Today is August 24, 2017 and I finally had the ultrasound test. If you read my previous post called “Graduation Day”, then you will know what I am talking about. If not, here’s a quick synopsis. On July 6th, I had my final oncology appointment at the Cancer Centre. They informed me I had graduated from the program and was now moving back under the care of my family doctor…except for one last test…an ultrasound. The resident doctor who examined me found a spot on my left breast that concerned him. It had not been on my radar at all until, of course, he brought it to my attention. My oncologist was not overly concerned but said he would send me for an ultrasound just to be on the safe side.
And then with the busyness of life and being away for three weeks, suddenly it was August 22nd and still no appointment. Not to say, it wasn’t in the back of my mind the whole time. So I considered leaving a message for my oncologist’s nurse. And then I thought, I’m just going to email my oncologist directly. I know he is a busy person, but instead of thinking I am bothering him, I decided to think of it as taking charge of my own healthcare. He got back to me in a couple of hours, thanking me for checking in and letting me know he had re-ordered the test. Two days later, I’m at an appointment at the Women’s Breast Health Centre having the ultrasound.
Lesson #1: To be assertive with my own healthcare. Not obsessive or aggressive but to follow through quickly and confidently when needed. I had learned this lesson in a big way while I was going through treatment. But I am almost 6 years post treatment now and frankly, it’s easy to fall back into old habits. When I look back on my breast cancer diagnosis almost 7 years ago, I let things play out at the pace of our healthcare system. I am not complaining about our healthcare system because I believe, for the most part, it is a good system. Intuitively though, I knew something was not quite right before I was even diagnosed. But, because I was scared and didn’t even want to entertain the idea of a malignant lump in my breast, every year I latched onto, with great relief, the negative result that came back from each mammogram…for FIVE years. I didn’t question it. I just wanted to believe and accept it. And, I am not blaming myself, nor am I racked with guilt. It is what it is, and I have learned from it. To be my own healthcare advocate. Today was just a reminder to keep it up. Don’t let it slide.
Back to my appointment. I filled out the usual form which asks, “Do you have a lump?” or something to that effect. I checked off yes, but crossed out lump and wrote in “spot”. The technologist naturally asked me about it. I told her it is a spot that is a little tender when you press on it. She told me the oncologist had called it an “undulation”. And I said, “yes, that’s what it is”. She looked at my left breast and said she did not see an undulation of the breast tissue but that didn’t mean there was nothing there. She asked me to show her the spot and then she conducted the ultrasound on the spot and the surrounding area. She took the test results to the team of radiologists and said they may came in and talk to me about it, or not. After about 5 minutes, she came back in and said the radiologists do not see anything. And then she looked me directly in the eye and clearly said “You don’t have cancer in your left breast”. I looked her back in the eye and said, “Thank you”.
I was 90% sure the spot was nothing to worry about. But there is always that 10%. And always will be. So I can exhale completely now. Which brings me to Lesson #2: To trust my intuition and then follow-up just to be sure. I know my own body best. I remember the day of my lumpectomy. I went into the Women’s Breast Health Centre, the same place I was today, and the radiologist was going to do a needle biopsy so the surgeon would know exactly where to cut the tumour out. By that point, the chemotherapy and acupuncture too (I firmly believe) had done their job and they couldn’t see the tumour anymore. A marker had been placed in my breast but they could not locate the tumour. They kept looking and feeling around and finally, I said “It’s here” and showed them. The radiologist looked at me skeptically and I said “Trust me, I have felt it every day for the last 8 months". Yes, you know your own body best.
I don’t want to be obsessed with every little ache and pain because let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger. But if there is something that I can’t explain and it doesn’t go away in a short period of time, then I need to take action and not sit back and wait. I am learning to trust my intuition more and more, that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that little voice in the back of my head, not only when it comes to my health but all areas of my life. And, if I quietly listen with wholehearted awareness, it does not lead me astray.
We are heading off to the cottage this weekend. We have rented the same cottage every year for the last 9 years, only missing the year I was undergoing chemo. It is our end of summer ritual, where we can truly kick back and relax. This will be the perfect time to finally pop the cork on the bottle of champagne that has been sitting on ice and celebrate. I have officially graduated from the Cancer Centre.
Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made adaptive clothing for women touched by breast cancer.