After all this time, scanxiety is still a bitch. It will be 8 years since diagnosis in October for me, and I’m impatient with myself. I’m soooooo jaded about EVERYTHING in cancer world (and elsewhere) yet I can’t seem to be jaded about my own fear.
Some annual mammograms are worse than others. I was tense last year, but not very much. I kind of figured it would “all be OK” and it was. This year I’ve had some pain on my right side, around the breast and under the arm. That would be the other side—my cancer had been on my left. I’ve also had some nagging throat/gland pain, so my paranoia is quite high. So naturally, as you can imagine, I’ve been a massive asshole for the past month or so. Super irritable. Quiet. Too much in my own head, up my own ass. What little “acting upbeat” energy I mustered, I saved for my job, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t manage that quite well either.
When I went for my mammogram a couple of days ago—the oncologist always schedules a diagnostic, not just a screening one—I brought up the pain, and was approved to get an ultrasound too. All is well (with that; my throat issue will be dealt with next week). Two things struck me so hard during that hour or so it took to do all of this. The first was an idea that maybe I’m good at manipulating this situation. There is a sort of—not privilege exactly—being a former cancer patient. I was believed, there was no question. I know how to phrase it in med-speak: “I’m experiencing pain in the lymph area, and the side of the breast,” I say, so calmly. And they are all over it. It just seems to be in great contrast to things I’ve read (at random, they just seem to pop up in feeds lately) about womens’ pain being dismissed, chalked up to mental/emotional stuff. And while I still carry around a grudge about my first ever mammogram totally missing my giant-ass tumor back in 2010, I no longer mention it in the threatening manner I used to use to let imaging techs know–hey, you fucked up with me before, don’t let it happen again. What a weird status, to be a former cancer patient in the imaging center.
Second thing that struck me was just how much I HATE all of this. I hate the mammogram, it freaking hurts, especially on my left—the impacted side, the nippleless one. I always think I’m going to faint, but luckily I manage to get through. I hate sitting there in the ultrasound room, I hate the gel. I hate going into any medical facility, if I get right down to it. I hate being older so that the likelihood of potential diseases increase each year—any disease—whatever that will force me to take meds, see doctors. Yeah yeah, aging is a privilege denied to many, too many that I’ve known. So I’m not doing the “getting old isn’t for the faint of heart” thing—but, dammit!
When I was making my treatment decisions during that year, I remember a friend advising me to just “chop ‘em off”. So insensitive and I’m still sore about that. But on the other hand, before my diagnosis, I probably held the same view. It was only when faced with the reality that I recoiled from that caviler notion, and decided to take the lumpectomy the oncologist and surgeon recommended—because my chemo had done “so well”! Not sure why I didn’t want to lose my breasts, they aren’t great or anything, and I’m NOT a beauty queen, it was kind of out of character for me, really. Afterward, I was a bit smug, as I read all the articles during my early blogging days saying women were over-treating, jumping the gun in bi-lateral mastectomy, which does NOT increase survivability, does NOT decrease recurrence (cancer very rarely jumps from one breast to the other). I was prideful of a rational decision. But really I was just afraid; of what I don’t know. There are days I regret it. I know full well this is stupid, removal would prevent very little, but when scanxiety kicks in, rationality flies out the window. And I would just redirect my paranoia to other body parts—I’m doing it right now!
(NOTE: I’m not a medical professional, don’t let my confession of regret inform your decision—hell, don’t take ANYTHING I say or do as a factor into a decision—I am the worst, trust me, I’ve lived with myself for 46 years, I repeat, I’m the worst.)
I think I started this blog in 2012, so it is nearly 6 years I’ve been at this. I bet I can find complaint posts from as far back as 2013-14 regarding my frustration with the bi-annual “mammograms are not that great” debate, the cyclical debates about war metaphors, just everything. Feels like I’ve heard every angle to every argument about a million times. As I’ve said on this blog repeatedly, I’m short on patience. I cycle through things quickly. I get jaded fast before others (new patients I guess) even discover some of this stuff. So now I’m a bit jaded and impatient with myself. So often in the past year I’ve written posts here and on Facebook that cancer culture and the pink shit has GOT to move forward, the stagnation is choking me! Now I’m gagging at my own stagnant self, because I am still reduced to jelly knees when the annual trek to the imaging center arrives.
