It’s been an interesting few months. That’s actually an ancient Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times. Regardless of whether I’ve been cursed or not – and I suspect not despite my tendency towards self-pity – this last little bit has been tension-filled and fraught.
I had an unfortunate result with a mammogram several months back. A “suspicious lesion” showed up and the tests and procedures that followed started a train in motion that’s proving difficult to get off.
At times I have been ambiguous about wanting to. When you have lived with mental illnesses for your whole life, the idea of respite in the form of non-self-induced death has a certain appeal. So, I was perhaps not as distressed by the process in the beginning as my friends and family might have expected. It’s fine; they were worried and distressed enough for us all.
The worrisome spot noticed by the radiologist lead to another mammogram a week later and an ultrasound and biopsy a week after that. Despite my ambivalence, I was grateful to be living in Canada where tests and procedures and medicines and doctors are all covered. I was grateful not to have to worry about navigating the complexities and hurdles insurance companies mount when faced with actually having to pay out on a policy. I can be surprisingly hypocritical. But then, it’s easier to be lackadaisical about your physical health when you don’t have to worry about receiving treatment.
At any rate, a needle biopsy was done and to my surprise, it was negative. No cancer. A papilloma instead though it would have to come out since they have a tendency to get mean in their later lives. The diagnosis felt odd though; I’d been so sure. I even dowsed it with my pendulums and they concurred – cancer. So, the result threw me off my game. Apparently, I don’t know my own body. Apparently, I have no intuition.
Still, the decision was made to remove it. I wasn’t really involved in the decision making. Just a passenger on the train. The stops for this result or that are already predetermined; they simply give you a label and slot you in to whatever route seems most appropriate.
I’ve never had surgery, baring the regular removal of my big toenails in my last two years of high school. They kept getting ingrown and infected and the doctors kept taking them out. I have had a great many dental procedures. But the sedated ones have been sedation-light. No ventilation required. No general for the minor facial surgeries that dealt with the self-inflicted wounds and abscesses either. This would be my first and I was very tense. I was reasonably certain that my habit of smoking cigarettes and vaping marijuana, despite stopping for the three days prior as instructed, would lead to cardiac arrest on the table. Plus, my control issues and the complete lack of control represented by general anesthetic caused cognitive distress. I was convinced general anesthetic would be the last thing I experienced in this life. I wasn’t overly worried about the prospect; I was just sure it was coming.
I can be a little dramatic at times.
At any rate, it was fine. I am apparently the poster child for sedation. I go down easily, I’m not difficult to intubate, and no sore throat after, either. I give credit for that to the suspected scar tissue from my eating disorder. It truly is possible to always find a positive. I woke up nausea free and didn’t do anything stupid that could be videotaped for my later embarrassment and the amusement of my nearest and dearest. All in all, a rather positive general anesthetic experience.
The surgery itself was successful as well. One lumpectomy done. My nipple will never look the same; that’s where they went in, a three-inch cut around the circumference that is healing well. Two weeks on it’s still a bit sore and I definitely prefer hugs from the right-hand side. But it was, according to the recovery nurse, textbook so I was pretty chill about my one-week follow up visit.
I expected the doctor to look at the incision, tell me the second biopsy was fine, and kick me out of the breast cancer clinic ‘til my mammogram next year.
I was expecting that until they put me in the exam room as soon as I showed up even though I was twenty-five minutes early. I was still hoping for “you’re fine”, and I’m aware of the irony of doing so in the face of my ambivalence about getting sick, when the doctor walked in with my file and some handouts. Until she took a seat and opened not with an examination of my incision but with “We got the biopsy results back.”
Apparently, sometimes when they analyze the whole tumour they get a different result than the one from the needle biopsy.
As it turns out, the lesion had been cancer.
Interestingly, my first response was relief. I’d been right. My feelings had been correct. The negative diagnosis had been the mistake; the positive one confirmed my feelings about my own body. Considering I’ve lived most of my life in a way that suggests I believe my mind and body are utterly separate, successfully recognizing a truth about the flesh I inhabit feels like a remarkable thing.
The doctor kept talking. The cancer I have/had is baby-cancer. Stage zero. DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ. Cancer in the ducts that hasn’t become invasive. Estrogen-receptor positive. They say things like that like it’s supposed to mean something. I suppose I could have asked. Anyhow, the tumour is gone. I had cancer and now I don’t. But it being cancer leads to some other things I now have to wrap my head around.
Radiation, for a start. I do not need chemotherapy. This is a relief. Chemo does not look like a good time. I do, however, need radiation. Six weeks of it, in fact, to start in the new year after the healing from the surgery is done. I’m not sure exactly what I think about it. I’m quite disconnected from the whole thing. Depression-fueled ambivalence is definitely in play.
Despite the low-grade, periodic pain in my breast, despite the mountain of handouts, despite the momentary thrill of vindication, I feel quite flat about it all. I’m pretty sure that in the cancer world this is no big deal. Very early stage after all. I wish my friends and family would concur: the level of increased attention is lovely and I’m grateful but I need them to stop now.
But I think about something else as well. It’s baby-cancer because I got lucky. And, despite my ambivalence about life, despite the longish bout of depression that is playing havoc with my general enthusiasm, I’m grateful for random chance. If I’d been on a different mammogram cycle, if I’d had a mammogram not this summer but next, this would be a very different post. And I would be having very different conversations with friends and family.
Get regular mammograms.