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.