On December 13 I had my first yearly mammogram after finishing my treatment. Of course I was scared, but after a week without word I started to assume that no news was good news. Unfortunately 10 days after the mammogram, I got a call from my oncologist. She told me that there had been “barely perceptible calcifications” and I had to go back so they could be looked at with magnification.
She had warned me that often there would be callbacks, and she reminded me of it now and that probably it would be nothing, but I was still terrified. Particularly after doing some googling, because it seems that the smaller calcifications are, the more suspicious they are…so the words “barely perceptible” were not particularly encouraging. I also read that calcifications are common in the scar tissue, but these were at the complete other side of my breast.
On December 27 I went back for the second mammogram, the radiologist was there to look at it and see if there were any more views that were needed, which their weren’t. I assumed I would hear back quickly since the radiologist had already seen it, but I didn’t hear back until today…a week later.
I’m not going to lie, the last two weeks have been among the scariest of my life. One might think after going through diagnosis once, it wouldn’t be a scary to think about it again, but actually it was worse, for several reasons.
1. When I was first getting diagnosed, all I heard was how treatable breast cancer is. If breast cancer (indeed any cancer) comes back less than a year after treatment, then it’s a lot more aggressive and a lot less treatable-generally the sooner the recurrence the more aggressive the cancer (which I sadly learned with the client that I lost in 2015). Especially considering that the cancer I had was very highly hormone responsive and I am on anti-hormonal meds. If he came back as quickly, then it was not what we thought. It was a different monster (hormonal receptors can change with chemotherapy, however it’s rare).
2. Because the suspicious spot was in the same breast, I knew that if it was cancer, I would definitely be facing a mastectomy. There’s no way that I would be able to have another lumpectomy in the same breast with a cosmetic result I’d be happy with, nor would they be able to do radiation in the same best so soon after (in the past they would never radiate the same spot twice, now they might but only if it is years later). Of course lots of women have mastectomies and I can get through it, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. Especially considering I’ve already had radiation, which means that reonstruction can be more difficult and have less successsful results.
3. I haven’t built back up my sick time at work yet, from all the time I took off last year, and was very worried about how much time I would need off if I had a recurrence so soon. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to cope with working through treatment like I did last time.
4. I couldn’t imagine telling my kids it was back so soon after going through it, how would we be able to remain positive through that? They’re old enough to know that that can’t be a good thing.
5. Last time, while waiting for my diagnosis. I was in fighting mode. This time…I felt defeated. I already fought…and if it was already back, then for what? (I’m sure if it had come back I would’ve got them back into fighting mode, I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me and there is still a lot that can be done, but that’s how I was feeling while I was waiting. Thoroughly defeated).
Today, I finally got the call from my oncologists office, which is closed but they called me anyway. They said that the mammogram did not show anything worrisome, however I should come back for my next one in six months instead of a year, which is fine by me because I’d rather be checked out more anyway!
I can’t help but wonder if I made the wrong decision in having a lumpectomy instead of mastectomy (not that I was really given an option, I was told that the appropriate treatment for me was lumpectomy, but I guess I could’ve tried to fight for a mastectomy). At the time I was pleased to have a less invasive surgery. But now, I have to worry about mammograms, and I’m sure this won’t be the only time I go through the callback experience. (Perhaps it will be the scariest time, both because everything gets easier with experience…and because as time passes I assume that the thought of getting cancer again won’t seem quite so scary as now).
In the end, I remind myself that I had the lumpectomy based on the information I had; I was told (by multiple specialists) and research backs up that my risk of recurrence and my prognosis are the same with the treatment I had as if I had a mastectomy. Also, in the BC groups I’m in, I hear all the time about women going through a similar experience when they find lumps in their underarms, on their necks, on their chests. A mastectomy is no guarantee that cancer won’t come back or metastasize, and although often (yay!) these things turn out to be benign those that have mastectomies are certainly not free of the fear I went through over the last few weeks.
Certainly I am very relieved right now, but more than that I’m just exhausted. Stress is tiring, and my only goal is to get to bed tonight as soon as possible! Then, I can get on with my life…because I’ve put a few things on hold over the last few weeks because I didn’t want to start things that I couldn’t finish. Of course my surgery is going to put things on hold for a little while, but not the way a recurrence would!