Tag Archives: cancer

Reflecting (Self-Absorbed)

It must be my birthday soon, I’m being more introspective than usual.

I’m having a tough time, mostly around abstract-yet-relevant concepts of ‘health’.  Seven years ago (give or take a day) I was told that I have breast cancer, and my world ||SHIFTED|| in an instant. I’m still uncovering the changes, like an archeologist on a tidy and clean site (no dust in my corners!) who keeps unlocking hidden compartments.

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Five Years . . .

I am very pleased to announce that today, exactly, I am five years cancer-free.

Blessings and gratitude to everyone who was there, physically or in spirit as I went under the knife and gave my sacrifice to the Big C. Its been an interesting journey since then, and I’ve come a long way.

I’m healthier than I have been since my teens, and doing well in every area. You have been a part of that journey for me.

This year, Thanksgiving will have very special meaning for me.

Today is World Cancer Day

Today, February 4, is World Cancer Day. As someone in the midst of the freaking wild ride known as cancer, this is a day to mark. I am celebrating the day by going in for my Oncology Orientation. Isn’t that beautifully ironic?

This year, the theme is ‘Cancer Can be Prevented Too’ and it is a position I heartily endorse. Most illness, including cancer, can be prevented if each of us takes three steps: don’t smoke, eat well, and walk 30 mins a day. That’s it.  Everything else is a flourish on the basic plan and I freely acknowledge that you can spend a lot of time discussing what ‘eat well’ means. For me, it means all foods are viable, but limit anything processed and try to stick with local, in season produce. (If the 1st ingredient is ‘enriched,’ its processed.) I will gladly sit down to a grass-fed steak dinner with salad and baked potato and butter. I’ll even have a glass or two of good red wine. But I don’t do that every night. In fact, most nights my meal is 2/3 vegetables.

Not smoking is a major factor. As an ex-addict I know exactly how hard it is to quit. Try. Try it again. Keep trying until you quit. You don’t want to end up like me, who could only stop when she needed cancer cut out of her body.

Walking every day is entirely possible. Get an iPod or (old school!) Walkman, and go for a walk. Get a friend or drag your partner up from the coach and go. Walk in the rain, the snow, and sun. Walk. I’ll eventually be allowed to do something more, but even then I will continue my regimen of waking every day.  If you are really super busy, walk 15 mins and do it twice a day.

Cancer is preventable.

Having a Biopsy

I’ve been managing to not worry too much about the biopsy, which was scheduled for several weeks after my second mammogram. But the night before it all hit me pretty hard and I was (for me) very upset. I managed it by having a very good workout (30 mins of cardio and strength training combined), a hot shower, a couple of videos, a glass of wine, and a very good book.

I got a pretty good nights’ sleep and had a light breakfast before I left. I considered skipping breakfast, but realized that I’d probably get VERY shaky if I let my blood sugar drop too much. So, toast, ricotta and jam it was.

NOTE: I’ll be pretty blunt and graphic in this next part, so if you will feel like a voyeur, or get queasy at medical procedures, do NOT read any further.

ok. you were warned. no squeamishness.

The technician and radiologist were very explanatory and thorough. They went through the whole procedure with me before they started, and did a good job of talking throughout so I wasn’t surprised by anything (mostly, but I’ll get to that). Basically, my breast was washed with a chemical to clean the skin of biologicals and a mark made on the surface to indicate where (below the surface) the nodule was located. They verified this with the ultrasound. (Yes, I did for a moment hope that it had disappeared in the interim weeks.)

They then insert a very small needle (they warned me it would feel like a bee sting) and inject that area of the breast with lidocaine to numb it thoroughly. After its numbed out, they insert a larger needle with a kind of suction tube on the end of it. That tube goes right to the nodule and — with a “snap” like an electric stapler — sucks a tube of material right out of it. They collect 3-5 of these samples.

We had a funny moment when I explained that I hoped it wasn’t really like a bee sting — I’m allergic to them. In truth, it was far less painful than getting Novocaine at the dentist. They did, however, have to give me a double dose, as I was clearly feeling the needle probing. (Typical of me and my nanosecond of pain threshold. I truly believe I ‘burn off’ the first dose and it takes a second dose to actually numb the necessary area.)  The “snap” was loud, but the radiologist would say “OK, 1.2.3” so I could concentrate more full yon my breathing to keep from flinching. (It didn’t hurt, it was just startling.)

They tell me there was very little blood, and I should heal up fine. Now, several hours later, my breast is quite sore and a bit swollen. I have to wear a ice pad (its shaped like one of those individual coffee pods) on and off again for 24 hours (not while I sleep though). I also have to wear a bra for 24 hours. (Thank goodness I don’t wear an under-wire.)

I am quite proud of myself for maintaining a truly calm space. I was breathing well and it allowed me to get to a very relaxed place. It’s only afterwards that I find myself saying:

Now I REALLY get to worry.

Mammogram Follow Up

This is a follow up to my previous post about getting a mammogram.

Quite a few women need to go back for a follow up mammogram screening. This is usually not a cause for concern — our breasts have lots of odd bits n pieces of tissue in them, including fatty deposits, ropey fibers, and liquid-filled cysts. Your first screening is viewed with specific care so that any questions about the non-usual can be seen to quickly, mapped out, and then they become part of your future screenings. “Is that something over towards the left?” “Yeah, that’s a little nodule — had it forever.”

The women in my family are all a fibrous, lumpy-breasted lot. So I wasn’t surprised at the call I got the day after my mammogram. Sure enough there were three areas in my left breast that they wanted to take a better look at.

That Friday –less than a week after my first screening, I was back. This time the procedure was a lot more involved, specific, and — I have to say it — painful. My breast was SUPER squeezed, twisted and squeezed, and then SQUEEZED. All to get a better look at the various questionable areas. It was uncomfortable. My breast felt quite bruised (although it wasn’t).

While the radiologist looked over the new findings (they didn’t want me to leave with anymore questionable areas — perhaps because they knew they might not get me back again!) I contemplated the fact that I am supremely lucky to have such good health care and the coverage to pay for it.

The technician came back. “We want you to have an ultrasound. There’s a definite area that isn’t just flesh or fibers, and we want a better look at it.”

So I went for an ultrasound. It was very hard to find, and very deep inside my breast — almost at the chest wall of muscle over bone. It was an anomaly. The radiologist was matter of fact. “This is very likely nothing to be concerned about, but since this is your first mammography, I want to be sure we know what it is. I want you to come in for a biopsy”

Here’s the statistics: 80% of women who go in for follow up biopsies of the unusual parts of their breasts have nothing wrong, or its entirely benign. My family has no history of breast cancer (or much cancer at all, except Father’s Father who had colon cancer). The odds are very much on my side.

But it is still a worry.