Quarterlies Are In!
I remember when I finally found the ONE cervical cancer blog on the Internet when I was diagnosed. It’d been five years since she was diagnosed, so her posts went from everyday updates to quarterly updates, to once every six months, to once a year. And I thought, “I wish I knew what her life was like in between those six-month checkups,” and wondered why she didn’t update more often. Now I kind of get it.
I think you reach a point where you just want to get on with your life - not let cancer define you. It was such an upheaval, this all-consuming six months of my life, but now I kinda want to move on. Be regular ol’ Mandy, just with a shorter cervix, no ovaries, and a less-than-stellar memory. Plus,this was my cancer blog, so do I keep it up and not talk about cancer? Make it my personal blog? Or do I let it languish between checkups and start something else, less cancer-related? I’m not sure.
At any rate, my last 3-month checkup was Wednesday. Just a pelvic exam, no pap smear. She’s going to start alternating those. Everything looked great! I put everything out on the table: my ladybizness dryness, recent wooziness/blurry vision/nausea. I don’t reeeeeally like having to explain to the new resident (we have a new one EVERY time, who goes over everything with us before we actually see the oncologist) things like WHY those symptoms can’t mean pregnancy. It’s not a big deal, but I find myself thinking ahead to what she’ll explain to the doc and tailoring my info thusly.
The wooziness/blurry vision/nausea concerned her, even though they scanned my head in June. She recommended I see a local doc right away to rule out a sinus infection, as well as an eye doctor just to rule that out. I made a local doc appointment the next day and it turned out I have the flu. I’m supposed to lay off my two staples, booze and sugar (I kid, I kid. I also consider coffee a staple).
For the first time in the year since treatment, I finally acquiesced to hormonal cream. She said it’ll help with the dryness and also possibly my moods. I’d been trying to stick with yoga / meditation for the latter, but I wasn’t doing that either, so I’ve been this shy of miserable for the last 3 months or so.
Nothing big, just a little… down. Off. A bit antisocial. Hermitty, even. I haven’t visited our good friends and their precious baby who was born in AUGUST. I didn’t even respond to any birthday well-wishes on my facebook wall! I’ve been making the weirdest, not-like-me mistakes at work. I can’t remember what toilet paper we like when I’m shopping and the indecision is almost crippling. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
Maybe this ridiculously expensive estrogen cream will help. We shall see! I’ll let you know in February (KIDDING).
Check & Check
Test came back all clear! One more clear followup in the books.
Physical therapy is going well; it took some trial and error, and a re-injuring of my adductor muscle (now known to be the culprit that sent me into that tailspin of recurrence fears) to understand that my tissues & muscles in my pelvic area need some very gentle reconditioning, as opposed to the deep stretching they learned to love after years and years of ballet and yoga.
It’s hard to refrain from something you’ve done practically your entire life, especially because the stretch itself doesn’t cause pain; it’s the aftermath. The recovery. Those muscles are just not ready. So we take it very slowly, I do some exercises on a foam roller every night, use strategically placed ice packs at night and refrain from going on hikes or runs or any other strenuous activity that might stretch that ligament that connects my inner thigh and pubic bone.
Again, baby steps. New normal. Ah well, if it means I’m not back in the chemo ward or radiation room, it’s cool.
Ever the Overachiever: Cancer Edition
Apparently it’s been three months since my last howyoudoin' with my gyn onc, so we packed up early Tuesday morning and headed to the city of fog in time to be 30 minutes late to my 10 AM appointment. Which worked out fine because she was running an hour behind. We both apologized for being late when she walked into the room.
We did the customary interview: any changes, any weird bleeding, how’s your appetite, how’s your sex life.
To which I answered yes, no, GREAT, also great.
The changes: I am MOODY. About once a month, but that timing may just be coincidental. The biggest culprit? We got a puppy right before the 4th of July. He is too adorable for words. He is, unabashedly, the answer to my nurturing needs that I swore I wouldn’t acknowledge because I am bigger and more logical than that, goddammit. But in reality for a very long time I’ve wanted a big, goofy boy puppy to love me from his tiniest days and grow to be a big, goofy boy dog who will sit on my feet and try to lay on my lap when he’s 80 pounds.
