fear of recurrence

Before My Eyes (My Life Flashed)

Before my eyes, last week, my life flashed in front of me. The anxiety that permeated my very being is different than the scare I felt yesterday, when a giant extension ladder fell off the top of the box truck in front of me on the highway. Sure, my heart catapulted upwards into my throat providing an instant gagging feeling and surge of adrenaline as my mind processed the speed of the escaped ladder careening towards my vehicle at least sixty miles per hour or more. As I swerved to avoid the now skidding trajectory, I thanked my guardian angel for allowing me the sense to have at least four to five car lengths between my car and this truck. Scary? Yes. Was I more freaked out with my medical incident of last week? You bet I was.

What happened last week, you ask? I thought I may have cancer again. My life literally flashed before my eyes and the fear of my children and husband growing up without their Momma and wife became surreal.

People assume because I remain in remission from my cancer, that all is well – including me. Heck, that girl is six years out from finishing her treatments…..why is she *still* talking about her cancer? Another friend innocently remarked, “Well, you hit that five year mark, why would you have cancer again?”

Recently, in the past year, I finally graduated to what I call the “big girl” schedule for my oncology follow ups – I only have to go annually now. Yes! Once a year visits to ensure my health remains solid going forward versus the every three month schedule I was on for five years. As much as I wear these oncology graduation milestones as a badge of KickAss, there is a little piece of me that has a heightened sense of anxiety that I only see my miracle workers once a year. A year is a VERY long time in Cancerland.

Last week, I confidently announced that I was going to walk into my oncology visit for my first annual checkup in my typical badass style. I was going to give love to my beloved doctors and be on my way in a half hour or less. After all, I have been working out at least three to four times a week and my nutrition has never been better. I finally have my joint pain under control, whether it is from the remnants of my chemotherapy collateral damage or actually from the rheumatoid arthritis. It has been several years since I have felt this good.


The sounds of my world coming to a skidding halt after I pointed out what I thought was a little nothing lump on the back of my neck.

On sight, my medical oncologist believed it to be clinically benign, but in Cancerland everything has to be proven otherwise…meaning a biopsy has to be done to ensure that a strange lump is non-cancerous. In triple negative breast Cancerland, I have recently learned that all bets are off – this disease is a beast in and of itself and everything, I mean everything, must be ruled out for cancer regardless of how much time has elapsed since treatment. Oy.

My doctor said she would schedule a fine needle biopsy for me and we would get it done. Fine. I was calm and collected. No big deal. I remain healthy, I thought to myself. Moments later, my doctor came in and announced that pathology was on their way over within fifteen minutes. Cool.   Let’s just get this done today.

The pathologist walked in and promptly asked if she could perform the biopsy with no lidocaine, as it causes the area to swell and make it harder to obtain a sample. Sure. I have had three kids with no pain meds, what’s a little needle to the back of my neck. Eek.

After jabbing the needle around the lump in my neck, the pathologist seemed slightly frustrated. The lump was hard and dense, not allowing her to get any tissue sample to review under the microscope. Did I mind if she tried again? Sure. The latest images of The Walking Dead entered my mind again as I let this sweet, petite woman jab yet a second needle around the back of my neck. Thoughts permeated my brain like: “Is she close to my jugular?” “Boy, I have been hanging around the gross kids and their stupid movies too long now!” “Oy, what the hell….why is this lump hard and what does this mean?”

The pathologist was not successful in obtaining a tissue sample from the second biopsy. Two neck stabbings down and no results on what this thing was in my neck. I kept my cool. Previous fire drills (aka medical scares) have allowed me to try to remain calm and collected until my medical team gives me a reason to be otherwise. (Okay, my bowels were starting to gurgle!)

My medical oncologist returned and said we need to figure out how we will biopsy the lump so we can know exactly what it is. After she left the room again for a brief period of time, she returned but this time with my beloved surgical oncologist a step behind her.

“Ohhhh, look who I happened to find strolling down the halls!” She exclaimed. The partially retired Chief of Surgical Oncology, two steps behind my doctor; the man who helped to save not only my life, but the life of my unborn child. After I jumped up to give my beloved doctor a hug, I then took pause……they’ve brought the big guns in. Holy poop. I started to debate myself: Dr. Q and I have a special bond, is he here because he loves me and wants to be sure I am okay? Dr. Q is top notch and knows his way around Cancerland….did my other doctor bring him in because…..well, you know……my heart-rate quickened.

Long story later, the big guy decided I needed a punch biopsy and right then and there. He would do it himself, in fact. As relieved as I was to have my savior there and to do the procedure himself, my nerves were on high alert. In fact, during the biopsy itself, I had what I consider my first panic attack. I nearly stopped the biopsy because my heart was pounding OUT OF MY CHEST. If I ever felt like I was having a heart attack, it was at this very moment when my doctor was carving a hole into my neck.

After the punch needle biopsy, my doctor sat down and sighed. With that sigh, he shared with me that triple negative breast cancer can metastasize to the skin. Wait, what? What the what, what? I fiddled with my hearing aid to be sure I heard him correctly.

Post treatment I have been coping with the fear of a recurrence; after all, triple negative breast cancers usually come back in the liver, lungs, brain, bones…….but the skin? That was a new one for me. A quick jaunt to my Triple Negative Breast Cancer forum on Facebook and the question posed was met with countless women who have had skin metastases from all over the world, including those with neck nodules. Holy crap. I quickly jumped off the internet for a bit as it is not the most reassuring place for someone who thinks they may have cancer.

