Five is a lovely number

Be it known, on this 28th day of August in the year 2020, yours truly got a clean bill of health from the radiologist who read my mammogram and ultrasound. That’s five years cancer-free. Tada!

The oncologist reminded me some time ago that until I finish my current meds in March (?), I won’t really be done. Their start was delayed while I fought that nasty post-chemo cough.

I don’t see the oncologist until mid-September, but if the radiologist didn’t see anything on today’s images … I’m quite content, er … quietly ecstatic.

Happy little note

I got my four-year mammogram and ultrasound yesterday, so it’s now official. I’m still free of cancer and have been for four years. Hurray. And a great relief. I don’t normally give cancer recurrence a lot of thought until a few weeks before these annual checkups. Then the anxiety sets in.

I’ve got something new to consider, however. For some time I’ve been taking letrozole every day (the aromatase inhibitor, or AI, that keeps my body from producing estrogen). And, as I have for four years, I mentioned to the doctor that I was still being bothered by hot flashes and, more importantly, hair loss. If I lose much more hair on my crown, a  combover won’t be adequate camouflage. (Pink scalp is already visible through the thinning hair and while I can make it a bit less obvious, I can’t hide it completely.) He could not reassure me that it will grow back when I stop taking these meds in a year. In other words, permanent hair loss is one of the potential downsides of these drugs.

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Three years post-op and all’s well

Well, I passed my three-year tests today. Both mammogram and ultrasound were clear. On a day-to-day basis I’ve not thought much about it, but in the last few days before testing I start getting a little anxious. Now I’m just exhausted from being down at the medical center since 10:30 this morning. Got home about 3:30 pm.

I made some comment to the oncologist about a report I’d seen indicating a lot of women with earlier stages of breast cancer might not need chemo after all. But that wouldn’t have included me, he said. I could have been classified a Stage III because of the chest nodes that looked possibly cancerous on the first scan. But he didn’t want to freak me out unnecessarily. As I recall he said at the time that they might be cancerous but also might just be inflamed because of the nearby tumor. They did not “glow” or show up on later scans.

The question is moot now, of course. I had the chemo. And the radiation. And there’s been no sign of cancer since then.

So, hurray!

Mammograms still can’t see everything

Thursday, May 5, I had my first post-surgery mammogram, and for the first time in my life, I was afraid of it. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d been stressing for a week. My poor left boob had already been biopsied, injected, sliced in two different places, scanned a couple of times, and radiated. It seemed logical that subjecting that abused, scarred tissue to the none-too-gentle clench of a mammogram machine was just asking for pain.

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Nothing if not thorough

This morning I got yet another test result from that bronchoscopy I had waaaay back on December 29.

Not surprisingly, when one’s lungs are being examined for disease and/or damage, one of the things doctors look for is tuberculosis. This is done with an AFB (acid-fast bacilli) smear on a slide that is examined under a microscope for signs of mycobacteria. The smear provides presumptive results which can guide treatment decisions while culture results are pending.

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Still more test results

Unbelievably I received yet another test result this morning from the bronchoscopy I had on December 29. Maybe they’re just slow posting the result. Or maybe it actually took this long to process something, like growing a culture or something.

Anyway, I was relieved to see that the “Fungus Culture” report revealed “No fungus isolated.” Thank goodness. Fungus in my lungs is a really gross thought. Ick, eww, yuck!

A worthwhile bronchoscopy

I’ll always remember it as a horrible experience — that bronchoscopy I had on December 29. But looking back, I can at least say the doctors made the absolute most of the opportunity.

Today I received a notice that yet another report from that day had been posted on My Health Connection, the online portal where UC Health patients can see their test results, messages, appointments, and records. It brought to 12 —  an even dozen — the number of different tests/reports emanating from that one procedure. The system isn’t perfect; three of the reports appear to be identical and contain no information. But still, there’s an impressive amount of information.

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Bronchoscopy results mean more prednisone

My bronchoscopy last Tuesday was even worse than I’d feared but having bitched at two different doctors since then, I’m finally done with it. Except to say I’ll do it again only at gunpoint.

Rather than repeat the whole story for at least the third time, I’ll just pull from my notes:

Wed Dec 30

Bronchoscopy yesterday. Awful experience (I woke up half way through it). The lavage part was like choking to death, coughing as hard as I could and unable to clear my lungs. Terrifying. I’ll never trust versed again. That or the personnel were incompetent. Hard to believe my experience was the typical one that I was told was “no big deal.”

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And for the holidays I’m getting … a bronchoscopy

Oh joy. For my holiday surprise, I’m getting my very own bronchoscopy! On the 29th. One that will include a lavage and a biopsy. Now is a good time, the doctor said, because I’m completely weaned off the prednisone. And because the cough continues, not notably better or worse, but still definitely there. If it clears up before the 29th, I’m off the hook; I’m not counting on that.

I can’t begin to tell you how (not) thrilled I am by this. I may have mentioned before that I have a Class A Godawful gag reflex. I also have a deep distrust of the sedatives commonly used for the procedure, since I actually woke up from them during a colonoscopy about 15 years ago. All the assurances about how the drugs will ensure I don’t remember anything? Screw that. I don’t want to be aware of anything. And if I am aware, the well-being of anyone within reach will be in grave danger.

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In search of … answers

Today was (another) CT scan day — for the high res scans I mentioned earlier. This time they did inspiratory (“Take a deep breath and hold it”) and expiratory (“Take a breath, exhale completely, and hold”) scans. For one of those, I forget which, I was lying on my stomach instead of my back. So now they have all sorts of scans to examine and compare. Oh, and they got a sinus scan too, since the pulmonologist thinks sinus drainage might be a factor. If so, I’m in trouble, because that’s just a year round fact of life for me. Lots of low grade allergies, and there’s always some allergen floating around even if it’s only the dog, the cat, or my outstanding collection of house dust. Continue reading