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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My New Companion

I arrived home this afternoon to find a message waiting for me from the bone cancer specialist who had viewed my MRI.

He said the MRI "wasn't specific for anything, although it would be a good idea for me to come back in 8 weeks for another MRI to evaluate for any changes."

Don't you love doctor-speak? But, after all these years, I've gotten pretty good on deciphering it: They can't say for sure it's not cancer. "Evaluating for any changes in 8weeks" means, "We want to see if that area grows."

However, I have decided not to respond with Fear...Instead, I've moved on to Panic.

It makes sense that the word "panic" derives from the mythological god, Pan, the creepy little creature who roamed the countryside. With horns, cloven feet and a tail (inspiring Christian images of Satan), even his mother ran away at the sight of him.

One description says, "His unseen presence aroused feelings of panic in men passing through the remote, lonely places of the wilds." This captures how I feel right at the moment. I'm in the wilderness with an eerie unseen presence hovering about me.

I decided to not tell my husband about the MRI. Or my parents. I've seen the toll that cancer and my BRCA surgery took on them this year. And, they can't do a thing but stand helplessly by, worrying about someone they love. Why drag them to hell and back if this turns out to be nothing?

So, I worry--rather, I panic--alone.

If you have or have had cancer, you understand this roller coaster ride. Every test has the potential to expose something bad. And with MRI technology, I've been told that often "too much" shows up on film, adding to the confusion. Much of the "extra stuff" is nothing at all. But, then, as we cancer people can attest, the strange thing they see on an x-ray can turn out to be something with a very nasty name.

So, Pan has entered my life for the time being...but I'm not telling my husband. Although I'm sure Pan will expose himself one way or another in the next 8 weeks as I wait for the second MRI.

Sizing Up the Situation

I've had so much plastic surgery at this point that when I die, I won't be buried or cremated. I'll be recycled.

This was my thought after meeting with my reconstruction surgeon, who felt like my breasts needed to be a tad bigger...just a tad. He said it would look better for my tall frame. But, he left the decision up to me...which is good since I'm the one buying the lingerie.

Of course, my husband, Gary, was no help. He agreed with the surgeon, and described his preference by cupping his hands in front of him at arms' length. Funny.

But, he also said the choice was up to me. Thank you. (I'd like to point out, by the way, that my female friends say my breasts are a normal size...but, that's what I get when I have two men weighing in this matter.)

So, I choose small (excuse me, normal) because I've known too many women who have chosen breast reduction and feeling "free" for the first time in their lives. Well, I'm feel free now...why be encumbered?

My surgeon advised me to think about it over the next couple of months...since I might change my mind. Okay. But, I wouldn't bet on it.

Putting Myself Together Again

Now that I'm five months out from two massive surgeries involving lots of moving parts, I'm feeling the after-effects these days. Somehow I went into surgery fairly young (okay, middle-aged) and came out of OR 30 years later.

I'm sore, stiff and achey all over. If you're a Baby Boomer, you might remember the Samsonite commercial from years ago. It showed a gorilla throwing around a piece of Samsonite luggage in his cage, demonstrating that it was impossible to break open. I suspect that's what the surgeons did to me. I think they also beat me with a wrench...kind of like I've seen mechanics do when they're peering under the hood of a car. At least it feels that way.

And, with all the slicing and dicing of my muscles, my posture now resembles one of the early stages of man you see on the evolution chart.

Then, there's my fragile emotions. I thought I was handling everything just fine --facing the fact that I'm a BRCA gene carrier, undergoing the knife, discovering I had fallopian tube cancer growing inside me. My emotions have been pretty even keel. That is, until something goes awry.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I received a call at work from a friend's father. She had not shown up for her flight, which had left over 2 hours earlier. She didn't answer her cell phone and no one could reach her. This was highly unlike her, especially since she was speaking at a major conference. I'll skip all the details, but her parent's concern became my panic, as I spent the following hour trying to track down every place she could be. The only thought that came to me during that time was that she was in a wreck on the side of the road, and I'd be going to her funeral that weekend.

Her father called two hours later, saying she had been booked on an earlier flight than expected and was all right. I hung up the phone. And burst out crying.

I react like that whenever anything out-of-the-norm happens--I envision death and destruction and devastation. In other words, I'm not the way I used to be. Physically, or emotionally. So, this is my time to put the pieces of my life back together. That's what you do after surgery.

Physically, I'm doing water aerobics classes and pilades to stretch my body. I'm taking Vitamins B, C & D. I drink cod liver oil each morning. My diet and lifestyle habits have always been Jack LaLanne-approved, but I've stepped it up. I'm paying even more attention to nutrition, as I now consume mostly dried beans, nuts, seeds, grains, vegetables and fruit, and minimize meat & dairy. I eat as much fish as Flipper, and try to buy organic and fresh food whenever I can. I exam each package label like Sherlock Holmes, looking for the dual villains of hydrogenated soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup. And, I continue to drink the same amount of water that travels over Niagra Falls daily.

As for my nerves, I'm spending time processing my thoughts with friends, taking long walks in nature, journaling, connecting to others, praying. I know it will take time for me to reclaim my former life in which my body moves more freely and my mind responds in a calm and collected manner.

But, then again, that may be expecting too much. After all, as a poster child for type-A personality, I've never responded in a calm and collected manner my entire life.

The Waiting Game

Some people have created masterpieces in the same amount of time I've spent in doctors' waiting rooms. I'm sure I could have written a best-seller if I had spent that time at the computer rather than in the waiting room.

But, here I sit once again. For 2 hours. I even made a 7:30 AM appointment. You would think that would get me into an exam room fairly quickly. Instead, I watched an entire waiting room full of patients -- and I'm sure a few people from off the street -- get called into exam rooms before me. So, I sit...and wait.

Cancer treatment is one that requires long waits. You can expect to wait between 1 to 2 hours before seeting a physician or getting a test. I remember the waiting time for radiation was the worst. It averaged 2 to 2 1/2 hours each visit.

So, my advice is to come prepared: bring a book, magazines, journal and/or a friend to talk to. That's what I do. Now, if I just would bring my laptop, then I could pop out a best-seller one of these days.