Ups and Downs

This has been a hard week. Last week I had my PET scan and lymph node ultrasound. I didn’t expect to learn anything during or immediately after the procedures and was in a complete panic when the ultrasound tech told me that she would be right back with the doctor. While I was waiting on the table I realized that I did not want to learn anything. I only wanted to speak with my oncologist and nobody else. Interestingly, the tech returned doctorless and said that she needed to take more history. My heart sank. I looked for my phone and silently wished that I had brought my husband with me. But I had come alone. She asked questions about my family history of various cancers and with each question my anxiety increased. She left again and told me that she would return with the doctor. A few years later, or maybe it was just a few minutes, she returned and told me that there was nothing of concern and that I could leave. I think that she also held up her hand so that I could give her a “high five” but her hand was in such an awkward position that I ignored it. Instead, I bolted out of that room as quickly as possible. I know that they do these tests all the time but when you are waiting to hear if you have cancer or not, it is a bit scary. Obviously, I was pleased to hear that there was nothing of concern but I still had to wait on the PET scan.

On Tuesday, an unmarked envelope arrived with my name on it. I opened it and it was the best piece of mail that I have ever received. The envelope had the results of the PET scan and the ultrasound. Both reports indicated that there was nothing of concern and there was no evidence of cancer. Oh the tears – there were so many of them. It felt incredible. My husband and children were ecstatic. To celebrate – we all went out for a run!

Well, I falsely believed that my PET/ultrasound results would save me from having to do radiation. I was wrong, again. I was confident that I didn’t have cancer so why would I need radiation. So, the doctor explained, probably again. She probably told me all of these things before (months ago) and I didn’t want to hear them so I didn’t. The mastectomy was a major surgical event and it is therefore possible that the blood flow to the lymph nodes on my left side was limited and therefore may not have received all 8 hits of chemo. I also had a large mass and it is impossible to remove all breast cells so I therefore did not have clean margins on all sides. It really sucks that you can’t remove all of the breast tissue. It sure looks like they did but I understand the point. Additionally, the microscopic examination of my mass showed lymphatic involvement and the primary flow of my lymphatic system is to my chest wall (rare compared to most women). Because of the lymphatic involvement, the standard of care is to treat the lymph nodes to remove any microscopic disease that the PET and ultrasound just can’t see. Completing my radiation treatment will reduce my risk of re-occurrence by 5-9%.

It is so hard to be repeatedly told that you have a disease. It is hard to repeatedly hear that this is hard and that you have suffered… but you still need to do this. As I laid in the CT scanner, crying, so that they could align the beams for my future treatment, all I could think of is that I am not weak. Stop telling me that I am weak. Stop telling me that I am sick. I am not. I will not lose. If anything, I will become stronger. I will run. I will do yoga. I will work. I will be a mom. I will be a wife. I will be a friend. I will be a mentor. I will be a scholar. I will win.

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