Tuesday, May 02, 2017

It Keeps Getting Better and Better

I am beginning to believe that I might have multiple personality disorder. Or perhaps I am bipolar. Or maybe it is some sort of dysphoric disorder. Or it could just be your plain old garden variety low self-esteem.

Whatever my official clinical diagnosis, I am blaming cancer.

Here's the thing about breast cancer. Some days you feel like a warrior woman. Nothing about cancer is pleasant, but there is something about getting through chemotherapy – about surviving a bilateral mastectomy, toughing your way through radiation – that makes you feel somehow stronger. Yes, your body is turning on you. Yes, your boobs totally tried to kill you – traitorous bitches! Yes, your mind is making up terrifying scenario after terrifying scenario. But you got through. You managed to come out the other side. Some days, you just feel like Wonder Woman.

Other days, you feel like a shitty human being.

Today was a shitty-human-being sort of day.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the aches and pains I have been experiencing as a result of the aromatase inhibitor, Letrozole, I was taking. I met with my oncologist on Friday to discuss the pain. He explained that he would typically treat pain related to the aromatase inhibitor by prescribing Neurontin. Guess what? I am already taking Neurontin. His second option to combat the pain would be to prescribe an anti-depressant like Celexa. Umm…yeah. I already take that, too. (I suspect there are probably very few drugs in the entirety of the Physician’s Desk Reference that I do not currently take.) The third option would be for him to prescribe a pain medication like Vicodin. I come from a long line of addictive personalities and, as a result, I don’t really like to take narcotics unless I have to.  That may sound weird but, though I love my family dearly, I am quite cognizant of my genetic shortcomings.

With no additional pain relief options available to us, and with my pain having reached a level that was not conducive to a pleasant home life for my dear family (my apologies, dear family), we decided to switch me to Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen has side effects of its own – primarily Menopausal-type side effects – but bone pain is not one of them. Though Tamoxifen is a tiny bit less effective at preventing cancer recurrence than the Letrozole I had been taking, I felt confident that our decision was the right one for me.

That was Friday.

Today I woke up feeling somewhat better than I had in a while, but I still had a lot of pain localized in my right hip. Though I’ve been dealing with bone pain all over, the pain in my right hip has been a tad bit worse than the rest of my pain. I’ve been telling myself that it is nothing. That it is simply the medication. That I need not worry.

But the truth is, the pain in my right hip has always felt…different.

When I had my mastectomy surgery, my pathology report left something to be desired. I had already had 20 weeks of chemotherapy that had shrunk my cancer considerably, and I went into surgery hopeful that the post-surgical pathology report would come back with no lymph node involvement and a clean bill of health. Instead, I had 14 lymph nodes removed during my surgery and seven of those were still cancerous. Not the report anyone wanted to see. But we proceeded with radiation and hormone therapy, hoping (confident, even) that they would keep the cancer at bay.

And so far, so good.

But today I woke up feeling different. I was being honest when I told my oncologist on Friday that I was having pain all over, but I was fooling both of us when I said that all of the pain was of the same intensity. So today, after a tearful conversation with Ruanita, I decided to call my oncologist and discuss my concerns about my hip.

Of course, keeping in step with my usual luck, he was out of the office today.

I spoke with his nurse, who promised to speak with my doctor tomorrow morning and call me back. I would have to wait. If I have perfected anything during my cancer “journey” (that word again…blech!), it’s patience. I would not have to wait long, however, this time. A couple of hours later, the nurse called me back and said that my doctor had been checking his messages and saw that I had called. Obviously, he was concerned because he immediately ordered hip and pelvic x-rays for me, to be completed at my earliest convenience. My earliest convenience happened to be right after work today.

So now I wait. Tomorrow, I will either find out that the cancer has metastasized to my bones and is, therefore, no longer curable – OR – I will know that my mind is playing tricks on me and this is the first of what will surely be many more “freak-out” sessions about my cancer coming back.

So how does that make me a shitty person?

As many of you know and some of you may not, my mom was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost exactly one year to the day after I was diagnosed (what are the fucking odds, really??), she found a lump that proved to be cancerous. Last Friday, the same day I met with my oncologist, she had a lumpectomy performed by my surgeon. At my hospital. In a couple weeks, she will be seeing my oncologist.

This afternoon, as I was driving home from my x-ray appointment, I got a call from my mom’s surgeon – my mom had given her permission to also call me with her pathology report from Friday’s surgery, as my mother is an extremely poor disseminator of information.

The verdict?

Nothing but good news. Her cancer was determined to be Stage 1 breast cancer. Her tumor was only ½ a centimeter in diameter. There was no cancer in her lymph nodes. She will require no additional surgeries beyond the lumpectomy. She will not need chemotherapy. She will have to have radiation because it goes hand-in-hand with a lumpectomy, but her pathology report was about as good as it could possibly get. It was fabulous news.

But my first thought was not one of elation. Nor excitement. Nor relief. My first feeling was not gratitude, as it should have been. It was not happiness for my mother, who I love completely.

No. Instead, I thought, Why couldn’t that have been me?

That’s why I am a shitty person. That is how cancer makes you feel like less of a human being. Because you want nothing more than to be rid of it. Nothing more than to be safe. To be healthy. To be whole again. To look at your daughter and feel confident that you will see her grow up. To tell your son, with the arrogant certainty of a person never touched by cancer, that you will always be there for him. You want it so much you can’t see straight. You can’t think straight. You want it so much that when another person gets it – even someone you love with all of your heart – you can’t feel anything but envy. Ugly, repugnant envy.   

So yeah…today I am a shitty person.

Tomorrow, I may very well be a shitty person with incurable cancer.

Cancer sucks.


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