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.