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Archive for the tag “MRI”

Lymph Nodes, PET Scans, and Lies

breast_stageIIb_large2I wanted to write this post last week, but was feeling too Percocet-y. And now I find that I am reluctant to put words to it. I don’t have any especially staggering news to report. As expected, the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. Four of them, according to Buffy the Cancer Slayer. Which is a weird thing because if it was three lymph nodes, I’m safely still in Stage 2, albeit I get a slight bump from 2A to 2B.

With four bad nodes though, I may be upgraded to Stage 3. No one with any authority has re-staged my cancer, but I’ve spent quite a bit of time consulting my books and the almighty Internet. Honestly, the stage isn’t going to make a difference in my treatment (I don’t think) because we’re starting with the big guns (chemotherapy) in the first place. Will it be more likely that I have a mastectomy than a lumpectomy? I don’t know, honestly. I guess some of that will depend on what, if anything, shows up in my left boob, which hopefully will have an MRI-guided biopsy this week. And if we’re tracking the fucks I give, I have none to spare for my rack. The ladies served me well and I’m totally okay with being rid of them if it keeps me alive longer.

I’m rambling, I know. Here’s what’s gone down since my last post:

Two days post Mediport surgery.

Two days post Mediport surgery.

Thursday I had surgery to install the “power port” in my chest. I was given the choice between “twilight” anesthesia or “knock me the fuck out” anesthesia and I selected door number two. Boy was I glad I did, because a forty minute procedure ended up taking two hours. Apparently I have a very robust collarbone and so Dr. Boobcutter had to dig around quite a bit to find a good path to my vein. Anyway, I guess all went well. I went home that afternoon with an ice pack and a Percocet prescription and a sleepy head. For the next twelve hours I felt dopey and headachey and kinda barfy. And I’d only been home an hour before Buffy called to give me the word on my stupid lymph nodes.

Dr Cappuccino, my oncologist called just a little bit after that. He said that he and Buffy and Dr. Boobcutter had been conferring and they’d decided that I should push back chemo a few days so that we could get that MRI-guided biopsy on my left boob and a PET scan. He said that some other people were pushing for a bone scan as well, but he was on the fence on that and thought the PET would be enough to see what’s what. “Hang in there,” he said. “We’ll get you through this.”

That afternoon at school my daughter was crying on the playground so her friend Jasmine took her to the “recess lady” who, when my daughter sobbed “My mom has cancer!” took her to the school counselor. There she got some stickers and drew this picture.

It says "Cancer is 1,000 pieces of poops."

It says “Cancer is 1,000 pieces of poops.”

Is it weird that I didn’t get a call from the school? Is my kid high-maintenance? When she cried again that night “I wish you never had cancer!” I decided that I’m out of my depth on this one. I left a message with the oncology social worker to see if there is a support group or a therapist I should be sending her to.

Friday I spent most of the day in bed except for a trip back to the hospital for my baseline echocardiogram. The drugs in my chemo cocktail that target the HER2 antibodies are known to play a bit fast and loose with the left ventricle, so we needed to check mine out so we can track any damage (which is temporary in the majority of people). So of course, I’m sitting there thinking…every fucking thing they’ve checked (minus my DNA, which does NOT have the breast cancer gene!) has been bad news. So I’m like “does my heart look normal, ha ha?” And the tech of course isn’t able to make a diagnosis–only the doctor can do that. So that freaks me out and  I become the Liz Lemon of the echocardiogram. “Hey look, Gunny, I DO have a heart!” “Is that my aorta or the sarlacc pit?” Ba dum tish.


Then all weekend I looked up stats about how that one extra node effects my prognosis. And I get shit like this.


Five year survivalWhat do I believe? Who do I trust? Am I being alarmist? Probably. But there’s enough concern to look at the rest of my body for more cancer.

So last night my son was over for dinner, milkshakes and Game of Thrones. And when the show was over and he was getting ready to leave we were chatting and I tell him chemo now is going to start on May 5 [insert joke about tequila in the IV for Cinco de Mayo] and he laughs and I follow with “Of course, that’s because they found more cancer and I have to get a PET scan har har.” And Allison, who is clinging to her brother’s leg like a tick–and who I apparently failed to notice–says “They found more cancer?”

“No,” I said. “No, I was just kidding.”

What stage of cancer involves lying to your kids?



Yesterday, I finally had that MRI I’ve been waiting on for what feels like forever, but was just a couple weeks. I’d had a CT scan before (the one where you have to drink horrifying chalky liquid flavored to resemble Hell’s pina colada), but this was my first MRI. Quick note: MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer to produce detailed pictures of your insides. In my case, my breasts. The purpose of this test was to see if there was anything hinky going on in my boobs that the mammogram didn’t pick up. Specifically, we were on the lookout for naughty lymph nodes. If Turdy the Tumor wants to conquer new ground, he’ll go for the lymph nodes first.

