Over the last couple of months, I've been dealing with yet another scare that's left me feeling like a James Bond drink: shaken, not stirred. And as if a train were getting ready to flatten me to Kingdom Come.
It all starts with pain in my left ribs.
And a "routine" followup appointment weeks later with my oncologist, Dr. B.
He prescribes an anti-inflammatory for the rib pain, which doesn't work.
He then orders a CT scan and bone scan; I schedule both for the day before my daughter and I leave for Florida to visit my parents and for some R and R. During the bone scan, the staff repeatedly ask me about my cancer background, about my surgeries, and all-things-cancer.
Too many questions for my comfort.
Something is wrong.
I do get a chuckle from one technician. Upon my telling her I've had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, she asks me if I am currently breastfeeding.
Once in Florida, I try to forget the drama. I try to forget about the tests. I'm here to have fun, after all. And for three days, I am at a tentative peace.
Dr. B calls my cell and leaves a hopeful-but-ominous message: "There's nothing terribly, terribly, terribly wrong with you. I just have to talk with you about the bone scan."
There are too many "terriblys" in his message for my comfort.
My parents know nothing about what's been going on. They love me, but they could not handle my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment years ago. I won't tell them a thing, I decide, but just act as if nothing were wrong.
Finally, Dr. B and I connect. He is kind and doesn't want to worry me, but he sounds uncomfortable. He talks about my CT scan, which reveals a number of "multiple healing fractures" in my back. He talks at great length about how symmetrical the "breaks" on both scans look and that if I had a cancer recurrence, it would not look symmetrical.
The dreaded R word, but there it is.
He continues talking about his extensive experience in interpreting the scans, how even if the bone scan report says one thing, he knows better and is pretty certain that I just have broken back bones. He is adamant that the bone scan report is wrong.
I ask what the bone scan report says.
He hesitates. He then says, "Metastasis to the bone."
I'm audibly silent.
He tells me he's very sure it is not because in this case, the CT scan gives the fuller picture and the broken bones are in the same areas as those that lit up in the bone scan. Besides, once a person has cancer, he continues, those interpreting diagnostic tests have a cancer bias.
I listen and listen. And then I listen.
He asks me if I had any injuries to my back that would cause my bones to break. I tell him that I don't know, but I do. A major injury.
Since chemo, my bone density has dwindled considerably. Since chemo, I've had bone-related problems. Since chemo...[fill in the blank]
I ask him what the next step is. He tells me to take the over-the-counter pain killers regularly and see him in a month.
Do I have bone mets? Or do I just have bones that inexplicably break? I'm hoping for the latter. My body keeps betraying me, I think.
My parents call me to dinner. I wipe my tears and paint a smile on my face. During dinner, I laugh and joke and put on a happy, happy face.
But depression sets in the next day. I'm in a fog. I'm not proud of what I'm about to reveal:
I sleep all day, knowing my parents can watch my daughter. I just want to be alone. But my daughter doesn't want to leave my side, and she asks me what is wrong. I tell her that mommy isn't feeling well and that I will be OK soon.
And this is true: I haven't been feeling well. My back hurts a lot.
But I eat dinner with my happy face and then go back to bed. My mind and body are shutting down, and I need more sleep. The next day finds me swimming by myself at the retirement community pool and crying. Later that day, I envy the 80-year-olds who seem healthier than me. No matter how much I exercise or take care of myself, I reason, my body will always betray me. So I do the only reasonable thing:
I buy a huge-ass Godiva chocolate bar and devour it at 1 a.m.
The next few days are better. My parents, Ari, and I go to children-friendly places. We have fun at a turtle sanctuary. I keep busy. I see a rainbow (pictured in this post), and I savor it.
Today I'm seeing my oncologist for a not-so-routine followup. Prior to this latest installment of my life, I was working hard on finishing my book and a new website (details to eventually come). This news has temporarily derailed my work.
I've had a setback. Don't we all?
I've resumed work on the book and website. I refuse to allow this latest scare or any future scares to interfere with my hopes and dreams.
|A rainbow amid the storm clouds|
I'm writing a book titled Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.