October 18. I wake up early thinking that I might have a bite of yogurt before my 6-hour fasting time officially begins at 7:00 a.m. But I’m just not hungry. I have a big glass of water and read emails and play a game on my tablet. I never do eat. I just drink water switching from cold water to cups of hot water. I drink lots and lots of water while I lie on the bed watching TV. Rest and relaxation is also a requirement.
We leave a bit early so I can drop something off at the College where I work. I’ve got a caffeine headache and am feeling anxious. When we are almost to the College I get sick. Really sick. Too much water maybe. Ugh.
When we get to the hospital I take half a valium. We check-in. At 1:30 p.m. a young man named Ivan (I think that was his name) comes out to walk me to the mobile PET scan unit parked behind the hospital. Steve isn’t allowed to come. He’s told it will be about two hours. There’s no room for anyone other than patients (two max) and the two technician’s. I let Ivan know I’ve been sick. Likely motion sickness.
The unit has a tiny, dark room at one end. They guide me into the room and onto a recliner chair. They bring me a thin blanket. I get asked a lot of questions about allergies, other surgeries, medications, etc. The imaging technician (can’t remember his name) explains the procedure and why I needed to fast and why I needed to drink so much water. Here’s a link to more information about PET scans.
Once I am injected, they instruct me to sit quietly for the next 30 to 40 minutes. Before they close the door I’m given a barf bag, just in case. Good call. I get sick again.
Next they guide me to the opposite end of the unit and lie me down on the scanner table. I put my arms over my head and am told to relax. They close the door and the scan commences.
Once the scan is done they sit me up and ask how I’m doing. Okay. After a few minutes I stand up to leave. On my way to the lift, I am overcome with nausea. They help sit me down and give me another barf bag. I tell them how kind they are and get sick again. Such a lightweight.
Finally I am in the waiting room and Steve guides me out to the car. We make it nearly all the way home before I get sick again. I am weak and have a splitting headache.
At home I go to bed and am miserable. I try drinking tea and eating toast but only manage a sip or two and a nibble of toast. Later I manage a couple bites of yogurt. It is all I can do to get out of bed to wash my face and brush my teeth. When I look at my phone to check for text messages, I am shocked that it is 9:15 p.m.
October 3 – 11:30 a.m. Steve and I are about to leave to meet Katie at Baechtel Creek Medical Clinic. Mom calls. Right then. She asks how I’m doing? “Um. Well.” The moment I’ve been dreading the most. I tell her what’s going on. I hear her suck her breath in. I promise to call her back as soon as I can. I hang up. We leave.
Katie is already there when we arrive. We are all very solemn. They call my name and the three of us follow the nurse back to an examining room. Dr. Olsen arrives with her stenographer. There are five of us packed into this little room. Dr. Olsen does not mince words. The biopsy results came back as positive for cancer. Poorly differentiated carcinoma. She wants me to get a PET scan and refer me to an oncologist in Ukiah — Dr. Wang (pronounced Wong). I ask her for a referral to UCSF for a second opinion. She says “of course” and then asks me if I’ve been sleeping. “Not very good.” She writes a prescription. I thank her. I call mom on our way to Diggers for shots of tequila and a beer.
The hard part. Sharing the news with family and friends. I believe there is power in numbers. Texts. Emails. Phone calls.
The second hard part. Waiting. Waiting for the referrals to go through. Waiting for the schedulers to call. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I hate being in limbo. I want to move forward. But I just have to wait.
October 9. I’m still waiting. I call the referral desk at Dr. Olsen’s and leave a message. The voice message says calls will be returned within 72 hours. What? I send a private message online to Dr. Olsen. She responds at 930 p.m. that she will find out what’s going on.
October 10. The scheduler for the PET Scan calls to let me know the scan is scheduled for October 16 at 1:30 p.m. Great news. He tells me to fast for at least 6 hours prior and to drink lots of water right up until the appointment. Dress in comfortable clothes. No metal. “Okay. See you then.”
