This is the fourth installment of the Fear of Recurrence series, written by Lisa Breitmayer:
December 2009…the phone rings. It’s the hospital. There is “an area of increased density” seen on the most recent mammogram of my HEALTHY breast. I need to go back for extra views. I freeze. My heart stops. As I put the phone down I can taste the chemo again. I’m right back there like it was yesterday. I’m back on the breast cancer roller coaster. My mind races to what may be ahead even though I try not to go there. All it took was a shadow on a mammogram to bring the fear front and center.
I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma of my left breast in June 2008. I have always been faithful about doing self-breast exams. I found a lump while doing a self-breast exam. I had had a normal mammogram 6 months prior. I have no family history of breast cancer. I live a very healthy lifestyle. To say it was a shock is an understatement. I had a lumpectomy and axillary node dissection (1 positive node on my sentinel node biopsy) followed by 12 weeks of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. I am a year out from finishing chemotherapy. It feels like eons ago. My hair has grown back. My energy level is high. Still, the fear of recurrence lurks in the back of my mind with every mammogram and MRI intensifying that fear.
The additional views of my right breast followed by an ultrasound look normal. The density was probably due to positioning during the original mammogram. I’m relieved but the nagging fear of recurrence is still there. I don’t know if I can go through this anxiety with every mammogram and MRI. It gnaws at me so much that I discuss the possibility of a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy with my medical and surgical oncologist. I have a consultation with a plastic surgeon about reconstruction options. They are all very honest and patient with me. Not one said, “Are you nuts?” I read all that I can get my hands on about risks of recurrence. After much discussion and review of the statistics about my individual risk of recurrence I decide to keep my breasts and stay the course. As I get further and further from that November mammogram the fear lessens and I feel good about my decision. Note, I said lessens, it is still there.
I know that as my next MRI approaches the anxiety may build again. I also know that I am doing all that is in my control to prevent a recurrence. I am taking tamoxifen. I eat my veggies, exercise, and do yoga. I participated in a mindfulness based meditation program and have incorporated daily meditation into my life. This control gives me comfort. I don’t know what the future will bring. I do know that I don’t want to spend the moments that I have worrying about a recurrence. So, when the fear slips in I take a moment, breathe, and remind myself of all that I have done and am doing to remain healthy. Life goes on.
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