Saturday, July 22, 2017

7/17/17: My Best and Worst Week of 2017

Thursday started out soo good!  After months of battling the physical challenges of chemotherapy, Thursday was the first day I felt I was turning the page and seeing a glimpse of my old self.  I'd gotten a good night's sleep, woke up and stepped on the scale:  Down 2 pounds!  Finally, my effort to get in shape, eat right and lose some weight was beginning to pay off.  I was on the right track.

An hour later I was at the pool swimming and managed something close to my old pre-cancer swim routine.  Can I really get it back??  Yes, I think I can!!

I got home and went for my walk with Al.  Not as much huffing and puffing.  The muscle aches I've been dealing with for weeks had seemed to vanish overnight.  I wasn't 100%, but I felt dang close!  I thought, "How ironic that today is my first post-chemo appointment with my oncologist.  If I'd seen her two days ago, I'd be handing her a laundry list of ailments to complain about.  But like magic, most of them seem to either be gone or greatly improved."

So off I went to St. Joseph Cancer Center that afternoon, bright eyed and happy.  And the appointment itself went well.  She was happy.  I was happy.  She commented that I got through this really well.  She even said something about me being a strong woman through all this.  Which should have been a clue that she was going somewhere with it.  Because her next moves turned my best day into my most devastating day of the year.

Apparently, back in May when I was hospitalized for diverticulitis, they'd found something on the CT scan, something that had nothing to do with breast cancer.  As I was in the middle of chemo at the time, they didn't want to distract and worry me with it, because "It's probably nothing."

Here's the rub:  You can tell a previously healthy person "It's probably nothing," and they will take comfort in that.  But once you've been diagnosed with cancer and dealt with all the tests and treatments, the "It's probably nothing" comment is wired into the brain as "It's going to be something."

The CT scan showed something on my kidneys.  She said they probably were cysts, which are common and don't cause harm.  But more tests are needed to find out for sure.  She said not to worry, but as a person who'd been down this road before with very bad results, this news was absolutely crushing.  I would need an ultrasound, and if that didn't come back definitively, they would order a biopsy.  The biopsy could bring me another cancer diagnosis, but she said, "let's not go there because chances are very very high that they're just cysts".

I walked out of her office stunned, horrified, and seeing history repeat itself before I'd even had a chance to get over the first worst thing that has ever happened to me.

I called my husband from the car and tried not to cry.  He gave me the same "stay positive" assurances he gave me the last time things turned out bad.  He said, "And no matter what, we'll get through it."  And I wondered, "Can we?"  He might be able to.  But if I'm told I need more chemotherapy for a completely different and unrelated cancer, while I'm still bald from the last round.....let's just say, it was the first time in my life I ever considered suicide.

Now, let me pause and mention that I have friends going through much worse than I am right now.  I don't want to disrespect them or the depths of their battles.  I am lucky.  If I have kidney cancer, I should be thanking God that I had cause to find it early.  My five days in the hospital battling breast cancer could have actually saved my life.  I'm not ignorant of that fact.  But Thursday, none of those things left me thankful or comforted.  Remembering it could be worse is what takes you through the treatment when you have to be strong and suck it up.  But when you walk out of the office first hearing another blow, your honest reaction is "I don't want to do this. I don't want to fight this fight--AGAIN!"

So like I did the first time around, I spent most of that afternoon and evening scouring the internet.  I remembered that Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) runs in my family.  Maybe that's what this is. That wouldn't be great, but that's better than malignant tumors.

I broke down that night and cried to Al.  I think it is one of the few times I've cried through this.  I'm not someone who cries often, but Thursday night, I cried over the thought of going through all of this over again.  I just can't.  Not this soon.  I was prepared for maybe years from now.  Maybe there would be another Bad Mammogram, but it wouldn't be NOW, before my hair even had a chance to fill in.  And he said again, "We will get through it.  Whatever it is, we will get through it."


Miracles started happening the next morning when I called radiology.  They had a cancellation and could get me in at lunch time.  If I couldn't make that appointment, they were booked two weeks out.  (TWO WEEKS???)  People who have been through health issues will tell you it's the waiting that does the most damage, so I easily told the woman I would be there.  I would move mountains to have this ultrasound done NOW.  I then did the other best move of my year:  I emailed my primary care physician Dr. Lana Nguyen.

Let me pause once more to tell you about Dr. Nguyen.  She has been our family physician for over 25 years.  She's an OB/GYN/GP, which means she not only delivered our son, but has been our family doctor "in old school terms".  The person you talk to, not just about health matters, but what's going on in your life and things like that.  I consider her a member of our family.  She has seen us through our most challenging days.  She's the woman who had to deliver the bad news about my breast cancer.  But I cherish that the news came from her.  She's the right "fit" for me, she communicates in a language I understand and relate to.  So when I was in total distress over this, I emailed her and asked her if we could talk.  I was devastated by this news, terrified of what might be the results, and needed to talk to someone. I sent off that email and went to get the ultrasound.

And then I waited.

The lab technician told me the results would probably be sent to my doctors on Monday so I should be hearing from them Monday or Tuesday.  Gotta love tests taken right before a goddamn weekend.  And this was going to be a horrible weekend of repressed fear and worry.  So I tried to put it out of my head, knowing that it would be at least 3 days before this nightmare either started or ended.

And then, at 4:37 p.m. on Friday the phone rang.  It was Dr. Nguyen.

There are two things Doc Lana has said to me that are burned in my memory forever.  The first was when she called to tell me Bad Mammogram was cancer.  She'd asked, "Are you sitting down?"  The second was Friday at 4:37 when she said, "I've got good news for you."

As she told it, she'd been sitting at her desk, thinking about how to respond to my email with reassurances that would get me through the weekend, when her assistant plopped the ultrasound results on her desk.

The cysts are just cysts.  I don't have malignant kidney tumors.  I don't need biopsies or more tests or treatment or agony.  They are common cysts that many people have and I am fine.


Here is the post-cancer new normal.  In the past, I was pretty good about not stressing over screenings and tests.  I always kept it positive.  And why wouldn't I?  I've never been really sick.  Neither has anyone in my immediate family.  I come from "good stock" as you'd call it.  Short of an accident, nothing horrible ever happens to people who come from good stock.

But this endeavor with breast cancer has changed that, and has changed it for good.  The days of shrugging off health scares are behind me, and that really sucks.  Because we all know that health scares involve tests, and waiting for results, and trying to go on with life while waiting for a call that might change your life for the worse.  Some people can just give that up to God with a "It will be what it will be" attitude.  And I genuinely admire those people.  That takes strength, don't ever think otherwise.  And that is something I plan to work on developing within myself.


I'm a control freak.  I don't like the unknown.  I don't like living without a plan.  And for 55 years, I've managed to hang on to that way of life.  But I also know that inner strength, peace, and true happiness comes from learning how to let each and every day unfold as it will.  We don't get to go to sleep every night with answers.  And we can't rely on answers to bring us a good night's sleep.

So my kidney scare is yet another life lesson I am being handed in 2017.  Spiritualists like Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle call it "living in the present", a way of thinking that takes schooling and practice.  For sure, it's something I need to practice more as time progresses, as facing mortality is something we do more of as we age, not less. 

There is a saying, "Old age isn't for the weak, but it sure beats the alternative."  No truer words have been spoken!!

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