As I changed into my fancy hospital gown, for what would be my 8th breast MRI, I couldn’t help but reflect. Reflect on what they would find, how many times I have done this and how many times I will do this again. And to be honest the funky “hospital smell” of the gown? Why, why does everything hospital smell stale and like it was washed in dirty water? What’s up with that?
As I rolled into the room like a true professional – my port hooked up and ready to rock some contrast, I stopped in my tracks staring at the opening of the MRI – Holy Crap! Is that hole getting smaller or am I getting bigger? (I think I know the answer!) How the hell am I gonna fit in that. As panic rose in my mind, my body turned into a hot mess! Again, thank you cancer for these awesome menopausal hot flashes – they always come at the perfect time! Great now I shall enter the tube sweaty and full of anxiety. I, very awkwardly, climbed aboard the table of fun and laid face down. And once again as I lay my face in the cradle I smell that hospital linen smell on the cloth. Ugh. I must insert a shout out to the two incredible female technicians – they were AWESOME. And they made this as “normal” as possible. Hmm, normal is a very “relative state-of-mind”.
So, my hot, sweaty, chunky butt gets pushed, I should say wedged into the machine, for a minute I think, “I can’t breathe” but alas my panic settles in to a do-able mindset. Now, an hour in this thing is always a challenge. But, this time I find myself laying there hearing the knocking, thumping and bumping and my mind goes to my two beautiful little girls. Will they have to lay here exposed, scared and anxious? Is this the price they will have to pay for my metastatic breast cancer? It seems they’ve paid it forward so much over the past 6 years. I can see their faces confused and scared in this tube. While for some it seems like a small price to pay to ensure that they remain cancer-free, I can’t help laying there and mourning the loss of their “normal”. All that time in my head, has the MRI over and done in record time. I’m being yanked out, finding myself flattening my chunky butt a bit in order to squeeze out. Results to follow the next day when I see my radiation oncologist.
Thursday comes quickly and first thing I am consulting with my radiation oncologist, the incredible, spunky, fashion-forward Dr. K. I wait patiently to hear the results of the MRI. Can I get an “all clear”! Hells yeah. I hear her say, “everything looks good, all clear”. As I breathe a sigh of relief the next part comes – Dr. K is recommending 5 weeks of daily radiation to clean up where my lymph nodes were removed on the left side. I trust this doc with my life, she has been with me since the cancer has been with me and it helps she is a total SMARTY PANTS. Ok – I spend lots of time asking questions and catching up. I get a little time to catch up with my old friend and social worker the incomparable Ms. M. Seeing her smiling face puts me at ease immediately.
It’s now 10:30 and I need to haul over to my cancer center for my monthly blood draw, doc appt. and injection. As I sit at a light I can’t help but resolve the idea of radiation in my mind. I’ve been through worse and I’ve seen worse. “I got this,” I tell myself.
I roll into my regular cancer center to have labs and then head up to see the lovely PA Ms. G. As I sit, I am feeling pretty confident. This is my regularly scheduled monthly check, it’s my wheelhouse. And I look across from me and there is a young man, he looks maybe 30-35 and he’s really sick, he’s wearing a Cubs hat and he’s with his mom. He so painfully reminds me of my brother Joe – tears begin to well and then I hear the tech yell, “Joe” and he rises. My heart drops. I take it as a sign. A sign that I should take the radiation news in stride. A sign that my brother Joe never got the chance to see radiation or chemo or any kind of treatment work. A sign that I am so lucky to be here at 37, that my Joe never got to see 32. For a moment I sit and let the sun hit my face, I recompose myself and remember how lucky I am to be sitting here. And how lucky I am that my Joe sends me these signs. Cancer treatment may suck but at least I am here.
Alas, I am upstairs with the lovely PA Ms. G and we are going over labs. Everything is looking good and I am feeling good. And with no warning my liver counts come back and they are not so good. So high and out of line that we are scheduling a CT scan. What could cause this? We all know one thing that could cause it and I hate the thought. In addition to the big C, it could be my monthly injections? Or repeated, excessive amounts of Tylenol or alcohol – neither of which I have had. So, now I must hurry up and wait until Monday for the CT and Thursday for my onc to review. It’s probably nothing – but, unless you’ve waited for a scan you simply don’t understand the anxiety, the bargaining one will do to make this ok in one’s mind all to get through the weekend. And then my Joe enters my mind, and my perspective is immediately adjusted.
So there it is, just a window of time in the life of a metastatic breast cancer patient. Just as I left one appointment thinking, “Ok – if radiation is the worst of it today, I can handle it”. Only to arrive at the next appointment with more worrisome news. It all seems cruel and unfair until I think of my Joe and suddenly things don’t seem so bad. If there’s a liver issue we will figure it out. And if my injection needs to change – well, lucky me, there are more meds out there!
So this weekend with sunny, warm temperatures in the forecast I will plan on giving a few more kisses and hugs to my kiddos, a few more walks and a little more time on the swings. I will breathe in the spring air and I will appreciate right now, right now I am here.