Those of you dealing with chronic diseases who have to attend doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment? Caretakers of loved ones with chronic diseases? You all are wonderful, and I wish I could send you all your own stuffed animal manatee. The week before last was one doctor’s appointment after another. The one day I had free, I curled up into a ball and slept the entire day. My brain is exhausted from trying to process and understand all of this information. My body is just exhausted from all the stress.
The last time my mom’s oncologist saw her, he gave her a hug and told her he hoped he never saw her again. Unfortunately, he did. Marcus and I got confused and came in the back way to his office, so we saw the people that were receiving chemo treatments. It always amazes me that when you see the people actually undergoing treatment, they never look as beautiful, shiny or happy as the people on the front of the cancer brochures and magazines. They look like real people going through a very trying ordeal.
I got to start out the visit with the wonderful experience of finding out I needed to have my blood drawn. I had let down my Girl Scout guard, and hadn’t thought to call and see if this was going to happen so I’d have adequate anti-anxiety medications. I tell you, there is nothing that makes you feel cooler than lying back in the medical version of a Lazyboy recliner, sobbing, crushing your husband’s hand all while your mom rubs your legs. You are also furiously trying not to hyperventilate, and after a few minutes are not successful at this. On the bright side, you manage not to pass out. It doesn’t matter how sweet and understanding the nurses are when they tell you that they see huge grown men pass out in front of them all the time. It doesn’t matter how many times my mom explains to the nurses the very horrible way that I developed this phobia. I still feel like a complete idiot. Then I get to meet the man who may become my oncologist.
I really liked him. The thrilling experience of having my breasts examined in front of my mom and my husband was a bit amusing. But he gave me some peace of mind about the possibility of having children. It’s not a sure thing, but I have time to process it and see what my options are after surgery.
The next day, I met with the Nurse Practioner about calculating my genetic risk. Going in, I thought I had maybe a 10%, at the most 15% risk. I brought a detailed family history, but as you get to people that are older, it’s a lot harder to do. For example, I had a great aunt that died from liver cancer. Did it start out as breast cancer? And there are always those families that are so well versed in secrets that you never know what the truth really is. I’m predominately of Irish heritage, but I’ve got a decent amount of Czech & Eastern European blood in me as well. Some doctors feel this means you have an added risk because they are also countries where Ashkenazi Jews tended to settle. It’s not something that people like to talk about, but Jewish people in these countries were persecuted constantly. When they were forced out of their homes, forced to assimilate or forced into hiding, some of them married people who were not Jewish and had children. But at one point, they lived in small villages and tended to be very insular because of their religion. Women who have a strong Ashkenazi Jewish heritage need to be very careful and get tested. They have a 1 in 40 chance of having one of the “killer” breast cancer gene mutations.
It took her quite a bit of time to get done putting all the information into the computer program she has. And the number that spit out? 31% That number freaks me out. I don’t really think there’s a bright side to this, but my percentage was high enough for TennCare to cover the costs of the tests, so there’s that. And now I wait. If it comes back positive, the decision is made for me. Both breasts will be removed, and I’ll have to decide when to remove my ovaries because I’ll have a much higher risk of ovarian cancer.
I’ve noticed something very interesting about myself. I work from home. Now I usually put on a halfway decent outfit (and a swipe of lipgloss), but that’s it. Every time I’ve gone to see one of these doctors, I’ve made sure that I’m all decked out (for me). Nice dress, nice shoes, matching jewelry. I actually style my hair, and I put on real make-up. Marcus asked me at one point if it was my armor. I guess in a way it is. As stupid as this sounds, I want these men and women to see me as a put together woman who owns her sexuality and who doesn’t take it lightly. I want them to understand that I am a whole person; I am not just a set of breasts that need treating.
Believe me, I don’t look down on women who just want to cut the damn things off. I’ve had that same feeling. It’s a very strange concept to process that one of your boobs will kill you if you don’t deal with it. But there have been so many times that modern medicine ignores the fact that women are sexual beings as well. For example, there were many doctors who prescribed anti-depressants that had an adverse effect on women’s sex lives. It didn’t start getting discussed and addressed by most doctors until men took those medications and started to complain. Without grossing anyone out, I would like to have a boob left that will actually feel sensation if that’s possible. If it’s not possible, I’ll figure out a way to deal.
The thing I want most is for all of this to be a bad dream. I want to wake up with my heart pounding and covered in sweat. I want to run away and hide, hoping that this will all go away. The thing that I want most desperately is to not have cancer,