Cancer Lesson #1: Don’t Ignore the Postcard

Cancer Lesson #1: Don’t ignore the postcard.

My postcard came in October 2010 – maybe earlier – reminding me it was time for my annual checkup. And while I didn’t exactly ignore its summons, I certainly didn’t rush out to make an appointment, merely jotted that task on my to-do list, right next to a reminder that I was long-overdue at for a dentist visit too.

Looking back, I can see there were signs even then that cancer was growing in my right breast.

Since starting menopause, my breasts had gotten looser, and sometimes when I slept on that side, I needed to rearrange myself to get comfortable, something I assumed larger-breasted women had been doing all their life.

I didn’t give it a second thought; I was too busy enjoying the fact that I had cleavage for the first time in my life — an exciting development for someone whose bras have never gone beyond the A range.

Only after being diagnosed did I realize that discomfort was almost certainly my cancer.

Would it have made any difference if I’d gone to my OB/GYN as soon as I got the card? My doctors say probably not.

But there are other, more aggressive, breast cancers where a month or two could affect treatment options, possibly even the patient’s prognosis.

So, don’t ignore the postcard.

reminder-postit

Clip art from Mammographysaveslives.org, where they’ll send you an annual email reminder.

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Cancer Lesson #80: Planning for a Day I Hope Never Comes

Cancer Lesson #80: Planning for a day I hope never comes.

I wouldn’t tell my daughter right away. She was graduating college five days after my appointment. How could I ruin the occasion?
Should I take an extended sick leave this time? How would that affect my retirement?
What about my bike trip? Could I put off treatment until I returned?
My soccer cleats and shin guards needed replaced, but I’d do that when I knew I’d get the chance to wear out both.

Once again, it was time for my mammogram and oncology check-up.
Once again, I was convinced the test would find cancer.

I’m not a hypochondriac, though my thoughts before my appointment might make you think otherwise.  After jumping to the wrong conclusion (cancer) several times in the last few years, I refuse to do it again. I decided unless cancer re-presented itself in a way that brooked no disagreement, I won’t make myself crazy looking for it.

At 55, my body is changing (without my permission and certainly not for the better!). Because I’m reasonably active — no marathons in my future (or past, if I’m entirely truthful) — I get the occasional pain in places that never hurt before. If I ran to the doctor every time, well, let’s just say he’d soon lose patience with such nuerotic behavior.

And yet, every time I have an appointment, I find myself planning for that day, the one I hope never comes. The day they tell me my cancer has come back.

It’s probably because I’m a bit — The Engineer and Darling Daughter might say more than a bit — of a control freak. I like to think ahead, to have a plan, though I know cancer doesn’t give two hoots about anyone’s plan.

For that matter, life in general doesn’t give two hoots about my plans. I know this. I truly do.

It doesn’t stop me from making them. I guess I want to be ready for anything, even a cancer recurrence. Ha! As if anyone is ever ready.

Readers, my mammogram was clear. My twice-yearly visits to Dr. H are now switched to a single, annual appointment. Darling Daughter was graduated (Summa cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Departmental Honors, and a prize for her senior thesis — yes, I’m one proud mama!)

There was no need for sick leave or worrying about my retirement, so I was able to enjoy a lovely bike trip  around Chincoteague Island.*IMG_0210I bought the cleats and shin guards. IMG_0333And I’ve put my cancer planning away.
At least until next year.

*Warning:If you ever visit Chincoteague, take insect repellent. The mosquitos are vicious!

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer Lesson #72: Don’t Ignore the Lump.

Cancer Lesson #72: Don’t ignore the lump.

Each year when I go for my annual mammogram, I get a little nervous. Some breast cancer survivors find follow-up tests very distressing, but I always feel better after being checked. Ignoring a problem rarely makes it go away, especially when that problem is cancer.

If you’ve had breast cancer, you know people like to share their own close calls.

“I had a lump once,” they’ll say. “I was really worried, but it turned out to be nothing.”

Those are the good stories.

We also hear the other, not good stories. At least one person has told me “If I’d gone to the doctor when I first found my lump, my cancer wouldn’t have been so advanced by the time it was treated.”

The most heartbreaking of all was the man who said, “If my wife had gone to the doctor right away, she’d probably still be alive.”

You may be thinking I made that last one up.

I wish you were right.

So, here’s Cancer Lesson #72, repeated because it’s so important: Don’t ignore the lump, no matter where it is or how small.

If I’d ignored mine, I’d still have cancer, just more widespread and, oh yeah, more likely to kill me.

Thanks. I’ll take that mammogram.

Cancer Lesson #65: Yes, Mamm, or You Don’t Get a 50% Discount for Having Only One Breast

Cancer Lesson #65: Yes, Mamm, or You Don’t Get a 50% Discount for Having Only One Breast

Back in October, 2011, my oncologist said, “Come in for a mammogram of your left breast in March.”

Just my left?

My mind went blank for a moment before I remembered. Although I have a breast of sorts on my right side, it’s a placeholder with no breast tissue.

Hence, no mammogram.

And, no, I don’t get a fifty percent discount on my screening. I tell myself it’s because they have to look extra hard for anomalies.

As for you, please take this as a reminder to get an appointment for a mammogram on your calendar. It might save your life.