice. She looks at me and realizes that she is about to needlessly induce panic by asking me to wait to get to a private room to get the results. No, you win the prize today, she said. You don't have to come back for a year. Sign here. What? I ask? It's normal? Yes, as normal as can be expected. oh, I said. GIVE ME THAT PEN!)
K: I'm fine! Don't have to come back for a year! Getting dressed!
G: Yay! Love you so much SOOOO relieved!

And then, I proceeded to wait another four hours until I actually got to leave the damn place. I had to wait for the surgeon next. Is there a possibility I can get in sooner? Yes, it's possible, they told me.

Well, really, isn't anything?

So when I finally saw the medical student who preceded the P.A. who preceded the actual surgeon I had been there for two and a half hours. This young kid hands me a survey. He tells me it's a research study they're doing on chronic pain, because they have started to realize that a significant portion of women, as high as 40%, have this problem.

REALLY? Who is going to pay ME to verify that fascinating revelation? Remember when I begged you all for A YEAR AND A HALF to get me some physical therapy because of issues with chronic pain and range of motion problems? Oh wait, you're like 22, so you have no memory of that. So this entire survey is one long annoying pain scale, the kind that people like me with high tolerances for pain should never fill out. The kid actually said "Yeah, most women who come in here have a high tolerance for pain." You think? Anyway, 1 is the least pain, 10 is the most. Can pain ever really be higher than 6? That's what I said in labor before any drugs when the digital meter almost broke from my continuous contractions. To make matters worse, this was a "subjective" pain scale, asking me about all kinds of different pain and whether I experienced them: stabbing. sharp. achy. shooting. throbbing. stinging.

And then it got interesting:

Gnawing? Fearful?

The guy looked at us a little fearfully, actually, as Gabe started playfully gnawing on my arm. Um, the student haven't even gotten to the last one yet.

"Cruel or punishing?"

Get out. It doesn't say that. What the hell does that even MEAN? Oh, if only I didn't do research for a living, I would have a party with this survey. After choosing zero for cruel and punishing, I filled out the rest of the thing, which had all kinds of other questions about how I feel and have felt in the last 2 weeks. Do I have trouble sleeping? Yes, always. Do I want to hurt myself? Kill myself? Do I feel worthless? Um, wow. No. Have I been nervous? fidgety? Unable to concentrate? At that point I stopped circling numbers.

"You know what?" I asked the kid. "I just had a mammogram. My two year mammogram to see if I have breast cancer again. It is worthless to ask me if I've been nervous and unable to concentrate because I have been thinking about nothing else and pretty useless in other areas of my life. You all need to time these surveys better."

He looked so relieved to leave the room. I can't say I blame him. Then the P.A. came in, and I must admit I like this guy. He's pretty nonchalant. He's the one who actually gave me the physical therapy scrip, so I thanked him for that and told him how much it helped me. Then I was about to rip my gown off to offer the P.A. my boobs so he could do an exam, but I stopped myself when I realized he wasn't going to ask to do one. Just about anyone on earth could have given me a breast exam right then and I wouldn't have given two shits. He asked me a few questions and left. The surgeon came in, felt my boobs, told me I don't have to see her again for a year, and looked shocked when I told her how far my scar tissue had traveled according to the physical therapist. I got dressed and Gabe and I went out to eat. I had this delicious veggie filled crepe and some grits. I drank 87 cups of coffee.

I felt like I was walking on air. Or, even, water.

Gabe went back to work and I went back to the hospital to wait for my visit with the oncologist. This seemed pointless to me. He would ask me some questions (any aches or pains? still having cycles? taking any new medications? feeling tired?), manipulate my body and undress me and then tell me (say it with me, you know what's coming): "You look great."

Why do we have to do this dance after the wonderful news I just received? Why can't I just go home and celebrate? Of course, I know why. Here's the thing. My triple negative breast cancer was never very likely to recur in the breast. It is a cancer type that is much more likely to metastasize to distant areas of the body. Mammograms are actually likely to be normal for me. Not as likely as for someone who DIDN'T HAVE BREAST CANCER, but still, you know what I'm saying. It's the aches, pains, tiredness, that matter.

But I was still flying high off that mammogram news and the sudden realization that I MADE IT TWO YEARS. Two years with no evidence of disease. The critical two years that every triple negative breast cancer patient can't believe will ever come. And yes, my cancer could come back. It could spread. I've heard it happen to too many women before me not to know that, not to think of the women who made it two or three years out and felt great until...they didn't. And they found out they were stage 4, when they had initially been stage 1 or 2. It could happen, because it sometimes happens with breast cancer, especially when your disease type is aggressive and especially when you're young.