October 11. Dr. Wang’s office calls. I have an appointment the next day at Noon. He wants to see me before the PET. Great. Forward motion. Finally.
October 12. I go to work until my appointment. Steve meets me at Dr. Wang’s office. Dr. Wang talks to me about the biopsy results. We ask if he thinks it is a recurrence of the breast cancer 19 years ago. He says the breast cancer was estrogen receptive. This cancer tissue is not. We ask if it is because of the radiation I had 19 years ago. It’s possible.
We ask for a definition of poorly differentiated carcinoma. This was his analogy. Ten pathologists look at a biopsy of well differentiated carcinoma. All ten determine it is breast cancer. The same ten pathologists look at a biopsy of mildly differentiated carcinoma and 5 determine it is breast cancer and the other 5 don’t know what kind of cancer it is. The same ten pathologists look at a biopsy of poorly differentiated carcinoma and none of them can tell what kind of cancer it is.
He schedules my next appointment for October 18 at 3:40 p.m.
There are no facts, only interpretations. —Freidrich Nietzsche
September 10. I have an appointment with Dr. Olsen to check out the lump. She does a referral for a sonogram and mammogram on my right breast. I mention that it doesn’t seem likely that the lump would show on a mammogram, given the location. She said something about it being “protocol since I’m a breast cancer survivor” and since the lump is on the same side. I think, “Whatever. Let’s just get it done.”
September 19. I go for the mammogram/sonogram at 11 a.m. at Adventist Health Ukiah Valley Imaging. I’m feeling anxious. Just as I’m about to go in for the mammogram part the hospital’s computer system goes down. I’m thinking, “No. No way. I need to get this done today. Sh*t.” I’m told I can either wait or reschedule. Oh…I’m waiting. About 15 minutes later the computer’s come back up. Thank gawd. I go in for the mammogram, and of course, it’s impossible to get the lump in the image. But I get squished anyway. Then I go right in for the sonogram. The technician is very thorough. I’m thinking, “too thorough.” She sends the images over to the radiologist to read. Leaves the room. Comes back. Says my doctor will call me with the results. And as I leave she asks me if the Breast Cancer Advocate Maria gave me her card when we were chatting. I’m thinking, “Sh*t. I know what that means.” But I say, “Why no, no she didn’t. Thank you. Thank you very much,” and take the card. Ugh. I think I have cancer.
I go back to work and about an hour later Dr. Olsen calls and says the sonogram results were…I can’t remember the exact word she used, but it was something like…suspicious. I have two options, she says, surgery to have it cut out and biopsied, or a needle biopsy. I opt for the least invasive needle biopsy. I hang up the phone and feel my eyes welling up. Dammit. I think I have cancer. It’s then I tell my colleague Katie the awful truth of my situation. She remains optimistic. Me, not so much.
September 28. I go back to the hospital imaging department for the needle biopsy. Steve goes with me. I take a half a Valium to take the edge off. (What I had to go through to get a prescription for 4 tiny Valium is a whole other story.) The team, a young doctor and two young nurses, were very efficient and kind. I was glad I took the valium because getting the biopsy ended up to be challenging. Of, course. They said I would likely get results in 3-5 working days.
October 3. I’m at work chatting with Katie as we do most mornings. Around 9 a.m. my phone rings. It’s Dr. Olsen’s assistant letting me know I have an appointment. That day. At 11:30 a.m. I say, “Okay.” I hang up and tell Katie, “Well they don’t just call and tell you that you have have an appointment that same day to tell you good news.” And I’m thinking, “Sh*t. I have cancer.” We both start to cry a little. I know I have to call Steve. I do. He says, “Come home. And I’ll drive you to your appointment.” Katie says, “I’m going with you.” I guess I have an entourage. I’m a mess on the inside, so my outside could use an entourage.