But he’s a puppy. A tiny (well, at first), teething, barking ball of black lab / German shorthair pointer that wakes us up early every morning and doesn’t stop until he goes to bed at night. Plus, work for both of us has been a teeny bit overwhelming. So we’re tired. Underfed. Overboozed. And that makes me cranky.
I’m supposed to bring these things up because they might be signs of hormonal fluctuations since I am, in fact, menopausal. But the more we talked it out, the more I realized that I was just tired, I’d given up on yoga or meditation and had basically bundled all physical exertion to running around with the puppy in the backyard (we can’t venture out yet until he finished up his vaccines), and that I probably just needed to make some routine adjustments.
"I feel like, maybe my anger is situational, and because I’m so tired, I can’t gain control like I used to," I said, trying not cry the way I do when I talk about FEELINGS.
My oncologist and her resident commended me on my insight. “I’d probably just say, ‘my husband’s being a jerk!’” the resident said with a laugh.
My onc brought it all into perspective.
"This has been a hell of a year for you," she said. "And really? You’ve handled it better than 99% of any of our other patients. So we can visit hormone replacement therapy if you want, but you might just want to keep watch on these feelings and keep them in a bit of perspective."
At least, I think that’s what she said. I sort of stopped listening after I heard that I’ve handled cancer better than 99% of her patients. The overachiever never stops. I’m even competitive with cancer.
Then we got the exam out of the way (shocker included, obvs), and she promised results within a week. She said based on the way things look there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. I feel like my old scar tissue might be gone, too, because I don’t feel it when she pokes around in there. (Also? EARMUFFS, MOMS AND GRANDMAS: Sex has been really, really amazing. It’s so much better when there’s no tumor in the way!)
Also, I mentioned the pain I still have in my pelvis area. Not as much as before, but almost like a bone pain. She said though this pain isn’t one of the side effects mentioned in any literature, she’s seen it enough in her patients to know that it’s common but might not go away. I found a Pilates studio where we live who specializes in physical therapy, so she referred me to them and I start twice a week on Thursday. I’m pretty excited about that, actually.
Afterward, we stopped in Berkeley for lunch and really had a fabulous time, eating incredible Mexican food, stopping in at the Pasta Shop, and capping it off at a cute little chocolate shop, where I had the best lavender hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
In a couple weeks, I’ll see my chemo dr. for my six-month followup with him, then I’m scheduled to head back to SF in November. Pretty soon, I feel like 2012 will just be a memory that sparks about a week before my checkups. Cancer isn’t really on my brain that much anymore; I’m too tired and overwhelmed with puppy hiccups. I’d say that’s a pretty cool place to be.
Cancer Update & Relay For Life
*Saw the doc. She didn’t see anything. Recommended a PET scan, just to be sure she didn’t miss anything (was confident it was NOTHING).
*Told myself the scan was just routine, an easy way to meet my deductible.
*Proceeded to freak out for weeks leading up to the scan that my cancer was recurring.
*Still had/have pain in hips and back, afraid to do anything physical, have not worked out since April 28 (unless you count walking the few blocks to the co-op for a loaf of bread and bottle of Le Freak from Green Flash).
*One-year Cancerversary passed almost two weeks ago. Was on the road for work. Decided not trip out too much about it.
*Scan was on Monday. Results came back yesterday. All clear. No cancer. Some radiation damage, which may be causing the pain. Will be referred to a physical therapist to figure out WHAT IS GOING ON WITH MY PAIN.
*Walking the Survivors Lap at the Relay for Life this weekend with JLP’s work team. Kinda weirded out about it. Is it kind of pageant-like? Has anyone else done it? Details, please!
*Totes just glossed over the fact that my cancer is not recurring. MY CANCER IS NOT RECURRING! WOOOOOOOO!
