A Constant Reminder of Loss

When was the first day of your last period?

That’s the question the nurse asked me at my annual gynecological exam on Friday.

Here’s what I said: I don’t get my period anymore.

Here’s what I wanted to say: I don’t get my period anymore because I had to have my ovaries removed after I went through treatment for breast cancer. I have the BRCA2 mutation, which increases my risk for ovarian cancer. So, no, I don’t get my period anymore and I’m in menopause at the age of 41. I know its not your fault, and I’ve never met you before so you’re probably new, since I’ve been coming here every few months over the last 2 years…but shouldn’t that detail about no longer getting periods be in my chart? What’s the point of having a chart if no one looks at it before talking to me?

Prior to this question from the nurse, I had been sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for 30 minutes with a ton of pregnant ladies. Me with my no ovary womb and them with their big, beautiful bellies. Me empty, them full. Literally and figuratively.

At every doctor’s appointment do I have to be reminded of this? I still see one of my doctors every 3 months – either my gynecologist, my oncologist, my breast surgeon, my plastic surgeon or radiation oncologist. That’s a lot of doctors and a lot of times having to reiterate my history to a nurse: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39. I had a double mastectomy. Then 8 rounds of chemo that lasted 4 months. Then breast reconstruction surgery. Then 32 rounds of radiation that occurred every week day for 7 weeks. Then, just when I thought I’d get a break from cancer, the possibility of ovarian cancer crept up during my bi-monthly screenings of my ovaries. So I had to have another surgery to do a biopsy of my ovaries and decided it was just time for my ovaries to be removed.

It’s difficult to move on with my life when, at every turn, something or someone makes my forward progression pause or take a step back. I know I won’t every really be able to put cancer behind me, and I actually don’t want to forget about having cancer and surviving, but does every doctor’s appointment have to bring something up that reminds me of what I’ve lost?

It’s hard enough to be going through early menopause – hot flashes, interruption of sleep, weight issues, achy body. Do I also have to be reminded of what I’ve lost from cancer? I’ve lost both of my breasts, I’ve lost both of my ovaries, I’ve lost the carefree lifestyle that made me believe I’d live to be 90, I’ve lost my patience and my ‘let’s wait and see’ approach to life, and I’ve lost my ability to have biological children and breastfeed them.

So, when was my last period? November of 2013. Maybe the next nurse could just skip this question and go to the next one on the list.



Waiting To Hear Those Three Little Letters…NED

Today I had my 9 month check up with my radiologist. It still feels weird to say I have a radiologist. I’m 40 years old, talking like I’m 70.

Last night I slept in my good luck pajamas – striped tank top and grey sweatpants. I always wear these the night before any doctor’s appointment or test. Today I wore my good luck outfit – black skirt, maroon top and gold/silver/peach necklace my sister gave me for my 40th birthday. I wear this outfit the day of any doctor’s appointment or test. Call me crazy or superstitious. But these rituals have helped me stay calm and seem to bring me good news. So why mess with a good thing.

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I drove to the hospital today for my appointment and parked in my usual spot. They reserve parking spots for cancer patients. Nice that they do that. Kind of messed up that one of those spots is reserved for me. I spent 5 days a week for 8 weeks parking in that spot. I never got used to parking there or walking into the Cancer Center. People always looked at me funny when I parked there, like I shouldn’t be the one getting out of that car parked in that spot. I know the feeling.

I walked into the hospital and signed in. The receptionist said, “Hi. Nice to see you.” It was nice to see her too, but I have to be honest, it wasn’t nice to be back in that place. As I sat in the waiting room, I saw many women with bald heads. The feelings of being in active treatment came quickly rushing back – swiping my cancer badge to get checked in, undressing and putting on my robe, laying on the cold treatment table, having the technicians get me ready for my treatment, then the technicians leaving the room so they weren’t exposed to the high levels of radiation that was about to be zapped into me.

I’m so glad to be done with that. I was now the woman in the waiting room with an acceptable amount of hair. If I wasn’t in a cancer center, you would have no idea I ever had breast cancer. It’s kind of amazing that it’s been 9 months since I finished my treatments. Some days it feels like it just ended yesterday. Other days it feels like its been years.

All my doctors tell me that most patients find symptoms of recurrence on their own in between doctor’s appointments. They say you just know when the cancer has come back. I’ve been feeling pretty good lately and don’t have any pain, which I’m grateful for. So I wasn’t really worried. But I can’t help listening to that little voice in my head that says maybe I’m not checking myself carefully enough. I felt good and didn’t have any pain before and even weeks after my diagnosis, so I like to get the official word from my doctors that everything looks good to them.

My radiologist today did the usual check up, which included a breast exam. After she was done, she wrote down in my chart NED. That’s cancer lingo for no evidence of disease. YIPPEE!!! HOORAY!!! I’m certainly relieved to see those 3 little letters written down next to my name.


My radiologist said she didn’t want to see me again for another year. That’s good news too. I left the hospital feeling really happy. So I bought myself my favorite flowers – lots of beautiful red gerber daisies. So vibrant. So perky. So full of life.

Time to celebrate!