What I shared on Facebook on Sunday 02nd May 2021 as my Cancer Journal Number 2.
These cancer journals were my ongoing strategy of keeping people up to date without having to share the same information again and again. I would write, and then I would get specific friends to act as beta readers, and that was helpful. Then I would post to Facebook, send the same message by email, What’s App, SMS, etc. It saved a lot of emotional energy for me, and that was becoming vital.
⭐ Cancer Journal ⭐
Sunday, 02nd May 2021 (2)
The diagnostic process so far.
Gentle Creatures, I know that some are interested in the diagnostic process, and some aren’t.
If you are in the aren’t camp, then this post is not intended for you.
I have mentioned the fatigue and how a simple cold at the beginning of April had me laid out in bed for a week. I last had blood tests back in January and everything came back really well.
Having turned 50 in July last year, you get all this awesome mail: a home bowel cancer test and they send you a letter reminding you of the importance of mammograms. In Australia, mammograms are recommended from the age of 40 and are free.
I have always had internal conflict around mammograms and their efficacy, as well as the process of compression on the breast tissue regularly.
However, my maternal line has been decimated by various cancers.
With this in mind, and embracing my whole training for old age mindset, I did the bowel cancer screening in the privacy of my home and booked a mammogram.
There may, or may not, have been some gentle but firm encouragement from my younger sibling.
When I was having hip problems a couple of years ago and a cancer scare in my early 40s, I had various ultrasounds and X-rays. I talked, at the time, to the various technicians about mammograms.
The advice I got was to go to a clinic that does them all the time.
I have, over the years, heard all the horror stories of insensitive technicians and bruising and pain. I decided to go to one of the Breast Screen clinics in a more well to do suburb – because, in my mind, wealthy white women are less likely to endure poor service.
My first mammogram was on 06th April 2021.
I explained to the technician that I have previous trauma experience and that I am not neurotypical, and that I have fibromyalgia. I asked her to talk me through the process as we went.
She was fantastic, and the process, whilst uncomfortable, was not painful as such.
On the way home, the sense of being handled remained on my body, and it did elicit body memory, and I found myself in tears and feeling fragile. Despite my preparation, I still had that trauma response. That’s something I am actively working with to integrate it more compassionately.
From there, they advised me the results would be available in two weeks.
The time between
My housemate caught a cold on the 09th, I had significant dental work on the 10th, and went down like a tonne of bricks with a cold on the night of Monday 12 and basically spent the whole week in bed. My housemate had to pick up keys to our new rental on the 16th and has been dealing with all the new house stuff themselves largely.
The next week, I started to feel a strange sense of certainty that all would not be well with the mammogram results. I was still unwell from the cold, but my lymph nodes in my right armpit were aching constantly. They still are.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 21st of April, I got a call from the Breast Screen clinics advising that my mammogram was inconclusive and they wanted to do further tests. They asked me to go to the Eastern Health Breast and Cancer Clinic at Maroondah Hospital the next day at 0800 am.
They were so detailed and kind; giving directions, explaining where to park, apologising that I couldn’t bring a support person, going through the fact that I would have a 3D mammogram and then if necessary, an ultrasound, and if they still didn’t know, or if something was found, biopsies would be done.
I spent some time deciding upon how I was going to curate this experience.
The option of remaining silent or sharing, and if I did share, who I would share to. I made the decision to share very consciously, but privately, with just a few people.
So Thursday 22nd April, I fronted up to the clinic. The 3D mammogram was actually painful, but didn’t throw up those body memories again. The ultrasound.. well, they are just plain sticky, aren’t they? At least they warm the goop which is more than the technician doing an internal ultrasound did in my 40s. They did a physical examination and I progressed to the biopsies as they found two lumps.
I have attached the mammogram (first photo) and the ultrasound (second photo) for those that are curious.
Incidently, they thought me wanting photos was … ‘an unusual request’.
I’m glad I didn’t tell them that I had spent some time in the morning taking photos of my breasts as my own form of therapy!
I could tell they found what they believed to be cancer, but of course they couldn’t tell me until the biopsies came back.
