For the last two years, my life has been broken into six month testing intervals. As much as the poking and prodding feels excessive on one hand, I feel looked after on the other. As I have learned, the cancer journey doesn’t just end when you finish your last treatment. In my Cancer Chronicle’s I talk about the goal of treatment is to annihilate the cancer cells. Sometimes, even with treatment those little buggers can find ways to hide and then come back out when no one is looking. Because of this, I am all for the follow ups. I like knowing that I have expert eyes on the lookout.
People ask if I am now cancer free. That is a really good question. I have asked myself, how do the doctors know for sure if I am cancer free? My skin isn’t transparent. The tests they do are pretty localized. The human body is a vast place with a lot of spots for cancer cells to hide and hang out. How do a couple of scans, ultrasound, blood work and palpating the lymph detect if and where these cancer camps are setting up?
Well, I don’t think anyone can answer that with 100% certainty. What I do know, is that through cancer research doctors have a far greater understanding of the patterns certain cancers like to take. For example, breast cancer cells ‘typically’ go to lymph and if they manage to break out from there, choose to set up camp in the liver, lung, bone or brain. When I was diagnosed I had scans and X-rays of my liver, lungs and bones to first see if anything spread, and second, to establish a “baseline”. A baseline gives a snap shot of the organs, which doctors then have something to compare future imaging. This testing can help with early detection, which is key to increased survival rates.
Sometimes these early images pick up nodules that were probably there for many years and have nothing to do with the cancer. For example, my baseline scans show a nodule in my lung, and because I have lymph involvement, the doctors want to follow-up with two years of scanning as a precautionary measure. I may have had this nodule since I was a child and had croup. Or, I may have picked up an infection from when I travelled. There are many reasons why there is a nodule in my lung. The reason why it became “suspect” was because I was diagnosed with cancer. Again, because of the typical migrating pattern of breast cancer, my doctors are doing their due diligence to indeed make sure it isn’t a metastasized lesion or slow-growing lung cancer. As much as the six month testing is a little unnerving, I appreciate the follow-up.
I have been asked if I get nervous waiting for the results. Well, if I let my mind take off and create drama I do. What are some of my nervous thoughts that cause me to freeze like a statue with eyes as wide as saucers and think, “OMG what if the cancer is back?”
- When I wake up coughing in the night, or through out the day for seemingly no reason.
- If I feel swollen lymph in my neck.
- Shortness of breath
As soon as I catch myself going down that ugly rabbit hole I stop and tell Shade (my Ego) to F___ off. In that moment, I know I am in control again and choose to listen to Blaze (my Spirit).
Blaze calmly reminds me that,
- There are many things that cause coughing fits. From pollutants to post nasal drip. The list of viable reasons are long.
- My neck lymph is swollen because my body is healthy and it is doing its job fighting off infection.
- I’m short of breath because let’s face it…I am out of shape.
I am coming up to my 4th six month scan and check up (and hopefully my last). When I start to feel nervous I gently remind myself that I can’t control the outcome, the only thing I can control is how I choose to respond to the situation. In my mind there are two possible outcomes. The first, my nodule hasn’t changed so I’m good to go, or second, it has changed, but because they caught it early, I’m still going to be ok.
Keeping my faith and being dialled in to my spiritual warrior has helped me throughout this climb. No matter what my results are, I know that everything will be fine.