Longtime readers know, I’ve been absent here because I’ve switched focus to politics in the past 18+ months. But I’ve even been lame with that. Every day is a new low, a new outrage, and I am very burned out. This is not good for someone who has no patience (like, uh, me!). So I’ve been careful on Twitter, on all 3 of my accounts—nothing worse than an angry tweet, screenshots are forever! And Facebook’s algorithm is so stupid I just keep seeing the same stuff over and over; I do little 1 minute scrolls on my phone, but I barely register what I see.
I guess you could say I’ve disengaged a little bit. I needed a distraction for April and May so I concentrated on the end of the TV series “The Americans”, interacted with other fans—it was nice. I needed that escape.
Of course, I cannot stay disengaged for long, real life intrudes. I was stuck in traffic the other day (summer at the beach, y’all) behind this car with a multi-colored ribbon sticker that said “support cancer awareness”. It took all I had to not leap out of the car and shake the other driver: “what the hell does that even mean?!” I was so overcome with hatred for the word “awareness”, for the fact it has lost its meaning. And just a few minutes ago I was trying to listen to the 50 freakin’ podcasts I’ve downloaded on my phone and an interview with Amy Robach popped up. It was only a 15 minute thing (or so—I listen at 1.5 speed or I’d never catch up). But she managed to say every damn cliché known to breast cancer narratives (yes narrative is a damn cliché too). I only agreed with her on one thing: that it can kind of suck that docs tell us our treatment is “our choice”. I mean, I appreciate not having some god-complex-afflicted doctor command me from on high like in the old days, but on the other hand, I am paying for their expertise, because I sure as shit don’t have it. Everything else she said was just a mess. She started right off with the whole cancer makes you a better person myth that is oh so damaging. I would’ve turned it off, but I was washing dishes, and I just didn’t want to take the time to stop, dry my hands, then go back to it. I guess I should reign in my harshness. New patients might find solace in her “story”, others still, who are more like myself—and probably like you if you’re reading this—have to come to their realization in their own time. I can’t just stand up and be like, “hey can we all collectively, as cancer patients, no matter what year of our journey we’re at, just stop with this tired old script?” I want to do that, but then, I’m a bit crazed of late.
Well, I went off the rails a bit didn’t I? This has been a periodic, classic Cancer Curmudgeon word vomit, stream-of-consciousness ramble. It is the written, electronic, blog post equivalent of me poking my head out of the little cocoon I’ve developed, looking around and going “what the fuck?” and diving back down.
11 thoughts on “After All This Time”
You know, I remember when I was first diagnosed and one of my nurse buds at work said that same thing, “If it were me, I’d just chop ’em both off.” I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I could write a whole post about how tone deaf many of my health clinician colleagues were, folks who presumably ought to know better. And so didn’t. Oy. Hugs.
Hmm, I’d be very interested in such a post, and I wonder what kinds of other incidents others have had–ya know? I’m still shocked after all this time that the navigator who ran our young with cancer group didn’t understand why “save the ta-tas” was so wrong until we explicitly explained–well, uh, what kind of surgery do you see a lot of? Exactly how are ta-tas being saved if they are being removed. Granted the group was still new-ish, but she’d been in the role for a while. I guess it’s just another example of how slogans, when repeated, become so meaningless people don’t even understand what they are saying. Don’t get me started on the assumptions professionals make about patient’s marital, child, and religious status. I get they are trying to comfort, but it can be an irritant that just isn’t necessary to deal with. Ugh. xxoo
Don’t get me started on euphemisms for breasts….
