Why I’ve Been Avoiding Your Calls

As a writer/ content creator, I try to keep the BS to a minimum and get right to the point.

So, here it is.

I’m a little cancery again.

Here’s what went down:

After I finished chemo last September, I went to Cedars every three months to get my blood monitored. They test my CA-125 (apparently it’s a protein, cancer antigen 125) which acts as a tumor marker – the higher the number, the greater chance of cancer. A normal person will have between zero and thirty. But since I’m so high risk (thanks to the BRCA gene mutation), my handsome Rock Star Cancer Ninja, Dr. Li, doesn’t want me over twenty.

When we tested my blood in September, December, and again in March, my CA-125 was five. Great!

Then in June, the proverbial sh*t started to hit the fan. My CA-125 went up to eleven. Dr. Li said he wasn’t worried – we would simply repeat the test in six weeks. I’d recently adopted a new weight training routine, and inflammation can cause a false high with your CA-125, so I figured the elevation stemmed from my gym sessions. 

July rolled around and I breezed back to Cedars, confident that this round of blood work would show a lower number. Dr. Li called the next day and my CA-125 increased again, this time to twenty two.

He said he still wasn’t worried – it was too early for a recurrence. Plus, if it were a recurrence, the number would be in the hundreds. But if I wanted a CT scan for peace of mind, he’d sign off on it.

Yes, I wanted a CT scan.

I ventured into Cedars yet again, positive the scan would indicate that I’m fine. After all, this was just for peace of mind, right? Turns out, he spotted a little nodule next to my liver, in the same area where I had a tumor last year.

F*ck.

Dr. Li noted that the nodule could be scar tissue. Or something more sinister. We’d wait three weeks, then repeat the CA-125 test on August 3rd, the day I was scheduled for a pre-op to get clearance for my upcoming double mastectomy.

The next three weeks felt like three years.

Finally I went back to Cedars for another blood test. As my nurse inserted the needle, I wondered if she could sense my panic. Sweat pooled across my lower back.

Do I really have cancer again?

I sat by my phone for the next twenty four hours, spooning it as I slept. Finally got the call in the morning.

It was not a good call.

Dr. Li said my CA-125 shot up to fifty five. My double mastectomy would have to wait. We needed a PET scan ASAP.  He said he’d submit the order that day, so I should receive a call from the Scheduling Department soon.

A day went by. Then two. Then three. Turns out, BlueShield was taking their sweet time to approve my scan.

TEN DAYS later, I called Dr. Li’s office and said f*ck insurance, I would pay out of pocket. I couldn’t wait any longer. I got panic attacks. My mental health suffered. Each day was agony. And once I offered to pay cash, my scan was booked for the following day.

(Side note: my angelic Nurse Practitioner, Corina, saved the day at the last minute. She got insurance to approve my scan twenty minutes before my appointment, so I didn’t have to pay out of pocket, but this shows how awful insurance can be. To them, I was just a piece of paper on someone’s desk. But to me, this was my life.)

The scan itself went smoothly. But the anticipation ate away at my stomach lining while I waited for the results.

Four excruciating days later, Dr. Li called.

It’s cancer. A small tumor (3.8cm) nestled inside my liver.

So now what?

I have a consultation with my new Rockin’ Radiologist next week (who, incidentally, is just as good looking as Dr. Li. I think Cedars is smart for hiring hot doctors!). After that, we’ll schedule my tumor ablation (which, according to Google, is a “minimally invasive surgical method to treat solid cancers. Special probes are used to ‘burn’ or ‘freeze’ cancers without the usual surgery.”)

I’ll recover for a week, then…we start chemo again.

<this is where I usually stomp my foot on the ground, like an angry toddler>

As much as that sucks, there are some poignant silver linings about this situation, compared to last year:

  • Chemo is only once a month, versus once a week
  • I only need four to six chemo sessions, versus eighteen
  • I’m not getting the evil chemo drug that made me so sick last time
  • I’m not getting the evil chemo drug that made my hair fall out last time
  • The little tumor is not a “new” cancer; it’s just some leftover cells that didn’t get eradicated last year

OK, now you’re all filled in.

That’s why I’ve been dodging your calls, avoiding your texts, duct taping my door shut, and returning your mail. Just kidding, I never get mail. But I’m planning on rejoining your species sometime next week, so I’ve got to sign off and start doing my hair. See you soon.

Getting “That” Phone Call And Eating My Words

Real talk: I’ve had a draft of this post written for awhile, but each time I sat down to type, I suffered a Code Red Meltdown, shed a few hundred tears, and threw my laptop across the room.

I recently posted about the power of fear, and not letting the “F” word take control.

I confidently believed everything I said. Stay positive. Don’t let the fear win. You got this, girl! <Snap your fingers in a sassy “Z” formation>…blah blah blah.

Then I got one of “those” phone calls.

The type that activated my upchuck reflex. That promptly shattered all the empowering BS I just spewed from the digital mountaintops.

“We got the results…and your CA-125 doubled again.”

Well….sh*t.

(For reference, a CA-125 test, also called a tumor marker, measures the amount of cancer antigen 125 in your blood. A CA-125 test can monitor certain cancers during or after treatment, and the lower the number, the better. I get tested every 3 months.)

Fighting the urge to simultaneously vomit, sob, and inhale a large pizza, I asked my handsome oncologist if I had a recurrence. Dr. Li said probably not, it was too early for a recurrence, but something seemed amiss. Certain things like inflammation can cause a spike in your CA-125, and I adopted a new weight training routine a couple months ago. Could that be it? Maybe, maybe not.

Suddenly all my upbeat, empowering advice came crashing down and pistol-whipped my psyche. A proverbial “Hold my beer” from the universe, if you will.

I booked a CT Scan. I figured the scan would show that my belly looked spotless, tumor-free,  and ultimately give me peace of mind. I chugged the bitter mocha-flavored oral contrast and hopped into the CT tube, half-excited, half-terrified.

The next 24 hours ping-ponged between I’m totally fine and OMFG I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING AGAIN.

Finally my handsome rockstar ninja oncologist called…and it was another one of “those” calls. The CT scan indicated that a little nodule had snuggled up next to my liver – the same spot where they removed tumors last year.

Now, before we all start panicking and planning my unicorn-themed funeral, let’s focus on the fact that this nodule COULD just be scar tissue. But is there a small possibility of something scary? Yes. So the next step is to repeat the CA-125 in 2 weeks (just a handful of days before I get cleared for my double mastectomy – beautiful timing, right?).

So this became a waiting game. I hate waiting. The uncertainty sucks. I’m desperately trying to stick with my “Keep On Smilin” demeanor but I’ve realized it’s ok to fall apart and feel scared. (So let’s all give a hypothetical middle finger to my “Rah rah rah, positivity rules” blog post.) And sharing this info is cathartic. After all, as I learned from Sex & The City – when you have information you don’t want, the best way to get rid of it is to pass it on.

Consider this passed on. Thanks, Miss Bradshaw!