- Took my son to basketball practice (yes, they practice even when school is out).
- Met a good friend for breakfast.
- Finished up some last minute client emails and conference calls.
- Got all the groceries for Christmas including a huge 10 lb. beef tenderloin and let me tell you, Shop Rite was CROWDED!
- Got the last 3 gifts I needed to pick up (including my husbands, always the hardest one to shop for).
- Went to the Cancer Center for my latest 6 month checkup with my oncologist.
- Picked up the gift cards that my daughter asked me for yesterday (Argh, really? Now you tell me?!)
- Got more wrapping paper, cards and a few extra gift boxes.
Oh yeah, that #6, about the oncologist? That’s the one that helps me keep the holidays in perspective.
I still see my oncologist every 6 months. By now, I’ve got these visits nailed, I know exactly what to expect, how to prepare and how to make them relatively non-stressful. I say relatively, although I still get that nervous energy before I go and am always glad when the check-up is over.
This visit I wanted to chronicle what happens so I took some pictures. Once you see what this is like, it’s not as scary as it might seem at first and while I’m no longer getting chemo, these bi-annual visits are very similar to what occurred when I was, so if you’ve been newly diagnosed with breast cancer, I’m hoping this will take some of the fear out of the experience for you.
1. First, I head on into the front door of the Cancer Center. This is the door where on the day of my very first visit in February of 2010, I literally looked over my shoulder furtively to make sure no one saw me going in. I was somehow embarrassed that someone I knew would see me going into a CANCER CENTER. On that first day, I was still in denial about a lot of it, we hadn’t even told the kids yet.
Now, I feel like an old pro at this. I know the drill and unself consciously park in one of the spaces marked “Parking Space for Cancer Patient,” then walk in the front door and smile hello at the receptionists.
2. Then I find a comfy chair as I sit in the reception area and wait; I always bring a book for these 6 month oncology check-ups. Sadly, the cancer center is always busy. There are usually a lot of patients waiting to see their oncologists, and it invariably takes at least 15-20 minutes before my name is even called to start the now familiar process. This is actually a pretty disturbing thought because it means that all of these people also have, or have had cancer. This always freaks me out, how many people are there every time I visit.
3. Next I’m weighed and they check my vitals. And then the part that I dread; they need to draw blood. It’s not just a needle stick, they draw 2 vials so I’m always nervous. My veins got all scarred from chemo so I get really anxious before I have to have blood drawn. If you ever have to get chemotherapy, I would suggest getting a port. For various reasons I didn’t but if I’d had a port installed, it would have kept the veins in my right arm free from scar tissue. And because I had lymph nodes removed from my left arm, I can never have a needle in that side and so it’s important that my right arm stays useful.
The nurses that work in the oncology center are the best I’ve ever encountered at drawing blood. Today’s nurse was one I had never met before but like all the others I’ve met at the center, he was very good so it was a quick and almost painless process.
4. Once the blood work is done, I can breathe a sigh of relief as this is the part that is the most stressful for me. Afterwards, I go into another room where I wait for my oncologist, Doctor B.
I like Doctor B. He’s been very collaborative and worked together with me to determine both my chemo regimen and my subsequent aromatase inhibitor regimen (5 years of Tamoxifen vs. Arimidex). We meet in a basic hospital treatment room like the one below.
The good news is that my blood work is fine with nothing to worry about. I breathe another sigh of relief and chat with Dr. B. about the new studies I’ve been hearing about which suggest that patients may benefit from being on Tamoxifen for 10 years, vs. the 5 years that he had originally recommended and we both agree that for now we would consider it and continue to discuss as we get closer to the 5 year mark.
5. We wish each other Happy Holiday and say goodbye for another 6 months. Sometimes after I see Dr. B. I visit the chemo room in the back so that I can say hello to the nurses who were so wonderful to me during my treatments, but this time I left in a hurry. I just wanted to get out of there; Christmas in the chemo center is not something I want to linger over.
On the way home I went to beautiful downtown Clinton to finish the last of my Christmas shopping and now I’m sitting in the kitchen making a huge pot of Anthony Bourdain’s delicious, easy mushroom soup.
Merry Christmas to all of you who have visited My Left Breast this year! I wish you and your families health, happiness, peace and love this holiday season!