Please don’t panic. I’m fine. My cancer is NOT back. I found a lump a few weeks ago and wrote this. My results say it’s basically a little bit of fat and scar tissue, rolled into a ball. Here’s the post I wrote at the time. I didn’t publish it because my daughter was right in the middle of preparing for exams and I wanted to avoid my health having the same impact on her marks that it did last year, when we got the news I was going to need a mastectomy.
It’s odd reading back over this because now that I know I have nothing to worry about, it seems like such an over-reaction. Hindsight has 20/20 vision. I thought I’d publish it now because it helps people to understand the kind of emotions we go through when we discover anything.
In a massive miscalculation, I ultimately confused what I thought was the date for the END of my daughter’s exams with the date for the BEGINNING of her exams. I also upset some friends by not telling them. Argh!
Anyway, here’s the original post from a few weeks ago:
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I’ve found a lump.
I’ve just passed the nine-months-since-surgery mark and had my scheduled visit with the radiation oncologist and everything was fine. He’s impressed by how well I look. He’s impressed with my mental state.
Why couldn’t I find a lump two weeks ago?
About three days ago I was in bed and massaging away at my lymphatic system. If you’ve had a mastectomy or lymph nodes removed this becomes part of your ritual. It’s a gentle process, like stroking a cat.
I have a bump on one of my ribs where I was hit by an aggressively thrown baseball in high school, thrown by a surreptitious bully. It wasn’t noticeable when I had breasts but now it protrudes slightly at the end of my original lumpectomy scar, close to my sternum. This is also the area where my original tumours appeared.
As I brushed my hand over this area something made me stop and investigate. I found a lump. It’s a tiny one, only about as big as a pea. At first I thought it was my rib protrusion but when I raise my arm the lump moves away from the bone.
I’ve been spending the last month or so fantasising about making it through a year without cancer. I haven’t done that yet. Last year the scans I insisted on at my 12 month anniversary showed calcification which turned out to be recurrence. I had my double mastectomy last August so I’ve been hoping to make that date with a clean bill of health. I’ve been taking really good care of my health, exercising, eating well, losing weight and doing whatever I reasonably could do to improve my chances.
When I first found the lump I climbed out of bed, turned on the light and checked the mirror. Yep. Lump. Or is it? It’s right where the scar ends. There’s a thing that happens after a mastectomy where your skin becomes attached to the underlying facia. It’s as if it’s been stuck down. The best way to understand this is to relax your hand and pinch up the skin on the back of it. This is how skin usually feels. You can pull it away and move it around. Now clench your fist and try to do the same thing. This is an approximation of what it feels like after surgery. Over time the skin gradually comes away from the facia and starts to feel like the rest of your skin. First it gets tighter and tighter and then it gets looser.
I decided it was possible that this is just a bit of scar tissue that has finally come adrift. Denial. I decided to just ignore it for a day and see if it went away.
The next day I told my husband about it. I did it in that self-depreciating let’s-not-worry-just-yet kind of way that anyone whose given bad news to someone they love will be familiar with. The surgeon’s advice on any concerns is to wait two weeks. I explained this.
It gets easier. The first time we did this there were tears. Now we each take a deep breath and shrug our shoulders. He’s reassuringly prosaic about it all. No need to panic without reason. No need to panic even if there is a reason. If it’s back then it’s local and that’s a good thing.
And it could be nothing.
Poke poke, prod prod. Yep. Lump. And maybe that’s another, smaller lump just under it. If I raise my arm over my head and feel under it……..Yep. Another lump.
Yesterday I decided I couldn’t wait two weeks. I booked an appointment with my doctor. Of course it’s the Friday before a long weekend so I won’t be able to see him until Tuesday. The curse of bad timing. It’s also two weeks until my daughter has law exams so I’m not telling her. I still feel enormous guilt over the impact my recurrence had on her marks last year. She needs high marks to get into clerkships and she needs clerkships to get into the firms she wants to work for. We are very close so this is hard.
Last year when she went overseas for a holiday she asked me not to tell her if anything happened with my health “…unless it’s so bad that I need to come home,” so I feel justified in holding off until I have any conclusive news.
And it might be nothing.
So why worry her unnecessarily.
Fortunately her studies will keep her at university this weekend. She’s cancelled plans to be here for lunch on Sunday. I’m hoping she doesn’t ring me. I know it will be very difficult to talk to her and not say anything about the lump, and she’ll probably pick up on it anyway.
We had dinner last night with a big group of close friends and I was worried that it might be difficult. Only one of them actually asked how I was travelling and I was honest without giving too much detail. He wished me well with it. Maybe people don’t ask because I look really well. Maybe they just don’t want to know. I understand. At our age just about everyone has some kind of health issue and we try to avoid those conversations where we all compare maladies. Another woman in our group is half way through radiation therapy for breast cancer. Everyone is fighting their own battles.
Fortunately we’ve got a busy weekend planned with lots of good friends to keep me busy and distracted. There’s curry to cook and tables to set and then the fun of conversation and company. There’s be cleaning up and the easy debrief that my husband and I enjoy after a big get-together. This will help. I need to organise something to do on Monday. Whatever it is, it can’t involve my Mum.
Mum turns 80 in about a week. I know what she doesn’t want for her birthday. She’s so sure of my recovery and longevity. She refuses to even contemplate the idea of recurrence, as if she can defeat my cancer by the sheer force of her conviction. Terrible timing. The results of any tests I have will be here in time for her birthday.
And it could be nothing.
Best not to worry her without reason.
Today is really the first day that it’s hit me. The cancer might be back. I revert to my reliable strategies for dealing with this kind of situation. I repeat the phrase, “It is what it is” and I calm myself down. I practice yoga. I breathe into that place where the cold, dark terror is accumulating. I consider the practical implications like whether or not to discuss this with the friend that’s going on a short holiday with me next week (yes) and whether or not panic (no).
And it might be nothing. Nothing! All this emotional energy. All this imagining possible future scenarios. All for nothing.
If the cancer is back I might be offered a platinum based chemotherapy treatment which would not be a bad thing. I wanted this treatment right back at the beginning, based on new research showing that triple negative cancer patients had better long term survival odds if they had carboplatin as neo-adjuvant (pre-surgical) treatment. At the time I was told that it was not part of the treatment protocol. Now it is. It might be that this is what my body needs to finally be cancer free.
It’s also the most aggressive form of chemotherapy.
Meanwhile I read about a vaccine for triple negative that’s about to start trials at the end of the year and targeted treatments where they use the tumour to develop a treatment that kills it. None of this is available to me.
I am plagued by bad timing.
It’s Saturday the 6th of June 2015 as I write this. I won’t be publishing it until I get my test results because my daughter and my mother both read my blog. I’m hoping by the time they read this we can all heave a sigh of relief.
Fear coils like a snake in the pit of my belly and whispers.