From the category archives:

Anxiety & Fear

Almost ten years have passed since my initial diagnosis of “infiltrating ductal carcinoma.” So far, I have survived both my breast cancer and my texting while driving. But please don’t refer to me as a “survivor.” That would imply that I had something to do with my, up till now, favorable outcome. It would also imply that my less fortunate cancer sisters  “failed.” I did not fight my cancer valiantly. I was neither strong nor brave. I squirmed, fidgeted, and freaked out every step of the way.

When it comes to cancer, I do not believe in mind over matter. I don’t think you can stop your cancer cells from spreading any more than you can will yourself to fly or learn Mandarin in your sleep.  I accept that I have been incredibly lucky, so far. I am mindful that others have not been as lucky.

I discovered my tumor fairly early. I did not procrastinate too long before I did something about it, a couple of months at the most. My cells were not of the most aggressive kind. I was hormone positive. I escaped both full mastectomy and chemotherapy. I tolerated my aromatase inhibitors well. (In fact, on me the hormone suppressors worked like phen phen. I effortlessly lost some weight, instead of packing on the pounds like many middle-aged women sometimes do.)  I had access to a first rate cancer center. I had a good health insurance. Even so, my cancer “episode” cost me more than $17,000 out of pocket. Most importantly, I was already post-menopausal. I was not robbed of my fertility and my youth.

I have been left with only two external scars: one hairline crack in the twelve o’clock position on my right breast. (Good job, Dr. Guru!) And I have a tattoo that looks like a stabbed myself with a ballpoint pen between my breasts. My internal scars are beginning to fade also. I no longer assume that a headache means that I have brain metastasis. Now when something rattles under my hood, I am back to thinking it is “nothing” rather than “something.”

The Sophists say that “Life is a dream and death is waking up.”  Admittedly, nothing gets your full attention like a possible death sentence. At first,  it puts your mind in a freeze frame mode, then it sharpens your senses and helps you get your priorities straight.

At least for a while.

 

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My husband and I are both stuck in the glue of our gloom, unable to reach out to each other.

I am restless, crabby, scarred, impatient, and distracted both at home and at work. I cannot concentrate on anything. All I do is obsess about a second surgery. It is not the surgery that scares me, but delaying the treatments has me excessively worried. And the type of treatment.

My husband is down for many reasons: his job, my situation, life in general. This time I do not have the emotional resources or stamina to try to help him break out of his zone. I am too preoccupied and self-obsessed. Also, I am, irritated with him.

He has not even glanced at any of the many brochures, articles, and books on breast cancer lying around the house. It would be good to have his perspective on matters. My husband has a scientific mind. He is the type who will read the instructions for a new Panini grill cover to cover. But the pamphlet “What to Expect from Chemotherapy” sits untouched on his bed stand while he gorges himself on a big fat business book. I am pretty sure he has not spent two minutes Googling breast cancer to learn more. It is as if he thinks: That is her problem. But if he had prostate cancer, I would be all over it. So to speak. I would want to try to figure out what he would be facing. What we would be facing.

Late one afternoon, I finally receive an email from Dr. Guru in response to my question about my lack of clear margin.

“I appreciate your concern. The primary excision was not oriented so I don’t know where they came up with lateral. The additional margins, inferior and medial, were removed after the primary excision was performed. They were the closest margins deemed from intra-operative inspection and no residual tumor was in those specimens. You do not need additional surgery. Sorry for the confusion.” Guru

I  read the mail several times without a clear understanding. Did he take out the tumor then went back in and scraped out some more? Is that what he means by “intra-operative perspective?” But what does “the primary incision not oriented” mean? He’d have to cut the first line somewhere.

I believe Dr. Guru when he says I do not need a second surgery (although I am still annoyed with him.) Had he only sat down with me to explain my pathology report, all this hysteria and worry and anxiety would not have come to pass. He would not have had to endure my blistering emails.

Yet, I am  relieved. Now I can move on to the next treatment. Will it be radiation or do I need chemo first? The mere thought of chemo therapy petrifies me.  Millions have endured it. So why am I such a complete whimp? And when will I find out if I need it? Where is my oncodx test result?

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All Other Edges Free of Carcinoma. Meaning?

October 10, 2009

Three weeks after after my lumpectomy, and after some prodding and probing,  my pathology report arrives in the mail. I polish my bifocals. — the better to see you my dear —  and sink down in my favorite reading chair. On page one, I immediately zero in on these worrisome phrases: “All other surgical resection […]

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Full Circle In One Month

August 12, 2009

In the morning, as soon as Dr. Guru’s office opens,  I call to nail down my surgery date. “We can not plan anything until we have your MRI results,” his assistant sounds tired. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet. Yes, you can have a lumpectomy next Tuesday.  Anything more involved, requiring more time, […]

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Dr. Guru, I Am Mad. Where Are You?

August 7, 2009

Thursday, I only have one thing on my mind, one thought circling my brain like a  hungry wolf.  I want to go under Dr. Guru’s scalpel, I need for him to get rid of my nasty, ugly tumor. Now. Not a word from Dr. Guru’s office.  Not a word about the MRI results.  Not a […]

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Hypochondria Galore

August 6, 2009

No MRI results. No pathology report on the calcification in my left breast. No surgery date  – yet – to remove the cancerous hazelnut in my right breast. Five weeks have passed since I received my diagnosis. Five weeks since I was told I may have lived with breast cancer for a whole decade. And […]

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“Ask an Expert” – It May Save Your Life

August 1, 2009

You don’t understand your doctor’s mumbo-jumbo, or have doubts?  You are confused about the correctness of your diagnosis or your pathology report? You are too scared to wait six months to find out what may lurk inside your boob?  You have a family member, or a friend, with breast cancer and you want to figure […]

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Bills, Bills Everywhere

July 24, 2009

The post man sprinkles me with bills. How many have I managed to accumulate, considering I have not yet had my MRI or surgery? Did their computerized billing system over heat? Reluctantly, I open the first white envelope. “This is not a bill” it reads. Then what is it? It is a letter from the […]

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Another Scary Mammogram

July 14, 2009

As I enter the semi-dark room for my third mammogram in a month,  I notice two large X-rays mounted on a back lit panel. One shows a breast with two lumps and a calcified area, all clearly circled in red. I assume this is the view of  my right breast and freak out at the […]

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Retrieving My X-Rays from the Breast “Care” Center

June 29, 2009

Friday afternoon. I drive back to the Breast Care Center for the fourth time in less than a month to retrieve my mammograms. I need to give them to my surgeon when I see him. Again, I ruminate  over the hopeless, pointless, and completely unanswerable question: Why did they not find my lump last year, […]

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