Because I blogged about getting embarrassed at a cancer checkup this week by an unlocked bathroom door, a few of you have asked how everything went. No worries. Everything's cool.
Monday's checkup was technically my five-year-anniversary checkup. In July, I will officially be cancer-free for five years, which is a tremendous milestone. Not to say it couldn't come back after that because Hodgkin's sometimes lingers unseen up to ten years, but my chances for recurrence drop pretty dramatically at five years. So I guess I thought this appointment would be a big deal, with pats on the back, fireworks, balloons, maybe a cake. Not so much.
The radiation oncologist did all the usual checks of my lymph nodes, my liver, my spleen, my breathing. She said I would not need a CT scan this appointment and that I would only be getting one a year now--hoorah! But then she reached for her notes and started listing all the things I would need to get checked for starting at five years. From this point on, we don't worry so much about the Hodgkin's itself. Now we start to worry about all the bad things 16 weeks of chemo and 3 weeks of radiation can do to your body.
Now we start checking every year for the secondary cancers-- breast, lung, skin, and thyroid, primarily-- that I am more prone to because I had radiation to my lower neck and chest. Beginning next year we also start worrying about my heart. The adriamycin in my chemo cocktail can damage the heart muscle and cause congestive heart failure, and the radiation to the area around my heart can cause coronary artery disease. There are some scary statistics out there about people who beat Hodgkin's as young adults but die from complications of heart disease 20 years out.
So next week I have my annual mammogram with an extra screening in the form of a breast MRI because having chest radiation before age 30 puts me in the highest risk category for breast cancer (along with women who have tested positive for the BRCA gene and have a strong family history.) I am not looking forward to the breast MRI; I had a baseline one done last year, and it was so horrifying I blogged about it a few days later after I had mentally recovered. To recap, they put you face down inside the MRI tube with your girls dropped through two holes cut into the supporting table. Unlike a standard MRI, you can't look up to see the outside room through a mirror; your face is two inches away from the wall of the thing and you have to stay still for 40 minutes. For someone who is claustrophobic like me, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. Five more minutes and I would have clawed my way out. I asked for a happy pill to take before it this time, so hopefully I will be pleasantly sedated throughout.
Next year I will probably have to add a battery of yearly heart workups to the mix.
And I still have to get checked out twice a year: once by the medical oncologist, once by the radiation oncologist.
Not much has changed in my post-treatment care.
And yet everything has. I still have to worry, just about a different set of problems. I can honestly say that I am breathing easier today than I did last week. And once my mammogram and MRI come back (hopefully) clear, I will be even more relieved.
I may not have gotten that big pat on the back from the doctor, and I certainly didn't get those balloons or fireworks or applause, but I think I have gotten a little more peace of mind.
Come July, I will give myself my own balloons, damnit.