Medicine isn’t an exact science. I was reminded of this when I saw the cardiologist to follow up after my heart attack-not heart attack a few weeks ago. The cardiologist I saw in the hospital went on maternity leave so I saw her colleague and the first thing he told me was “you were given the wrong diagnosis.” He went on to explain why I had viral pleurisy and not pericarditis. He said they present the same and are treated the same so basically no harm done. Okay, not really sure how I feel about that.
In other news I had my four month oncologist appointment. Something that others might not understand is the doctor/nurse and cancer patient relationship. One of the more difficult parts of completing chemotherapy and radiation is the loss of day to day contact with my doctors and nurses. It’s immensely comforting to know you have these amazing people battling with you who understand your fear and loneliness because cancer can make you feel so isolated. When I finished treatment and would no longer see my oncologist every three weeks I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. It was hard to let go of what felt like a security blanket. As much as I dread the anxiety leading up to my oncologist appointments, I feel comforted just talking with him.
So my oncologist read my lab results and said all was as it should be. Phew. But Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, it’s amazing how I can go from living my life, minding my own business to totally losing my shit while sitting in his office waiting. It’s humbling. Just when I feel like shit’s under control, the days leading up to these oncologist appointments are riddled with trepidation. Then the words “everything looks good” are spoken and the breath I’ve been holding is released into the universe along with all my bad panicky juju. I’m doing mental cheerleading moves and I want to Whip and Nae Nae with his awesome nurse whose name is also Kelly. So as I slide back into life, the cancerphobia slips into the background. At least until my next four month appointment. #kickingcancersass #cancercanfuckitself
Today I came across the heartbreaking story of Kelly Owchar, a 30 year old mom to a 2 year old son and newborn twin daughters, who recently died from breast cancer. I cannot stress enough how important it is to pay attention to ANY differences in your breasts, nipples and armpits. Any differences. There are so many myths circulating, like breast cancer doesn’t “hurt.” Well, that is false because it can totally hurt. Or breast cancer is largely genetic. Only 5-10% of cases are attributable to breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Prior to my own diagnosis, I had no idea there were different types of breast cancer and they could present in many different ways.
Perform your self-exams. Get your annual screening. If you have dense breasts, many states including Arizona, have laws in place requiring radiologists to inform you that you have dense breasts and you should speak with your doctor about possible additional screening like 3D mammography. This is because cancer can hide in dense breast tissue, especially my type of breast cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma. Even then, imaging tests are not 100% accurate 100% of the time. I’ve said this before but it bears mentioning again – I had a mammogram, ultrasound and MRI on both breasts. My tumor was detected on the left breast, and this was not a surprise because it was considerably large. What were not detected were the precancerous cells in my right breast found only on pathology following my bilateral mastectomy. Also, my diagnosis came two months before I was due for my annual mammogram. I finally noticed one day that my left nipple had gone flat. That was the tumor. If you feel something is not right, ask your doctor for another test or seek a second opinion. Pay attention ladies and spread the word.
Please read the poignant story of Kelly Owchar here. In her case, she dismissed the signs as post-partum symptoms which is so easy to do, especially when breast cancer screening is not recommended for women younger than 40.
I want to talk about Olivia Newton-John. As most people have read, she has recently disclosed that her breast cancer has returned and it has metastasized to the sacrum. This means she is now stage 4. I do not know what her staging was when she was first diagnosed twenty-five years ago but regardless, stage 4 means she will need targeted treatment for the foreseeable future. I just pray she gets another twenty-five years. This is another example of how insidious breast cancer is. You can have no evidence of disease for years, and in her case, a couple of decades, and then bam! It can hide in your body, dormant for a year, or a quarter of a century or more before rearing its ugly head again.
We have got to live our lives like tomorrow isn’t promised because it really isn’t. Here is one of the more informative articles about Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer recurrence. Rock on Olivia, you are one bad mammajamma and I know you are going to kick cancer’s ass. Again.