Today has been okay.
— Emiliana Torrini
I am actively working on developing my "attitude of gratitude". I feel lucky to be alive, and want to find something to appreciate in each and every day that I'm alive.
Today has been okay.
— Emiliana Torrini
Yesterday I went for my bi-yearly mammogram and checkup. Mammograms are always a little stressful; any test that squishes your body parts into pancakes is stressful. But as someone who’s had breast cancer, these bi-yearly tests are particularly stressful because there’s that nagging worry in the back of your mind, what if I have cancer again? But, my previous two post-cancer mammograms have been fine, so I try not to worry. I arrive on time, am seen right away, go through the squishing with only a few grimaces appearing on my face, and expect to get out of there in plenty of time for my checkup with my surgeon.
I sit in the waiting room and watch the women come and go. The minutes tick by. I look at each woman’s face to try to see what each one was thinking. Is she scared? Has she had breast cancer before? Or is she just trying to squeeze this into a busy day and isn’t thinking twice about it? Most of the women don’t talk to each other. A few do. One woman compliments another on her boots. No one really wants to talk about being scared; and while all 40+ women love to complain about getting our boobs squished, no one really wants to talk about it while we’re there waiting for the results. We just want the doctor to come in and say, you’re okay! The magic words. All clear. Go away for another year or 6 months or whatever your respite time is before you have to start thinking about cancer again.
After 30 minutes of waiting and watching many women come and go, I start getting nervous. Something’s wrong. Why is it taking so long. Then the nurse comes and said, we need to do some more. Gulp. Back down the hallway to the cold room with the whirring machines, more squishage. My mind is telling me, maybe they just couldn’t see my boobs okay. Maybe the first technician didn’t take a good enough picture. Breathe.
Back to the waiting room. More women come and go. Another 45 minutes later and I’m still there. Starting to panic a bit. I try not to cry. A women who’s just had a biopsy comes in with an icepack on her boob. I remember when I had my biopsy, and how much it sucked. I send her healing thoughts; she doesn’t look too upset, but she clearly doesn’t want to talk to anyone.
The nurse comes back again and calls my name. She says, we need more pictures. I get about half way down the hall and collapse into tears. My mind is spinning out of control and I’m already planning my funeral. The nurse is so kind to me; she puts on a chair in the exam room with a big box of Kleenex and says, it’s okay, this is routine. We have to retake pictures all the time. I want to say, it’s not okay, what if I have cancer again? I don’t think I can do this again, I want to scream at her.
More squishage. Back to the waiting room. Another 30 minutes. A woman with an English accent and rockin’ boots tells me she always has to go back for more pictures, every time she’s there. Her boobs are dense. That should comfort me, but doesn’t. I tell her I’m scared, and she tells me about her sister who had breast cancer 12 years ago and she still gets terrified every time she goes for her mammogram. It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one.
The nurse comes again. A different one this time. The same one who helped the doctor with my biopsy a year and a half ago. She doesn’t remember me. She takes me into a different room, one I recognize, the one where they do the ultrasounds. I’m crying again. She tells me that it’s routine. The doctor just wants to be really sure, especially given my history. More kleenex. I’m shivering so she gives me a warm blanket. She leaves to go get the doctor and I sit there thinking about all my meditation and yoga and breath practice and how absolutely none of that is helping me right now. All I want is someone there with me to hold my hand.
The doctor arrives and apologizes for keeping me so long, but he wants to be absolutely sure. Sure of what? That I’ve got cancer? That I don’t? I just want to know!
He does the ultrasound. He’s quick, efficient. Thank you for that, doctor. He shows me my ribs, my breast tissue, and says, I don’t see anything that looks bad. I start crying again, this time from relief.
After I’m dressed and sitting in his office, he shows me the pictures. I can see why he wanted to take more, and to double check with the ultrasound. The first set definitely look suspicious. The third set is clear. He says, sometimes the way they squish your breast can push the milk ducts together in a way that makes it look like cancer. So they have to do more pictures to squish in a different way and see if it spreads out. If it spreads out, that’s good. If it doesn’t that’s bad.
