One step forward and two steps back. (Apologies to those of you who thought this might be a blog about the awesomeness that is Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is not. The title just popped into my head after I typed the first sentence. Maybe next time.)
Just when this gal was getting her life and head all squared away after the mind-fuck of cancer, the snarky little cancer voice that lives in the deep recesses of my brain decided to rip the duct tape off her mouth and say, ‘not so fast, toots. You’re not getting away that easy.’ Dammit.
A few days ago, all was good. I was feeling great, working out 6 days a week, eating healthy and generally kicking ass one day at a time. I was determined to turn 40 being more awesome than ever. (Yes, I turn 40 in exactly 13 days. I’ll be in St. Thomas, so if you haven’t had time to buy me a present yet, you’ve got a little extra time…) I had made an appointment on-base for my annual physical and was looking forward to bragging a little about how awesome I was feeling. The day of the appointment rolled around and the doc and I chatted about how I was doing after the cancer – both physically and mentally – how things were going with my routine oncology visits, and my general overall health. He seemed really happy with how I was doing and moved on to the poking and prodding part of the physical. Lungs and heart sound healthy, good blood pressure and heart rate, eyes are still 20/15 (thanks for the PRK, Air Force!), ears and nose look fine, no weird lumps in the neck…groovy. I am kicking butt for a change! Yay!
Then he asked me when I’d had my last ‘well-woman appointment.’ Ummm…it was a year ago when I started having the whole cancer issue. He told me I still needed to do them for the simple fact of needing breast cancer screenings. Ugh. So rather than make another appointment just to have a chick doctor, I went with the option of having him do it instead. After the last year of exams, surgeries and hospital visits, I’m not terribly bashful about who sees me nekkid any more when it comes to doctors. So he found a chaperone to make sure no inappropriate shenanigans occurred (wait…are there appropriate shenanigans? Discuss.) and started the exam as I proceeded to start counting ceiling tiles. Then I hear a ‘hmmm.’ No. No ‘hmmm.’ I don’t like ‘hmmm.’ He focuses on one spot and asks me if I’ve noticed any unusual or new lumps. I mentally sighed and thought, ‘don’t you think I’d have mentioned it, jerkface?’ (My inner voice is kind of a bitch.) Then I just said no. He continued feeling one spot and asked when my last period was. I continued staring at the ceiling, physically sighed and just let him think about what he’d just asked me. (For those of you who failed health class or haven’t followed my story, when one has a radical hysterectomy, one doesn’t have periods any more. The more you know…) It took a few long moments, but the light bulb finally went on as he rather sheepishly said, ‘oh, sorry.’ He then proceeded to tell me that he had found a 2 cm lump and that it was likely non-cancerous, but what with my history of ‘erratic cancer,’ he was going to send me to have a mammogram. Awesome.
We chatted a little more, and then I was done. I was ok until I got to my car. Then that bitchy cancer voice piped in with, ‘huh, where have you heard that before? That a tiny little thing wasn’t cancer and that you just needed one more test? How’d that work for you?’ Damn. And with that tiny little whisper, I had a tiny little breakdown. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before – that the really awful part about cancer isn’t just the physical part. It’s the constant fear of what your own body might be plotting behind your back. It’s about keeping your sanity. Trying to move on. Trying not to worry about every little pain. Trying to logically tell yourself that odds are, you’re fine. All while that little voice in the back of your head that you thought was gone is getting louder and louder, and all the duct tape in the world won’t shut it up. So I wiped away a few tears, sniffled a little, then put on my big girl panties and went back to work. Things still hadn’t really sunk in yet, and I was just feeling numb. So not even thinking, I shot an e-mail to my husband and let him know how my appointment went. Oops. Perhaps a phone call might have been a better idea. My phone rang within moments of hitting send and I felt like a shit. I could hear the weight and worry in his voice, and I knew he needed me home. We made plans to have lunch together and then see how I was doing after that. I knew I would get absolutely zero work done, so I took a half-day, closed up the office and headed home. We held each other, we went out for lunch, we joked, we laughed, we contemplated getting me a very large margarita, we talked and generally tried to quash the worry. Then we headed home and I did my penance for my crappy lunch by working out for the second time that day. After that I googled a little and put off making the phone call to my folks that would start them worrying all over again. I actually considered not telling them, then realized that my mom would fly to California in a heartbeat and beat my ass if she found out that I didn’t tell her as soon as I had an inkling of another health issue. So I called. And now they worry and wait with us.
My first mammogram is now officially complete. And no, they are not fun. Slightly uncomfortable, yes. Painful, no. I’d heard not-so-good things about mammograms, and was a little concerned. So on the bright side, I no longer have the worry of that unknown looming over me. Yay me! While I certainly won’t be running off to have my boobs mushed voluntarily, I at least won’t have a problem going for an annual check. So that’s a good thing. But now comes the bad thing – the wait for results. Or even worse – no results and a request for me to come back in for more tests. Because the one thing the technician told me was that at first glance, they didn’t see anything, but that I have dense breast tissue. *sigh* Of course.
For those of you still reading my rambling, dense breasts make reading a mammogram very difficult. Cancer shows up as a white ‘splotch’ on a mammogram because the x-rays don’t pass through it well. ‘Normal’ breast tissue is fatty and x-rays pass easily through it – so it shows up as dark on a mammogram. Dense breast tissue is less fatty and more comprised of connective tissue which doesn’t allow the x-rays to pass through easily – and shows up as white. See the problem here? I’ve read that trying to find cancer in a dense breast via mammogram is like trying to find a polar bear in a blizzard. Again – awesome. The other kicker? Having dense breasts has been found to increase your risk of breast cancer 6-fold. (And by the way, ‘dense’ is a radiology term that you’ll only find out with a mammogram – not something you’ll find out by groping yourself. So stop it.) What else increases breast cancer risk? Being tall. I shit you not. Being an ex-smoker doesn’t help either. Nor does never having kids. After doing some research, I’ve found that damn near everything increases your breast cancer risk.
So with that, I’m doing my best to keep breathing, keep living and not to completely lose my mind while I wait. Because the reality is that there’s an 80% chance that the lump is completely benign. I rationally understand that. And I’m sure I’m fine. But dammit, it’s going to be a long week or two until we find out for sure.