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 metastasized 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 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 was paralyzed from the waist down 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 seven months since then and only recently have I reduced pain meds to only Norco and started walking without a walker and only sometimes with a cane. Friends and family got me to daily radiation treatments. I’m almost done with 12 more treatments after 30 earlier this year. 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 or what quality of life awaits me. I am told I will get better — maybe even back to normal. I’m not sure I’m being told the truth. Never has the road back to normalcy been so slow or seemingly non-existent.
I want my left leg and 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 radiation making it horribly painful to eat for more than a week. I looked older and beat up. I’ve lost almost 20 pounds. I stopped wearing makeup and didn’t care. For a time, my clothes were baggy and unfashionable — it made 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 (except when my husband Tom so cruelly died five years ago from terminal brain cancer that in his case was hereditary).
I found the breast cancer 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 bones in less than a year? That is because I had cancer long before it was diagnosed via a mammogram. My radiation oncologist said 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 Tom. 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 damned sorry for myself.
My future is a big mystery. Even the next course of treatment is relatively unknown right now. Meanwhile, I want to be able to walk and bike outside again whether it is frosty cold or muggy as hell. I plan to figure out my priorities with the proverbial bucket list. And, for the time being, I am preparing to dance — with gusto — at my son’s wedding in July.