Cancer Chronicles #7 Anniversaries, Lounge Wear and Second Opinions
The recovery continues. I have never had a double mastectomy before and as such, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I have managed to go most of my 46 years without any major surgery so it really is all new territory. In some ways it is easier than I expected and in others ways it’s quite unpleasant. About a week post surgery the drains that were placed in, had to be removed. After that god awful experience, one has to wonder how modern medicine has come so far and yet can remain so barbaric all at once. (Holy Hannah did that hurt!! ) My chest is a weird mix of totally numb and very sore. My skin is extremely sensitive and finding clothing that feels comfortable can be a challenge. (Thankfully I consider myself a connoisseur of lounge wear and relish the chance to wear it 24-7.) I am slowly building up my range of motion evidenced by starting to drive and no longer needing someone to help me get dressed, but as luck would have it, I still can’t vacuum. Too bad.
For as slow of a pace as the beginning of the journey has been, things are picking up steam now. Bryan and I had a consultation with both the Traverse City oncologist and an oncologist from the University of Michigan. We decided on getting a second opinion as we began to learn more about invasive lobular cancer. It can be a sneaky microscopic beast that is hard to detect. While I was very fortunate to have mine caught in an ultrasound, this is not always the case and my concerns really pertain to long term monitoring for any potential recurrence. Due to the nature of the scheduling we ended up getting our second opinion first. My surgeon had reported to me earlier that the test to measure recurrence had come back low. She said I would likely not need chemotherapy. It came then, as quite a surprise when the first words out of the U-M doctor were, “You would benefit from chemotherapy.” She based this on several factors including my positive lymph node, type of cancer and premenopausal status. She did not, in fact, believe the previous test should even be considered when making this decision, citing research that showed significant benefit to women with the same markers as me.
I’ve come to learn that you can anticipate something in your head for a long time and think you’ve got a handle on it. The reality often knocks you backward pretty hard for a moment. That’s how I felt after that appointment. Chemo is one of the first things you worry about upon receiving your diagnosis. Hearing you should have it from someone well respected in the field is something else entirely. It was our 20th wedding anniversary that day. I really wanted to try and make it special, all things considered, but stupid cancer ruined my plans and made me cry… again. Thankfully we had picked up my favorite bottle of wine. So I dried my tears, ordered take-out, lit some candles and cracked it open, deciding my worries could wait till tomorrow.
The Traverse City oncologist did not recommend chemo, but upon hearing the opinion of the U-M doctor, deferred to her because of her expertise in the field. He is willing to move ahead with it, however, we have decided to have the medical oncologist from U of M oversee my treatment.
I am not going to lie. The idea of chemotherapy scares the crap out of me. The fact that I need an hour-long visit with the pharmacist to get educated about the treatment gives me pause. The potential side effects are less than pleasant. Losing my hair will be a tough one. First a mastectomy and now my hair?? It’s a real gut punch to my vanity.
The other day I was thinking about one of the mantras I’ve told myself at mile 21 of a marathon; the point where I really start to panic. I’ve come a long way yet have a long way to go and it's starting to hurt- a lot. “You’re fine. It’s fine. Keep going,” I tell myself on repeat until I cross that glorious finish line. The reality is that while I am nervous about what comes next and all the potential discomforts that accompany it, it is a necessary part of the route; the dots that must be connected in order to move forward. This is a universal truth for all of us. Life gets pretty damn hard sometimes and we want to avoid it, wish things were different and resist the heck out of what has to be done. We can’t go over it, around it or under it. We must go through it. And while it truly sucks at the time, it's also what it takes to grow, evolve and become the next tougher, wiser versions of ourselves.
So in the coming weeks, when I find myself sitting there with an IV in my arm or seeing my bald head for the first time, I am going to remind myself to be on the lookout for that girl I’m becoming. I am heading towards her. One foot in front of the other. One step at a time.