On my way back to normal

I was given a green rose as a sign of a new beginning.

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.

67 thoughts on “On my way back to normal

  1. Kate, this is such wonderful news! We are learning more every day about Cancer treatments, and as upsetting as the diagnosis is, and the lingering fears, we have more at our disposal for early detection. My daughter’s 2020 breast cancer really rocked our world and she’s doing great, but again, those “routine” yearly followups are unnerving. I had a lumpectomy in March for the calcification “cluster” you’re referring to. Fortunately, early detection meant it was deemed highly suspicious but turned out not to be a malignancy. Even with no Cancer I was pretty undone. Sorry to go on and on about myself, but I suppose in some way I’m really trying to say that I have some little glimpse into the relief you are feeling. And I’m so happy for you!

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  2. That is great news Kate. What a relief! Celebrate! Cancer does not run in our family, but heart disease does. I’m happy to hear you got a good report, because in the last two weeks, I’ve had several people I know be diagnosed, or worse, pass away from a myriad of serious illnesses.

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    • Most people who get cancer do not have a family history of it. It’s less hereditary and more environmental. Both of my parents died of a heart issue but none of us kids have any. Oldest bro who just died at age 94 did not have it. Neither the 92 year old or me. At least we don’t have the signs. Sometimes it’s spontaneous from who know what.

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      • I didn’t realize that Kate – I guess I was going by all the advertising about having close family members having a history of cancer, so stepping up your screenings That’s interesting about your parents’ heart disease, yet no kids having issues. Maybe I should not dwell on the heart disease issue for me as much. My mom had an irregular heartbeat and took Nitro occasionally for it. I figure I don’t eat red meat, I walk and try to eat heart smart.

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  3. Congrats with your latest results! Three of my closest friends are all cancer survivors and it’s always a struggle for them, their families and friends whenever they have to do follow up screenings so I very much empathize with your experience. Stay healthy! #cancersucks

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  4. Congratulations Kate. That is some very wonderful news. I am so happy for you. I have had three excisional breast biopsies and the fear and worry is real. I lost one of my sis-in-laws to breast cancer and my other sis-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer while the first one was fighting her battle. Kathy has been clear for 27 years. I hope you get that frap as soon as possible, ice cream with chocolate sauce was a good substitution!

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    • Biopsies are no fun either. Lots of worry and depending on the type of procedure used, not comfortable! I had one done under compression and never again. At least not without Xanax!

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    • There aren’t and I’ve lost way too many friends from it. At the same time I had, there were two other women I knew who had it and are no longer with us. Not everyone is as lucky as I am. People are still dying from breast cancer.

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    • I kind of did a half celebration. I was going to celebrate with a cookie crumble Frappuccino (oh, the decadence!) but my local Starbucks was wonky. Had ice cream with chocolate sauce instead but there maybe a frap in my future.

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    • We will never be truly normal again. I had a pre-cancer booger on my face removed a year ago and being a hypochondriac I’m always on high alert. The only good thing about my car accident was that they did a complete body scan and my organs are in great shape, especially for my age. I’ve had a few friends die of pancreatic cancer which is undetectable at early stages.

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  5. WhoooHooo! This is awesome! I remember some of those appointments and concerns- great to celebrate this good news! Wishing you years of continued good health!

    Sharon

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  6. This is terrific news Kate! As you know, I had a second strike three years after my first, same breast, but this time it had to go. September is an anxious time as I was put back on a five year mammogram watch. Luckily for me, no chemo either time, just 20 sessions of radiotherapy the first time around. It does hang over you, but I feel fine and being well looked after in case I have any concerns. I asked about a double mastectomy but would have had to have seen a psychiatrist as they would have been removing healthy tissue, so there would have been a delay. I wasn’t bothered about reconstruction, which would have meant another delay, and just wanted it done. Hubby has been beside me from Day 1 with Humphrey, in fact it was he who found it as I’d missed it in the shower. I was seen and diagnosed quickly and consider myself most fortunate that it was found as early as it was.

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  7. Congrats on being a normal!

    I was listening to a podcaster talk about all the fear that is tied to cancer diagnosis and how it distorts our decisions. How we cant think logically about the treatments and their statistical outcomes because the emotional impact of cancer is so great. She is a mathematician who had cervical cancer. Now that the scare is behind her she’s left with the damage caused by the treatment and realized she never gave the damage any weight when she was deciding on her treatment options. And she’s supposed to be a rational statistician. But cancer doesn’t promote rational behavior. It feels like emotional therapy should be part of every treatment plan.

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    • It’s not something you can be rational about. I had a new radiation treatment that was was supposed to spare the heart and lungs. It did but I had a rib fracture (more painful than cancer) and some extensive scar tissue. It spared my organs and I’m cancer-free so I can’t complain but nothing goes without a side effect.

