Scar Tissue

It is possible I’d become less anxious about mammograms now that I’m 3 ½ years out from diagnosis. I’ve said a few times on this blog that I’ll never be “over” cancer—that fear of recurrence will always be with me. I know I am not the only person who thinks like that. That great Slate article published last year quoted Dana Jennings: “Even though my health keeps improving, and there’s a good chance that I’m cancer free, I still feel stalked, as if the cancer were perched on my shoulder like some unrepentant imp.”

Well, that nails it.

Medical facilities still grate on my nerves, so, I was only a tiny bit less anxious for my recent experience a couple of weeks ago. So it was a bit upsetting to be shown an image with a new, large white area on the chest wall under the place where the original cancer had grown. It was more upsetting to get hauled back to meet with the radiologist to discuss it, although I do appreciate that he did meet with me. Of all the imaging I’ve had done at various locations throughout this whole cancer mess, this was the first time I’d ever met with the person reading the images. Usually, my interaction is limited to the person putting me or parts of me into machines, and the radiologist is hidden like the Wizard of Oz or something, issuing directives and proclamations.

“Probably” scar tissue from the surgery, he said, but he’d like to do a MRI. I handed him the disc of images from my last MRI, from the summer of 2012. That was a year after the surgery (April 2011). No white area. “Still,” he said. “Probably”, he said. “Scar tissue.” How about that new MRI? Well, at least I got through 2013 without getting an MRI. 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, not so much.

The MRI was ordered, scheduled, and approval from new insurance company obtained (because I refused to have the MRI unless approved—I’ve fought that rejection-after-the-test-is-done battle before, and I cannot afford the MRI, period). For 6 days between the mammogram and MRI I went down that cancer road again, assuming the worst because I already know “bad”—I don’t want to know “worst”. The dread, paralysis, and everything just overtook me like it did before. Maybe worse, because my financial and job situations are different now. Even though I did not have all the puzzle pieces—like an actual diagnosis, treatment plan—I was still trying to come up with a strategy for how to handle the worst.

Words like “probably” and “unlikely” or “the odds” now scare the crap out me. As mentioned in the previous post, my initial diagnosis was a sucker punch—I was just being proactive, following the “rules”, when I decided to get a mammogram after my aunt’s diagnosis. I thought it so unlikely I’d have it so young, while another family member was having cancer. But when symptoms presented, I got another mammogram, two ultrasounds (one with biopsy, one without), and the MRI which finally established just how large the tumor was. Each new test result just seemed to yield worse news during those first frantic days of cancer. So my take away has been: test = bad news, and more tests =  wait, it gets worse.

Fortunately that wait-it-gets-worse streak ended back then with results proving cancer was confined to the breast. And the streak stays at the end now—within 24 hours of the MRI, I learned at least that there is still no evidence of cancer.

Obviously, I’ve experienced a gamut of emotions. Upon getting my good news, relief was the most prominent. My week-long headache went away and I was finally able to sleep. In fact that is kind of what I’ve done since then—sleep and do mindless things like watching movies, reading, wandering the internet. My ability to focus, never great since I was always hyper and easily distracted by shiny things, was destroyed by cancer. This new, mere threat sent me right back to the cancer days when I was utterly incapable of focus (hence the lateness of this follow-up post). Of course, the whole time I was processing this incident.

Physical scar tissue is what caused all this upheaval, and it re-opened the scars on my psyche. They were healing, and now they are not. This is not to say I was not fully aware that this sort of thing would and could happen. I even wrote about this a few months ago (My Reality and Your Fairy Tale), and heck, even before that (I Can Pretend).

This is the scar tissue, the reality, I wish more would see and understand. This is a reality I think is sorely under-represented in the media. Before I got cancer, I believed what I saw: get cancer, go bald while getting treated, then: all better! Somewhere in the midst of being overwhelmed by the diagnosis, I began to grasp the lifelong effects in store for me. As I said above, and in past posts, my cancer experience has been a sucker punch. The current and ongoing sucker punch for me is this refusal by others to even comprehend the scars—physical and mental—that linger after cancer.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about why I blog, or even the nature of this blog, about navigating social interaction with others who do not know or will not accept what I think are incredibly obvious truths about cancer. Whatever the word truth means anymore—everyone has their own version, right? I’ve been thinking especially about this absolute refusal by society to think there is only one story of cancer: get cancer, fight, and either win (patient recovers and cancer never comes back and all is well) or lose (patient dies because of poor fighting skills). Scars are never considered. But I will continue to write about the scars—not just the physical ones on my body—the scars caused by this cultural myth of cancer.

Er, as soon as I can force myself to focus again, that is, will I write these things.

But in the meantime, I remind everyone I’m a Cancer Curmudgeon, and I am indeed socially awkward. Usually sarcastic, rarely sincere. But I do sincerely thank all of you that sent good vibes and well wishes in comments and in private messages. I am humbled and grateful.

