Friday, February 20, 2009

Three years, all clear!

Three years ago today, I'm pretty sure I was skiing at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Three years minus 7 days ago today, I was standing in the shower saying "Oh, shit" as I felt a subcutaneous golf ball on my right breast.

Today, I drove 26 miles north to Norris Cancer Center. I had my blood drawn by my favorite "stick," Dean (he said my arm-crook veins are hardened by the chemo, and he took the blood from a vein that crosses the back of my thumb--but he got it painlessly, and on the first try). I waited for a long time in the mammogram waiting area, with about a dozen other women, some with the short crew-cutty hair that marked them as recently completing treatment; some looking frightened, with husbands' hands clutched in theirs; others playing it cool, telling anyone who starts the briefest conversation that they're "just there for my yearly!" I wore my new t-shirt: "I already kicked Cancer's ass. Wanna be next?"; only one nurse commented on it (positively), but it garnered a lot of furtive looks. I wondered if the "ass" was shocking people, or if I looked too young and healthy to be a cancer survivor (I like that one!), or if maybe they secretly liked it.

Anyway, I was called late for my mammogram, by a cute little radiographer who did a fine job of mushing, smashing, and subjecting me to excruciating pain. I also think mammograms must have been invented, by the way, by someone with no concern for breast perkiness. Those underside ligaments must age about 6 years with each image.

All was going fine; she went off to consult the radiologist and I relaxed with my iPhone to wait to go see the doctor. But then she came back and said that the radiologist wanted "a few more views," to look at something she wasn't happy about. I barely blinked; we've been keeping a close eye on the left side (the one not previously involved) because it's fibrous and sometimes achy.

But they didn't want to look at the left. They wanted to look at the right.

And for the next 5 minutes or so, I experienced real terror. I've already had surgery and radiation on the right. If there were a new tumor there, the whole thing would have to go. And I've sat through enough support group meetings to know there are worst things than losing a breast, and there is life after a mastectomy, and reconstructed boobies actually look pretty real and cute--but still. While she mashed me into new, contorted positions, and used a compression plate whose effect was like having a stiletto heel pierce a nipple, I just kept thinking, "I don't want to lose it after all of this." It's funny; I didn't even think about chemo or radiation or months of illness. I've thought about that before, but even my nightmares of getting cancer again--somehow they just never involve it happening on the same side.

It was super scary, but when the tech went back to consult again, she returned saying that it was all clear, that the extra mashing had given a better view and I was fine. I couldn't quite relax and believe it until I saw Christy, my oncologist, but her exam and the bloodwork and the images were all telling one happy story, she said, and finally I did believe.

Still, not until I was driving away did I get the moment of full realization that I've now reached the third year of survivorship. With my cancer profile, this is really huge. Two years was huge, but three years is huger. My risk curve drops off precipitously at two and then three years. Not like I'm ever "home free," but at this point I can really relax much more about the prospect of recurrence.

In the car, I felt the grin spread across my face like someone was stretching it with their fingers--and it stayed there until the third time a slow driver cut me off in the left lane. Then I was back to reality, which is what life is, after all, and I must say I'm pretty glad to be here.

7 comments:

Sandy C said...

Congratulations!!

Jenny said...

Thank you!

Heidi and Sarah Face The Day said...

wow - great news! Very happy for you. Can't wait to see you soon!

Scott in Boulder said...

And there are many who are glad you are here. Congrats on the three years Jenny. Here's wishing you many, many more. :)

Gordon said...

Congrats. Jan has just been given an all clear after her first year's check. You must be sharing anniversaries!

Dad said...

Hi Jenny. I don't often realize how capably I can use denial to cope with stressful events, but I've come to realize that I have to really prep my attitude in order to access your blog. Not because there's anything wrong with the blog itself--on the contrary, once I'm reading your words, I am uplifted, emboldened and inspirited. But, I think anticipating connecting to your blog at some level always connects me back to the terror and pain and helplessness I felt just after you told us about your diagnosis, and we were doing what little we could to lend our emotional support as you went through the additional diagnostic measures, surgery and the treatments that followed. And, those are such selfish, narcissitic concerns that I feel shamed when I read your words of humor, courage, anger and the whole cacophony of feelings that have washed over and through you since those earliest days of the diagnosis [I wish my computer allowed me to put "the diagnosis" in gothic typeface--that's certainly how I relate to it!].

I wanted you to know that the spirit in your words genuinely move me in ways that I can't put into words. Thank you for them.

Some irrelevant comments...you don't remember when you were just a little timid and cautious, or when the depth of your feeling caused you to shrink back and pull-in [King Kong, anyone?] or to hesitate about making some decision or taking some action that had some appeal to you. So, one of the privileges I've had has been to watch your courage and self-confidence grow and become a ting of strength and beauty. I remember I was the one trembling and frightened as you boarded the 747 that carried you to Japan for the home-study program...I'm not sure I could ever have boarded the plan, but you squared your shoulders, stiffened your chin and marched right on without any visible hesitation.

I'm rambling...but reading your words, that clearly come so poignantly from your wonderful heart seems to kickstart my mind.

Uh, before I leave though, uh...what's this about a drunken night in college with some guy? Hmmm. [Actually, I like hearing about the events, relationships, thoughts, opinions, etc, that also remind me of how very REAL you are. Thanks for that, too]

winecat said...

That is my worst nightmare every time I have my 3 month check up, it gets worse when I have my mammogram and ultrasound. That horrible sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that the cancer might have returned. I'm almost at my 3 year mark May 6. I'm really hoping the the terror gets less with the lengthening survival time.