A NEW DIAGNOSIS

“Hi, I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.”

A slow growing, less than 2 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma. It’s grade 1, so basically as good as it can get for bad news. At this point it looks like the next steps are a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation. So, we’re really almost done with the whole thing. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.)

This happened really quickly. I was at work about a month and a half ago and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left upper breast/chest area. I held a hand over it, which is really not a good look for the office, and just muddled through until it stopped hurting. Then it was totally out of site out of mind.  Probably 2 weeks later I was reading in bed and felt another sharp pain in the same location.  Inspecting it more closely, I found…a lump. 

The next day I called my doctor, who got me in for a mammogram the NEXT day. A few days later I was back in, getting a biopsy. (Ouch.) Two days later my doctor’s office called and asked me to come in for the results. Full on panic started then. Never a good sign. It was around this time that shock set in. And a little parking lot car crying may have taken place.

Luckily, I have a great doctor. Surgeons were recommended. Appointments made. It became basically waiting from day to day to find out what was happening next. What was the news? Results? It was so surreal. I could not stop thinking about my friend Leah being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and dying two years later. Although my initial results looked good, I couldn’t help but think at three in the morning, “What if this is a secondary location? What if I’m riddled with cancer? Is that why my hip hurts? Does that explain my migraines lately? As fast as my doctors were moving, and it was FAST, there was still waiting time, and it felt endless. I started writing the night before the last round of tests. It was 1:30 AM and I’d been trying to sleep for hours. I had an MRI, bone scan and CT scan awaiting me the next day. This was my stream of thought: 

– Tonight I am a little nervous about the MRI and scans tomorrow, but I know in my head that chances are really small that anything will have spread. I SHOULD be worried about my sudden break up with estrogen therapy. My little tumor (to be named later) is estrogen receptive. That means estrogen is no friend of mine, and has to go. Which is funny (not), because without it I am a mess. Within hours of removing the patch, I was unaccountably annoyed. With everything.  Maybe now is the time I should learn to laugh at the small stuff. Small stuff I suck at. Big stuff? I’m a freakin’ rock. Mostly. 

It’s 2 AM now. The hot flashes and monkeys in my head are still at it. I’m waiting. Waiting for the test, biopsy, results, appointment, phone call. Good news. Bad news. Whatever. After the tests tomorrow, I could hear from Dr. G in the afternoon. Or, it might be Friday. It definitely won’t be later than that. And this will tell me if there are any other places they see anything suspicious. So I feel like once I know that, we can move forward. In the meantime, I guess I’ll go with this nervous breakdown/insomnia thing.

So, as I said earlier, the tests were good. Compared to what many women go through, this is a cake walk. I’m almost embarrassed to even call it cancer. I feel there’s an in between something it could be called. But then again, I have the option of lumpectomy or full mastectomy, so that’s just scary. That’s for real, right? Not pleasant  to consider. Life changing. I just keep going back and forth between feeling really lucky and feeling terrible. I haven’t settled on an emotion yet. And maybe I just won’t. 

That ought to be fun for everyone around me. Woohoo! Which way is the wind blowing today?

Side note: when you’re diagnosed with cancer, they give you a 3-ring binder. With tabs. It’s like they realize your mind was just blown and someone has to organize you or you’ll fall apart. Which is probably very true.  For the past 2 weeks, all my test results and doctor stuff was in my purse. Wadded up. Now it’s hole punched. Cancer will motivate you to get your s#!& together.

Well, some of it.  Don’t expect miracles, people. I’m still a hot mess. And I can promise you, no matter what, that will not change. 

Okay, so that’s that.  More to come.

  

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MY HEART GOES THUMP THEN DOESN’T

Every family has their little hereditary health gems. Ours appears to be atrial fibrillation.  Mine started in my post-twenties. (Vague enough?) I always considered it a panic attack until it conveniently occurred while on the way to my doctor for a check up.

I was driving along doing a little mental inventory on my health and well being when suddenly my heart went thuddy-thump. Then thuddy-thuddy-pause-thump-pause. My old Mustang used to do the same thing when the fuel filter was clogged.

Of course I shared nothing of this with the doctor’s staff until the third time they tried and failed to take my blood pressure because the machine kept giving them an error message. “Would my heart flipping out cause an error like that? It seems to be skipping beats.”

Next thing I knew I was lying on an exam table with electrodes attached to my chest. Official diagnosis – atrial fibrillation.

This is pretty popular in my family. My brother underwent a cardiac ablation just the previous year. That’s a procedure in which they go in and burn or freeze a part of the lining of your heart to intercept or block the electrical charge that is coming in and making your heart skip beats. (Of course, this is a very simplified explanation, because I don’t want to think too much about it.)

My Afib strikes randomly – sometimes when I think everything is fine and that I’m relaxed. Other times, I can feel that little electrical current hovering, just waiting for something to stress me out so it can zap my internal Ricky Ricardo into his 4 hour rendition of Babalu.

babaloo

During that 4 hour period of time (give or take), my overactive imagination pictures a fluttering chamber in my heart where blood is pooling rather than circulating properly. I picture a thin layer of coagulated blood forming on top of the pool – like the skin that forms on pudding when left uncovered in your fridge. I imagine a clot of that goo making it’s way through my bloodstream and causing a stroke.

In other words, it freaks me out. Totally.

