Our December Hear My Voice blogger is Kelly Shanahan, MD, who writes about her shift from being a healthcare provider to being the person receiving health care for bone metastasis.
I used to think the hardest thing I’d ever done was survive medical school and a 4-year ob-gyn residency at Temple University Hospital when the program was in chaos and we were short five (out of 20) residents. Then I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer in 2008. Then the hardest thing I’d ever done was telling my not quite nine-year-old daughter I had cancer. “Mommy, are you going to die?” was her first question and my answer was “Yes, I’m going to die someday, and so is the cat and so is the dog, but I’m NOT going to die from breast cancer – I’m going to kick cancer’s ass!” Following treatment, I thought, in my arrogant doctor mode, that I was done. I beat the disease, I was a survivor! HA!
While walking upstairs one day in July 2013, I sneezed and immediately developed searing back pain. I ignored the pain, and when it didn’t improve, sought help from a massage therapist and my chiropractor. It didn’t get better and I figured I must have herniated a disc. I’d get an MRI eventually, and maybe one of those inversion tables would fix it. I was a busy gynecologist and I didn’t have time for any herniated disc or chronic back pain.
In a supreme twist of irony, I began subleasing my office to an oncologist one day a week. While dropping off supplies on the day he was there, he noticed me limping. “What’s wrong”, he asked. ”Oh, I think I herniated a disc”, I answered. He looked at me, and said, “You’ve had breast cancer. You need an MRI and a PET scan.” Yeah, yeah, I thought, I’ll get around to it when I have time.
I finally scheduled the MRI and PET for November 14, 2013. Not done with irony, this is my birthday. I figured after the PET scan, I’d go home and go out for a nice dinner with my husband and our daughter, 2 weeks shy of her own 15th birthday.
I had turned my phone off for the tests. First was the MRI, then the PET. Being a doctor who sends lots of patients to the imaging facility where I had the tests done, I knew I could review the results with the radiologist, confirm the herniated disc I just knew I had, stop at Costco on the way home and buy an inversion table and I’d be good as new in no time. HA again. When I went to my car after the PET, there was a message from the oncologist I sublease my office to; I had listed him as my doctor. “Kelly, call me, here’s my cell number” was the message. In that instant I knew I had metastatic disease. I went back into the imaging facility and went to see how bad it was: it was in every bone in my body. Glancing at my scans, my skeleton looked like Swiss cheese. Continue reading