From the category archives:

MRI

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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 it is still there.

I am stressed. I am short with people.  I can tell – even without a mirror – how my whole face looks dour and unpleasant. My tone is whiny, my words cranky.

I sleep poorly at night. My insomnia is, in part , because I cannot stop myself from reading “cancer books” at bedtime. (I try to stay away from the internet at night. Once you enter that galaxy you might as well disappear into a real black hole in outer space.) After a life time of ignoring anything medical, I am obsessed. And confused.

I read about the predictors that constitute high risk for recurrence. Breast cancer cells like to escape your breast and sneak away via your lymph node system. They metastasize most commonly  to the bone, the liver, the brain, and the lungs. With both hands I press my neck and explore my  arm pits to check for signs of swollen lymph nodes, just like my doctors now do first thing I meet them.

Suddenly, the bone in my foot feels tender and painful. At first, I try to tell myself it is from my new shoes.  But then I manage to talk myself into that my breast cancer has metastasized to my bones. Normally, it does not start in the extremities, I have learned. It starts in the ribs, the femur, the shoulders, not your toes or ankles. I feel a bit better. Then a stitch in my side becomes metastatic breast cancer to my liver. A mild pain behind my ear becomes a brain tumor. A cough and I am sure it has spread to the lungs.

I lie in my bed at night and imagine the cancer cells floating around inside my body, nibbling at my organs, like guppies darting around in an aquarium, nibbling at their food.

My pendulum swings between knowing that I am completely ridiculous  and knowing that I, despite all odds, could be stage IV. This is the stage about which Dr. Susan Love  in her Breast book says: Take care of your affairs and make plans for how to live  in the time you have left.

But I don’t make any plans or take care of my affairs. I just continue to read scary statistics and get high on the anxiety fumes.

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It is strange to begin one’s day by driving to the “Magnolia Cancer Center. ”

“This place cannot be for me,” I think. My husband admits that he, too, gets a jolt at the sight of the large blue sign with white text. The cafeteria, the halls, and the waiting rooms are filled, mostly with old people. They appear to be in bad shape, moving with difficulty at a glacial pace. Their complexions are ashen or waxy, their expressions gloomy.  Did cancer or old age bring them down? Will I be the same once treatments set in?

The MRI turns out not to be scary.  I had feared claustrophobia, scared of being stuffed alive  in a steel coffin. I also worried about not being able to move at all for the better part of an hour. But the design of the big turbo machine turns out to be ingenious. Who ever came up with the design should be contacted by the airlines to re-design their chairs for better comfort.

I lie on stomach with both my boobs hanging down through two holes. My arms are held forward in a diving position. My forehead rests on a foam cushioned ledge covered by a soft cloth. My legs are bent by the knees, my ankles and shins rest on a cushion. My pelvis and stomach are firmly pressed downward but without discomfort. The room is cool, but I am covered by a warm cotton blanket. I do not have the slightest urge to even wiggle my toes during the whole procedure.

A dye is administered through a needle in my left hand. The liquid flows through my veins like a chilly breeze. The machine makes clanking sounds, like old radiators. Then it changes its “tune” and makes a fast, clicking metallic sound. How could this possibly give them perfect pictures of the inside of my boobs, slice by slice? I will never understand and I regret having spent my whole life ignoring anything science.

I am alone in the room, but hold a rubber bulb in my hand. Through a speaker I am told, by the tech outside,  to squeeze the rubbery thing should I need anything. I hold my rubber bulb, but don’t squeeze it, not once. I am perfectly fine. But as I lie there, I think of torture victims. How perfectly terrifying would it not be to be left alone in a cool room with a low ceiling and giant steel contraption without knowing why, left in a room without a rubber bulb to squeeze and where nobody would care about your screams.  How frightening to be stuffed in a machine designed to hurt you, monitored by evil people, not people who want your best!

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Dr. Guru’s Game Plan

July 7, 2009

Dr. Guru’s game plan is simple enough, provided there are no complications revealed by further tests and procedures. Lumpectomy followed by radiation, followed by five years on Tamoxifen. (I don’t argue with him about  Tamoxifen. I don’t bring up  Astra Zeneca’s conflict as a maker of both cancer drugs and potent carcinogens. ) Dr. Guru […]

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