In January I had my regular scans. Scanathon, as I've come to call it, as it's an all-day process. Scanathon consists of a CT and bone scan that I usually get every 3-4 months, but more on that later.
These were my first scans without Annie, my childhood friend and fellow cancer fighter who died in December. No, she never physically came with me, but we would text nonstop the day of. About drinking that nasty ass contrast. About weird people I was seeing in the waiting room, and the looks I would get from them, being that I'm usually the youngest one in the room. About how scared we both were.
We were both huge Billy Joel fans. I mean, what girl from Long Island isn't? And when we got to see him at MSG last summer, well, it was a magical experience. The two days leading up to my scans, and the day after, every time I turned my radio on, the first song that was playing was "Piano Man" by Billy Joel (did I really need to tell you that?). Maybe it was just always playing because he's awesome, or maybe, just maybe, it was Annie's way of letting me know she was with me, and I should sing my heart out 'til the rest of me chills out.
After scanathon, Annie usually continued to text me nonstop to see how I was feeling. Since I'm usually wiped out, it would be difficult for me to get back to her. Until her inevitable "I'm stalking u" and "I'm gonna harass u til u respond, haha" texts came.
But this time, those texts never came.
What did come were results. Two days later to tell me that, while there were no new spots of cancer, and everything else was mostly stable (yay!), I had a fractured rib (back to that later) and fluid in my lungs. Um, what? Seriously, that's how I responded to my doctor. How do I have fluid in my lungs? What does this mean? I've known too many people who started to have fluid in their lungs, right before they died. But I also know people that have fluid in their lungs and are, for the most part, doing alright. So what does the fluid in my lungs mean for me?
Back to the broken rib for a sec. This past August I developed a chronic cough that only got worse as time went on. I saw a pulmonologist twice, who had me try everything from cough suppressants, to inhalers, to nasal sprays, and back again. Nothing worked. And I tried everything. Ev-er-y-thing. About two months ago, after a particularly bad coughing fit, I felt like I broke a rib. One of my
BFFs who lives in Syracuse was driving down with her husband for a visit that day. She texted me that morning when they were leaving. I texted back, "Um, we might have to stop at the ER, b/c I think I broke a rib."
When Anne Marie and Tom got here we went to urgent care instead of the ER. Bad fucking idea. Idiots. Everywhere.
The nurse was so distracted from telling me all about her problems, that she completely forgot to take my blood pressure. Then the doctor comes in. Soft-spoken, with a heavy accent, and for some reason a hand over his mouth (maybe he had an onion bagel for breakfast? Mmm, bagel), mumbles the words, "How long have you been having these issues?" "You mean, the rib?" I replied. "No, the breast cancer issues."
That's right folks. The breast cancer that's killing me is just a silly little issue I've been having all these years. All in my head, and I'm sure I'll be fine. After a quick X-ray the nurse comes in and says, I told you so. What? She said she knew it wasn't broken, and, according to their X-ray, it wasn't. Well, congratulations miss know it all nursey nurse, you win another one (but not really; hang on, I'm getting to the point, I swear). So I left, in excruciating pain, with my cancer issues, and a pocket full of rubber gloves. Hey they were just sitting there, and you never know when you're gonna need some.
Still in pain a month later when I saw my doctor, he ordered another X-ray. Still no broken rib, despite my cries of, "I'm pretty sure I broke a rib." Fast forward to scanathon and what does the bone scan show? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? Yep, you got it, a broken rib. So, sorry miss know it all nursey nurse, but you can take your gold star told you so attitude and shove it up your ass.
When my doctor told me the rib was broken, at first I felt justified. Like, hey, I guess maybe I do kinda know my body after all. Then I was like, shit, I have a broken rib. From coughing. And since I'm still coughing, how the hell is the rib supposed to heal? Well, the fluid in my lungs might be causing the coughing. Or it might not. It might not even be fluid. It's become yet another thing that we're going to just watch and see what it does. That's how we left it after my third appointment with the pulmonologist.
Then, a few days ago the cough gets worse, and I start coughing up green stuff. Sorry, sorry, I know, ew, gross, but well, if you're that skeeved out by green stuff, then trust me, don't get cancer, because you'll deal with much more disgusting stuff than that (hint, you're gonna need those rubber gloves for some pretty nasty stuff). So, now I have an upper respiratory infection, and, since my broken rib hasn't been able to heal yet, even more pain.
And a new plan.
Stop the chemo. The oral chemo I've been on since last August. The chemo that's actually been working to keep new spots of cancer from forming. Because, as my oncologist put it, "We don't want to kill you with side effects." Um, thanks, I don't want that either. And since I've gotten nearly every single side effect this chemo has to offer, death by side effect is a possibility.
But what if the cancer spreads while I'm off the chemo? What if the hormone therapy I'm also on isn't enough alone to stop the cancer from spreading? But what if I actually feel better for a few weeks? What if I have enough energy to go for a walk, go out with my friends, or clean my apartment (okay, I never really did that when I did have the energy, but still)? What if, for a short time, I can feel like the old me again? Then what? After a taste of the old normal after three years of new normals, will I want to go back to being a zombie?
I know I'm getting ahead of myself, but these are real questions that people with metastatic cancer face. The quality of life debate. Yes, your cancer may be stable, but you're not. Do you opt for a little bit more time knowing what kind of life (or lack thereof) it might be, or do you cut your losses and take the shorter time but be able to feel like yourself?
I can't answer that, for anyone, let alone myself right now.
Would you be able to?