It is so easy to psych yourself out about recurrence. Every little ache, pain, twitch or sensation sends your right into the "what if" zone. I've had a little stitch in my right side off and on for the past few weeks. Is it just something from working out? You know, a sore muscle or a stitch like when you are running? I wouldn't say it causes me pain, but it was something I noticed. Is that what Dr. P meant 6 months ago when he said to come back if I felt pain? Should I tell him about it? Or maybe just not mention it, and hope it was nothing? Oh the bliss of being like an ostrich with my head buried in the sand. But what if it was something and I didn't say anything. In 6 months it would be much worse, right? But then again, any recurrence for me means that I've gone to stage IV, which is incurable. Would 6 months really make a difference?
All these things were swirling around my head today as I waited in the exam room in the oncology department at Kaiser. The place where on the wall there is a folder for hospice referrals and information. I did my best to read my Kindle and keep my mind off of these questions as I waited.
Dr. P came in. Except for a new beard, he looked pretty much the same. His nurse had asked me at the intake if I exercised. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is a standard question? Or perhaps my blood pressure indicated something? (I'm hoping in a good way) Anyway, had told her that I exercised 6 days a week. She asked me for how long each time. Gosh, that's pretty hard to say. Training for the 3 day means 3+ hours of walking some days. I told her on average 1 1/2 -2 hours a day. That's a fair estimate. So when Dr. P came in, he mentioned that I was good and active. We chatted a bit about the 3 Day, and I told him about my goal of a half marathon in January. I asked if he would order a Vitamin D test, which he entered into the computer on the spot. (Have I mentioned I love Kaiser's electronic medical records?)
He asked if my periods had stopped. Yep. Haven't had one of those since a year ago September. In another year or so, he said we would do some blood work to make sure my ovaries were no longer producing estrogen and if that was the case, switch me from Tamoxifen to another drug that has even better outcomes in preventing recurrence. Sounds good to me. ( A little voice in my head is saying...can we just take out the ovaries and switch me now?? I'm only half joking when I say that!)
He did the typical exam. He checked the lymph nodes in my neck, listened to my breathing, my heart, and pressed around a bit on my abdomen. He said everything looked good. I still had not mentioned anything about that
His answer was that pain was usually in the central torso region. In the back of the ribs, or sometimes in the hips. I described to him what I was feeling. It was out! Would I regret this? He asked me a few questions. Does it come and go? Yes. Does it slow you down? No. In fact, sometimes I think it may just be a muscle cramp. But, you know, I'm a "survivor" so I am paranoid. In the end, he told me he was not concerned about it. If I wanted to have some blood work done (liver function, CBC), he would order it. Since I was already going to get poked for the Vitamin D, why not? So I'm off in about an hour in between picking kids up at the middle school and elementary school to get some blood drawn.
You'd think that I would be relieved after all of this. In a way, I am. I was honest with the doc about what I had been feeling, and it did not raise any concerns for him. I won't have to go back and do this for another 6 months. But I still have bouts of the "what ifs." Perhaps with time that will ease.
When I do have those moments of terror (and sometimes they ARE terrifying, especially in the middle of the night when there is nothing to distract me from my own thoughts), I try to remember something very simple. Or actually, someone. Jesus. I am instantly calmed. One night a few weeks ago, in fact, I actually had this running back and forth dialogue with the evil voice in my head that was freaking me out. It was almost like those cartoons with the little angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other. A hot flash had woken me up. The bad voice would say something like, "Cancer" or "Recurrence" and an image of me wasting away in front of my kids would pop into my head. My heart skipped a few beats, my breathing got rapid, and continued to sweat. (The hot flash had gotten me started). Then the good voice (which I believe was the Holy Spirit) would say simply, "JESUS." I would feel calm, protected, and loved. Then right afterwards, the bad voice would say it again. Then the Spirit would again reply, JESUS. This went on for several minutes. Talk about a spiritual battle!
I must always remember that my life is in His hands. Only He knows the number of my days. Being anxious and nervous does nothing to add to them. In fact, it diminishes the quality of life that I do have. My job is to trust in Him. That gets easier to do as I reflect on how much He has actually been with me throughout my life, and particularly on this chapter of it.
May you feel the love of Christ in your life today!