I had just pulled into the parking lot of the coffee shop when my cell phone rang. It was the hospital, letting me know that they wanted to schedule me for another set of imaging tests. Something about the last set of tests was of concern, and more detailed scans were required.
This had never happened before. My internal antennae went up. “Uh oh,” my gut whispered. “Never mind,” my rational mind responded. “It’s likely just a botched test. Nothing to see here, so move along.”
Frustration bubbled over momentarily, as I sat in the car and considered what the call might actually mean. It was highly unlikely that the cancer had returned to the same location. Triple negative breast cancer is most likely to relapse within the first 3 years. If you clear that hurdle, and then make to the 5 year make without relapse, you are generally considered cured.
I sat on the fence in my reaction: either this was spectacularly bad luck, and the cancer was back, against all odds. Or it was just someone being uber careful before I was let go from the outpatient program.
I tried to be dismissive and let the knot of fear in my stomach resolve. A momentary panic clutched my throat. So I grabbed a few deep breaths, and calmed myself, before I sauntered into the coffee shop for a visit with my friend.
Two weeks later, I completed both a 3D mammogram, and an ultrasound. It was all routine – until it wasn’t. The tech conducting the ultrasound furrowed her brow as she watched the screen. Questions were peppered at me: “Have you ever had an MRI done?” and “How long have you been in the outpatient program, exactly?” and “Did you have a genetic test done to see if you carry any of the mutations that contribute to breast cancer?”
And then, shaking her head, she was gone, only to return with the radiologist. She, too, peered at the screen with a furrowed brow. And then, she declared that it appeared a mass had returned, next to the area of scarring where the original tumour was taken out. In her opinion, a biopsy was needed to rule out recurrence. Because the mass she found was hard and fixed, and not easily moved. Plus it was located in the exact area the first mass had formed. All of these things raised red flags, and since I was about to released from the outpatient program, and seen less frequently, the radiologist thought it best to be safe.
I couldn’t find any words, so I simply nodded my assent. Thoughts raced – this is crazy, it can’t be happening, what are the odds….
….and if I have relapsed, would I do chemotherapy again? Could my body endure another onslaught of toxins? Because the first time had nearly crippled me. What would happen if I faced the same treatment regimen?
I don’t recall the drive home. I do remember breaking the news to my spouse, and watching the fear set into his eyes at the spectre of facing this all over again.
The internal landscape shifted one more time: I was perched on that damned ledge all over again, and the horizon filled with storm clouds. All I could do was curl up and wait for it to pass.