To Scan or Not To Scan

Last week I went for my 6-month check up with my breast surgeon. I’m so grateful that I got connected to her. She’s both brilliant and compassionate with a great bedside manner. She gives me all the time I need to ask as many questions as I want and discuss whatever is on my mind. So I run a lot of things past her and ask her opinion on every medical question I have.

During my check up she did a breast exam and found no lumps or areas of concern. I do get a rash on my left breast, which is my breast cancer side, so that always worries me. Rashes are on the list of ‘red flags’ to talk to your doctor about. My breast surgeon said that the rash looks ok and because of the fact that it comes and goes means its nothing to worry about. Tumors don’t come and go. So she said everything looked and felt good.

HOORAY!!! Let’s take a moment to appreciate that.

Hooray

I still do my monthly breast exams, as my doctors recommend, feeling around my implants for any tumors that might pop up if any breast tissue was left during my mastectomy. But now I have to get to know my new boobs, and understand what feels normal and what I should be concerned about. So at every doctor’s appointment, I ask my breast surgeon about everything that feels unusual. Luckily, everything I’ve asked about she says is normal.

I also asked my breast surgeon about doing scans to see if my cancer has returned. There’s a lot of conflicting opinions about scans in the medical and cancer world. Some people and doctors think that scans can give people cancer from the radiation (ironic, huh!). And some people and doctors think that doing scans are good to be able to detect cancer early, which raises the survival rate. Early detection saves lives, right?

I’m really conflicted about this. Scans bring on scanxiety. What are they going to find when they do a scan? Then what do I have to do when that something is found – more surgery, more chemo? Ugh! But for me, not doing scans means the constant worry of something growing inside me that I don’t know about, which will keep growing until I feel it myself or get a symptom on the ‘red flag’ list for cancer recurrence.

What a shitty choice? Is ignorance bliss? Or is ignorance stupidity? Do the risks of radiation from scans outweigh the risk of not finding cancer early? Or is it the other way around?

I’m leaning toward doing scans. I’d like to know that I’m cancer-free every year. Mentally that helps me continue to live my life and make plans for my future. Not knowing how long I’ll be here is unsettling – to say the least. And I know that I can get a scan one day and then 3 months later cancer could return. Nothing is guaranteed. At least a clean scan lets me exhale and breath for a moment.

My breast surgeon originally said that we should do MRIs every year to watch for a recurrence. But when I talked to her about it last week, she said she usually recommends MRIs every 2-3 years. (I can’t do mammograms with breast implants, so MRIs are the way to watch for lumps. One of the few positives out of having breast cancer – no mammograms.)

We decided we’d revisit the scans discussion at my next 6 month appointment. My breast surgeon said that most health insurance companies don’t cover MRIs every year. How messed up is that! I have pretty good insurance, so I have to check on that. I’m going to pissed if she’s right.

I spent every other month in 2013 doing ultrasounds to watch for ovarian cancer. That much screening was quite overwhelming and difficult for me. So doing a scan for breast cancer every 2-3 years sounds really good right now.

So for now I’m left to decide – to scan or not to scan?

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I Asked For Less Doctors, Not More

I have a stubborn bump on my eye that won’t go away. It’s been there for almost two months but I just couldn’t seem to pick up the phone to make another appointment to sit in another waiting room to see another doctor.

Finally last week I went to see my primary care doctor about it. She looked at my eye and asked how long the bump had been there. I told her two months and she said I should have come seen her sooner, because now what she thought was a stye had hardened and I might need to have surgery to remove it. I knew that I should have visited her earlier, but the stye showed up as I was having my ovaries removed and I just couldn’t deal with one more thing.

After looking at my eye, my doctor told me that I should go see an ophthalmologist, since the stye had been there for two month. She gave me a referral, a prescription for erythromycin and I left the office.

I got into my car and immediately started crying. I know it’s just a stye. It’s really no big deal, right? But when I heard the word ‘surgery’, I immediately flashed back to my mastectomy. It was like PTSD. Something as simple as having a stye removed sent shivers down my spine and made me flashback to being in the hospital going under the knife. 2014 was supposed to be a surgery-free year. WTF!

So today I went to see the ophthalmologist. She was actually a wonderful woman who was very smart and caring. I sat down and she told me that what I have is not a stye, but actually a chalazion, which is a small lump on the eye. She said they’re most often caused by stress. She asked if I was experiencing any stress. I just laughed.

You mean the stress of having breast cancer? Or the stress of having a mastectomy? Or the stress of going through chemo? Or the stress of radiation? Or the stress of having my ovaries removed? That kind of stress?

