Left breast biopsy
The day before the biopsy on my left breast I contacted my manager at work and arranged to take extended leave. I had already booked leave from the end of June to the beginning of July. However, I simply couldn’t make it to the end of June.
So my last day at work was 14th May 2021. Maybe it was easier not knowing that was my last day, I’m not sure.
Fluidity and shifting goal posts
Cancer has taught me to adapt to shifting goalposts. I’ve always been a person with a Plan A, B, C, and D, and over the last decade, 12-month plans, 2-year plans, 3-year plans, and 5-year plans.
Cancer has shortened my vision. It’s one step at a time. First, cancer was found in my right breast. That meant one thing in terms of treatment. Then tumours were found in my left breast, and that changed the treatment plan completely. Initially, we thought I wouldn’t have to have chemotherapy, then one of the tumours was bigger and more advanced so I had to have chemotherapy.
Leaving work, returning to work, grief and anxiety
I thought I would be able to return to work in September after surgery, instead, I started chemotherapy in August. Then I thought I would return in December, but I got incredibly sick from chemotherapy. It may be September when I return to work, I just got the year wrong!
There can be so much identity and distinct social network tied up with working. Although I don’t live to work, this is still true.
It is as simple as being a contributing member of your household. There’s also grief, guilt and anxiety about not working. I’m incredibly privileged that I had income insurance once all my leave allowances were exhausted. As someone who has a full-time role, and who isn’t permanently disabled, I was advised that I wasn’t eligible for government support.
My goal, supported by my wellness team, is to get to the point where I can manage normal daily living before I attempt to reincorporate work.
Normal daily living means having the capacity to shower, do daily meal prep, and a normal amount of daily household tasks (some housework, feeding the cats, taking the rubbish out to the bins, washing up, washing, my remedial home physio/pilates, any small errands, the like of which you would do coming from or going to work).
Being mindful of capacity
At the moment, I’m still not able to achieve that. I still have days where I stay in bed or at least vertical due to fatigue. Those days are now probably only once a fortnight instead of weekly, and I no longer need a daily nap, so there is progress, but it is slow.
I have to be super careful that I don’t go back to work and put myself in the position of only having the energy to work and not having the capacity for any other kind of life or activity besides work. That was basically where I was before I finished work. I would work and do meals, and the rest of the time I was in bed due to the pain and fatigue. It was awful. But when you are in the moment, you don’t realise how much capacity you are losing because it’s gradual.
I thought it was going back on shift for a few months, then I thought it was just taking me longer to adjust to not being on shift.. then suddenly, it was 9 months later and I was getting a cancer diagnosis and I hadn’t had any kind of life but work and the bare minimum at home for nearly a year due to pain and fatigue.
So that’s a huge thing to be aware of if you are facing your own cancer experience or if you have a Beloved who is living with cancer.
Helpful suggestion (rarer than you might think!)
My younger sibling said to me “you can’t plan too far in advance, you have to just focus on one step at a time. It has to be a case of acknowledging where you are at in the present and then what the very next step is. Beyond that, you can’t plan, not really. You can have some goals, but they have to be flexible and you can’t be invested in them too rigidly. Being rigid or too fixed at the moment is not going to serve you.”
I had asked for that advice from them specifically and it served me well.
So many people tried to give me advice despite my boundary around not providing unsolicited advice. Pretty much all of it wasn’t helpful, and some of it was actively detrimental.
I was in so much pain and I was so fatigued and so overwhelmed. I don’t keep writing that to complain, but to explain. Hopefully, if you know someone in my position, you gain an insight into what they are experiencing, even if they, like me, don’t want to complain.
Left breast biopsy
The second biopsy was less daunting than the first, even with additional run around to get imaging, internet issues at the facility etc. I think perhaps once you have been diagnosed with cancer, the idea of being more ‘cancer-y’ doesn’t have the same impact.
Or maybe it was just that I had a gut feeling.
Then again,it could have just been that I was beyond overwhelmed.
Like most situations, it was probably a combination of all three plus some things I haven’t been able to articulate.
I say biopsy, but it’s technically biopsies. A biopsy is essentially a core sample from the mass. They also put in what they call ‘clips‘ – kind of an “x marks the spot” type situation. These clips are tiny, only about 3 mm.
It’s my chest, I’ll make hidden treasure pirate jokes if I want. 🤣
This round of ultrasound, biopsies, and mammograms was done at Imaging Associates Melbourne, based in Mitcham Private Hospital, simply based on availability.
At this stage, I was under the impression that I had four “masses”, two in each breast. The ones on the right we knew to be cancerous, and this was all about establishing the nature of the two on the left.
One of the things that are worthy of mention is that after this biopsy, I used Arnica on the entry site. I did not do that with the first biopsy. The bruising was significantly less even by the time I went to see the cancer surgeon a week later. I acknowledge that scientific literature doesn’t seem to support the arnica reducing bruising, but I felt like it helped.
Whilst I don’t have directly comparable photos, the cancer surgeon even remarked upon the difference. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t use arnica the first time around. I think I was probably just so overwhelmed, that I forgot about it.
I’m going to blame fibro fog here. As mentioned previously, I think I was basically in a flare that just got worse and worse from mid-April through until after surgery in July. One of my first thoughts, when I came to, was a sense of wonder that I wasn’t in pain.
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.
Related blog posts
- 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
- The Follow-up Tests
- The phone call.
- Check your breasts