A lot of what I have to work through is letting go of being worried about uncertainty, but it’s not just future uncertainty, it’s past, too.
No one has any idea when the cancer started. This wasn’t the plan, you know: the plan was that at age forty, I would start getting my yearly mammograms, and every time, they would come back clear, and year after year, I would get them, and they would show nothing. At all. Because I don’t get breast cancer.
That was the plan.
Sometimes, I still catch myself because I do random checks of my health. Every birth year that ends in five, I get my tetanus shot, so I did that right after the twins were born. Once I turn forty, I’m supposed to start mammograms. I’m 36 now. It’s another nine years before I get a tetanus shot, so I’m good. It’s another four years before I need to get my first mammogram, so–
Breast cancer. You know, the ribbons and the run in October and wearing pink and bald heads and pictures with women hugging and smiling and holding up signs that say, “I’m a survivor!” It’s not something outside me anymore. It’s inside me; it’s part of my story.
I’m forcing those Venn diagrams to overlap, but it’s hard. They still don’t.
Pink has been one of my favorite colors as an adult. (I used to hate it as a kid.) Does that means something? I always thought being a Cancer seemed a bad omen, but one-twelfth the population has that Zodiac symbol, too.
I’m still trying to make sense of the chaos.
I could have had this for years. I mean, who knows how many? It likely started after Morrigan was born because breast cancer seems to pop up after pregnancies in younger women. Whatever anybody says, I know it metastasized before the middle of the twin pregnancy.
One sign, as I mentioned before, was that my shoulder started hurting. I couldn’t lay on that side for much longer than half an hour, and my belly was so gigantic it was an ordeal to find a comfortable position even with my Snoogle. When you’re reduced to sleeping on only one side, you start to wonder if you’re going to get bed sores. Well, I don’t know about you. Me. I do.
Have I mentioned my anxiety?
The other sign was the liver tumor. I started having pain as my belly grew bigger and bigger. I have an ovarian fibroid, and I thought perhaps that was it. I spent too much time googling fibroids, and the pain they described was similar. Sometimes it seemed like it was on top of my rapidly expanding uterus, but most of the time it felt like it was higher.
During one of the routine (for a twin pregnancy) bi-weekly ultrasounds, I asked the ultrasound technician about it. She started looking around for it. She moved the wand all the way to the top of my uterus.
“No, it’s higher,” I said.
“Well, hon,” she answered. “That’s your organs.”
Then she looked up where my fibroid was, which they’d found in Morrigan’s pregnancy. I was having enough pain that I had her leave the room and look it up, but I still didn’t think enough of it to have it investigated. When she came back, she was shaking her head.
“That’s not where the fibroid is,” she said, “It’s next to your belly button.”
So instead of saying something to anyone, I kept putting ice packs and heat packs on it. Sometimes it helped, many times it didn’t. And Morrigan would try to sit next to me and read a book and she’d elbow right where it hurt, and it was painful and awful, and I thought it was a merely another pregnancy symptom.
The thing that I struggle with is that as a chronic worrier, I know better than to go on WebMD and look stuff up because it will be nothing… or it’ll be cancer. My toe hurts! It can’t possibly be because I stubbed it tonight! It has to be cancer!
Except, I know very well that as a chronic worrier, I can’t think that everything is cancer.
BUT IT WAS.
IT FUCKING WAS.
God damn it.
What was I supposed to do?
But even more–
What if they’d found it after Morrigan’s pregnancy? Let’s say I’d found the lump in my breast; I went to the doctor; they found the cancer; I started treatments.
My period is two weeks late.
Because 50% of women under the age of 40 who are on this treatment go through menopause.
I’m having hot flashes, too. And horrible acne, across my face and almost-bald scalp.
The point, though, is that if they had found it early, which would have been before the twins were conceived, it’s possible they wouldn’t exist right now. If I started treatment and it had made my infertile, that would have been it. We’d have had Morrigan.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel about that. I’m supposed to feel that I wanted them to catch the cancer early because there’s a greater success of treatment. Right? But that means Phoenix and Calliope might never have been born, and I don’t want that. Their smiles, their giggles, their games and raspberries, they’re making this thing bearable. Morrigan, too, of course–she’s so smart and funny and delightful. But all three of them are my babies, and I don’t want to have to choose.
Then again, I don’t have to. It’s a thought experiment that doesn’t need to be resolved.
Like I said at the beginning, a lot of what I have to work through is past uncertainty, too.
Today, I see Dr. Freedman for my routine pre-chemotherapy appointment. She tells me that we’ll go through this cycle of three weeks and do a CT scan. If the cancer is responding how we want, which is expected because my pain level is receding, we’ll go to two weeks of treatment and one week off.
That’s good news. I’m on Day 9, and I feel so much better, except I didn’t sleep well last night, but that’s another thing. I’m still conserving my energy after exhausting myself on Christmas, but I feel like I can do so much more.
I honestly do not know how people go through chemotherapy and work. It would be impossible for me. I guess you do what you have to do, but I’m still in bed for hours on the day of chemotherapy and at least two or three days after. I got away without a nap yesterday because I needed to (we had a sleep consultant visiting to help with Calliope’s sleep issues), but I felt like absolute crap.
“What about my port?” My anxiety kicks up a notch.
She looks at it. “It’s fine.” She said this last week, so perhaps she sees on my face I need more. “The port is like this.” She makes an O with her fingers. “That portion is underneath the incision, so they have to go through your scab to get to it.”
I feel a bit relieved, but, “Is it supposed to be like that?”
“Yes, it’s fine. Put some Polysporin on the scab to soften it and get it to fall off. You can see on the edges here–” she points to the area I’d already examined, “–there’s scar tissue.”
Okay, that’s good. So it was as I suspected, but it isn’t bad. Everything is how it should be. “It’s because the incision came open, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she says.
“That doctor and how excited he was about his glue.” I roll my eyes.
Before she came in, Dad and I talked about the tumor in my jaw. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore, although I’m still on percocets, and sometimes I take a lower dose of ibuprofen on bad days. It’s more like a pressure now rather than the pain spikes I was having at Rob and Laura’s before treatment started. I couldn’t drink cold water because it would be like an ice pick in my mouth. Now, it feels like tissue stuffed inside my mouth–or sometimes nothing if the painkillers are working really well.
Dad asks Dr. Freedman about it, and she says that bone regrows as scar tissue. I didn’t realize that, but of course, I’m not googling anything cancer-related. I realized early on I was using Google like a crystal ball–always have–and it just… isn’t. She says it might take years for bone to regrow, but after the chemotherapy is done, she’ll send me to an oral surgeon for a consultation.
It’s possible they won’t be able to do anything that will reduce the… does she say “discomfort”?… in which, they wouldn’t do reconstruction. And she doesn’t have enough information on my file to tell me if I would also need reconstruction on my shoulder.
I’m fine with that particular uncertainty. I just wanted to know if it was a possibility. If I was making up my own story in my own head, one where I might have to have jaw and/or shoulder reconstruction, but it’s not even possible, then I wanted to clear that out of my anxiety queue. It’s a little better knowing that yes, I might, so I can stop wondering.
Funny how anxiety works.