In November, just after my birthday, and after eight months of dealing with progressively crippling bone pain, I was handed the medical diagnosis of breast cancer that had metastisized into my bones. This is a mother fucker because for months I had mysterious sore and broken ribs, severe back pain, upper leg discomfort, a gradual loss of overall mobility, and I witnessed first hand going from an in-shape, active woman to becoming handicapped.
And to worsen the whole mess, not a single doctor diagnosed my illness over nine months nor did one show interest in the fact that I was becoming seriously ill. The doctors only took blood work, never a CAT scan, MRI or bone scan, any of which would have revealed I had aggressive, bold, gnaw-through-your-bones cancer.
So five weeks after being taken to the emergency room because I could not move one morning, emergency spine surgery was conducted to remove a cancerous martini pickle-sized tumor. I spent 10 days in the hospital and went home so my back could heal. I was on massive pain drugs — morphine, Fentanyl, Norco — and hoped that soon I would be able to start cutting back on pain killers and functioning in a more normal way.
Well, it has been ten weeks since then and only recently have I reduced pain meds to only Norco and started walking a bit without a walker. Friends and family get me to daily radiation treatments. I’m almost done with 30 treatments. My appetite and moods are constantly changing. Water tastes bad as do many foods. I’m nauseous often. At night, I get glum and think about dying in a few years.
I really don’t know how long I have and what quality of life I will have. I am told I will get better — back to normal. I’m not sure I’m being told the truth. Never has the road back to normalcy been so slow or nonexistant.
I look forward to getting out of the main floor den where I have a hospital bed to my bedroom upstairs. I want to take a shower standing up instead of sitting down in a handicapped chair. I want my back to stop throbbing, which has me wondering if the radiation and all its miserable side effects have been worth it.
I’m still haunted by all the set backs I’ve had: C-diff — a nightmarish illness from antibiotics whereby the colon becomes toxic and urgent trips to the bathroom become a regular occurrence for days. I’ve had other illnesses that reflect a compromised immune system. My esophagus and throat were burned by back radiation making it horribly painful to eat for more than a week. I look wan and older. I’ve lost almost 20 pounds. I rarely wear makeup and don’t care. My clothes are baggy and unfashionable — it makes treatment easier.
Yeah, you hear about this stuff and it means nothing because you don’t give a shit about cancer unless you or a family member gets it. It was one illness we don’t have in our family and I rarely gave it a second thought.
I found this beast while crossing my arms one night watching TV. A pronto mammogram followed by 18 painfully jarring breast biopsies confirmed three tumors — two of them malignant. But I knew there was much more — all that bone pain finally explained. Bone cancer as manifestation of breast cancer is not uncommon and it is remarkably painful. How did that cancer in my lymph node work its way so lightening fast into so many parts of my body in less than a year? I was told my mammogram from last year was normal.
Only now I’m told now it was not normal. I had breast cancer then, said my radiation oncologist. I was one of the 10 percent whose mammogram did not detect the cancer.
To make matters worse, I have gone through all this without my spouse Tom, gone almost five years. To have him at my side would have made this hellish cancer easier to bear. Most of the cancer patients and survivors I’ve met have a spouse to help them get through. It’s just another reason I feel sorry for myself.
My future is a big mystery. Even the next course of treatment is relatively unknown right now. Meanwhile, I want to get off the walker, be able to walk outside even when it is a frosty Michigan day. I want to start figuring out what I want to do before I depart this earth. Most of all, I want to prepare myself to dance at my son’s wedding in July.