Thursday, October 19, 2017

Finding My "New Normal"

I know the way by heart now. Approximately 40 minutes door to door. Most of the traffic will be from the house to the Pentagon, where it will ease up across the Key Bridge and then pick up volume thru Georgetown and then north through the toney Foxhall neighborhood.
I was on my way to Sibley hospital, on a much too familiar route to a much too familiar place. A place where my life has been saved multiple times already in my 53 years on Earth. Let’s hope that string of “wins” continues.

After surgery, there was discussion with my oncologist about “next steps”. For Triple Negative Breast Cancer, those next steps are pretty limited. Radiology is one of those options. Doing nothing is an option. And, thankfully, due to recent clinical trial results taking more chemo is now an option.

Today was a follow-up ultrasound. A follow-up needed because a small, but strong-handed Director of Radiology felt a lump in my chest three weeks post mastectomy.

So there I am, I’m in my gown and laying on a table in a dark room with a bunch of medical equipment surrounding me. Oddly I’m familiar with the surroundings. Maybe too familiar. I can feel the hardness of the table and feel my back give way as I try and relax. I’m feeling the fatigue of my chemo rush over me. I almost fall asleep. In the background I hear the comforting sounds of the radio station playing soft, classical music.

I really did not give much thought to today. I did not ask Liz to go with me. I had had multiple ultrasounds, MRIs, sonograms, etc. Pretty routine. Painless. Arriving on time and checking in, I overhear a conversation between another woman checking in and the assistant behind the desk. I hear the woman mention my cancer surgeon’s name and wondering if she’ll like her. Apparently, her initial surgeon was not available and so she was being referred to Dr Garrett. MY Dr Garrett. The quirky ex-Army surgeon with a Southern twang who was the first person to tell me she could and would rid me of cancer. I try and put her worries aside by expressing my support for Dr Garrett and give her a bit of my history with her. She smiled in appreciation and relief.
My initial 19 weeks of hard, gut-wrenching, hair-falls-out, chemotherapy did not result in a 100% success. In only about 25-35% of the time it does. So, we talked about radiation therapy as a possible next step for me. Five weeks, every day. Having had a complete mastectomy verses a lumpectomy (whereby just the tumor and the area surrounding it are removed but the breast is conserved for the most part), radiation is not always a recommended treatment. However, most lumpectomy patients do have radiation because most of the breast tissue remains and radiation can help kill any cancer cells that may still be lurking about in the breast tissue. But because I had my entire breast removed (both of them actually), there’s conflicting thought among the medical profession if it’s worth any positive results verses the potential physical damage that radiation can cause. So, after the before mentioned exam, the Radiation gal called the Oncology gal to discuss my next steps. As it turned out, both gals agreed that for me and my triple negative status, the best course of treatment is more chemo - 18 more weeks of chemo - if I was willing. And I am willing. But before the Radiologist let me go, she sent me over to Sibley’s Imagining Center for an ultrasound, where they could see the area in question -the area she could feel. The images looked benign. But she wanted me to return in a couple of months for a follow up just to be sure.

The radiology tech enters the darkened room and squeezes the warm jelly on my chest. She turns the screen towards me, sensing my interest. She rolls the ultrasound-thingy on my chest through the jelly. Now, I can see her hand move and I see images change on the screen, but I can’t feel anything. My chest remains numb since surgery and may stay that way, or so I’m told. In any case, it’s a weird sensation. She finds the “12 o’clock position of the area in question and takes a picture, then the 1 o’clock position takes a picture, working her way around the area taking a picture at all twelve clock positions. I watch on the screen, looking for what I’m not sure. But hoping it’s nothing.

Still feeling ok and “in control of a familiar situation”, the tech finishes and tells me she’s going to send the images to the radiologist and I need to try and relax as it may take some time for her to review. Well, now I’m not feeling so ok. Why couldn’t the tech just tell me it’s all fine, herself? Did she see something she could not identify? Ugg.

After what seems an eternity, the original tech returns and tells me that the doctor will be in shortly to talk to me. Well, that’s it. The already dark room gets even darker. The radio chatter is drowned out by the ugly demonic cancer chatter that so easily fills my head. Jesus, it’s only been three months since my surgery. Could it really return that fast?  I lay on that hard table because sitting up would mean throwing up. I try to focus on my breathing only to find I’m hyperventilating. I try and listen to the sound of my heart only to feel it pounding. After what seems to be perpetuity, the doctor enters the room.  She smiles politely and introduces herself. Didn’t matter, I couldn’t hear anything she said over the pounding and heaving. She asked me “how are you” and I respond with a very honest “that will depend on what you have to tell me” and somehow conjure up a smile.

She walks me through the images and we talk about why I’m back on that table. She takes images of her own and then gently tells me everything looks fine. It was – as everyone thought – swelling from surgery that has now gone away.

Perhaps this is now a “routine” medical visit. Freaking out. Just this close to being in tears. Over nothing. Nothing at all. Everything is fine. I am fine. Keep rooting for me. #Onward


  1. Unfortunately, the trained ultra sound technician is not to tell you anything that is viewed or evident of the ultra sound. Since they are not a "doctor" having medically trained expertise it's typically clinic policy the technicians are bound to a rule that they are not to say anything to suggest your condition. Only the physician is to deliver your test results. Very happy that in the end your fears were put to rest! Keep steady on your away of the cancer war path!! Rooting for you to WIN!!!

  2. I was on the edge my seat and was holding my breath and tears welling. Yay yay Onward and upward!!!!! F cancer you're makin it 😊😊😊😊😊

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