Driving to Phoenix for my oncologist appointment, I find myself trembling. My heart is beating faster and I think I really need to cut out the caffeine.
The waiting room fills me with the usual dread: elderly people with scarves wrapped around their bald heads, the walking canes, wheelchairs and bandages. I want to shout, I’m not sick! I don’t belong here. At the same time, I know it has not been that long since I was tightly wrapped with two drains coming out of my chest, and expanders under my chest muscles.
I can’t forget and I shouldn’t.
A woman in her late sixties with a silky Louis Vuitton scarf wrapped around her bare head walks slowly. Her husband holds her arm by the elbow with both of his hands. They walk to the restroom and then to the doctor’s office. They take each step carefully.
I’m called in for the draw.
The room is small and crowded with three chairs. The chairs have planks like small school desks for arms to rest on.
Did they take your lymph nodes?
She raises both eyebrows.
I add, Not all of them, just a few…you know…for the biopsy. I am rambling.
Which arm shall I use?
I lay both arms out for us to assess.
She chooses my left arm.
The room is freezing and my trembling has turned to shaking.
“Are you OK?” She is concerned because I look away. I know what’s coming. They can never find a vein. They never find it without moving the needle all around.
She wiggles the needle. I take a peek. “See, I’m trying to get that one.” She points to a vague blue line. I nod.
After many apologies, her wiggling and my squeamishness pay off. Two vials fill quickly. The blood is a very deep red. I visualize only healthy cells in it.
Then comes the meeting with the RN.
She wants to hear how I have been doing. She wants to know how the Tamoxifen is working. I remind her I have been off of it for 9 months. I had told the doctor that it made me feel suicidal. He had given his blessing, proclaimed me cured anyway….but he didn’t put that in his notes. The RN appears embarrassed and adds that to my file. I sigh inwardly.
No cancer in your family? No.
So strange, you got it so young. I nod in agreement. It will always be a mystery.
She asks about any new developments. Concerns. I take advantage of this opportunity.
I’ve had what I’m sure is a hamstring injury. Or bone cancer, I laugh weakly.
Is the pain intermittent or progressing?
Her shoulders go back, her eyes get wide and she says in a soothing and authoritative tone:
Bone cancer is extremely painful. The pain gets worse and worse. ALSO, it is extremely rare for breast cancer to spread below the groin. Extremely rare. It sounds like a hamstring injury.
She recommends a heating pad and a Styrofoam roller.
I am slightly relieved. Still…
She sees my concern.
If you want, I can order a bone scan. For your entire body. Not because I am worried, but because you are.
This is so generous of her!
This sounds thorough. This sounds like something I want. This will increase my chances of celebrating my 20th, 25th…heck, maybe even my 40th wedding anniversary. This will increase the chances of holding my grandchildren someday.
If I am developing a cancer that is NOT bone cancer, would that show up?
No, not in the bone scan.
Hm. I realize how crazy I am getting. I want a full body MRI. I want a full body bone scan. I want someone – someone who is an expert with an immaculate record – to tell me the cancer is gone and will never come back. But there are no guarantees. I don’t want to obsess over every achy muscle…over every itchy mole. The testing could go on and on and in some cases, actually increase my chances of recurrent cancer.
The RN tilts her head and smiles. I exhale.
Tell you what, why don’t you try the Styrofoam roller and heating pad? If it doesn’t get better, call me. Call me any time.
This sounds reasonable. And generous.
I am to return in six months.
I walk into the sunshine. It’s not as hot as it has been. I’m excited about the new season as I get in my car.