Don’t expect to think you know where you are going if you get cancer. One minute the path ahead is clear and the route is well defined. The next, the ‘Dread Dragon’ returns. So today’s lesson for me is to float with the current. Expect changes to happen as they most certainly will.
Today was supposed to be a day of pottering around, bush kinder drop offs and pickups, a nice lunch somewhere, some household cleaning, some packing for tomorrow’s big day back in the big smoke with the breast surgeon, the bearded nurses and the plastic surgeon with a box of ‘Asian’ sized, left sided implants.
At 11:30am while picking up my son from kinder the phone rings and it is my surgeon who I have begun dreaming about and she says “Hi Lise, how are you recovering? How is my breast going?”
I’m not sure when ‘my’ breast became ‘her’ breast, but she is quite welcome to it. I’ll even throw in the other for good measure! So I said “I’m fine. I ran a 10km fun run yesterday.”
“What you ran a 10km race? Why?”
She wasn’t really interested in my response because she quickly moved onto her next question. Surgeons are very busy people you know. But if I had time I might have replied something along the lines that I needed to feel like I can do this, I need to feel strong and fit, I need to feel like I’m not a cancer patient. I have seen and now experienced firsthand how a cancer diagnosis effects the psych. It hits you like a lightening bolt and brings on symptoms of anxiety, nausea, panic, that I would not wish on my worst enemy. It then sneaks behind you and makes you feel weak and sick. I had to be reminded that I was not dieing in those early weeks because I was acting like I was already stage IV. So why wouldn’t I run a 10km fun run with my beautiful friends when my surgical scars were healing nicely?
“What time did you do it in?” (She must be a runner to ask that question). “Oh wow! And you’re only, let me see, 12 days post lumpectomy”. At this point she put her hand over the phone and announced to another colleague in the room that I ran a 10km race yesterday. “Well Lisa you are shaping up to be my best patient yet! I suppose it doesn’t matter how (your/my/our) breast is, as its coming off isn’t it!”
At this point I felt a little chuffed by the 1400kms of running and 300kms of walking to the shops I had en-massed on Runkeeper since April last year.
And then she continued… “Look I’m also calling to let you know that the team met again this morning and we would like to stage your cancer today. So you have to head to two different hospitals immediately in your city to have a CT abdominal/chest scan and a full bone scan. Can you get to hospital in 30 minutes?
“This wasn’t mentioned in our Thursday consult” I said.
“Look, you have one node positive so far, and normally our hospital protocol is to only stage prior to surgery if there is at least three nodes positive. But we don’t want you to have all the treatment and then discover that there is possible metastases elsewhere or another primary cancer lurking. If there are more masses in your body, you’ll need chemotherapy prior to surgery. So surgery tomorrow could be cancelled. I’m not operating on you unless I’m confident”.
I hung up the call and proceeded to walk across to the bush kinder pickup point towards the waiting parents and children. It was here that the Dread Dragon opened his wings and blew flames and embers across the bush kinder carpark almost setting fire to the forest. At that point I saw my friend Catherine and I broke down in tears. Then I composed myself and I was right to go. Dropping off kids with husband, getting driven to hospital, picked up husband and children, getting to next scan at different location for more nuclear dye injections, then picked up and dropped off husband back at work, returned home with children, waited for dye to absorb into my bones, waited for the best Nanna in the world to come to mind children and finally returned back to hospital for scan number two. There was more nuclear medicine, more radioactive substances, more radiation and a litre of contrast to drink for the CT.
With all the time on scan beds today, laying inside two large plastic nuclear donuts, with the whirring and the smell of Kodak processing in the air, my mind had plenty of time to analyse the possible reasons for staging me one day before surgery as normally it happens at least a week before and a lot of the time staging is not required because the nodes tell a clear story. What if ‘the team’ where just being precautionary, that would be excellent! But what if I had two primary cancers at the same time? Or what if it is metastatic breast cancer. Could I be so unlucky? There are no guarantees.
Such news fills you with the memory of every little nerve fibre pain that has tingled or fired in your body in recent times. What if that time I put five beetroots, two raw squash, a tablespoon of spiralina and some chia seeds into my juice and got stomach pain was actually stomach cancer? That headache last week, a brain tumour? A change of plans can put you into a such a tizz.
Luckily, my CT scan experience provided me with enough entertainment to distract me from such thoughts. Contrast is injected into a vein to “highlight” internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas and it helps to detect and characterise tumours. After a few seconds the contrast reached my chest and heart and I felt a warm fuzzy feeling. Then I got a metallic taste in my mouth. But the Pièce de résistance is that several minutes later, the warm fuzzy feeling reaches the nether regions and it actually feels like you have wet your pants and are then laying in it. I have read on some of the breast cancer forums that some women refer to this as the ‘ants in pants’ effect. Some even brag about climaxing at this point. Not me, I just felt like I weed myself.
Tonight I get a phone call from a friend to bring me the terrible news that a wonderful, vivacious colleague who used to teach art at a school I taught at, has passed away today, her battle with breast cancer began around eight or so years ago. Timing is everything.
So now, all thoughts of diagnostic results have been set aside. I’ve put the Dread Dragon to sleep outside with the dogs. I have had a laugh tonight on the phone and texts with people who are important to me. I am back off to the big smoke tomorrow for my mastectomy surgery and full axillary clearance as planned. Or maybe not!
My question is, of all the flavours in the world, why is it that the CT contrast drink is flavoured aniseed? What the hell were they thinking? It’s like something I drank out of a bucket with a garden hose, Corfu, Greek Islands, circa 1996.