Live and Learn, MRI Style

So, here is what you should know about MRI:

  • Your MRI will pick up everything. Great if you have certain types of breast cancer, because they will likely be detected, and this could save your life. Bummer if it’s not cancer, because you’ll be forced to chase it down like it is cancer in order to confirm that it’s not, and this could take a really long time, and even if it doesn’t take a really long time, it will seem like forever, and you will worry and fret and panic until you find answers.
  • Your MRI should be scheduled for a day that is between something like seven and 15 days after the onset of your period. This is very important. Should you schedule off this track, your MRI (remember, it will pick up everything) will zero in on all sorts of hormonal tissue changes, and this could lead a concerned radiologist to indicate in test results that “malignancy is considered.”

Get where I’m headed here?

In a nutshell, I caution you to (a) realize MRI is a very sensitive screening tool, and (b) make sure you are scheduled properly when you plan to use this very sensitive screening tool. If (a) and (b) converge, you might have a stressful time on your hands, like I just did.

Why for my past five MRIs no one has ever asked about my cycles when scheduling me, I will never know. And WOW, how lucky I’ve been for all those five times to not have happen to me what happened last Thursday. You see, my period started the day after my last-week MRI, and it looks like this just skewed everything. Yesterday’s MRI, though, implemented properly, apparently showed that the worrisome issues had resolved.

<sigh>

No.

<big sigh>

You just can’t imaging how relieved I am, given the fact that seven years ago TODAY, I had a biopsy for a lump I’d found in my left breast. The next day, the day before Thanksgiving, a doctor called me to say, “unfortunately, cancer cells were found.” That just can’t happen twice, with such precise timing.

It just can’t.

And it didn’t.

Now is when I get to declare that I am the happiest girl I know!

(But you know what? There’s a teeny tiny part of my brain thinking that someone might call and say, “nevermind, there is something wrong,” and, in the spirit of being totally honest, I must admit this.)

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MRI Monday

The re-do MRI is over, and I fully expect I will get a call in the next day or so from a medical someone who will declare it normal. I really do believe this, even though there were machine technical difficulties this morning requiring a start and stop and start again, an interruption to fix one boob that might have been receiving too much pressure in the apparatus in which it hung, and marks on my body from said pressure that I never noticed after my past five experiences in the tube. Surely, none of that will matter, because my sense, really and truly, is that this whole scare that’s been going on is just a fluke, a false alarm, bad monthly “cycle” timing, something other than the “malignancy considered” wording that appeared on the first MRI.

I’m sure I’m right. I just need someone to confirm it for me.

Waiting.

 

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Surgeon Says

Today, I met with a breast surgeon to review what’s happened over the past almost-week. To recap:

  • there was the annual MRI.
  • then the MRI report featuring the awful words “malignancy considered.”
  • then three days of pure worry (and lots of well wishes and prayers).
  • then an ultrasound that prompted docs to utter the happy word, “benign.”
  • then another couple of days of pondering it all.
  • then this afternoon’s consultation with the guy who operates on women with breast cancer.

First of all, who knew the gowns had gotten so lovely in the past seven years. Wow, check out my beautiful blue poncho-style paper cover-up, complete with hanging-open sides that are just perfect for peering in at boobs and muffin tops. It didn’t really matter, though, how substantial that pretty paper is because in a matter of minutes, I was on the exam table, boobs fully naked and prime for examination. And here’s what I learned about the troublesome twosome:

They feel fine. No lumps, bumps, masses, or tumors. No thickening or dimpling or other changes in the skin. Maybe a little nipple redness (we’ll monitor that). No swollen lymph nodes. No infection. No inflammation. No apparent cause for concern.

The game plan: The surgeon will review my MRI and ultrasound Monday morning at a weekly “breast conference,” where all sorts of doctors converge and weigh in on cases. While he’s at the meeting, I’ll be getting a re-do MRI, and he says if it looks better than the first, we’ll sum up that I am A-OK, and I will check back with him in January. If it looks the same as the first, we’ll call it a mystery and continue digging by way of MRI-guided biopsy. No matter what, I’ll watch the nipple (not, like, every two minutes, though, the surgeon said), and I’ll report any continued or worsening redness.

I learned so much from the surgeon today, like if I ever get cancer in my right breast, it won’t be a spread of the cancer I had in the left breast, because cancer doesn’t spread from one breast to the other. It would be another new cancer, and the chances of that happening are something like .5% per year.

I also learned that MRI catches more than 95 percent of invasive breast cancers (there are others, but these are the types that present as lumps). Awesome, right? Of course it is, but the bummer side to the story is that MRI picks up everything else, too. And what the heck does one do about that? Chase it all down, that’s what, just like I’m doing right now, to see if the iffy stuff turned up by that loud and annoying tube is cancer-related in any way, shape, or form. No fun, I admit, but it’s a necessary evil — unless of course, the boobs go away, which is totally an option, and thanks so much to everyone for sharing opinions on whether or not I should just chop the breasts right off (well, the surgeon would do it, not me). Still thinking on that one, but I’ll keep you posted.