Then she told me she was an 11-year breast cancer survivor. So she understood. She went through the same thing. Then she said, “there is life after breast cancer.” I smiled. I knew I’d have a good cry about that one later, in the privacy of my own home.

She gave me a prescription for steroid drops that she thinks will help make the lump go away. She said we could do surgery to remove the chalazion, but we should try the drops first, unless I wanted to do the surgery. I said, no thank you, I’ve had enough surgeries.

Fingers crossed that the drops work and I’m done with what is hopefully just a minor annoyance.

Could It Really Be…An Uneventful Doctor’s Appointment

Last Friday, I had an uneventful doctor’s appointment. Let me say it again – I had an uneventful doctor’s appointment. It feels weird to write it. Kind of a foreign concept to me at this point.

Last Friday I went for my first doctor’s appointment of 2014. The appointment was with my gynecologist for my annual exam.

We spent the first part of the appointment with her asking me how I was feeling since having my ovaries removed. How were my hot flashes? (Not great but bearable.) Was I having any pain? (Thankfully, no.) Was I having any vaginal dryness? (Again, thankfully no.)

Then I asked her a series of questions. I will never menstruate again, right? (Right. I knew the answer to this, but just wanted to confirm it before throwing away all my tampons.) What about osteoporosis? (Since I’m at a higher risk for osteoporosis from having my ovaries out, I should eat more foods with calcium or take a supplement.) Since I don’t have ovaries, I don’t have to worry about an unplanned pregnancy, but I should still protect against STDs, right? (Yes, condoms are suggested.) Do I need to continue to do ultrasounds since I still have a 1% chance of ovarian cancer, even though I removed my ovaries? (Thankfully the answer to that was no! Even though you can get ovarian cancer that starts in the uterus, the symptoms will show up in the early stage. Doesn’t seem fair that I remove my ovaries and can still get ovarian cancer, but ok. I also can get breast cancer again even though I removed both of my breasts. But that’s another blog post for another time.)

My gynecologist then told me she wasn’t going to do a breast exam, which I said was fine since I have a regular check up with my breast surgeon at the end of the month. I told her that I have a rash on my left breast, which is my breast cancer breast, but it’s only been there for a few days. Rashes are a warning sign for breast cancer, but I’ve had these on and off over the last year. My doctor’s attribute it to perhaps a reaction to the chlorine in the swimming pool. I told my gynecologist that I’d talk to my breast surgeon about the rash.

Then it was time to get into the stirrups for the vaginal exam. I laid down and my gyno put the speculum in place. She started examining me, then looked up and said, “You’re going to hate hearing this, but there’s a mole on your labia.” I told her that this mole has been there for over 10 years and we biopsied it 10 years ago and it was benign. She said, “Phew. OK, good.”

She finished the exam and said she’d call me with the results of the pap within two weeks. If the test came back normal, she didn’t want to see me again for another year. Fingers crossed.

I got dressed and got out of there as quickly as possible before she could tell me anything else. I know I should continue to be vigilant about my body and anything unusual. But I just want some time where there are no more tests. Where there are no more doctor’s appointments for a while. Where no one is touching me and prodding me. Where no one says, “I see something I don’t like. We need to look at this closer.”

I know you’re never really “done” with cancer. Every week I hear about someone who has a recurrence of some type of cancer. So I do carefully listen to my body and will call my doctor the moment something isn’t right.

But please, could I just have some peace and quiet for a while.

Time For My First Doctor’s Appointment of 2014

This Friday I’ll have my first doctor’s appointment of 2014.

The appointment is with my gynecologist for my annual exam. Two years ago, I would have said the appointment is *just* my annual exam. No big deal. But since my breast cancer diagnosis, just isn’t really in my vocabulary anymore.

I’ll be going to see my gynecologist for the first time since my oophorectomy. It’ll be weird to sit in those stirrups when there’s so much less to look at with no ovaries.

And doing a breast exam with fake boobs….that’s still strange for me too. I can’t feel anything in this area, so its bizarre to have hands on my body with no sensation that this is happening.

They say someday I’ll get used to my new body. Not sure who *they* is, but I’ll believe this when I feel it.

I’m trying to stay calm about this appointment. Since my oophorectomy two months ago, I reduced my risk for ovarian cancer from 15% to 1%. So that should tame my worrying – *should* being the operative word.

It’s hard not to worry about cancer when you’ve had it and you read about so many other people having recurrences. I guess once you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, there’s really no such thing anymore as a routine doctor’s appointment. Another part of my life I have to get used to.

Wishing For Less In 2014

2013 was a busy year for me. Finishing treatment for breast cancer, monitoring every other month for ovarian cancer, surgery for possible ovarian cancer and dealing with the emotions of all of this.