I love this post. It’s so you. And I mean that in a good way. I’m glad your mammogram turned out okay, and I sure hope your throat issue turns out okay too. Do let us know. A couple things jumped out at me in this one. First of all, you’re diagnosis wasn’t long after mine, sometimes I forget that. Also, way back when I was diagnosed, a neighbor asked my husband, so – is she taking ’em both off? He was shocked by that. Now days, neither of us shocks so easily. Not sure that is good. Another thing, we started watching “The Americans” this winter and really liked it. Just finished up the last season that’s available on Amazon Prime. Can’t wait to see how it all ends. Also – since you mentioned Amy Robach, I’ll share this. She was here a month ago or so. Kind of a big deal ‘cuz no one comes to WI. I was going to go listen to her talk, but I just knew she’d be spewing that “cancer made me a better person” crap, and I couldn’t make myself go. Just couldn’t do it. Sorta wish I had cuz it woulda made for good material for a blog post, I suppose. But reading this, makes me glad I didn’t bother. It’s hard enough for me to leave my house in the evening. Thanks for the post. I always enjoy reading what you write. xo
Ha ha-thanks–yeah it is VERY me, exactly how I talk and topic-hop. It could well have been titled Crap Annoying Me Today–that is literally how I wrote it.
I find it so difficult to get into shows, I tend to fall asleep when I sit down, and the show I like require full attention–as in, I cannot have them on while doing other things. Hence, the addiction to podcasts I can listen to while walking dogs, cooking, etc. And The Americans is kind of tricky, so luckily I found a podcast that does 2 post-show sessions, one a recap and one an analysis by fans/community. That way I can be like, Oh so THAT’S what they were doing/who that person was! Very helpful to the scattered chemo brain!
I cannot stress enough how annoying Robach’s interview was. There has got to be a term for being angered and bored at the same time. Literally she said stuff that we’ve heard a million times–I could almost lip sync the podcast. It was so bad. Good thing you didn’t waste your time. For me that is the real challenge maybe of continuing this blog. I want to talk about things rarely spoken of–and I mean RARELY, because all the articles I see lately with “what no one talks about in breast cancer” type titles–are, well, covering the same “taboo” topics–which are now no longer taboo. Know what I mean? I just want….to contribute new and fresh thoughts. I guess that is a big reason I haven’t kept up with what’s happening in the community lately. I remind myself I must be patient–this is all new to the recently diagnosed–but still. I’m just restless I guess.
Anyway thanks for still reading and all–I have to go to ENT specialist ugh. It will be a while before I know what’s up. XXOO
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I haven’t been in the blogosphere world for a long time, but upon logging in, wondering who’s still blogging, I am happy to see that you are still at it. I still love your true-grit writing style and attitude. Sending you good vibrations for an uneventful visit to the ENT – hoping they don’t find anything. Take care CC.
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Thanks–yeah…still kicking around intermittently….
Love your rant, and I’m hoping it felt better to get it all out there in the written word. Regarding scanxiety, you are not alone. Whenever, I have a doctor’s appointment, especially with my oncologist, who is wonderful, I want to run like a bat out of hell to my car and just drive away. I suffer from PTSD, thanks to cancer, so I know how stressful scans and exams can be. I even get stressed out when I take my cat to the veterinarian. No shit. Going to have to start taking a Xanax.
First, I love how this ended. Second, it’s been 15 years since I had chemo the first time, and I still get nauseous when I smell saline. The first time someone told me that saline didn’t have a smell to it, I replied, “Oh, yes, it fucking does!” I don’t get the Cancer-made-me-a-better-person thing. It just made me afraid of what my body might be plotting.
I don’t hear much about people like myself, but I decided during treatment that this was it..I was not going to go for follow up scans, I was not going to see my oncologist and I was not going to have a yearly diagnostic mammo. Likewise, side effects had me quit the pills after just a few months. I’m 3&1/2 years from dx and so far , so good. I still worry..after all my husband is dying from Stage IV lung cancer with brain mets as I speak, so it’s not like I’m in denial..I’d just rather not have my life hingeing on what a Dr. Says or on my next test. If I get mets, I plan to go right to palliative care. I found treatment to be brutal and traumatizing and for me, enjoying a possibly shorter, but better, quality of life is worth it.