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Cancer Lens

ejourneys's picture

My oncologist gave me the good news on Tuesday: my PET scan last week showed no sign of cancer. He said the front desk could print me out a copy of the report. I told him that I had already downloaded my copy from See Your Chart, the patient access portal used by my cancer center.

Even though I had accessed my PET results about 24 hours prior to my appointment, I didn't announce anything until I had heard those results directly from him. I'm superstitious that way -- as though there might be some between-the-lines invisible ink and only oncologists possessed the right decoder to reveal hidden words that somehow changed the meaning of the message.

I had spent some time dissecting the report and its medical terminology. Repeated findings of "no adenopathy" told me that I have no swollen glands, and that glands are an important indicator. My bones are clear. "Interval resolution" and "stable" form the theme of my chest report. ("Stable mildly hypermetabolic left breast skin thickening. Findings are not suspicious for hypermetabolic malignancy/metastases.") In other words, my thickened skin, tissue density, and seroma (fluid build-up) comprise my left breast's new normal.

My gallbladder has "multiple stones," but they're not a problem; gallstones are common in the US. Unless they cause a problem, they can be left alone. If they do cause a problem and I feel those symptoms, at least now I know that gallstones can be a potential cause of my discomfort. In other words, the symptoms could be due to the gallstones, not cancer.

Because that's the thing about cancer. It becomes a lens through which the world appears, including any bodily oddities.

Eye flashes, for example.

Starting around mid-December (shortly after I had finished radiation and started on anastrazole) I had detected a pulse behind my eyes, especially the right eye, in rhythm with my heartbeat. A very subtle "milky flash" was the closest I could come to describing it, but my vision was neither obscured nor impaired. (In contrast, I get very infrequent migraines that affect mainly the left side of my vision and whose aura can make me half-blind if I'm not careful.)

These "milky flashes" don't happen every day, but when one does it lasts anywhere from about five to about 30 seconds. They occur in the bathroom, when my fluorescent light is on and when my gaze is relaxed.

Naturally I discussed this with both my medical oncologist and my radiation oncologist because the main variable that has changed in my life is cancer and cancer treatment. The flashes are so subtle that I was the first to say that maybe this sort of thing has been happening all along, and that I'm just noticing it now because I'm that much more attuned to my body. I report it because it's a data point, and therefore maybe it means something.

Turns out it does mean something, but not something cancer-related.

I had my eyes examined on Monday. They were due for a check-up anyway, but the flashes gave me that much more motivation. The verdict: some vitreous detachment, which commonly occurs with age and is nothing to worry about unless it damages the retina. The main symptom of vitreous detachment is floaters, which I've had for years. The flashes are new -- or at least newly noticed. If they become steady and start interfering with my vision, then there's a problem.

On Tuesday I told my oncologist the cause of the eye flashes. That's one fewer symptom among the many others on his patient plate. I've experienced some mild hot flashes, which have resolved for now, and my carpal tunnel has worsened beyond its usual winter exacerbations. I've awakened a couple of times with hands that have felt arthritic. Likely these are related to the anastrazole, but they're manageable. (I had a couple of bad carpal tunnel flare-ups that seem to relate to greater-than-usual sodium intake; at least, that's my theory.)

I consider myself to be very lucky, mainly because I am currently cancer-free (may it remain so!), but also because my side effects are relatively mild. Still, I have come through the cut/poison/burn of treatment (including continued treatment with anastrazole), all of which has potential long-term consequences. Add the crap shoot of cancer itself. That all adds a level of awareness to my way of being in the world. It's not front-and-center, especially post-active treatment, but it continues behind the scenes.

Prior to cancer and prior to my actual radiation, I had lived with what I called the "background radiation" of diabetes and heart disease because those had run in my family (and had killed my mother at 57). So far I've been spared them. Cancer had struck out of the blue while I was on the lookout for diseases that had seemed more probable. My family history has not changed, but cancer has become my new background (and foreground!) radiation. The other diseases remain theoretical as far as my body is concerned; in contrast, cancer had become a fact.

I don't have to see my oncologist for another three months unless something comes up. Tuesday's appointment had been the first one since May 1 where no blood was drawn. It all feels like bonds being loosened. I had spent almost a year being tethered to an intensity that now recedes, like a boat pulling away from shore.

Monday's breast cancer social media (#bcsm) chat featured patient advocate Trisha Torrey. The full transcript includes these links to patient advocacy resources:

ADVOConnection, a directory that links patients with independent (e.g., not hospital affiliated) patient advocates.

"Patient Advocacy and the Allegiance Factor" explains that a private patient advocate or navigator has allegiance only to the patient, not to hospital or insurance company.

Patient Advocate Foundation

"15 Influential ePatients and Patient Advocates to Follow"

More good links and advice from patient advocate Eve Harris.

Not mentioned during the chat but also of interest: Health Care Bill of Rights from Equality Florida. This info is relevant to all patients but is focused especially on helping LGBT patients and caregivers.

My recent artwork has been part of TinkerLab's TinkerSketch Challenge for February, with daily pieces created to prompts. I did this one for the Feb. 3 prompt, "Clear Tape":

I laid clear packing tape on itself, photographed the result, and then improvised upon it in ArtRage.

The last TinkerSketch Challenge had occurred back in April 2014, the month between my lumpectomy and my start on chemo. All of my pieces from that challenge and this one are here.


Puffin2014's picture

congrats on the good PET results!

Jean-Luc's picture

Congrats on the great cancer free news! :)

ejourneys's picture

Thank you both!

Congrats on being cancer free. May God continue to bless you.

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