On Tuesday, I have to have an ultrasound. On my “left axillary area” officially.
I had my next “every 3 month” checkup with a doctor from my cancer team this afternoon. She was surprised when I told her I still had pain in the left side of where my surgery was. You can feel a small lump there near the mastectomy scar, near where that monstrous drain was (see A day that started out badly). It’s actually quite painful to the touch. She said it did not feel like a mass and she was pretty certain that it was just from the surgery scarring, but she wanted to have it checked out. I, of course, being a worry-wart, completed agreed.
So, on Tuesday, I’m scheduled to have an “ultrasound, with biopsy if indicated”. Which means that if they think the site is suspicious they will do a biopsy right then and there so I wouldn’t have to wait.
It’s reassuring and yet terrifying all at the same time. Used to- when I had to have a test for something, I always could tell myself “that won’t happen to me”. See, once it does happen to you, it’s almost impossible to believe that it won’t happen to you again. I won’t even pretend that it is anything like PTSD from being in a war or assaulted or anything like that. But it is PTSD just the same.
It’s a constant stress that hangs over you all the time. Everytime you hear the word cancer (which is A LOT) your stomach drops and you relive that moment when they first told you that your life would never be the same (The first post…). I try to remember what my chemo doctor told me – she said that I needed to go live my life and not worry about it coming back, because the chance is very small. I try to do that. But… it’s always there.
Like a shadow, it follows me wherever I go and whatever I do. Other people get to forget, you know. They were worried about me when I was really sick and healing, and they prayed a lot. But once I got better, everyone was relieved and … Well their life goes on much the same as it did before. My life is irrevocably changed. Mentally, physically, emotionally changed.
I deal with the after-effects of the cancer on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to be alive and to be considered cancer-free. It’s just that when you face something life-threatening like this, when at one point in your life, you weren’t sure if you would survive- well, you always feel like you are one step closer to death than the person next to you. And that changes you.
And beyond the mental and emotional issues comes the physical ones. My surgery scar is completely numb in some spots, uncomfortable in others, and as I said above, quite painful in that one place. I have not yet recovered full mobility in my shoulder, though I stretch daily. I tried to do 5 pushups today for the first time since surgery. I did it, but ended up with some mild pain in the surgery area. (Before cancer, when I was training for my Tang Soo Do karate test, I did 25 pushups a day.)
I take Tamoxifen daily. It’s the anti-hormone pill that I’ve talked about before. Since I’ve been on it, I’ve dealt with seriously painful leg and feet/toe cramps, most likely caused by the medicine. I now eat a banana, eat yogurt, drink milk or take a calcium supplement, take a magnesium supplement and a multi-vitamin, and drink at least 80 oz of water a day. I run 3 miles a day at least 4 days a week. And still, some nights, like the last 3 nights, for no reason whatsoever, I wake up anywhere from 1-4 times an hour all night long (no exaggerations, ask my husband) so that I am unable to sleep for days on end.
Maybe the hotter weather has something to do with it. Maybe it’s just random, I haven’t yet figured it out. But for anyone who has sleep issues- you will understand the kind of stress it puts you under to not get enough restorative rest for such a long time. I’ve spent years with sleep issues, and I have always heard (well-meaning) advice from people- make your room darker, cut caffeine intake, go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, exercise, etc etc.
I’ve really heard it all. I even had a sleep study done. Results? There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. According to their data, I slept all night long. Which is really quite funny (and yet not) because I was most definitely awake for a lot of it. I spent most of the night checking my phone for the time, then finally fell into an exhausted slumber around 2 am and slept for a few hours before my alarm went off. Yet their results said I had slept just fine for 6.5 hours. Hmmmm….
But what am I going to do? Stop taking the Tamoxifen? Of course not. I’m grateful to have it even with the side effects.
The chemo caused nerve damage as well (What is Taxol?), and recently I’ve been showing some signs of Restless Legs Syndrome. It’s where your lower leg muscles feel like they are twitching and pulling, but when you reach down to touch it, there’s absolutely nothing moving. It’s like a ghost nerve impulse. You feel it mostly when you are sitting still or trying to sleep. (You know, because I needed just one more thing to disturb my sleep 😦 )
And mine is severe enough that it results in leg cramps. My leg muscles will twitch and pull and twitch and suddenly, a severe and excruciating cramp in my calf or the front of my lower leg happens, which has me leaping out of bed to try to stretch and relax the muscle. Anyway, I will likely always have this issue due to the nerve damage from the chemo. But again, I am alive and grateful for the chemo meds that were able to kill the cancer cells.
And I’ve mentioned “chemo brain” before. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s frustrating. If I ever see you and call you by the wrong name (or not call you by any name at all), please be patient. I’m doing the best I can right now, and the lack of sleep makes it even worse. A friend at work had the same issues a few years back and he has since recovered, so I am hopeful that within a few years I won’t feel so mentally dull anymore.
So, why am I telling you all this? To complain? No.
As I was driving home today, after getting the news that I would need an ultrasound and possibly a biopsy, a man in a truck was doing an awesome job at tailgating me on the highway. For no reason – I wasn’t driving slowly, hadn’t cut him off, nothing. He was just driving like a bully in his big truck, riding the tail of my small car. When he was finally able to pass me, it was a great relief. So much so, that I got tears in my eyes.
Normally, that sort of thing doesn’t bother me, but today, because of my lack of sleep, and my news from the doctor, it did. And it made me think about the day I received news that my Grandpa had died, and there I was 5 months pregnant, with 2 year old Chally in her car seat, driving to Lansing to try to find some little girl dress shoes so she would look nice saying goodbye to her great-grandpa. And as I made my way south down Business 27, I had a similar incident with an “out of nowhere” road rage. Obviously someone having a bad day and taking it out on others. They had no idea what devastation and pain I was in about losing my Grandpa, and of course they’ll never know the effect they had on me that day.
So, the reason I’m telling you all this is because I hope you will stop and think about the people you pass each day – at work, on the street, in your car. You have no idea what they might be carrying with them, just like I was today. Just like I was 18 years ago on the way to my Grandpa’s funeral. Something that makes them need some empathy, some tolerance, someone to show they care. Something small even, like yielding in traffic or holding the door for them, a simple smile, that will help brighten their day some and remind them there is still good out there. That someone cares.