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  8. That’s wonderful news, Kate. I can only imagine the relief you must feel right now. I have a sister who had a similar diagnosis of breast cancer to yours, and she also has been given an all clear. But for many years, she was also under that very invasive microscope for all procedures. This was a heartening post to read. – Marty

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  9. Wonderful news, Kate! The best news!

    I have a sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago. She is still undergoing treatment. Considered too ill for chemo (due to other underlying conditions) she is being put on some kind of hormone suppression therapy. Her breast cancer was aggressive and she asked for (and received) a double mastectomy even though only 1 breast was affected at the time. I hope the treatment is effective.

    Deb

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    • I think she made the right decision. I was given the choice of a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. My cancer was very small and only in one place so I went with the lumpectomy. There are so many factors to consider. We can only make the best choice with the technology at the time. I’m hoping in years to come, the treatment will be easier and quicker.

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  10. ❤ Awesome news!! Thanks for sharing your poignant story. My mammo is coming up the end of this month. They are keeping an eye on one spot that they say is fine for now, but they want to watch it every 6 months instead of waiting a year. I have no problem with that. I pray it continues to be okay, but if not I want to know that I caught it as early as possible.
    Enjoy the peaceful feeling that you can have at last! You won the fight! ❤

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  11. Kate, thank you for sharing your story. I’ve had two friends who are cancer survivors; both had the routine chemo and radiation therapies; both are clean and free now – one for her 5-year mark and one at her 15-year mark. I believe that the more stories that are shared about breast cancer, the more women will be less afraid to have a mammogram out of fear of a positive result. Early detection is always the best defense going in! And congrats on 20-years cancer free!

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    • They thought I was stage 0 which means it’s still in the milk duct but when they did the surgery, it had jumped out so I was stage 1 with no lymph node involvement. You can still get a recurrence on the chest wall after a mastectomy but that is a lot less common.

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  12. My mom had breast cancer in 1974. She had a radical mastectomy and cobalt therapy. Every year, right to the end, that mammogram was a source of stress. The cancer never recurred but the fear, even if it was just a few days around her annual check, was real.

    I’m happy for you! I’m thrilled for friends and others who are benefiting from new treatments and new hopes. Medicine has come so far from the days of Mom’s cancer. Congratulations on being normal.

    Oh, and long distance hugs. I hope you don’t mind. I have a great fondness for breast cancer survivors.

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    • I fully understand that fear. It may be irrational but it’s real. There was a guy at work whose wife had it. He came and talked to me a few times. He’d wake up to find her bawling in the family room. 3 a.m. is a scary time.

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      • 3 a.m. is when all the scary monsters crawl out from under the bed, isn’t it? Breast cancer wasn’t talked about when my mom had it. People in church wouldn’t sit next to her. Mom became something of a one woman support group for a series of friends and relatives who were diagnosed. There is so much more support now and we talk about it – but 3 a.m. is still a time when we’re alone with our personal monsters.

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        • I remember when people diagnosed with cancer were given disposable cups and dishes. Even when I had it, there weren’t support groups. There were two other women going through the same new treatment and that was a blessing. We met up twice every day for the treatment and compared notes. While the docs had told us what to expect, it was too new to really know. These two helped me feel at least somewhat normal.

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          • I’m really glad you had your de facto support group. Feeling somewhat normal is a good thing during an out-of-control situation.

            Were cancer patients given disposable cups and dishes so they couldn’t spread the cancer or two minimize any potential microbes that might make it through the dishwashing process? I don’t remember that one but then, I was eleven.

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  13. Congratulations…..and I mean that sincerely. When I got the “all clear” at my ten year mark for my recurrent melanoma my husband and I celebrated and I remember feeling like I could really REST for the first time in ages from that yearly checkup/blood work. Being given a “second chance” is EVERYTHING. I’m VERY happy for you…………..and if more people could get an all clear after going through cancer treatment and the life you lead when you have it – I would be even more happy!

    Hugs, Pam

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    • I had a basal cell thingie removed. I work hard to stay out of the sun but yesterday I was pulling overgrowth out of a bed. I was so freaked out because there wasn’t much I could do about the sun. I had screen on but that only protects so far. Fortunately that’s done. I can do most of the rest of my weed pulling in the shade. Yay for reaching the all clear point.

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    • I was surprised. My original oncologist surgeon said I would be closely monitored for the rest of my life. The routine MRIs stopped about 5 years ago and that was a relief. I asked the nurse twice and she said my risk of getting breast cancer is equal to anyone else my age. I didn’t have the aggressive form. I consider myself lucky.

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