Saturday, March 8, 2014

What's Inside

Some women love being pregnant and some women hate it. I was somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed certain parts about my two pregnancies, for instance, feeling the baby kick and seeing him or her moving around on an ultrasound. And I hated other parts about it, for instance, how immobile I became. By far the part I disliked most of all about being pregnant was the stress that I felt as the carrier of a precious little person. All of the sudden, I stopped J-walking and I became a better driver. I also started to pay much closer attention to my body. For a person prone to anxiety, it wasn’t always fun.

I remember being pregnant with Teddy and my OB telling me that if I didn’t feel the baby kick in some number of hours, I should call. What a terribly frightening instruction! How was I supposed to monitor his movements? I was in the middle of working and going to law school. What if I got distracted and failed to report a period of the baby’s stillness? Would I have missed my chance to save him from whatever harm had caused him to stop kicking? Of course, Teddy was Teddy from the start, so it turned out that stillness was never an issue. Rather, I was often scared that the little guy was having a seizure in my stomach—he was ridiculously active even in the womb.

Being pregnant was good training for being a parent because it was the first time that I consciously struggled with trying to determine how to appropriately react to something unexpected. I never knew if I was underreacting or overreacting when something in my body changed. For instance, I remember one afternoon when, all of the sudden, my ankles had doubled, or maybe even tripled, in size. It was horrifying, and not only because it looked totally gross. I debated whether or not to call the doctor. Will she think I’m nuts? I should wait. I did just eat a lot of Cheezits. It’s probably the salt. But what if it’s something worse? Yep, I better call. So I called. The doctor told me what doctors often tell me—Watch the symptoms and if they don’t subside, call back. My ankles never went back down completely until after Teddy was born but they shrunk enough for me to know that I hadn’t come upon a fatal condition.

I also hated when people told me to “trust my body” and that "you know your body." My body was doing crazy things, like gaining 60 pounds and bumping my bra size up to a DD. How could I trust something I felt I barely knew?

As you can probably guess, there's a great parallel between this awful state of pregnancy vigilance and the vigilance I feel as a "cancer survivor." Actually, I feel the same way now only approximately 2,000 times worse. The uncertain vigilance, the overwhelming fear, the body I barely know. I’m supposed to trust something that betrayed me and I’m supposed to know something that has been reconstructed in ways I never could have imagined.

While so many good people have celebrated around me that my MRI results were clean, my fear has, unfortunately, not subsided. I went back to my writing last night (drafts that I never published) to see when I first wrote about the pain in my chest. It was at the end of August last summer. It’s been on and off, but it’s persisted since then. I have come to the realization that I need an answer as to why and without one, I just can’t rest. 

I told my mom most of this in a quick email yesterday. She insisted that I call to schedule the CT scan that Danielle mentioned when she gave me my MRI results. “If you’re still in pain in a few weeks, we can do a CT scan to look at the chest wall and we can take a look at the bone.” My heart sunk when she said that and it sinks again now that I write this.

I didn’t have the courage to call to set up the CT scan yesterday. I just didn’t want to go through it all again—the test, the waiting, and possibly, a dreaded answer. I just wanted to do my work in my little office and pretend like all of this wasn’t still happening.

As I walked to the train after work, too late to call to schedule the appointment, all of the sudden, I wanted to. The fresh air was so much warmer than it had been on my trip into the city and perhaps it was that air that gave me the courage I couldn’t muster up all day. Unfortunately, it was too little too late, for this weekend at least. So I’ll wait. Again. On Monday, which happens to be my 34th birthday, I’ll most likely call to complain, for the fourth time now, that the left side of my chest still hurts. And I rearrange everything, fall back on work and laundry and everything else in life, to try to figure out why I’m still in pain at the place where they dug out the tumor and all surrounding breast tissue. To try to confirm that the pain is not cancer rearing its ugly head again.

In the meantime, I’ll most likely obsess about what I feel, or think I feel, or don’t want to feel. I know there are people out there who “know their bodies,” I’m just not one of them. I was 100% sure that Teddy was going to be a girl and 110% sure that Annabel was a boy. When I was certain I had a brain tumor, it was only TMJ and that pulmonary embolism I knew I felt, that was just a broken rib. I was blind-sided when told that the lump in my breast was cancer and shocked (literally) when my heart slowed to a dangerous beat when a drip of Taxotere entered my bloodstream. Maybe there are some people who have premonitions or instincts or whatever you want to call them about what’s going on inside their bodies, but I don’t. I have absolutely no idea what’s happening in there. The problem is that part of me wants to know more than anything in the world. And another part of me can’t bear the anguish of trying to find out.


  1. In don't know if many people really "know their bodies" in the way we like to think people can--if there are people like that I certainly don't know them. I'm glad you got a good MRI result and hoping your CT is even more good news.

    Also wanted to say I'm not much of a blog commenter, but I do enjoy reading what you write. Thanks for posting your thoughts!

    Kate K (Lauren sister-in-law)

  2. I know I have said this before, but do you have a physical therapist who can help you determine a less scary musculoskeletal cause? I am at the point where I go to mine FIRST and then if the pain doesn't subside after PT awhile I might mention it to my oncologist. Turns out I really underestimated the aches and pains of scar tissue forming, a lopsided body, the actual pain and tightness stress and subtle postural changes can cause. I actually find it comforting that the pain IS on your reconstructed side, because of the likelihood of collateral damage from the surgery that was done on that side. That said, I know it isn't easy to stop the cancer crazy train once a pain starts taking you for a ride. I am on it now I admit, even though the back pain I have has lots of other logical explanations from my PT. There is a part of me that wants to just go ahead and get a bone scan and have insurance for months when it is clean. But I am too scared to get one for fear it won't be clean. Basically, I am with you. Only difference is I have been there a bunch of times before. It is the hardest part of being a cancer survivor for me, realizing that as far as I move on, it still doesn't take much to set me right back for short periods. We no longer have the luxury of just getting a headache or a backache without getting mental anguish too. Didn't mean to go on and on like this.... I just want you to know I am here, and that I have been there as well, and that there is someone who gets it. xoxoxo