How’s It Gonna Be: Dealing With the Prospect of Another Diagnosis
I’m a young adult cancer survivor. It’s a label I’m proud of, but obviously a club I never would have willingly joined.
Diagnosed with cancer three months before my eighteenth birthday, it’s safe to say I was not quite a grown-a$s woman yet. So there were a lot of things I said and did...a lot of ways I responded to my diagnosis that I’d like to think I’d handle differently now that I’m almost…(gulp, inhale, exhale)...thirty years old
Back then I was hormonal and angsty, and ALREADY mad at the world. Add a cancer diagnosis on top of all that adolescent aggression and you’ve got a recipe for a big-ole, bald-headed s**t show.
I recovered...nicely...from Ewing’s Sarcoma, I suppose. Some kidney damage here, little infertility there. But I learned over the years what triggers me and how to maneuver myself through the bouts of depression and anxiety that occasionally pepper my survivorship.
I do not, however, do well with the prospect of having to face another cancer diagnosis. Through my twenties, it seemed like it would take a pretty drastic twist of the ole “magic wand” for me to get cancer again once I was clear of the usual relapse timeline. “Lightnin’ don’t strike the same tree twice” was my creed of choice and I felt so normal with each passing year that it became easier and easier to blot cancer fear out.
So in the spring of 2019, when my mom tested positive for one of the breast cancer genes and was soon after diagnosed with very early-stage breast cancer, I was...how you say...shooketh.
Thinking I still had at LEAST a few years until my first mammogram, imagine my delight when, at my next check-up, my oncologist said that in order to be smart with the information we have, it was probably time to start mammograms and breast ultrasounds.
I don’t need to tell you that I was scared, angry, and resentful.
I also don’t need to tell you that after the scared, angry, and resentful phase, I eventually got my s**t together and scheduled the tests. No matter how many times I shouted “it’s my body, and I don’t have to do everything they say,” I knew I’d never been able to live with the idea that I might get cancer somewhere along the line that could’ve been caught much earlier if I’d been more cautious.
My mammogram was quick, easy, and thankfully unremarkable.
Yesterday, I had my ultrasound and was anticipating a similar level of ease and simplicity. So when the ultrasound technician pointed at the screen and said, “see this? This is what we call a fibroadenoma,” I thought I was going to literally poop on the table.
She explained that fibroadenomas were common in your twenties and thirties and that they were benign.
“This one here is just a bit darker than the rest, so let me see how he wants to proceed…”
She had eased my worry and then slapped me in the face again with it in the same breath.
I was left on the table while she consulted the radiologist, and for the first time in eleven years, I really, truly considered what it might look like to have cancer again.
If they say you need a biopsy, are you going to fling yourself on the floor and perform a Shakespeare tragedy in this exam room?
If this turns out to be cancerous...
How’s it gonna be?”
In those twelve brief minutes, there were many deep breaths. There were closed eyes. There were speedy heartbeats.
And there were three clear conclusions:
1. Nothing about my everyday life would change until it had to.
In my first bout with cancer, as soon as I was diagnosed as a sick person, I IDENTIFIED as a sick person. I EMBODIED a sick person. I immediately got into bed or burrowed into the couch. And I wasted no time victimizing myself.
I lived like I was dying in a bad way.
This time, there would be no “sick-person-syndrome” until the results of all biopsies and tests were back. And after that, there’d be no slowing down until my body truly needed to slow down. If I had energy, I’d be putting it to good use as often as possible.
2. Anyone outside of immediate family and s/o who texted or called my cell phone for “updates” would be blocked.
It sounds drastic, but for me, it would be crucial.
I truly feel like mine AND my family’s boundaries were not respected during my battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma. I think my parents were too kind to demand it, and I was not mature enough to ask for it in the proper way. I think we all would’ve fared better mentally and emotionally if we’d been stricter about “dropping by the house” and “calling to check-in.”
This time around, I would designate either e-mail or Facebook messenger to well-wishers/update seekers, and I would be hella strict. I’d get back to people as I felt able to, and unless my house was on fire and they were texting to let me know, anyone who could not respect those wishes would have their numbers BLOCKED.
3. There would be meditation. Every. Single. Day.
I’m not a perfect meditator. I’m not even a truly faithful meditator. I meditate when I’m really stressed and feel like I need silence and calm. In fact, I probably spend more time reading about meditation than I do actually meditating and it’s something I really want to work on. But from all that reading, I’ve learned that it can truly ONLY have positive effects on your body and mind.
It can’t hurt you. And I’ll take any free, non-toxic, non-kidney-killing, fertility-destroying medicine that I can should I ever have to battle cancer again.
The technician came back into the exam room and told me that they just wanted to keep an eye on the fibroadenomas, and to come back for another ultrasound in six months.
That twelve minutes of planning wouldn’t need to be practiced. The world came back into focus.
Do I wish I had left the building with a completely uneventful ultrasound? Of course.
But I did leave with what felt like a solid and effective outline for battling another cancer diagnosis.
I think even if other cancer survivors don’t agree with my list, having a little “coping” plan tucked away for a rainy day can be extremely beneficial. There aren’t a lot of perks to having experienced cancer. But knowing how you want to cope with health crises in the future is one.
For a “scan”xiety worry wart like me, it might be even more valuable than a fibroadenoma-free titty.
Photo courtesy of author.