A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Round 2

Well, I'm back for Round 2 and preparing myself for another pummeling. After checking in with my 3 Musketeers-- my regular oncologist, surgical oncologist and reconstruction surgeon -- it has been determined that I will undergo my next surgery in a matter of a few weeks.

The interesting thing is that my oncologist and my surgeon had differing points of view about next steps. My surgeon felt strongly that I had nothing to worry about and pondered whether to put me through another surgery. He said if I were 80, he wouldn't consider it at all. However, he didn't necessarily want to take the chance that something could surface down the road. Ultimately, though, he left the decision up to MOI as to whether to have another surgery...and if so, when.

My oncologist had a totally different take on the matter. I knew she would. The obsessive-compulsive, hyper-diligent, perfectionist, worrywart that she is. So, I knew I would defer to her no matter what irritating advice she would dispense since I trust her above all humanity. And irritating advice it was. She said the pre-cancerous cells that were found in my fallopian tube during the last surgery were more and more common among BRCA patients, so she encouraged me to have the exploratory surgery "the minute my body was deemed healed enough to undergo it again." Drat and double-drat.

I found this both interesting and disconcerting: Here I am a fairly educated, well-read person with a background in healthcare writing, married to someone who works in the healthcare field and with many friends involved in healthcare as well. As a result, I have received lots of information and advice every step of the way. So, making an intelligent decision about which doctor was correct and whose opinion I should follow seemed simple enough. But what about all the women who didn't have the connections I did? How does the average person make critical decisions about their health when they receive conflicting and confusing advice from medical professionals?

Like I said, I chose on the side of caution with my oncologist, so that if, in fact, they do find cancer again, I'd rather know now...since timing is everything with this disease. I didn't want to kick myself one day and say, "If only I had done something sooner."

So, here I am, facing my next surgery -- to remove my uterus, perform an abdominal "wash" (to remove fluid and test it for cancerous cells) and check lymph nodes. In addition, since I never seem to do anything half-way, I'm going to have the rest of my breast reconstruction at the same time. Just call me the Bionic woman.

Last night, I awoke at 3 a.m. with my mind racing back to images from my previous surgery in February. All the needles jammed into my arm, struggling to breathe on my own and feeling like I was suffocating, the sterile hospital room, the drugs, the dizziness, the nauseau, the pain, the anesthesia, the fear. I stayed awake for the remainder of the night reliving my miserable experience.

I was hoping to postpone this next surgery until fall -- to give my body ample time to physically heal, and my psyche time to separate myself from the trauma. In fact, I had decided upon my last blog posting to take time off and simply focus on life. I needed a break from thinking and worrying about surgery and doctors and cancer.

So, I chose to enjoy the spring, which was magical this year in Atlanta. Warm, cool, sunny, rainy, stormy, breezy, fragrant, vibrant. I visited an organic farm and ate dinner on the grounds. I went bird watching in Fernbank Forest. I visited my favorite nursery and bought flowers and herbs. I gardened and worked until dusk cleaning up the yard. I took long walks in my favorite park that features a lake with geese and curving paths along rolling hills. I went hiking in North Georgia to the top of Blood Mountain, passing irridescent green ferns and bright orange wild azaleas. I gazed at the full moon on a clear night. I signed up for a weekly fresh vegetable delivery from a CSA. I slept with the windows open so I could listen to the sounds of night and awaken to the calls of birds. I visited downtown Athens and shopped in boutiques and a used bookstore, and toured the state's botanical gardens. I caught up with my 94-year-0ld aunt and spent long evenings talking with friends. I drank wine with my parents on their deck. I popped popcorn and watched movies cuddled up with my husband.

It's so easy to love life. Cancer makes it easy. Because you realize how precious all the simple, day-to-day aspects are...and you don't take them for granted. I wanted to spend each moment this spring enjoying being alive and healthy--I wanted to savor this time.

However, this time is coming to an end...so let the whining begin as I dread being sliced & diced again.

I'm aggravated about being out of commission for another 6 weeks for recovery--meaning, no swimming, beach trips, bike rides, hikes and other summer fun.

Not to mention (again) that one of my best friends invited me to join her on a business trip to PARIS (free hotel for a week!). But, alas, she will be flirting with French men without me, while I will be having another rendezvous (naked, of course) with my 2 male surgeons. They are seeing way too much of me these days.

And, then, there's the chance they will FIND something and I'll have to undergo chemo. (This is where the music from "Jaws" comes in.)

I would like to restate that I voluntarily underwent BRCA surgery in February --being cut up in 10 million little pieces -- in order to avoid any chance of chemo. Now, I find out that in addition to being cut up into 10 million little pieces, I might ALSO have to endure chemo again...for 5 months...complete with metallic taste in my mouth, hair loss and steroids bloating my body.

Somehow, I have to get my head around the fact that I may be looking like Shrek again.

Recently, I came across an editorial cartoon I had clipped from a local newspaper years ago. It's an illustration of a woman hovering over her husband and the caption says:

"You wouldn't be so tense if your job produced something meaningful, the spectre of death wasn't stalking you, constant crushing debt didn't have you in a stranglehold, and the memory of your distant youth wasn't making a mockery of your present existance."

Well, that about sums me up at the moment.