Here’s how it went down. First, I am claustrophobic. Not like diagnosed by a mental health practitioner or taking meds for it claustrophobic, but the breaks out in a cold sweat and feels pukey whilst in a tunnel claustrophobic. I skipped climbing to the top of Arc de Triomphe for this reason. Anyway, the nice lady who scheduled my MRI suggested I hit up my primary care doc for a mild sedative. So, armed with a Xanax, I showed up for my MRI. I changed into a gown and scrub pants. The assistant put in an IV and gave me earplugs and a choice of tunes for the headphones: Classical, Jazz, or Easy Listening. Suspicious that the jazz would fall into the unacceptable easy jazz or, as I call it “no-balls jazz” category, I went for Classical.

Breast MRI machine

I lay face-down on the tray-thingie with my boobs dangling down into a hole and my face in a donut-ish pad. I made a joke to the tech that the picture probably would have been better three kids ago. She laughed, but she couldn’t be much older than 21. She’ll learn.

So then I slid into the tube. Since I was face-down and had my eyes closed, it didn’t feel like I was in a metal tube, so my claustrophobia didn’t rear up. I knew that there would be a noisy THUNK THUNK THUNK sound (hence the earplugs and headphones) but what I wasn’t prepared for was the WAAA! WAAA! WAAA! that followed. At first I thought the building was on fire. The sound went on. Apparently this was part of the program, but man, it felt like my tubecraft had been put on missile lock by an enemy MiG.

The tech checked in with me every once in a while through the headphones. “Doing okay, Christa?” “Yep.” My cheekbones were a little sore from being pressed into the donut. The tech warned me that she was about to inject the contrast dye into my IV and I asked if I could move my head. She said the picture would be better if I didn’t move at all. So I didn’t. The dye felt a little bit cool as it went in, but not uncomfortable.


missile lock

I had ten seconds of a panicky feeling, but pushed it back down. I imagined I was in a cool little deep sea submersible watching peaceful sealife swim around. The whole thing took almost an hour. I’m REALLY glad I had that Xanax. Finally, they had the images they needed, so they slid me out, took out the IV and sent me back to the dressing room. The assistant said that the radiologist would review the pictures and talk to my doctor and I would have some results in 24 hours.

So, I was quite pleasantly surprised to have a phone message from a nurse in Dr. Boobcutter’s office (I call her Buffy because she’s the Cancer Slayer) this morning. I’d planned on waiting all day. I returned her call and she walked me through the MRI results. They were not what I was expecting to hear:

  1. There’s an “enhancement” in my left boob. The good boob. This is something that’s not on the mammogram.
  2. One of the lymph nodes in my right boob (the bad one) looks “suspicious.”
  3. Turdy the tumor looks bigger.



This is not my rack. But this is the kind of photo that is the result of a breast MRI.


So here’s what they want to do next:

  1. Do an MRI-guided biopsy on the whatever-it-is in my left boob. Does that mean they’re going to stick a needle in my tit while I’m in that tube? Good luck with that, doc. Beware the missile-lock alarm.
  2. Ultrasound the dodgy-looking lymph node and possible biopsy it.
  3. Take another look at Turdy. Though, if I’m going to have chemo BEFORE surgery, we can probably skip that part. Seriously, we know he’s made of cancer and we know he’s an aggressive little fucker. Howzabout we stop poking him and start getting him the fuck out of my body? Cut him, nuke him, fart in his general direction. I don’t give a shit, but let’s do SOMETHING to him.

So. Yeah. Not great news, but none of this is crazy bad news either. This all falls well within the normal limits of early-stage breast cancer. This is not the time to panic, and things are moving swiftly again. I have an appointment with Dr. Cappuccino the oncologist on Thursday to discuss the chemo plan. Buffy is scheduling the MRI (for my left boob) and ultrasound (for the lymph node in my right boob). Things are happening.

In the midst of all this waiting and yucky shit though, I have been overwhelmed with kindness and concern. Friends far and near have reached out to offer encouragement and an ear. And I don’t just mean geographical far. I’ve heard from high school friends and ex-boyfriends and people I worked with long ago. They’ve offered support and help. Friends have sent me cards and flowers and Starbucks cards and books and one dear friend who has been through cervical cancer sent me a big bag filled with socks and a blanket and a journal and manicure kit–all to keep me occupied and cozy during chemo. Local friends have offered to babysit, cook dinner, drive my ass around and bring me a pitcher of sangria. I feel so loved and supported it’s hard to describe. I’m so grateful.


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