Fortunately, for me, I have some of the best care in the world and despite the fact that my life flashed before my eyes while waiting for results, I got the call from the Big Man himself and heard the magical words every cancer survivor longs to hear: your tumor was non-cancerous. Phew. Phew. Phew.

Despite being six years out from treatment and feeling as healthy as I have been in a very long time, the journey through Cancerland is never quite done. Despite my risks of recurrence going down significantly after five years post-treatment, there is still a risk of recurrence of my disease. I will carry that with me for some time forward.

The thoughts that I am beyond my cancer were resurfaced last week and the feelings made me very vulnerable. Wait, I am the advocate now! I help mentor women through their breast cancer! I am sooooo done with my cancer.

Eff. I had a bit of a reality check last week. Any thoughts I had of moving on from the pink world were firmly re-implanted in my very core. Despite the fear and the vulnerability, I do hope that my experiences shared will alleviate the thoughts of another who is going through the same thing. In the meantime, I will press on and continue to make healthier choices for me and my family. There’s way too much life to live before it flashes before my eyes.

2014-10-21 13.22.21

Suck It Up, Buttercup?

suck it up buttercup

Maybe I do not want to suck it up! Seriously, how many times do we just dig deep and cast our feelings aside in an effort to appear strong and resilient, when all we want to do is break down and cry?

I do not know about you, but I hate to cry. I do. I cannot stand the way it makes me feel, I detest the tell-tale swollen and puffy eyes, not to mention it ruins your contacts. The only way I try to describe it is some people do not like to drink alcohol because of the feeling of loss of self-control; well, crying is my kryptonite.

I have cried more in the past week plus, then I have in the past several months combined. I *nearly* cried at Crossfit this week. Can you even imagine THAT spectacle? Phew, what a close call.


Two of my friends are struggling; they have finished or are finishing their cancer treatments. Everyone thinks they know about compassion in the cancer world, but little do many know that the actual real battle begins when treatment winds down and immediately thereafter. It is a misperception that once a person finishes their cancer treatment, that they are okay and on their path to stronger living. In these now much quieter months of recovery, without daily medical visits and with the sudden cessation of meal deliveries or regular check-ins, cancer survivors start to go nuts. Yes, we do.

Many times in our path to recovery, we are unable to resume our regular lives that we had pre-cancer; recovery has placed newfound limitations on our careers leaving us with part-time work, if at all. The financial implications of reduced or non-existent work hours leave massive piles of bills, many of which are medical in nature – the procedures or treatments that may have saved your very life.

The fatigue and residual pain is a constant reminder that you have just waged a monumental war on something nearly larger than life. You struggle with your premature and uncomfortable sense of “normal” in a post-cancer era. The pulling and tugging on tight scars has you slowing down and remembering to be gentler.

The mental games begin: fears seem to shift and expand overnight, not unlike those small capsules you put into a glass of water and have grown 1000x their size while you were sleeping. Fear of recurrence, it follows you everywhere…..and I mean everywhere. Suck it up, buttercup? I think not.

All it takes is seeing a stranger in the grocery store wearing the scarf on her head and lacking eyebrows, you know….you know she’s engaged in her own battle. Your heart rate starts to increase and that nagging headache starts to worry you a little more; you wonder if a call to your doctor for some reassurance is in order.

As people start to lose their battles around you, from cancer, even if it is a type totally unrelated to your own, you start to unravel. Wakes become harder to attend as your own mortality and your fears escalate into their own sense of *normal*.

Another friend of mine has been fighting hard; okay, she has been fighting harder than hard and is in a losing battle. I did not expect the intensity of the emotions I have been trying to process over the past week. I have guilt, a lot of it. Survivor’s guilt. Friendship guilt. Mother’s guilt. You name it. I have lost control and cried harder than when I was even going through my own traipse in cancerland. Suck it up, buttercup? I. Just. Cannot.

I am over five years out since I completed my treatment, yet, I still have many of the same fears that my more recent cancer counterparts are experiencing. Sure, with time, the fear subsides and with the magic milestone of hitting five years, I rest a teeny bit more reassured. However, statistics are just that – numbers that are there to purportedly help seal your fate, but in reality, sometimes life has a different plan that what the measurements of data predict.

Learning how to cope is just that, each different life experience is a true test of how we cope. We cannot control our cancer diagnoses, the side effects, the residual pains or even the day to day fears. However, we CAN control specifically how we cope in all of our steps in cancer land.

Everyone of us can also control all of the stresses in the general demands of being an adult; such as those weekly challenges in crazy and rude family members, irrational bosses, needy parents, and arduous children or balancing that full plate with work, family, you-time and more.

control the sail

Once a former boss of mine sat me down and crafted a drawing after I was complaining about being a control-freak and having several instances where things were rampantly out…of….my…..control. I learned a lot that day, but it took my cancer diagnosis to really ingest the value of the lesson learned.  My REACTION to what happens around me is the best ACTION to undertake.


We are in control, believe it or not, of whether we feel sad or happy.  We can think happy thoughts, or we can be consumed and swallowed by sad thoughts.  We will be dealt a hand of cards that is just a mystery and we will never know why it happened.  Instead of getting caught up in the negativity of not understanding the bad things that happen to us all, we have to find the light – the guiding force whether it is a new friend met through a cancer diagnosis, a lifestyle change, or the chance to slow down and smell the roses.

How do I reassure my newer cancer warriors that it gets better? You just do. You pull up your big girl pants and you pave the way. Suck it up, buttercup – shed those tears, pound more weights and skip, trip, fall down and get back up again, and again, and again, and again.

control surrender

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