From the category archives:

Breast Cancer

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.




My cell phone rings at 7.42 AM. I am already at work.

“Just left you a message at home,” my internist says. “Ignore that one. Just want to tell you the CAT scan was inconclusive. It is nothing to worry about,” he said.” But one should also not ignore it. You understand what I mean? The radiologist being hyper careful and all.”

My internist is setting up a PET scan. He had talked to my oncologist, Dr. Weary “who is on board.”

As soon as I get off the phone with my internist, his  office calls. They need my new insurance information, the PET scan has to be approved before my appointment on Tuesday at 1 PM. “Eat nothing for four hours prior!” I am told.

At home, I go straight to the phone to listen to the message Dr. R. left before he called my cell, the message he told me to ignore and erase.  Like I could.

“R. here. “ (How much training did he have to be able to deliver bad news in a non-threatening, authoritative fashion?) “Looking at the report of the CAT scan, talked to your oncologist and he is on board with what we’re doing.  My radiologist, being super hyper vigilant and obsessive wants us to follow up with a PET scan, don’t know if you ever had one. He spelled it out in a loud, firm voice: P-E-T scan, we want to make sure there is no metabolic activity. (Nicely put, Dr. R., much better than to say we’re checking to see if you have cancer cells that are growing out of control.) “I talked to Weary,” he continued, ” and we really think the little changes in your lung could be the result of radiation.”

Interesting. The “area of concern” is in my lower left lung. I had radiation in my right breast. Besides, aren’t the lungs in your back?

“Dr. Weary has looked at this and is not highly worried,” R. continued, “but agrees that if the radiologist wants this done then we should go ahead and do it. So we will follow up with a PET scan, P-E-T, very similar to the CAT scan but measures metabolic activity, don’t think you have had a PET scan before. It will show if there is any activity in the scarring area which would make it more likely to be a tumor. I hate to leave a voice mail, but I wanted to follow up since the CAT scan was done a few days ago. Jonathan will call and set a time.”

A PET Scan stands for Positron Emission Tomography and it is pretty much only used to check for “abnormal cell activity.” The reason they said that my CAT scan was “inconclusive” must have meant that by just looking they could not tell if my granuloma was benign or malignant.  They had checked the size: small is good but not absolute proof. They had looked at the edges and obviously could not tell for sure if they were smooth or spiculated (smooth is better.) They checked the density: calcified or not?(calcified is better.) They were clueless.  I still needed a PET scan.

I felt like throwing up as I listened to his message over and over again.


CAT Scan Ordered to Check My Lungs

June 12, 2010

My new internist calls unexpectedly at 10.30 AM to give me feed back from my routine check up from three weeks ago. He is back from vacation and has just sorted through his pile of paperwork. My blood count looks great. My cholesterol is 208, but only because I have 108 of good cholesterol, so […]

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