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?

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!