Today was a good day. No pure worry, but still plenty of well wishes and prayers, and news that is more hopeful than not.

Oh, and to make the day even better, the skin biopsy I had last week came back normal. I didn’t see that coming at all, but what a treat!

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Benign

Docs have talked, and the call at this time is “benign.” No need for biopsy right now. Follow-up MRI at end of month, and, if it shows concerns, we’ll take it from there. <sigh>.

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Ultrasound Not Alarming

Initial news is good: no mass, tumor, lump — ultrasound showed a bunch of dense and enhanced tissue + a lot of shadows. What does that mean? Not sure, so ultrasound doc will follow up with doc who read MRI, and she will compare with my previous MRIs to determine what exactly has changed and if there is anything to biopsy. If not, a repeat MRI will probably be scheduled. Surgeon will also be looped into the mystery. So, while I did not get a definite “everything is fine,” I am at peace knowing there was nothing alarming discovered!

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Suspended State

“I’m sure you’ll be in a suspended state until you know.”

Suspended state.

That’s it.

Exactly.

Credit for these words, which are so fitting for my situation, goes to Anna. She’s my boss, a faraway friend, someone I’ve never even seen in person — that is so strange, isn’t it? The virtual world makes it possible for me to work at home in Florida with a staff of others who fill a New York City office building. I am so lucky. (Not to have never seen Anna, of course, just to have the great gift of working in my house so I can be a professional and a mom.)

So, if you have not read the posts that come before this one, I am waiting. waiting. waiting. for an ultrasound (hopefully on Monday) that will give a second look at a “new conglomerate of small enhancing foci in the retroareolar region” of my right breast (not the one where I’ve already had breast cancer) and a non-mass-like something in the posterior of the same breast. Malignancy and infectious/inflammatory etiologies are considered, says the MRI report.

The MRI I had on Thursday was just a routine follow-up — a test that was supposed to reveal I am still cancer-free.

Maybe I am still cancer-free. Maybe I’m not. The ultrasound, and probably a biopsy, will flesh it all out. While I wait for that second look, though, I’m sorta just going through the motions and hanging in a balance. I’m up and down, and, well, this is what I feel:

Yes, a suspended state, Anna. I don’t know whether to feel panic or peace, nervous or calm, worry or hope. It’s crazy.

There is still plenty of happy in my world, though. I mean, how can I not count my blessings with a boy who is willing to dance his little heart out at the Gator basketball game last night just to get on TV (and in the newspaper).

All in all, I am fine. I know deep down that if cancer is back, I will just fight it again. And if it is not back, I will be the happiest girl I know.

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Quick MRI Results Not a Good Sign

1. Incomplete MRI of right breast with new conglomerate of small enhancing foci in the retroareolar region and non-mass-like enhancement of posterior breast as detailed above. Malignant and infectious/inflammatory etiologies are considered. A second look with ultrasound is recommended to evaluate for discreet lesion that would be amenable to biopsy. If ultrasound in unsuccessful, MRI-guided biopsy should be considered.

2. Normal left breast MRI.

Next up: ultrasound, early next week.

Funny thing: seven years ago, just before Thanksgiving, it all happened pretty much like this.

Of course, it could be nothing.

Or it could be something.

I just want to know.

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MRI No. 5

I had my fifth post-cancer MRI today. I get one every year, right at this time. It’s just a routine thing, a method of peeking at the insides of my breasts to determine if cancer is coming back or not. I don’t know what today’s results will reveal — gotta wait for my oncologist to call — but I do know it was a pretty good visit. I can’t always say that, because I usually wait so long to have my turn in the tube that I’m steaming mad by the time I slip into my awesome blue gown.

Today, though, no one made me wait, no one made me pay, I got my MRI in the new part of the hospital (first time there), and besides one minor blood spill when the needle came out of my arm, everything went well. The best part of the morning was meeting a woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer, telling her it’s been almost 7 years since my story started (see, there IS hope!), and leading her to my blog, where she can hopefully see that what lies ahead isn’t always horrible.

And to the newly-diagnosed woman — if you are reading, welcome to my blog. It’s really long (that’s a good thing — it means I’ve been surviving for a good amount of time), but I hope you’ll find what you seek, and if you don’t, please just leave me a comment or send me an e-mail (address is on the card I gave you), and I will happily answer any of your questions or lead you to someone who can. Best wishes to you!

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50/50 Does Cancer Good


I don’t watch movies with a very critical eye, and mostly, I don’t really care much if what I see on the big screen matches reality. I’m just happy if films make me think, laugh, learn, and sometimes cry. Tonight, though, I saw 50/50 (about a young man who is diagnosed with cancer and must endure the rigors of fighting it), and it had me thinking for all 100 minutes, “Is this an accurate portrayal of a cancer battle?”

I’m thinking it was.

Not everything mirrored what I personally encountered, but a lot of it did.

Like the blurring effect a crushing diagnosis can have.

Like the chemotherapy infusion room — same pink leathery chairs and same gathering of cancer patients making small talk that turns into something more.

