Nineteen and a half years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a scary time. There were two surgeries and a new treatment (I was one of the first in the area to get it) and no chemo (yay hair!). My cancer had a good record for full recovery. No matter what the prognosis, it was upsetting. The diagnosis sat on my shoulder for the better part of ten to twelve years rearing up whenever I had a checkup or woke up at 3 a.m. wondering who would take care of my cats. Death became very real.
My particular cancer was not a lump. It was a cluster of calcifications. Not palpable at all so the only thing that would catch it would be a mammogram. I was lucky. I had a mammogram every year. I hung my hopes on a false positive, but I had a real positive. The kind that needed surgery, follow-up and a lot of support.
There were times that were emotionally challenging. The beloved husband came along to check-ups because I needed someone to remember anything said after the word cancer. I would blank out.
Once you get a cancer diagnosis, everything kicks up a notch. I had to get a colonoscopy even though I had one a few years earlier. My skin docs looked harder at lumps and barnacles and my gyno checked my lady parts with what seemed like the Hubble telescope. My body was under scrutiny. As a hypochondriac, every headache, cough or pain became suspicious. It was nerve wracking.
I routinely had MRI’s, CAT scans and even a PET scan. There was another biopsy with negative results but there was always this thing sitting on my shoulder. Will this be the time when they find a recurrence?
Last week was my check-up. My breast cancer practice was absorbed into our large hospital network. New place, new follow-up people, new protocols. I don’t like change when it comes to medical people. Trust is earned and takes time.
My check-up had always included a diagnostic mammogram. This is different from the routine screening mammogram. It involves more pictures, more waiting and more worry.
When I met with my new medical person, an oncology nurse, she said that I can revert to screening mammograms and was no longer considered at a greater risk for cancer. I couldn’t believe it. At almost 20 years out from my original diagnosis, I’m considered normal. It was a really great day! One I wish all people diagnosed with cancer experience.
Even though there are a lot of good things happening in the field, people are still dying of breast cancer. Just not me, not today. Bless anyone who is on that journey.