I’m completely and utterly relieved, more so than probably any other time in my life. The poor man apologizes again, I think he doesn’t really know what to do with crying patients. I get that… he’s trained to look at pictures all day, not comfort people. I’m glad he’s so careful and smart and I tell him so. And I leave and cry yet again with sheer joy. I’m free again… at least, for 6 more months.
What you put at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you will ever find at the bottom of a pill bottle.
— Dr. Mark Hyman
Woops! I ate the whole thing before taking a photo. It was delicious. This is a good way to eat more broccoli (at least it is for me). Broccoli is a great anti-cancer food. It’s in the brassica family and has all the right stuff for staying healthy.
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until onion softens. Add broccoli and vegetable broth. Reduce heat just a bit, cover (mostly), and steam broccoli for 5 minutes. Add beans, cilantro, lime juice, and spices&herbs and mix well. Cover and cook 1 more minute just until beans are warm through. Serve with avocado and chopped tomato, season to taste.
This post by Jeff Jarvis reminded me of the importance of getting my data in the process of taking control of my medical experiences. It describes how Xeni Jardin, an editor at Boing Boing, recently described how she asked for and received images from her MRI (after being diagnosed with breast cancer), and when reviewing them, discovered that one set of images was from someone else.
I can only hope that most of the time, those kinds of mistakes don’t happen. However, people make mistakes, so they are going to happen. But attempting to catch mistakes isn’t really the point of getting my data. Feeling empowered about my medical experience is, I think, why it’s worth doing. Even if I’m too overwhelmed to actually look at the data for a while, at least I have it. It’s my body, and all those measurements the doctors are taking of it are, in some sense, mine too. I like being able to do my own tracking of the various numbers that get recorded every year; I like having copies of the pictures of my body that show (so far, anyway) that I am cancer-free following my surgery and treatment in 2010. (Hopefully those pictures I’m getting really are of my body and not someone else’s!) I like getting more educated on what each of the measurements actually means so I can have more meaningful conversations with my doctors. It helps me feel like I make better decisions for myself, and should the time come again when I have to make some very difficult decisions, I will be better prepared to do so, and more confident about the whole process.
My next round of tests is coming up in February. I’ll be asking for copies of everything, as usual. Add it to the pile! And as always, I am grateful to the doctors who help me understand what it all means and are willing to take the time to review it with me. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.
I was looking for a more interesting way to eat steamed broccoli on rice, so I invented this non-dairy version of a traditional cheese sauce. It came out quite well.
Soak the cashews in water for about 6 hours. Drain. Add all ingredients except broccoli to food processor. (Use 1 very juicy lemon or 2 if they’re not so juicy). Process until smooth.
Steam broccoli florets 5-6 minutes. While still hot, place in bowl and add sauce. Stir to mix well. Serve over brown rice.
Broccoli is a vegetable in the Brassica family which has powerful anti-cancer properties, so eat up and enjoy!
p.s. If you take the skin off the broccoli stem, you can steam it, or even eat it raw, and it’s very tasty. I usually eat it raw as an appetizer.
Once you’ve had cancer, or you know someone close to you whose had cancer, you notice it more. You notice news items about potential cancer treatments, about people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, about people who die of cancer. You notice people wearing wigs or looking frail and wonder if they have cancer. You see a new freckle or bump and wonder if it’s cancer. Sometimes it feels like cancer is everywhere… and, unfortunately, it is everywhere. 1 in 4 people will get cancer in their lifetimes. In the US, about 1500 people die every day of cancer, and every day, 3400 people are diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer really sucks. It is a horrible disease, with horrible treatments, and affects the lives of people and their families and friends dramatically. It’s hard to imagine 3400 people around the country getting devastating news about their health every single day. It’s sad to think about.
And yet, and I am profoundly inspired by these people. People like you and me who get terrible news and most cry and then they take a deep breath and head forward into the unknown, the confusion, ahead with courage.
Xeni and Susannah write eloquently about the unknown and confusion they are experiencing right now. My heart goes out to them. And I am inspired by them. I went through that journey, I came out the other side, I am grateful to be alive, I am changed, and I am courageous too.