I received great news today at my oncology appointment, but only after surviving a few breathless, tense moments as my doctor read through some lengthy notes from the radiologist who examined my CT scan.
How my appointments usually go: Dr. Reddy walks in, shakes my hand, and sits down at the computer. We shoot the breeze while he pulls up my chart. He scrolls through some quick notes from the radiology department and scrolls through the actual scan (if you’ve never seen this, it’s absolutely incredible to see a doctor use a mouse to quickly look through your internal organs…). Then he nonchalantly says, “Everything looks good. How have you been feeling?”
Today was different. Dr. Reddy walked in, shook my hand, and sat down at the computer like normal. But, when he opened my chart, I could see from my seat that there were a lot of notes, and they were really long. Dr. Reddy’s eyebrows drew together, and he moved his whole face closer to the screen as he read it. My heart sank down to my toes.
“This is going to be it,” I thought to myself darkly. “This is going to be the time they find something, and my whole world is going to change again.”
Ever since my original diagnosis, I’ve lived with the knowledge that if my melanoma ever “comes back,” it will likely be a terminal case. Melanoma doesn’t play around when it resurfaces. It is usually in the major organs, and – to put it bluntly – it is usually a death sentence.
Dr. Reddy read for a few more seconds (but it felt like an hour). Then, in his Indian accent that I have come to love, he said (still facing the computer), “They don’t think you have any cancer.”
Well, that was an odd thing to say…
Dr. Reddy went on to tell me that the radiologist had been extremely thorough this time around. Whoever had “read” my CT scan had made notes on every tiny little thing they saw. They even noted evidence of a back injury that I sustained when I was 21, which was something I had never told Dr. Reddy about and which had never come up on any of my previous scans.
This very thorough radiologist noted two issues in my lungs. One was a small “boney” growth, and the other was a set of small spots (each around 2mm). None of these looked like cancer to the radiologist. Dr. Reddy took some time to pull up past CT scans to compare. The “boney” growth was exactly the same in my previous scans. He said it was nothing to worry about.
The two small spots were new. He reassured Dad and me that it was no big deal, that they don’t look like cancer, and that they were really normal after the awful cold/flu season we’ve been having. He asked if I’d been sick recently, and I was just a couple of weeks ago (NASTY cold. It was rough.) So we’re pretty sure we’re good to go. Just in case, we’re moving my next scan up a couple of months, starting a 4 month rotation rather than 6 months (but, Dr. Reddy thought this was totally unnecessary. He only approved it to make me feel better about life.)
Boring & Definitely Accurate
Funny note: I always ask my friends and family to pray for “boring and accurate” CT results. I would say that this radiologist was very thorough and accurate, with the result being the “boring” that we like… nothing to see here (ok, except for 3 tiny things that really aren’t things at all…). Sometimes I think God answers my prayers in really exaggerated ways just to remind me that he does have a sense of humor about these things. “Maggie, your friends have been bugging me for weeks about this boring and accurate thing. I’m going to make this the most accurate scan reading of your life.”
Dr. Reddy told me that now, at 2.5 years since the removal of my tumors and many lymph nodes, there is a 90% chance that I am “cured.”
That number, 90%, washed over me in a wave of deep relief. When I started this journey at Stage 3C, the likelihood that I would make it to 35 years old was 40%. My likelihood to reach 40 was only 24%.
I am so grateful for 90%. However, it also means that I live with that remaining 10% lurking in the shadows of my mind 24/7. With every ache or pain that I feel, I wonder if it’s cancer. Things that most people would shrug off send me into a total tailspin.
Example: I was starting to have some jaw pain, which led to a few sleepless midnight Google searches about jaw cancer and whether melanoma can metastasize there. Then I realized that I had been clenching my jaw a lot out of stress and anxiety (due to waiting for the CT scan and lots of other craziness in my life at the moment). Definitely not cancer, but that’s where my brain automatically goes these days.
But then, I received a HUGE gift in the form of one of the professors on AU’s campus. He has been going through his own cancer journey, and he is doing great after a brutal year or so of treatment. We were chatting in the cafeteria one day, and he said, “Maggie, have you noticed that it’s way scarier when treatment is over?”
YES. YES I HAVE. PLEASE GO ON!
We talked about how the original diagnosis sends you into overdrive, and you have so much to do. There are surgeries to be had, research to be done, and decisions to be made. Then, during treatment, you are being constantly monitored. For me, it was daily trips to the cancer center for a month, followed by weekly appointments for almost a year. Yes, that time was scary. You wonder if you’re going to make it, and you wonder if you have the strength to get through the treatments. BUT, at least you have a team of doctors who are watching you closely.
Then, you get the thumbs up, all clear. You go months and months without knowing what is going on inside your body. You live with those percentages circling in your mind, a constant reminder that cancer could be growing right at this very moment, and you’re doing NOTHING about it.
It’s enough to drive you absolutely insane.
BUT… what a gift it was to hear that I’m not crazy, to know that it’s not just me who experiences this fear and anxiety. If this professor (whom I highly respect for his intelligence, fatherly kindness, and general awesomeness) feels this way too, I can cut myself a little slack.
I often obsess over that 10%, but I am challenging myself to live into the 90% in the coming weeks. I have a ton of amazing things happening in the next few months, including camping in the Grand Canyon (we leave in two days. #NotReady), a family vacay on the beach, MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING OMG, camping in Yosemite, Pyoca, and Great Escape… My head will be spinning (in the best possible way) between now and my next scan, which will take place the week after Great Escape in late July.
I love you all! Thanks for your prayers. On days when I am out of my mind with worry and don’t have the words to say to God, it helps to know that so many are praying on my behalf. (And if you’re not the praying sort, I accept all of the warm thoughts, positive vibes, etc. I feel your support and am so thankful for it too!)