On Friday, I go in to have a cardiac ablation of my very own. My brother has been telling me all sorts of things to prepare me. Like how they let him sleep on his side and therefore all his internal organs swelled up and he could feel them rubbing against each other. And how the incision oozed for days.

This alarming exchange reminded me of when we were kids and he’d make scratching noises from his room and say, “Can you hear that? That’s a werewolf trying to get in.”

Yesterday he texted me regarding my upcoming pre-surgery CT scan.

Him: “Ever done contrast before?”

Me: “No.”

Him: “It made me feel itchy. You like IVs?”

Me: “I don’t have a problem with IVs.”

Him: “Well, okay. Mine creeped me out. Especially since I had it for so long.”

Me: “Had what for so long? The IV or the CT scan?”

Him: “IV. Overnight. During and after procedure.”

Me: “Oh, okay. No, not a problem. I’m familiar with that.”

Him: “Pirate’s Booty is yummy.”

pirate booty

It’s conversations like this that lead me to believe our real concern as a family should be mental issues – not heart problems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A PAIN IN THE NECK

I realize it is never interesting to hear about someone’s ailments.

Too bad. I am going to explain my behavior over the past three weeks in the hope that my experience can help others.

Due to the fact that I apparently have a target on the back of every vehicle I’ve ever owned that says “Smash into me HERE,” I have suffered neck pain of varying degrees on and off for years. Currently, we refer to it as a degenerative problem. In other words, it is not getting better. We just find ways to make it bearable.

I have tried physical therapy, chiropractors, facet injections, medication… I have yet to try acupuncture, but as soon as insurance decides they will cover it, I’m first in line to be a pin cushion.

I never know what will set it off. Lifting a dog, a niece, groceries, raising my arms above my head, working on the computer, sleeping, lugging suitcases, and possibly, most recently, holding my iPhone in front of me for 15 minutes as I video taped a wedding ceremony. That’s the only thing I can think of that might have brought on this latest flare up. I wouldn’t put it past the airline seats either – as the head rest seems to lock your neck into a position that the Spanish inquisition would applaud.

After a week of dosing myself with what was left of my Hydrocodone and Baclofen, I decided to give a chiropractor a chance to sort things out. I did issue certain rules and restrictions. NO SNAPPING or YANKING on my neck. We must go about this process gently and stealthily. After an X-ray revealed the bones in my neck were leaning to the right – as though I were standing on the side of a hill, the doctor explained my left side was locked up in a spasm as it tried to pull the spine back to center, while my right side was pinching all sort of things – nerve endings, blood vessels, etc. That would explain why, when he moved my right arm behind my back and checked the pulse, there was none evident. This also explained the pain and tingling down my right arm and into my fingers. (Not good news for someone who spends about 10 hours a day on the computer.)

We began treatment with me lying face up on a table while he slipped his fingers under the base of my skull and gently pulled. He then pressed against one side of my head and the other as I attempted to resist and push against his hand. Ouch. Flipping over onto my stomach, he exerted pressure on my first rib, attempting to do a little realignment. Instead of snapping my neck around, he applied a device that used little taps to nudge the disks back into the desired position. After three such visits, he assigned simple exercises. Stretching a rubber band straight out at shoulder height and pulling with your left and right hands outward until they are extended into a T formation.

By the next day I was miserable. When my next visit rolled around I refused to participate in any more exercises, as they were either going to kill me or cause me to punch someone in the face. A combination of constant pain, lack of sleep, and frustration is not a happy place. Desperate measures were proposed. The chiropractor wanted to skip this tip-toeing around and seriously adjust my neck. It would either result in relief, or indicate there was a more serious issue that would require an MRI. Or, cause me to punch him in the face.

This sounded like a TERRIBLE plan to me. Instead, I opted for plan B. Contact my orthopedic surgeon, beg for forgiveness for ever venturing away from him and plead for drugs. Or surgery. Or an anvil to knock my unconscious.

Luckily, unlike my hair stylist, who, if I had “cheated” on him would have “accidentally” shaved my head, Dr. “I Have a Prescription Pad and Know How To Use It” started scribbling. Due to the fact that I could barely move my head, and my shoulders were twitching uncontrollably and hunched up just below my ears, he suggested that perhaps the chiropractor had pushed a bit too hard and inflamed the nerve endings, which needed to calm down. Thus followed what I refer to as “Christmas.” I exited with prescriptions for Valium, a steroid pack, an NSAID, an anti-seizure medication and pain pills.

“I take these all at once?” I queried.

“Yes. As prescribed. Not as needed.”

“Wow. And I didn’t get you anything.”

“Avoid alcohol if you have to be functional.”

“Oh. Not a problem. I haven’t been functional in weeks. No one will notice the difference.”

No one it seems, except the people at work who catch me muttering, “Now, did I take that pill or did I just get the bottle out and get distracted?” And my friend Max, who has taken to calling me Judy Garland. Apparently my speech pattern is a little slower than usual and a bit slurry. He speaks fluent Judy, though, so is happy to translate for me in company.

The good news is, I feel SO much better. I no longer want to burst into tears or punch people in the face for bugging me with “unimportant” things like work, chores or responsibilities. People tell me they like this Ann.

Personally, I think they like relaxed Ann because she tends to walk around in circles a lot, having forgotten what it was she got up to do.

I like this Ann because… it’s time for her meds again.