The doctor who did the physical exam reassured me that because of the positioning of the lumps against my ribs cage at the back of my breast, and combined with the fact that the lumps themselves aren’t typical feeling (when you do your own breast exams, they often talk about finding lumps that feel like peas in your breast), and because I am a woman with larger breasts, she didn’t think it was possible I would have found them myself in my own breast examination. She guided me to where they are and showed me how to feel them… and nope, no chance in hell would I have picked it. She conceded that she found them because she knew where they were from the mammogram and knew what she was feeling for.
The doctor who did the ultrasound and then the biopsies reassured me that the initial mammogram did it’s job, as it was, in identifying that there was an issue, and the whole point of mammograms is early detection, and that I had caught this early through taking the appropriate precautions.
On the 22nd, they advised that the biopsies would take a few days to process and they made an appointment for me to come back in on Wednesday 28th to discuss the results. They recommended bringing a support person.
Throughout that day, I had a lot to consider again.
I could choose not to tell anyone apart from those that already knew.
I could open my select group a little wider so that they were prepared for the next step and I could get some support – and that is the option I went with.
It’s actually exhausting telling people bad news.
I already *knew* that the lumps they had found were cancerous.
So I told my select group… They helped me articulate where my boundaries were and why.
I did some reading.
I allowed myself to process, kind of zoning out whilst my body and unconscious integrated and prepared.
My breast was sore after the biopsies, and the most comfortable position was on my back, so I rested.
I wasn’t to lift or stretch for at least 24 hours.
I took a very sensible friend to my 1000am appointment on the 28th and my younger sibling also phoned in.
The surgeon gave me the diagnosis of cancer and walked me through the position of the cancer, the type of cancer, and my treatment options. The treatment options could not be mapped out because there were still some tests to come back. He recommended surgery within the month, if possible, reiterating that it was important to continue to be proactive because I was so lucky to catch it so early.
The breast care nurse reiterated the process and talked me through the support structures available.
There were tears, and ironically I prompted them because on the phone I told my younger sibling I loved them. I don’t have a lot of experience at saying that in my primary family of origin, and normally, it is something they model for me.
General suggestion: tell more people you love them. Tell them and show them in many different ways because we all have different love languages.
I have spoken to my GP, and got some additional medication (valium) to take on an ad hoc basis in case I start to spiral. We’ve had a very frank discussion about how I need to be proactive and mindful of my mental health, because clearly, a major depression is a huge risk at the moment.
I’m going to get some therapy as well.
I recommend that strongly.
I’ll come back to some of the emotional process in another post on another day.
I have unlocked the achievement of an appointment with a surgeon that comes recommended by my sibling’s colleagues.
Throughout this, you see my younger sibling’s support and guidance and steady love. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, they are the best of us.
This leveling up with the surgeon’s appointment happens on Tuesday.
I will share the outcomes here when I am ready to discuss them.
That, however, is my diagnostic process to date.
I’m not going to advise anyone about what they should or shouldn’t do, or make recommendations. You’re adults. Have the conversations with those you love, including yourself, and your GP. Do some reading – on reputable sites.
Make informed decisions that are right for you and accept the consequences.
I’m sharing this because perhaps it will help someone somewhere along the line.
I have pinned the post with the announcement about my diagnosis and the boundaries I want to work with to the top of my page, so if this post is the first you have seen, please refer to that pinned post.
Be kind, Gentle Creatures, tend your gardens, take time to eat the roses, and walk your boundaries.
Check your breasts, check your testicles.
- Friday 21st May 2021: Biopsy, Left Breast
- Tuesday 18th May 2021 (Cancer Journal 6)
- Monday 17th May 2021 Arranging the Biopsy
- Saturday 15th May 2021 (Cancer Journal 5)
- Wednesday 12th May 2021 (Cancer Journal 4)
- Friday 07th May 2021 (Cancer Journal 3)
- Cancer surgeon
- Sunday, 02nd May 2021 (Cancer Journal 2)
- Saturday May 01st 2021 ( Cancer Journal 1)
- Facebook post
- How to tell people you have cancer.
- Deciding strategies
- The Camus Question of Choice
Ensure that you are vigilant around your self-examination. Train yourself to check your breasts/testicles routinely, and monitor your bowel habits and your urine output. These are our body’s early warning signs, and we don’t have a lot of awareness of them.