If it ain’t broke …

Monday, I go to radiation, and then cycle down to China Basin, south of the Bay Bridge. UCSF is building a giant complex of research labs, clinics and hospital in what used to be a light industrial zone there. Their orthopedics practice now occupies a gorgeous building in this half-built medical city. They have water scented with lemons and limes in the waiting room. Free artisanal coffee! It’s almost like a spa in its aesthetic.

The last time I came down here, no way could I have cycled the eight miles from home. I was in the middle of chemo, and my shoulder was killing me. I barely noticed the citrus water and coffee station. The pain kept me up at night. I’d find myself rubbing against the frame of a doorway like an addled bear, just trying to massage the pain in my right shoulder blade and arm. Riding a bike, leaning against the handle bars, would have been torture then.

They did an MRI and found that an old injury, a partially-torn rotator cuff tendon had torn completely. I was in so much pain, the surgeon said I would probably have to have it repaired. But, he said, come back after chemo’s over, after you’ve had that second breast surgery.

So that’s what I do. But here’s the good part: Since chemo ended, the shoulder pain has gradually gone away. I can’t remember the last time I took a pain pill or a nerve-blocking pill for my shoulder. Who knows the havoc chemo wreaks? It obviously made my torn tendon angry. But now the shoulder tantrum has ended.

I decide to keep the appointment because the MRI shows that some of my shoulder muscle has atrophied because of the torn tendon. Should I have the surgery anyway? Will I end up with wasted shoulder muscles if I don’t do something?

The doctor examines me, tests my arm strength and my range of motion. He looks at my MRI images again, on-line.

Then he says, “If you’re not in pain, I can’t justify doing an invasive surgery with a 6-month recovery.

“I’ll be honest: It’s not going to get better. But apparently, it’s not getting worse right now either. So do the things you like to do: cycle, kayak, ski, whatever. I’ll see you again in six months, just to keep track of how you’re doing. But give yourself some time to recover from everything else you’ve been through. Enjoy life.”

It’s about time for some medical good luck. Ski season is over, alas. But boogie boarding, here I come!


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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3 Responses to If it ain’t broke …

  1. Boogie boarding indeed! Here’s to lots of boogieing and lots of boarding!

  2. Alison Quoyeser says:

    Hi, Heather. I’m so glad things are looking up for you these days, including with your shoulder injury! Congratulations on being such a hard exerciser!

  3. Sarah Goodyear says:

    So glad to hear this news. You deserve a break. Boogie boarding is the best!

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