I’m not really worried, but

So last week, I go into the UCSF Cancer Center for my 6-month oncology check-up. I’ve really been trying to NOT worry about these appointments. You’ve got to do the checkups. Otherwise, why go through all that chemotherapy and radiation and surgery?

As the Russian technician compresses my left breast in the mammogram machine, I suck in my breath. Wow, it doesn’t usually hurt this much. The technician is very concerned and personable. Gentle, though, she is not. “Here move your chest against the machine. Turn your head. I’m going to go deep. Very tight. Now relax your shoulders! Don’t move!” Hah. Easy for her to say!

I’m guessing it’s a cultural thing. My impression when I’ve traveled through Russia is that people there expect life to be difficult. What, you thought getting a mammogram was supposed to be pleasant? Do you want us to find any cancer that might be there, or not? I’m sorry it hurts, but what did you expect? A massage?

After the mammogram, I walk across the hall to the Breast Care Center. There, my oncology nurse practitioner, Tara, tells that I’m looking good. She reassures me when I say I’m disappointed that the UC scale doesn’t register as much weight loss as my home scale. She says that the wine at night may be triggering my hot flashes and interrupting my sleep. That may be why I’ve been feeling so tired. I guess that’s a compelling reason to cut down on the booze. Buh-BYE nightcaps! Becoming a mostly teetotaler will make the weight come off faster, I know, I’ve just been too lazy to give up this one last vice.

Then Tara gestures to the exam table. I assume the position: sitting up, exam gown open, left hand resting on Tara’s shoulder so she can examine my breast while I’m relaxed. She kneads and pushes around. Everything seems fine.

But what about this little sore, right at the place where an underwire bra would make contact? I ask Tara about it. It was there when I have my radiation check-up a month earlier. I’ve been putting antibiotic salve and other things on it. It’s still there.

Tara’s eyes narrow. “I don’t like it,” she says. “I don’t like anything on your breast. We should check it out.”

She goes to look for another nurse practitioner, then bumps into my radiation oncologist, Dr. Fowble. Tara and Dr. Fowble come in together, look at the spot. It’s probably nothing, they say. It might be a bit of the psoriasis you have on your scalp. It might be irritation from a bra. But still, let’s get you a dermatologist, they say.

“I just don’t like anything on your breast,” Tara says again.

So I walk out of the Breast Care Center with a mostly clean bill of health, and a referral to the head of the UC Dermatology department.

It’s probably nothing, I’m sure. I mean, how often does breast cancer metastasize to skin? Actually, I have no earthly idea. But I agree we should check it out. It would be pretty dumb to spend more than a year and half a million dollars saving my life and then NOT check it out.

I’m not worried. Well, not very much.


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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1 Response to I’m not really worried, but

  1. Susan says:

    My thoughts are prayers with you and your family Heather. I want you to continue your blog but a not cancer one.

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