If you know me at all, you know that I’m a ‘Doer.’ I take action whenever necessary.
Seriously. After I talk through the issue at hand, I am all about – Ok, what’s the next step? What do we have to do to get to the next step? Or what steps of A & B do we have to prepare in order to get to C?
So when the left side of my abdomen started hurting, and progressively got worse over the course of the next several days, I called my General Physician. And when I couldn’t get in immediately to see her, I contacted my Oncologist. I knew it would raise an alarm, since I’ve NEVER called in to see her outside of my normal three then six month check ups. The next morning, she orders several different blood tests (all of which came back normal) and an abdominal and pelvic cat scan.
But by the next day, Saturday, a panel of skin on my left side became very sensitive and numbing. I immediately thought of…SHINGLES! Right? And everything I knew about shingles was that you have to catch it early. So first thing Monday morning, I went to my doctor’s urgent care, and yes, the doctor on-call agreed – I had pre-cursor to shingles. She prescribed me 7 days of Valtrex, the singles anti-viral, and I thought that would be it.
My Oncologist still moved forward with the cat scan, because, well, you know, why not? What harm could be done, right? In ‘normal’ times, it would be no big deal for me. But in the current Covid climate? Well, getting any ‘normal’ procedure done would have it’s own obstacles, but now? To say there are hurdles to jump over is an understatement, but having an Oncologist that doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer definitely helps.
The memories of what I had to do to prep for a cat scan came flooding back. Don’t eat or drink for 4 hours prior. Drink a large amount of ass water an hour prior (for the contrast to highlight the organs), and then a open line to my veins for them to inject the contrast (which makes you feel like you’re peeing yourself, but you’re not). I get through it all with no problem, but the next day I’m told that there are a couple of spots on my lower lumbar that require an MRI.
During this, the days of Covid became heightened and more rules regarding moving about the city had been enforced. I returned to the same hospital for the lower lumbar MRI with armed guards at the entrance, to ensure that no one entered, not even visitors who went to check on loved ones. The security guard recognized me and I went straight to the 4th floor, which was a ghost town. My appointment as 5pm in the afternoon, and apparently I was the first patient of the day. So I was either very diligent or very insane.
Through all of this, I was simply holding fast to the memory that when my breast surgeon saw a couple of spots on my spine after a full body Pet scan, and subsequently ordered a lower lumbar MRI, she thought that it was something that resembled something more like arthritis. That’s what this was, right?
Sadly, no. My Oncologist called the next day to say that she thought the two spots on my spine were tumors and that if they’re cancerous, they’re most likely connected to my breast cancer from 2011 (stage 3b, double mastectomy, 4.5 months of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation). The words hit me like a ton of bricks. My greatest fear for the past 8 years may in fact come true. But I soon realize I need to listen. The two spots are on the bone, and have NOT entered the spinal canal. They are near it, but have not entered it. And this, this is a good thing. So once again, it’s caught before we could ever turn back. She reassured me that she is not going anywhere and that she will see me through all of this.
She set forth a protocol that doesn’t require monitoring. I’m to start very aggressive hormone therapy – Lupron injection once a month, Anastrozole once a day, and Abemaciclib twice a day. What does this mean? Well, my breast cancer was estrogen receptive, which means that it responds to the amount of estrogen in my system. So if you block the estrogen, you block the cancer. I’ve been on Tamoxifen for 8 years, which has slowly put me in pre-menopause. But this? Well, I’ll be in those later years within a few weeks. (Household joke: so you’ll have a reason to be a bitch now? Answer = YEP!) She also set me up with consults for both a bone biopsy and radiology.
The Radiologist called me first. He looked through all of my history, and agreed with the Oncologist – two spots, on bone, look like tumors, haven’t entered spinal canal, if cancerous they’re related to my breast cancer. He understands how things can get delayed, and after reading my chart knew that I could take whatever they throw at me. Knowing that it takes a week or longer to start radiation, he moved forward with my simulation – making of my body mold and getting my tattoos. And then we cross fingers that after my biopsy consult, the procedure would be set within that timeline.
SIDE NOTE: I would only need 10 treatments, as they’d be able to zap it more directly on the bone, versus before when it was within tissue. Back then, those 6 weeks were actually 30 treatments, every morning at 7:30am, M-F. I’d bike down along the Hudson, go in, get zapped for about 20 minutes, and bike over to work. For me back then, the worst was an eventual sunburn in my armpit, not fun. This time, it’s predicted to cause a minor burn, but instantly relieve any back pain.
And just like that, the biopsy is scheduled for the same day as the radiation simulation so that I can consolidate my trips to the hospital – this Monday, 2 days away. BUT, before I could get in, I had to take a COVID test to ensure that I don’t currently have the virus.
So this morning, I went in to take that test, and I have to say that it was the deepest nose tickle ever! Seriously, it was the absolute weirdest thing EVER done to me, and well, no other comment needs to be made.
Before you feel sorry for me, or keep me in your thoughts and prayers, I want to say this. All of this is happening to me and so many others during the worst health crisis of nearly every generation alive. We are all experiencing this together, working through our own issues, whether it be physical or mental.
Yes, I’ve sat in that dark place, seeing every fleeting moment pass me thinking that it might be my last. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. It would be realistic for me to think that I would be invisible to this. I’ve felt all of those dark feelings and have done my fair share of crying, and still do. But living in that place does no one any good. So as soon as I’m able, I take a deep breath and move forward. I move forward for myself, for my husband, for my daughters, for my family, for my friends, and for those that need it most. We are ALL in this together.
So once you take that deep breath, be a Doer and take action. For yourself and for everyone around you. And that’s how we all will rise above that dark place.