Like the shaving of the hair in preparation of the inevitable.

Like the bald head.

Like the pre-op room, with family standing by the bedside and doctors buzzing around, requesting signatures and pushing drugs that cause sleepiness.

Like the post-op room, with family standing by smiling because the news is hopeful.

Like the therapist still working on her Ph.D., dispensing relaxation techniques and advice and managing anger and frustration.

Like the nausea, the fatigue, the nervousness, the insecurity.

Like the mom who worries and is always ready to help.

There was no actual vomiting for me, no “medical” marijuana, no cheating significant other, no major big meltdown (just a bunch of minor ones), no Seth Rogan funny friend.

Still, the movie rings true.

A lot.

Probably because it’s inspired by a true story and written by the guy who lived it.

(And Seth Rogan really was his funny friend).

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October. Over.

October is almost over, which means (a) my house is filled with candy, and the ultimate challenge is upon me: to eat or not to eat, (b) the time will soon change, and I will begin hating how it gets dark so early, (c) the onslaught of pink that has probably been gagging you for 31 days will slow to a medium roar, and (d) it will soon be seven years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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1 in 8 Is Not Every Woman’s Risk

I’m not sure why I didn’t fully understand the whole 1 in 8 thing before this week, but, clearly, I did not. Because when my friend who happens to spend his days hunting down a cure for cancer told me that the 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer is a lifetime risk and not a risk for every woman at every age, I was sorta shocked. And way relieved.

My friend directed me to the National Cancer Institute, where I located some facts about the often-thrown-around statistic, and here is what I learned:

cancer.gov

If you are 30 years old, you have a 1 in 233 chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, a 1 in 54 chance in the next 20 years, a 1 in 24 chance in the next 30 years, and a 1 in 8 chance in your lifetime.

Did I have a 1 in 8 chance at age 34? Nope. I still got the disease, yes (which means I’m pretty unlucky, I guess), but my chances were not as great as one might believe.

Now, your risk does increase as you age (because, as my friend told me, cancer is mostly a disease of older people), but, still, even a 70-year-old woman has a 1 in 27 chance of getting breast cancer in the next 10 years. Not 1 in 8.

I am not here to minimize in any way the fact that breast cancer strikes far too many women of all ages, and I realize there are risk factors that change the odds listed above, but, I do appreciate a little perspective.

And now, I have some.

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The First Two Months

This is pretty much what happens in the two months following a breast cancer diagnosis:

  • Mammogram.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Needle-guided biopsy.
  • Echo heart scan.
  • Full-body PET scan.
  • MRI.
  • Muga heart scan.
  • BRCA genetic testing.
  • Numerous blood tests.
  • Portacath inserted in my chest.
  • 3 rounds of chemo.
  • 2 bone marrow generating Neulasta injections.
  • Hair loss.
  • Insomnia.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Bloating/weight gain.
  • Migraines.
  • Appointments with cardiologists, oncologists, oncology surgeons for my future mastectomy, plastic surgeons for future reconstruction.
  • Too many prescriptions to name.
  • Menopause … fun times.

That could so be my list (except for the PET scan and the mastectomy and plastic surgeon appointments).

But, it’s not.

It belongs to Angela over at It Is What It Is. (That’s her in the pic.)

Angela, 31 years old and mom to a daughter and twin boys, is in the midst of treatment right now, and if you are, too, or you are about to be, or you just want to follow someone amazing who is tackling life despite its hurdles, you really should go visit this spunky gal (who also happens to be giving away a Bondi Band headband).

I think you won’t regret getting to know Angela.

I know I don’t.

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Snapfish PinkGives Gift Card Giveaway

Pink Hope Encouragement Card

Snapfish says you can create personalized gifts for your family and friends while you raise breast cancer awareness. It’s simple. Just visit www.snapfish.com/PinkGives, and for every PinkGives product you purchase, Snapfish will donate 30 percent of the proceeds (up to $25,000) to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Also, Snapfish members can showcase their support by sending a note to pinkgives@snapfish.com about their involvement in the breast cancer cause – could be participation in a local Susan G. Komen race or organizing a fundraising campaign or related party – for a chance to receive Snapfish-funded support as an official photo sponsor for their event. Snapfish will select four winners and will donate up to $1,500 to each event.

That’s pretty cool.

So is this: Snapfish is giving away a $50 gift card to one of YOU through a giveaway HERE.

Also simple.

  • Leave a comment and tell us how you’ll spend your Snapfish bucks.
  • Leave your comment no later than 5PM ET on Tuesday, October 25, 2011.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 and older.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing via random.org.
  • One winner will receive one gift card in the amount of $50.
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you’ve won!

 

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Bald Isn’t Bad Forever

If cancer ever forces you to lose your hair, you will probably be devastated, like I was.

But, in time, you might like the benefits of bald.

Like no shampoo; no hair drying, curling, flattening; and no time at all to get ready in the morning. (No shaving or eyebrow tweezing either.)

Not that you won’t love it when your hair returns, but bald isn’t the worst thing forever. Just in the beginning.

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