Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Razor I Walk

Last Radiation Treatment

The tests are done.  Surgery is completed.  Treatments are finished.  The nurses smile, hug you and wish you well.

You are relieved.  You survived.  You are done.

For months, nearly every body function has been checked and rechecked.  Are you having regular bowel movements?  How's your skin?  Are you seeing double?  Are you doing okay with the hair loss?  How's your pain?

For months, you have not really directed your health as much as held on for the ride while the professionals looked after you.

The day of my last radiation treatment, the END of my active cancer treatment - I spent celebrating with my family.  Two of my sisters drove up to surprise me at the clinic.  They had planned it all in advance, so I walked out of the clinic to be jumped upon by 2 squealing freaks...  I loved it.

Me in the Middle with 2 of my sisters.

It was not til the next morning when my husband and I looked at each other and asked "What now?"

Who was going to monitor me and make sure I stayed healthy?  That the cancer did not come back?  I had cancer undetected for an estimated 2 did I stop it from happening again?  Where were the MRI's, CT scans and PET scans making sure that I remained cancer free.

I felt like I'd been set adrift on the ocean in a john boat.

I learned "You don't have cancer until you are told you do".  It is not the practice of my clinic to test you out the wazoo.  Their opinion is that it is not a healthy way to live.  They tell us we have "no evidence of disease" (NED) but never that we are "in remission" or that we are "cured".  Because the truth actually one knows they have cancer...until they find out.  I had breast cancer undetected for approximately 2 years before it showed up on a mammogram.  Other's had colon cancer for 10 years before a colonoscopy detects.  You don't have cancer....until you are told that you do.  It's scary but it's how it is.  We cannot live life with a window inside to know what's going on. I've seen families destroyed when their doctor (at other clinics) told them their loved one was "cured" only to find massive metastasis just weeks later.  Cancer is sneaky that way.

For a year I saw my oncologist and  he asked "How do you feel?"  I reported how I felt and he said "Good, see you in 3 months."  Then after 2 years, it switched to every 6 months.  They want you to live your life...not just between tests but live it.  So you are instructed to make notes of pain, persistence and really pay attention to what your body tells you.  You become aware you may still have cancer.  You just don't know it yet.

You learn to walk a razor.

It's in the back of every person who has fought cancer...whether call yourself warrior or survivor, we are aware how 3 words changed our lives.  "You have Cancer" is not something we want to hear again, but it's something we are aware of nearly every waking second.

You can't get a zit in a odd place without wondering if it's cancer.  That odd birthmark you've had for 20 years, has it always been this color?  Have I always had this thickness under my arm?  Have I always had that indentation under my chin?  What is this little lump behind my ear?  And for a second our heart pounds, our eyes sweat and then our mind clears and we's a zit.  You live your life, but you live it "on alert."

Two weeks ago, I removed a new bra that had been irritating my flesh.  I rubbed down the foobies, encouraging the circulation back into them when my finger tips slipped into a small crevice.  It had developed near my armpit during my radiation and was now part of my landscape.  It had been formed by the tissue expander combined with radiation, but it remained after the exchange to implants.  The skin is VERY fragile here so I try to avoid irritating it.  As my fingers moved down the crevice I felt something that made my heart sink.

A lump.

A small pea sized firm lump just under the surface.  I couldn't keep my fingers off it and about 3 hours later...finally admitted to the husband...I found a lump.

So a call to the oncologist directed me to the surgeon and an appointment was made.  I drove to that appointment feeling absolutely sick to my stomach.  I didn't want to believe I had cancer again, but I already had that experience of being have cancer, when you were not expecting to hear it.

My husband met me at the clinic and both of us anxiously waited for the doctor.  His verdict filled us with relief and amusement.  "You're feeling your implant" he told me.

The area I described has very thin skin there.  Radiation had burned it away and it regrew fragile and thin.  The edge of my implant protruded into the thin area and felt very much like a lump.  But it was my implant.  I turned to my side at his instruction, the implant feel away and the lump disappeared. It was not an overgrown lymph node as I feared, and he showed me how deep those would be.  Sheepish, I laughed and relieved, we left.

I must still pay attention.  Check my body over, make note of changes and refuse to take risks.  I'm not going to start tanning or smoking at this point in my life.  I can be both free and responsible.  Once you've had cancer (or any other life threatening illness) you walk a razor of diligence and disregard.  I cannot limit my life with fear of re-occurrence.  I must accept the risk of living without losing the joy.

This is the razor I walk.

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