This week is busy. For the first time in several months I have two hospital appointments in the space of a couple of days. Yesterday’s appointment was the mammogram. Thirteen months have passed since the mammogram that couldn’t find a 2cm lump just 2mm away from breaking through my skin. Eighteen months have elapsed since the regular mammogram that gave the initial false-negative result at the beginning of 2012. My experience means I have little faith in mammograms; I think I’m still much more likely to detect any future anomalies myself but after so much treatment I hope the eventuality never arises.
I thought I might be apprehensive about yesterday’s hospital visit but I wasn’t. Dispassionate might be a better description of my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I’ve moved beyond the pointless worrying that accompanies any form of diagnostic imaging because it’s wholly futile. Things will either be OK or they won’t. If they’re OK I continue to live a reasonably normal life. If they’re not OK I already know what happens next. The radiographer told me she couldn’t see anything that looked to be of concern but the formal result will be with Miss M in a few weeks. Waiting is something else I’ve become accustomed to – the result will either be OK or it won’t and whatever it is, I have no power to change it. This is the reality people who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer live with for the rest of their lives; the carpet can be pulled from under their feet again at any point in time. The experience has altered my perception of many things, made me much clearer about how I lead my life and where I spend my time.
Tomorrow is the final blast of herceptin, the wonder drug for people with Her2 positive cancer. Prior to herceptin disease free and overall survival rates for this kind of cancer were some of the worst; few people made it beyond the 5 year follow-up period. Herceptin is a breeze for many but that hasn’t been my experience and no-one can tell me how long the side effects will last or if they’ll completely resolve over time. The joint pain and immobility have been of greatest concern because these side effects impinge on day-to-day life. Weight gain and the inability to lose even a pound when sticking rigidly to 1200 calories a day is frustrating. Overall though herceptin is a good thing for those whose cancers are Her2 positive, it has proven survival benefits.
There are a few remnants of what happened last year scattered throughout my body. The scars and fakery are the most obvious as well as my shorter than pixie-cut hair which is still thinner at the front than I’d like. The early menopause that has, as far as I can tell, gone through the hormone deprivation stage and all it entails leaving few after-effects except the future potential for osteoporosis. Two toes on my right foot have subungual haematomas, one is painful the other isn’t, and all of my fingernails have onycholysis (detachment of the nail from the nail bed). At some point I expect all the affected nails to part company with me but for now they’re hanging on. An irritable gut that now appears to have a mind of its own irrespective of what I eat, fluid retention and inflexible joints that make me move like a 90-year-old. Surviving cancer is not without consequences but surviving is still the preferred outcome.
After tomorrow I’ll be in the ultimate waiting room, the one that takes 5 years to get out of. Hospital visits will be the exception rather than the norm (I hope) during that period, aside from the additional surgeries I’ve elected to have. Shortly the evidence of my skirmish with cancer will be barely noticeable, with luck my stamina and fitness will return to their pre-treatment levels and my clothes will fit again! Being back in the waiting room has no hold over me anymore. Life is beckoning and I don’t intend to waste it on things I have little opportunity to influence.