 

“Scar tissue that I wish you saw

Sarcastic mister know it all”

-“Scar Tissue”, Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

Until next time, then.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

30 thoughts on “Scar Tissue”

  1. Phew! So glad that it was scar tissue and you got the MRI approval before as I know what a mess that stuff is with the insurance. Hugs and xoxo – Susan

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  2. 12 years later and I still get scared!! Had a Pap smear a few weeks back and the doctors secretary rang to say I should make an appointment…. Well that was it a terrible few days of thinking how will I deal with this, they are not taking more nodes, who will be my specialist as mine retired etc etc … When I got there she said the test was normal, wanted to organise bone density tests etc…. I think you call it over servicing and she had no idea of the trauma she caused me… A simple phone call with .. Tests all normal would have saved a lot of anguish… Doctors just do not get where your mental state is after cancer….

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  3. Dana Jennings expressed the cancer experience so well in his New York Times articles, I think I’ve learned most of what he has written by heart and have quoted him many times in my blog over the years. He really captures the fact that cancer is not a one off event in our lives, but something that begins on the day of diagnosis and continues for the rest of our lives.

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  4. oh, CC,

    you already know how I feel. but I just had to say how much I admire what you have conveyed in this post, so well written, so spot-on about the isolation foisted upon us because society refuses to acknowledge “the scars” – hell, even our medical teams in most cases have the attitude of just be happy you came out of treatment/scans/tests, once again, unscathed. we need standards of practice that include aftercare and psycho-social recognition of what will always be a life of sometimes, lots of times, running scared – and, forever, scarred.

    and I loved the quote of the lyrics from the Red Hot Chili Peppers from “Scar Tissue”.

    much love and light to you, my Friend,

    Karen XOXOXO

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    1. Thank you Karen, as always giving me the boosts I need. And yes, standards for aftercare are much needed. I know the place where I was treated before were in the process of creating better after treatment plans so patients would not feel so “dumped”, but that was to be implemented this year–couple of years late for me. Oh well.
      Ha ha, as you might have guessed, the RHCP song is about far, far different things, but as Nirvana/Foo Fighter musician Dave Grohl says: “That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people and they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”

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  5. I am happy to hear that all is well. I am 12 years post diagnosis and I still get anxiety when I have to be tested. Most recently, due to a lab error, my tumor markers were way above normal and my Paps have been abnormal for years which isn’t a great sign either. So I understand. We never quite rid ourselves of that imp on our shoulders. But for now, I am happy for you. ♥ Big healthy hugs.

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  6. I so get the anxiety surrounding tests; I get scanxiety before every scan and every visit waiting for the tumor marker results. My cancer will never be ‘cured’ but can be managed. And I’m okay with that.

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    1. I suspect I’ll be more anxious again, just as it was beginning to ease up a bit. Oh well, this is the reality now and going forward, I accept even if I dislike it. As you say, not cured, but managing.
      Thanks for reading and commenting–I appreciate it.

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  7. There are so many scars aren’t there? Some can be seen and some cannot. I’ve been working on a scar post too. I don’t know why, but it’s been a hard one to for me to finish and put out there. I really appreciate this one. And I’m glad your MRI turned out okay.

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    1. Oooo, cannot wait for your scar post! I know there is so much more to say about it. I know what you mean about having posts that are hard to finish–I have many in the works like that.
      Thank you for your good vibes. And thanks as always for reading and commenting, and sharing.

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  8. Happy your MRI turned out well. I, too, have to undergo many more tests than the mammogram to make sure my fat necrosis and scar tissue from breast reconstruction is really that and not cancer recurring. I have every evidence this will be a lifelong thing–tossed in the pile of changes cancer brings and sometimes leaves.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. You’re right, this is one of the things that cancer has brought and we just have to deal with it. I hope all goes well with your further testing-sending the good vibes your way.

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  9. Wow…must be something in the air…I too have been working on a scar post & even titled it after this RHCP song…it’s still in draft…. Yes, even as I approach 5 years out, I am still very very anxious & sometimes downright panicky before seeing the oncologist, surgeon & def before a mammo…yeah….I don’t think we ever fully recover from bc & sadly, people who haven’t had to go through it just don’t get it. Thank you for another awesome post & so glad your test was fine. 🙂

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    1. Ha ha, and “Scar Tissue” is the name of Anthony’s autobiography! Just a MUCH different story of course. Yes, when it comes to test time it reinforces this feeling I’m one step, or result, away from disaster–again.
      Good luck with your post, can’t wait to read.
      Thanks for your kind words as always and good vibes! xxox-CC

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  10. Oh, man, did this hit home with me. The panic just spikes whenever I get a scan. Ever since cancer, I no longer completely trust my body. I even had a scar tissue problem show up on an MRI, which scared me to no end. What you are feeling is normal: we are never “done” with cancer, although the media and our society would like to believe that we are. I wrote a post on scars and body image if you have time to check it out: http://bethgainer.com/lost-in-translation/

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! And thanks for the link–I know your blog but have not had time to explore your older posts, so thank you for directing me to something I should see!
      And thank you for the support; I “know” I’ll never be done, but it is hard at times to put that into practice even when I know it intellectually.

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