Life after breast cancer treatment.

I took a break from writing and from support groups and tried to pack up the whole breast cancer experience, tie it up tightly with a nice bow, and tuck it away on a high shelf. I have a friend I made in a young women’s support group at Sibley (I’ll call her CA). CA and I were diagnosed at about the same time and have gone through very similar experiences. Every once in a while we check in with each other and it reminds me that it is important to stay open, connect with people, and connect with your feelings.

CA had a really remarkable way of explaining how she was grappling with her emotions post breast cancer treatment. Her words really resonated with me and I asked her if I could share them:

“I think I have come to the point where breast cancer and all its memories are in a ‘box’ and occasionally pieces slide out and surprise me when I least expect it.  Other times the box is hurled open and everything from day 1 to now comes rushing back.  And sometimes I sit down, open the box, examine the contents, react, and then put it away again.  It’s really strange.  I have never tried so hard to forget something so big, and of course have never had anything so big happen that didn’t drastically shrink as time went by. I rarely talk about any of this with anyone around me (part of my routine to forget) but sometimes I do kind of want to shake it all out with someone that has been there (is there).”

My breast cancer box was hurled open a few weeks ago when I went in for some testing at Georgetown hospital.

I have been having stomach pain on and off since March. Recently it’s gotten a bit worse and when I went in for my oncologist check up, the doc decided that I should have a CT scan to check it out. Dr. Isaacs is not a proponent of over scanning because of the false positives and stress it causes, so she stewed over whether or not to order the test, but decided that it was necessary.

My mom went with me to the appointment and I had my tough all-business armor on. I was called back and followed a technician into a bleak looking waiting room where he had me drink a huge container of barium, a syrupy sweet beverage that tasted a bit like Gatorade concentrate (I was actually relieved it wasn’t the same beverage I had to drink for the pet scan, which was milky and chalky). After about 20 minutes, the technician came to get me and led me into a different room to change into a hospital gown. As I changed out of my clothes and carefully tied on the billowy gown, a rush of unexpected fear and sadness washed over me. Being back at the hospital was more emotional that I thought it would be. The tech lead me into a huge cold room with a tremendous metal table and doughnut shaped cat scan machine. I felt dwarfed as I hoisted myself up onto the table. A nurse came in to get an IV started in my arm and commented on my small veins, “hmmmm, how am I going to do this?” he said, as he tapped firmly on my arm. “Hmmmm”, he continued “…open and close your fist…did you have an IV on this side before? I don’t see how they did it…” The nurse left and called for some back up. A new nurse came into the room, accessed my small vein situation, and decided to insert the IV in the top of my hand. The thought of this really bothered me, I had managed to have IV’s and blood draws on my right side a million times last year and now all of a sudden I have a new problem. As the nurse put the IV in my hand it stung and burned. “Good job” he said to me “are you OK?” I nodded, but before I knew it I had tears streaming down my face. The nurse left the room and a voice from outside the room asked me to raise my arms as they slide me into the cat scan machine. “Take a deep breathe in and hold it” the voice instructed in a soothing tone, here we go I thought, I hope they don’t find anything bad! I continued to cry through the whole scan and the docs and techs didn’t look a bit surprised about it.

The next day I got a call from Dr. Isaac’s nurse asking me to call her. Uh oh, when you have normal results they tell you on your voice mail. My heart raced as I called the nurse. She explained that they found 2 spots on my liver. One of the spots is a cyst and the other is so small they can’t tell what it is. The nurse assured me that this is likely benign and not to worry, but that I would need to be retested again in 3 months. Oh and on top of that, the scans didn’t show any indication of why I would be having stomach pains, so I need to go to a gastro doc.

OK, so life after breast cancer isn’t perfect, but life isn’t perfect and I am dealing with it. Thanks Mom for taking such good care of me and thanks CA for checking in with me at the perfect time.

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