When the pain first started to bother me, my immediate reaction was lymphedema. This is huge progress. I didn’t go straight to cancer. It annoyed me but I didn’t let it bother me. I congratulated myself on how well I handled it. How I didn’t let it stress me out. No problem.
When it didn’t improve, I asked my lymphedema doctor about getting some chest compression – hoping that might help it. In the mean time, I also had my husband do some lymph drainage massage, as I cannot easily reach the area. It alway seem to feel a little better after he did the massage, and but overall it wasn’t improving.
Then my husband during one massage mentions that he feels a lump. I immediately check and say “it is just a rib”. I am completely calm about it. I had an appointment with my physical therapist the following week, and she is a pro at this, I’ll just get her to check it out, and until then I won’t worry about it. I’m too busy to be worried anyways. No problem. Again I congratulate myself. All is good, we’ll just get this lymphedema checked out.
Eventually hearing back from my lymphedema doctor, he suggested I return for an LDEX scan. This is a special scan they do where they run electricity (its an impedance test – http://www.marladudak.com/Breast-Cancer-Care/-L-Dex). Higher numbers indicate lymphedema. Since we didn’t do a baseline right after surgery, we didn’t know my default. We did a first test right after I was diagnosed with lymphedema and it read somewhere around 8.8 – so not technology lymphedema but the sciences of these devices is still in its infancy. A month ago, it read 2.2 – signs of improvement. Since I’d done it only a month ago, I was surprised at being asked to come back. He said that anytime I think the lymphedema changes, that it is good to go back and measure. And so I returned.
Then the results came back, 1.1. Then I freaked out. If the pain isn’t lymphedema then what the heck is it? What is causing the pain in the side of my rib cage (and right under my breast). This was Tuesday last week. I totally freaked out. I went to the pool and my entire swim all I could think about was how the cancer was back and now it was in my bones.
Wednesday was awash with running around and getting ready to close escrow. On Thursday we closed escrow on our new place (another story – and in part why I’m so busy). Thursday afternoon I finally see the physical therapist. She measures my arm and confirms that I do not have lymphedema. My measurements are all within “normal” variance. She then examines me and where I’m in pain – checking for lumps and bumps. She doesn’t feel any lumps, nor any bumps. She cannot see anything wrong. She pokes around a bit trying to find the pain and figures I’ve strained some small muscles between my ribs. After discussing, we come to the conclusion that this was likely caused by using crutches (yup, my mother warned me to be careful with the crutches). The better part of 6 weeks using crutches had taken its toll.
I was relieved but still a little worried. I’d mentioned the pain to my lymphedema doctor (actually his nurse) saying that since it wasn’t lymphedema then I’m worried about what it was. The lymphedema doctor ordered a chest x-ray. This is the first chest x-ray I’ve had since my diagnosis! I said that since I was going up to the cancer center for another appointment on Monday (today) that I’d do it then. I also booked an additional appointment with my breast surgeon. I was still a little worried and wanted to be extra cautious.
So today my breast surgeon did a thorough exam. Didn’t think anything was a problem. She relaxed all my tensions. She suggested that I follow up with the plastic surgeon – the pain might be related to some of the stitches or other things that were done in the plastic surgery. She said that I wasn’t show any signs of cancer (she checked my lymph nodes too). She gave me a plausible alternative explanation. I’ve booked a follow up appointment with my plastic surgeon. My breast surgeon also gave me a few different questions to ask my plastic surgeon.
All good, one final stop, to get that x-ray. It wasn’t strictly needed – in that my cancer doctor said it wasn’t cancer – but I figured that I’d not done one in almost two years and I was ready to feel safe. The anxiety that I had been replaying in my brain over the weekend involved the x-ray causing a discussion with the radiologist and a vast amount of follow up. None of that happened. We did the x-ray. The tech said it looked good and that it would be read by the radiologist later that day. I know that if there was any really serious red-flag, the tech would have had the radiologist look at it right away to ensure that all the right photos were taken. I know that the words “the radiologist would like to speak to you” are words that you never want to hear – and I am glad that I can say that I have once again escaped talking to the radiologist.
And now, after a month of that little voice at the back of my mind saying “maybe it isn’t nothing”, I can finally let it go. I am trying to trust that I’m OK. I’m trying to remember that every ache and pain doesn’t mean that the cancer is back. I need to move on. I thought I had moved on. So in some ways, this feels like a little setback – but on the other hand I did go most of a month without it bothering me, so that is an accomplishment.
I am healthy (or getting there). I’m strong and getting stronger every day. Sunday I swam 1250 meters. I am starting to walk a little further each day (the rain isn’t completely helping). I went for a short bike ride for the first time in several months, and will try to get back on the bike more often now that I know I don’t have lymphedema or anything else that is counter-indicated. And over the next month I’m going to be doing lots of renovation and packing. I’m looking forward to being in our new place.