For 2014, I’m hoping for less.

Less doctors’ appointments.

Less surgeries – actually hoping for a surgery-free year, or several years.

Less scans (and less scanxiety).

Less phone calls, emails and texts to family members and friends that start with, “Well, the doctors see something else that they’re concerned about. I have to have another test to find out more.”

Less worrying.

Less pill taking – 1 year of Tamoxifen done, 9 more years to go. But who’s counting?

Less hot flashes.

Less aches and pains.

Less sleepless nights.

Less naps to make up for the fatigue associated with cancer treatment.

Less tears – although some, not many, felt good to get out.

Here’s to less in 2014.

When Is My Brain Coming Back?

My brain still isn’t working like it used to. I’m not sure if its chemo brain lingering, or my mind trying to get back to fully functional, or something telling me to take it easy.

BRAIN-AT-WORKWords come to me slowly. In fact, sometimes they don’t come to me at all. And I’m not talking about complicated words. The other day at work, I couldn’t think of the word chair. CHAIR! I had to act it out to my co-worker, like we were playing charades. Could have been funny at a party, but during a work meeting…not so funny. Luckily my co-workers are also friends, so they were quite gracious with me. It was another daily reminder of what I’ve been through from breast cancer and how my brain hasn’t gotten back to normal yet.

Before I started chemo, I talked to many women who had been through what I was about to go through. One of the things they told me was that their mind still hadn’t gotten back to fully functioning. Some of these women were 3-5 years out of treatment. They said they couldn’t multi-task like they used to. And that their concentration wasn’t as good either. I thought they were being dramatic. And I thought, oh, that won’t happen to me. Well…here we are.

I’m trying to be patient. Next month marks my one year anniversary of finishing all my treatments. Everyone reminds me that it takes a while for the body and brain to get back to 100% functionality. I’m hoping that magically a switch is flicked in my brain that makes it work again at the one year mark. Patience with myself is not one of my strengths. Another stupid lesson to learn from this ordeal.

There’s a saying in the cancer community – “the new normal” – how to navigate your life after diagnosis and completing treatment. But I’ve come to see that my new normal is actually more like the new brain.

I’m sure there’s a more sophisticated word to describe how I feel about this new brain, but the only thing that comes to mind is UGH!

Finally Caught A Break

Three weeks ago today, I went in for surgery to see if I had ovarian cancer. As I blogged before the surgery, we weren’t sure what we were going to find. Just a little nerve racking.

It was a long two and a half weeks between my first meeting with my gyno oncologist and my day of surgery. I was convinced I was going to have ovarian cancer. I was preparing for the worst — a complete hysterectomy, months of chemo, chemo brain, losing my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes again, and who knows what else. I couldn’t even really process the choice that I was making about having my ovaries removed. I was clear about my decision to do this, but would have to later deal with the feelings surrounding this decision. I don’t have children yet, but definitely want them. But at this point, I just wanted to be alive to be able to figure out how to do that. Would I even survive having ovarian cancer? The statistics on ovarian cancer are not good. I haven’t caught a break up until this point, so why would this time be any different?

I arrived at the hospital at 5.30am for a 7.30am surgery. I think I got about an hour of sleep the night before. Obviously I couldn’t stop my mind from racing.

The nurse walked me back into the pre-op room, took my vitals, asked me my name and birthdate a million times, and hooked up my IV. Then I was left by myself in the room for a while. This is when I lost it. Couldn’t stop crying. I was so scared. My life was about to take a dramatic turn…again.

My family came into the room and we all had a good cry together. Very few words were said — I mean, what’s there really to say? I think we were all hoping for the best but expecting the worst. You can be knocked down only so many times before you stop believing that you won’t get hit.

They started the anesthesia and luckily that’s the last thing I remember before waking up after surgery.

Surgery was supposed to take 3 hours, but only took 45 minutes. They removed by ovaries and tubes, and tested the lesion. It quickly came back benign. They closed me up and we were done.

No ovarian cancer!

YIPPEE!!! Hooray!!! Woo-hoo!!!

I came to after surgery and the nurse told me the good news while I was in recovery. I couldn’t believe it. Am I dreaming? Am I still in surgery? Is this really happening?

They rolled me from the recovery room to a regular room to rest before leaving the hospital. My family came into the room cheering and smiling, giving hugs and kisses to me. I’d never been so happy and relieved in my life.

It’s been a long year and a half of tests and bad news. For once, it was so great to get good news from a doctor, telling me I don’t have cancer.

I finally caught a break.

Yippee