I went for my quarterly Oncology check in. I have been going every three months since treatment ended in December of 2013. Every. Three. Months.
The main reason why my visits have remained so frequent is because of all of the pitfalls I have experienced; weird stuff in my lung, struggling with antihormonal medication, surgeries, switching oncologists, firing my oncologist and finding a new one, moving across the country.
I usually don’t mind the visits. I go in. We talk. I disrobe. The doctor feels me up for lumps and bumps. It’s not a big deal.
I like my new doctor here in MN. I mostly love the practice. I do not love the scheduling process. For whatever reason, I am often unable to schedule the next visit on the day of my most recent visit. Three months is too far out so they tell me I have to call. But their calling system is horrible. It takes forever to get connected to the scheduler and then they put you on hold and…hang up on you. Accidentally, of course. But it blows. It is so bad that often I just show up to the office in person to schedule because it’s easier. It’s easier to drive 25 minutes to the office than to call.
But there is even a problem with that. Most of the schedulers are very nice, accommodating and kind (qualities I feel are critical when dealing with cancer patients). But there is one woman scheduler who is just awful. She is sour and curt and unpleasant. I can only assume that she is a friend, relative or spouse of some higher up at the medical practice because I honestly have no other idea how she got this job. She is just awful.
Anyway, I realized I was overdue for a checkup when I got a letter from the practice reminding me to make an appointment. Oops. So I called…and then lost an hour of my life. I was placed on hold, hung up on, transferred to nothing numbers and then hung up on again. 45 minutes in, I lost my patience.
There was a lot of confusion because my oncologist was out on maternity leave. I told them I didn’t care who I saw, that I just needed to get in. But apparently, my flexibility was causing mayhem. I am still not sure why.
“Listen,” I told the operator,”I am trying to make a simple appointment, it shouldn’t be this hard.”
She agreed and then promptly hung up on me, by accident.
Eventually, an appointment was made. I would see a nurse practitioner. All would be well. I felt ok about it.
Then I showed up for the appointment and they had no record of it. Not only that, the nurse practitioner wasn’t even there. So they sent me to make a new appointment.
Guess who I had to deal with?
Yep, Ms. Sourpuss. Golly is she unpleasant. Ugh. She is the worst. In the four years of this cancer experience, Ms. Sourpuss is the most unpleasant professional I have encountered and that is saying a lot.
She made me an appointment after giving me the run around, 2 weeks out.
And then I said,”May I speak to a manager? I really need to give someone some feedback about this experience.”
Her eyes got really big and she said, “Yes.” and went to find someone. I sat and waited.
And suddenly, this very kind person came to me and apologized for my experience. She told me she could get me in right then and there to see a different nurse practitioner, if that was ok.
Of course it was ok.
I felt the urge to stick out my tongue at Sourpuss but I only did it in my head.
The rest of the visit was standard. We met, we chatted, we joked around a bit. He told me that after this visit, I would not need to be seen for 6 months.
Yay. I graduated!
I was happy.
Then I disrobed and got on the table.
We chatted some more while I was poked and prodded. Right armpit. Then left armpit. And then there was a pause.
“Have you felt this? This…knot?”
No. I hadn’t.
And that’s when the weather changed. That’s when the room started to swirl. That’s when I closed my eyes. I had to.
He told me I needed to schedule an ultrasound.
I asked if it was cancer.
He said he didn’t know.
I protested that the bump was on the other side from my original cancer. It can’t jump, can it?
He said he didn’t know.
I closed my eyes again and took deep breaths. The world around me swirled and dipped.
I made the appointment for the next morning. 7:20am.
I walked to my car. I got in. I knew I couldn’t drive. I texted my husband.
Me: Are you able to talk?
Me: Oncologist found a lump in my armpit. I have to go in for an ultrasound.
Him: Calling you.
We talked. It doesn’t have to be cancer. We don’t know until we know.
But all I was thinking was, “How can I put those boys through this again?”
We hung up. I sat in my car, with my eyes closed, just breathing. Just breathing.
Eventually, I drove home. And I pretended. I pretended my world was not collapsing.
My husband and I texted. We would drive to the appointment separately. I would tell the boys I was meeting a friend for coffee. He would tell them he had an early meeting.
The boys fell for it.
And the plan worked. At 7:30 the next morning, I was on a table with gel on my armpit. My eyes were closed.
They called my husband in when it was over. The photos were on the screen. The lump was huge. I showed him. It was huge. I wanted to faint.
The doctor came in. Smiling and kind. He explained that my lymph node was enlarged 3 centimeters. 3 centimeters?!! What the what? The biggest lymphnode in 2013 that HAD cancer was only 1 centimeter! This was terrible! He then showed us that even though it was huge, it was not looking necessarily like cancer looks on an ultrasound. It was not round and the center was not black. The node had normal fatty tissue in it. Still he wanted a biopsy because of my history and because there was black in the node, though not much.
Through a random cancellation, I was able to get in later that morning for the biopsy.
Another doctor came and spoke with me. He was also very nice. He said he would guess it was benign but with my history and the size, we needed to be sure.
This biopsy was much easier than the one I had 4 years ago. That one was crazy. This one was much calmer. I got numbed up and then he took five samples. Five needles. Five clicks and done.
I was told to go home and rest. Do nothing. Drink wine. Really.
I got back in my car. I was not ready to go home. My armpit was already starting to hurt. I would not be able to hide this. I would have to tell the boys.
So I went to Target. And I channelled my birth mother. She was big on gifts. It used to make me nuts when she would bring us all these gifts but I’ve changed my mind. We didn’t even get ten years of her. Those gifts take on a new meaning in hindsight. I wish I could tell her that I finally understand.
So, yeah, I went to Target. And I bought a Rip Stick, a badminton set, some nerf bullets, a nerf gun and some other rando stuff. And you know what? I actually felt better! Shop therapy? Who knew?
And I drove home. And I gave the boys some gifts and told them what was going on. I told them I didn’t know what to do so I decided to channel their grandmother. They got it.
And we waited. Hubby came home early. I cooked. I baked. I watered my plants. And we waited.
They said it may take two days to get the results.
I thought a lot. If it was cancer, I decided I would get chemo. This was a revelation. I had been swearing I would not do chemo again. It almost killed me and it made all my hair fall out which really sucked. It was the worst! But no. I would get chemo. For them. I would do it.
But you know how this story ends, right?
I got a call from a very happy person, informing me that the node was not cancerous. We both laughed and rejoiced.
I called my husband. We told the boys and we were happy. I texted friends and family who were in the know. Everyone was happy. We went out that night to see my old friend and we were happy.
This is my fourth biopsy since I finished treatment but this has been the only one that truly terrified me. My world shifted on Monday. It blurred. The pain, the nausea, the anguish came rushing back and all I could do was close my eyes and breathe.
What else can you do? Cry a little? Get angry? Eat pizza? Pray? I did all of those things too.
But this is the nature of living through cancer. I will probably never be out of the woods, but I don’t think I will ever be comfortable living in the woods. Every ache, every pain, every lump or bump is now a cause for concern and sometimes even panic. And the only choice I really have is to put my head down and get through it. I have to meet it head on. I do not take a single minute of this life for granted. I can’t. And I will do what I can to be here for my boys another day. That is all I have.