I last left you guys with news that I am cancer-free . Probably the best news a person who previously had cancer could ever get. However, I was still uneasy as I had yet to meet with my radiologist and hear if she wanted to continue treatment with several weeks of radiation. It would involve me going to the hospital 5 days a week and getting zapped in the chest. Apart from being inconvenient, radiation also carries a high risk of causing a secondary cancers down the road. For some people the side effects can also be worse than chemo.
Well the good news just keeps on coming, because the radiologist said she did not want to do radiation!! She said even though I have a residual mass in my chest, there is no sense in radiating it because they know from the PET scan it is not active cancer. Thank goodness for PET scans! She also expressed concern about the radiation field, which would have to go through both breast and lung tissue, putting me and a very high risk for breast cancer and more lung issues in the future.
The radiologist printed out a copy of my PET scans to compare “before and after.” The images are of my chest with my arms above my head. Top was done on June 30, 2011 before my diagnosis, and the bottom image is from last week, January 30, 2012.
On first glance, there’s a clear difference between the two! On the computer, PET scans are in colour and show a better distinction between tumours and organs. You can kind of see on the top image where the radiologist circled to show me where the original mass was. The lighter bits inside of it are the parts that “light up” as being actively cancerous. The other white bits are just bone. It’s a 2D snapshot of a 3D image.
Below is another angle, showing a snapshot as if you were looking through my torso from my feet. Again, consider it a 2D slide in a 3D image.
You can see in the bottom image where the radiologist circled as being the residual mass, which is 2cm. That’s down from a 14cm mass! She said I shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the residual mass becoming cancer again, and that it will take my body a couple years to absorb the dead cells it’s made up of.
I’m going in for another PET scan in about 3-4 months just to make sure there’s no new growth since ending treatment. After my radiology appointment, my mom and I immediately went to extramural to get my PICC line taken out!
I had this purple tube inside my arm for over four months. It’s inserted into a vein in my arm and goes all the way to my heart. It protected my veins while getting harsh chemo treatments through IV and also made it so I had less needles for my weekly blood draws. However, it also had to be cleaned every week, taped to my arm 24/7, and I could never get it wet. The PICC was a constant reminder that I was a sick person with ties to the hospital. Getting it taken out was like being unchained from cancer!
Getting the PICC inserted was the most traumatic experience, apart from my bone marrow biopsy. It took 90 minutes to shove in, and under 30 seconds to pull out. Go figure.
By chance, a few of my friends planned a get together for Friday night so we turned into a cancer-free/end-of-treatment celebration. They made me cupcakes!
Tiffany is a genius.
And bought me beer!
As promised, I indulged in many drinks, went out to a bar, and stumbled home close to 3am.
It is SO incredibly weird to think that I am completely finished with treatment. I still feel the effects of chemo every day. I sleep a good 9-10 hours every night and my brain is still pretty foggy. I still wear a wig as my hair is only half an inch long.
You could probably tell from my last post that I was having a hard time grasping with the idea that I am cancer-free. I think that’s because I was still struggling with knowing I even have cancer in the first place. But treatment? That affects me immediately in a very real and tangible way. Finding out that I’m finished was the best moment of my life. I am tearing up now just thinking that I can start to put some space between me and this cancer debacle.
As for the for the immediate future, I am going back to work in two weeks. My bosses and coworkers have been amazing throughout all of this and my desk is still there waiting for me. I’m definitely nervous about getting tired being in the office for eight hours (and being there for 8am!). But, I’m lucky it’s a pretty non-physical, non-stressful job. I’m confident that even if it’s rough in the beginning, I’ll get the hang of it quickly.
I also have long-term plans of leaving the nest and getting a place of my own. I have had to give up A LOT of independence while getting treated for cancer, and I am really looking forward to getting some of it back.
Again, thank you so much for the continued support from each and every one of you throughout this entire experience. Being able to connect with people through my blog kept me from feeling isolated when I was too sick to leave bed. You were all a constant source of strength and hope. It takes a village to raise a child, and apparently it takes an army of friends via the internet to get rid of cancer!