But it hasn't happened yet. Not in two years. And that opens up a bit of the world for me, the world where you all live and I have only visited recently. I have tried my best to be normal, all the while knowing that I will never be the same. While I was waiting for my oncologist, I started checking facebook. I sat there cracking up at the following image posted by Jennie Grimes, a woman I know from ROW who is five years younger than me and dealing with mets, waiting for scan results today that I have never had to do. I wrote her: "LOL! People being wrong on the Internet."

I'm laughing just writing that, even as I'm thinking of her and wondering how she's doing. But here's the thing. As soon as that mammogram came in, knowing what I know about how breast cancer really works, knowing that the mammogram shouldn't have given me this feeling of freedom, knowing that being two years in doesn't mean I won't be dealing with mets myself someday, I started thinking like that anyway. I started thinking random, not cancer...I started thinking about people being wrong on the internet. And it was such a revelation:

...I sat there reading GQ because the hospital's reading choices are completely whack, and there was a dated article about Chris Evans just after Captain America came out. The article was kind of boring, but the pictures of him in these uber-stylish clothes that I can't imagine any man in Chicago ever wearing were interesting. He was showing off his pecs in several of them, and since he's famous for them, you can't really fault him for that. And that's how I learned that Chris Evans has chest hair. Not Steve Carrell style chest hair, but nice sexy chest hair like a 30 year old man should have. And then I started thinking, what? Do they make him wax for the movies? Just airbrush it? WTF? That's like getting a boob job if you DIDN'T have breast cancer. Why are we always trying to improve on things that were ALREADY AWESOME?

...I was cheering on another lady in the waiting room who decided that one of the staff was rude. She was all, oh hell, I've been coming here for nine years, so I don't care about me, but what about the women who are new? What about the women who don't know what their lives will be like and they're just starting chemo? You can't treat people like that! I'm writing a complaint. She should work with some other types of patients. And I was thinking YES! TELL THEM SISTER! And then I thought, NINE YEARS? Hell if I keep coming to see these people for nine years! You should be pissed off just for that!

...I started planning dinner even though I wasn't remotely hungry after that crepe. I also wondered if I would have enough time to shop after the appointment ended and before my parking validation would expire.

...I didn't even mind my little dance with the oncologist. He asked me the questions, I asked him if I should be taking vitamins, he said no, I asked if two years was really the critical point for triple negative cancer, he said the first two or three years is always the most critical for any cancer. I said I felt great. He said You look great. When he left after about a seven minute visit that I had waited 5 hours for, I got dressed and started to upload the picture of me with my evidence of a clean mammogram so I could tell folks via FB who had been worrying about me all day. I waited for five hours, and then spent an extra 90 seconds typing in my status, and a nurse came in demanding to know if I was waiting for something. So I refused to look up at her, kept texting and said "Not anymore."

...I found that I did have time to shop, so I went to Zara and bought myself this pair of ridiculous $40 shorts that I can't wear to work, obviously, and that I'm not sure I can really wear anywhere, since I don't go clubbing and the only person who cares about seeing my legs in shorts this short is married to me and gets to see them all the time. I also tried on a skirt so short that it had little shorts sewn in, just like dresses for 2 year old girls. I started wondering if Zara actually IS a store for 2 year old girls, when I put a dress on that fit me everywhere else but was extremely tight on my chest. MY CHEST. There's hardly anything left! Who are they making these clothes for, exactly? Then, I went to the Disney store to get something for Augie for his birthday and I felt like I was walking into a physical description of the ways we destroy our children. On the right side, I found what I can only imagine to be the "boy aisle." Avengers stuff, spiderman, toy story, cars. On the left, there were princesses. Nothing but princesses. In the back in the "neutral zone" were the classic toys that some genius thought that, gasp, both boys and girls might like: Dumbo. Lion King. Winnie the Pooh. Mickey Mouse. Now, Mickey I get. He is the original disturbing, creepy yet androgynous Disney character. But what does a mom in my situation do? My son is obsessed with Snow White. My daughter thinks Hulk is "green and cute." Augie is more likely to play dress-up than Lenny is and she likes to play with his cars. They both like Pumbaa and 101 Dalmatians. So, I bought a few plush animals we need like we need collective holes in the head and thought to myself, our entire society is going to hell in a handbasket.

...I got all pissed off when I got back to the parking garage and my damn parking ticket wouldn't work in the automated payment terminal. I had to call for assistance from the little parking vending machine. The woman told me to drive to customer service. Fine, I said, where is that? The droning voice answered: "you need to drive to customer service." OK, where? ground floor? This is an enormous parking garage. "You need to drive to customer service." This went on, until I slammed my hand into the machine in disgust. The voice continued talking and the woman behind me said in response to it, "Um, she already left."