An Update from the Internet Hypocrisy Department…
When I was eyeballs-deep in cancerland last year, I had an epiphany: I’d start a foundation! Geared toward young women of the Internet age who flock to message boards and WebMD when they notice weird things, the Pappenstance Foundation would exist to get those ladies off their computers and in to see a doctor. We’re all so different, with varied ways of explaining our issues, and the plights we experience “down there” are not outwardly visible, so really the smart thing to do would be to exit those rabbit holes of armchair gynos and get in to see the real-life thing, right? (Getting the foundation started is still on my to-do list, so please don’t anyone steal it, ok?)
But I have to report that for the last three weeks, I’ve suffered from Internet hypocrisy. I’ve had some… issues. Some pains, some pings, some flurries… just weird things going on with my body. So, I um… I flocked to the Internet. I’ve googled some things. I’ve read some message boards and even weighed in on a couple of discussions that pertain to me. I haven’t gone so far as to list my symptoms on a message board and ask if anyone has felt the same, but I might as well have.
My justification? I think I’m so tired of going to see doctors and am so worried about being a hypochondriac that I just wanted to make sure I could rule anything out before I made the call. On Tuesday, the pain in my pelvis, hip flexors and thighs was so bad that I finally emailed my list of symptoms to my gyn onc. I apologized for bothering her. I made sure she knew I didn’t want to be a nuisance or sound like a worrywart. I ended the email with, “I’d hate for all of this to be combination of diet / kickboxing injury and waste your time, but I’d come in if you wanted me to.”
I’m not 100% stoked that she wants to see me and possibly move up my PET scan. Deep down, I wanted her to say, ‘why not keep track of your diet for a week and see if anything changes,’ or, ‘how about if I refer you to a physical therapist and we keep your regular appointment in June?’ Which is silly, because the right thing for her to do is to see me and rule anything out.
I made the first available appointment she had, which is next Tuesday at 9 AM. Not because I’m worried, really, but because that’s less time I’ll be giving myself to go online and scare myself with what ifs. I know better, and yet I can’t keep away. Somebody should start a foundation or something…
Dear Cervical Cancer and Radiation After-Effects
Thank you, sincerely, for helping me get over my aversion to pooping in public. The often unexpected urgency you have bestowed upon me in the most public of places, including but not limited to Target, cafes and my office, has necessitated my very quick acceptance that I can - and must - broaden my Number 2 Network to outside the home. I don’t think I could’ve done it without you.
Following Up on Followups
My first followup pap smear two weeks ago was unexpectedly anxiety-inducing. I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to cry as we approached the UCSF cancer center, or why this little voice in my head whined, “I don’t want to BE here” as we sat in the waiting room.
It wasn’t until we were back home after the 14-hour day that I realized this was the first time I’d been to that center and didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. Every other time we took the familiar route to Divasadero Street, I’d already had cancer—we were just making a plan to get rid of it. This time, I was back to that unknown state. The scariest state.
My gyn onc took a biopsy of some tissue she noticed. She said it looked like scar tissue, but wanted to take the sample because we live so far away and weren’t scheduled to see her again for three months. It’s funny, but I’m way more in tune with my body now.
"Is it up and to your left?" I called down to her from my perch on the exam table.
"Yep," she answered as she snipped a bit of tissue.
I knew exactly what she was talking about. Wish I’d had that ability when a tumor was growing in there, but hey, what’reyougonnado, right?
After all that, the news is amazing. The best news. Biopsy came back clear, as did my pap smear. I have another three months and then will go back in June for a second followup. I have a feeling it won’t be as anxiety-inducing the next time around. By the fourth it’ll probably be old hat. By the eighth, I’ll be past that magical date when most cervical cancers recur.
But I won’t count down those dates now. Instead, I’ll just enjoy the little milestones that are getting me back to “good.” Working full time hours and not needing to take an extra day off for rest. Enjoying my magnificent display of apple blossoms cut fresh from the backyard. Having friends over for John’s incredible pho.
Not letting cancer or the memory thereof rule my day-to-day life. It’s a struggle still, but I know in time I’ll be strong enough to move on.