Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Oh, for Fox Sake!

So I’ve had an interesting couple of weeks. As I’ve talked about previously in this blog, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer almost exactly one year to the day after I was diagnosed. It was caught early and she has had nothing but good news about her treatment and prognosis, which has been wonderful and a huge relief. I am thrilled for her, but I can’t say that her cancer is not affecting me.

As a dutiful daughter – and as someone who has already been down this road before – I have been going with my mom to her doctor appointments. It’s been interesting, to say the least. The conversations have gone a little like this:

Surgeon – “Don’t worry, your pathology report is nothing like Shannon’s report.” “Don’t worry, your chance of developing seromas like Shannon did is very slim.” “Don’t worry, your cancer is much, much, MUCH smaller than Shannon’s.”

Oncologist – “Don’t worry, your treatment plan is going to be nothing like what Shannon went through.” “Don’t worry, you don’t need chemo like Shannon did.” “Don’t worry, you won’t lose your hair like Shannon did.” “Don’t worry, you may not have to take hormone-blocking medication like Shannon is taking with a cancer as tiny as yours.”

Radiation Doctor – “Don’t worry, you shouldn’t have nearly as rough a time as Shannon had.” “Don’t worry, you will only have to do three weeks of radiation instead of six weeks like Shannon did.” “Don’t worry, we don’t anticipate you having the burns and infections that Shannon experienced.”

I am beginning to think that I am a cancer over-achiever.

Leave it to me to be a slacker in all areas of my life except this one. Education? Never got around to enrolling in graduate school. Parenthood? I’m probably the okayest parent you will ever meet. Relationship? Ruanita tolerates me (but she may have low self-esteem). Morality? Questionable. Career? Meh. Ambition? Nah. Income? Ha!

The one and only area of my life in which I am an over-achiever is on the cancer front.

Stage III cancer? Check.
Twenty weeks of chemo? Check.
Debilitating neuropathy? Check.
Chemo brain? Check.
Double mastectomy? Check.
Multiple seromas? Check.
Ugly pathology report (7 of 14 lymph nodes still positive after chemo)? Check.
Radiation burns? Check.
Infected skin? Check.
Bone pain from aromatase inhibitor? Check.
Obsession with those 7 positive lymph nodes? Check.
Total conviction that the cancer will absolutely, definitely come back? Check.

It’s that conviction that it will come back that has been bothering me the most lately. It’s probably because I’ve been going to my mother’s appointments with her. I want to be there for her, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t experiencing some mild PTSD-like tics as a result. While it has been nice to see my surgeon and the radiation nurses again – I truly adore them all – the constant reminder of just how bad I had it has been an interesting development. Not many people get to RE-experience their whole cancer journey like I am, I would think.

The reminder of how dire my situation is/was/almost was/might still be has been tough. I’ve found myself obsessed with those seven tiny positive lymph nodes. Seven tiny nodes. It’s amazing to me the level of anxiety they can provoke.

For the past two weeks, I have been maintaining an anxiety baseline somewhere between a nun at a penguin shoot and a ceiling fan store owner with a comb-over. It’s a low-level, constant sense of dread. But sometimes it can work itself up into a tornadic whirlwind of doubt and fear and unease. I can be sitting on a perfectly mundane conference call minding my own business and it will suddenly take my breath away.

I’m told it will get better with time. I’m told to focus on the positive. I’m told to try to resume my normal life. Get exercise. Find a hobby. Read a good book. Embrace. Your. Bliss.  

Yada. Yada. Effing yada.

I know what I need to do. It’s just that it’s hard to convert intellectual understanding (intellectually, I know worrying will not reduce my odds of getting cancer again) to emotional solvency (most days, I have the emotional stability of a hungry toddler three hours past nap time).

And to make matters worse, today there is a new development.  

I am pretty sure I am developing lymphedema in my left arm. It’s the one complication of cancer treatment I have not yet experienced. So, of course, being the over-achiever I am...

It hurts. It’s slightly swollen. It’s sore to the touch.

I’ll call the clinic in the morning.

I hear lymphedema sleeves are sexy.


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