...I picked Gabe up early from work so we could go home and take a walk together before getting the kids, something we rarely get to do. I texted our next door neighbor, not beating around the bush at all: "I had a clean mammogram and Gabe and I want to celebrate! Can you or your sister come over after dinner for a little while?" She said sure, Gabe took the kids to the park and I made salmon that we ate on the porch in the beautiful early evening air, and then Gabe and I went to a dead little bar in our neighborhood and got some beer and an enormous brownie sundae. I made him drive because I was fascinated by the response to my status update. Um, 76 likes? more than 30 comments? Do I even actually know that many people? We had 110 people at our goddamn WEDDING. There were 60 people at my 35th birthday party when I was bald and everyone thought I would die so they'd better make this one. Now, I realize that teenagers get that kind of response to their posts about eating breakfast, but this was new to me. Oh, just facebook friends, I thought. I know like 4 people in real life. But actually, that isn't true. Many people who responded are people I do know and interact with in my current, real life. There are all kinds of other folks I don't see in person thrown in there too: ex-boyfriends, friends from college, high school and even grade school, old co-workers, relatives, teenagers who babysit my kids, women from my crew team, moms from playgroups that haven't met in four years.

All people who don't want me to have cancer. People who don't want me to die. People who were happy for their own reasons, including, as Gabe said, that "some of them are probably hoping they don't have to hear anything from you about cancer anymore because they're sick of it!"

Well, too bad. Unless I stop writing this completely, which is a very real and even imminent possibility (are my random ramblings really interesting if they aren't about cancer? this is the thing that still confuses me about blogging), cancer is a part of me now. I do not see the victory in going back to my old self. I'm not sure which self that would be. I am different now, and I'm ok with that. I can do a lot of things and have done a lot of things. I am not trying to prove anything to anyone, not anymore. But that isn't to say that things haven't shifted. After all, for at least the next several years, I will have cancer colds, where you have normal colds (though when I wrote that blog, it turned out to be strep, not a cold). I will be judged for my every action: my diet, my drinking habits, the size of my body, my use of household cleaners. I will try to avoid doctors like the plague because I feel like the medical community has essentially moved into my house and I WANT THEM OUT. Time for a pap smear? Excuse me, aren't I one of the 20% of American women without HPV? What are the other likely causes of cervical cancer, exactly? Why would I do some cancer screening I don't need? Oh, I guess because I like my doctor and I want him to see how well my hair has grown out.

I'll never have that long hair again, if only because the past two years have taught me that the two years it would take to grow it back are better spent doing other things. I'll never feel that my breasts are an erogenous zone. I'll always have that husband who will see them that way for his own sake, until once in a while I realize he is really feeling for cancer lumps, and then I will smack him in the face and yell at him because I don't want those two parts of my life to ever meet again. I will not have normal backaches after spinning. I will have less patience, not more. I will probably never be able to do more than 5 pushups in a row, or ever do pullups or chest flys, because my pec is burned and my pain, while so much better, is still chronic. I will have a 400% higher chance than you of developing another form of cancer because I had breast cancer before age 40. I have an 85-90% chance of making it to five years, meaning that there's a 10-15% chance that I won't live to see my 40th birthday, which is different than the way the odds look for you. Things other people care about will seem petty to me a lot of the time, though as I discovered yesterday, even the petty has the ability to come back to me.

For a while at least, I can live in that space. The one where my biggest concern for the moment is what perfume to wear to the bar where no one else will be. Decisions decisions. That place where the choice is obvious for reasons that are different than your reasons. The room where I smile as I spray myself with "Happy Heart."

That place where I think about other things. The world where Katy Did Cancer. And then didn't have to anymore.


  1. =) I'm so happy for you.
    Also, what perfume did you end up wearing?
    And don't think you should quit blogging. Not that you asked, but I thought I'd tell you that anyway.

  2. I had to match my mood, Brandie. so I chose "Happy Heart." It's Clinique.

  3. Please tell me that you had at least a portion of this post written BEFORE we had lunch today so that I don't become suicidal. And also, here is a link to a very funny "pain scale" that your post reminded me of:

    And, I'm glad your mammogram was clean. And, I'm judging you for eating a patty melt.

  4. Have I ever felt worthless or wanted to kill myself? Sure. Did I have a good person to talk to and be my friend through those times? Absolutely. If something so serious, painful, and frightening as cancer ever happened to that friend, would I ever get sick of her talking about it... even after her treatment ended? HELL no.

    Happy 2 years to you, Katy! You are amazing as ever.