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Worried My Breast Cancer Has Come Back and Damn Covid

Updated: Jan 11

It's been one of those weeks...

My skincare routine has been all but kicked into the long grass and I've braved the world outside my front door with no make-up. A true rarity.

woman worried cancer has returned

For the past month, I haven't been able to see beyond this week. That's because, without warning, I received an appointment for a breast MRI. It knocked me for six - not least because it was scheduled for two days after the annual mammogram on my 'remainer'. I'm a nervous patient at the best of times, so this double whammy has caused no end of anxiety.

At first, I thought it must have been a mistake. In fact, I was convinced. I even called the MRI department at my hospital to check. Nope, it was requested by a breast consultant. When I spoke to the consultant's secretary, she told me the scan had been arranged after I was discussed at an MDT (multi disciplinary team) meeting. Weird… because I was 'discharged' from their care almost two years ago.

I don't think they plucked my name out of thin air to receive this expensive test. Nor do I think they are being extra vigilant just because I initially presented with a rather aggressive - and rare - type of breast cancer.

This appointment stems from two consultations I had at the end of last year when a mole-like lump in my radiotherapy area was being monitored. I seem to recall being utterly unconcerned - even blasé - about it at the time. "It's nothing," I'd convinced myself. Someone must have decided that it may, indeed, be something and thus needed a much closer look to rule out (or in) a recurrence. What if it is a recurrence? What if my cancer is back?

I'll be asking myself that question until the results of the MRI are known.

Mammogram mayhem

The mammogram, which was on Wednesday, was a complete waste of time. The 10 minute appointment took up the entire day - due to limited public transport in this neck of the woods and the sheer distance between where I live and the hospital, a round trip of over 50 miles.

Apart from not relishing the idea of having my breast clamped in a vice from two directions, I'd only tested negative after a first encounter with Covid three days before. My nose was still stuffy and dripping and, in all honesty, I felt rougher than when I was still testing positive. The temptation to cancel the appointment was overwhelming. The only reason I didn't pick up the 'phone was because the hospital knows I am a nervous patient and may have assumed I was just chickening out and using Covid as an excuse. They are preoccupied with my remaining boob, even though the cancer I had (have) is more likely to spread to my bones, lungs, liver and brain than jump across to the other breast. I am not saying it never happens, but it rarely happens.

Anyway, after enduring an hour-and-a-half bus ride, hanging around the town and then the hospital for hours, things didn't go to plan when it was finally time to submit to the torture.

The first 'compression' went fine. I had visions of being dressed and out of the door in two minutes flat. This is easier than last year, I was thinking. Alas, the second compression failed. Twice. I have moles on the side of my 'remainer' and the nurse caught them with her fingers on the first attempt. After that, I couldn't relax. Each subsequent image was rejected because part of the breast wasn't in the correct place between the plates. It was agreed between all parties that I'd 'had enough'. I left without the second image being successfully taken - meaning a darned recall.

I cried walking back into town, knowing the entire day had been a long-winded failure - and would have to be repeated. I got home at 6pm.

All I had to look forward to was the dreaded MRI on Friday.

having a mammogram

The breast MRI

Luckily, my sister offered to be my driver - meaning no buses and no hanging around. A massive help.

The best thing that happened in the time between the two appointments was a successful Google search for a video showing a breast MRI. Not only was it comprehensive, featuring a real patient, it put my mind at ease. I knew what to expect.

I believe the difference between a good patient experience and a bad one is the attitude of hospital staff. I've found this can vary from department to department and even from shift to shift, but I picked the long straw with the three people in charge of my scan. They were kind and caring - which is all I wish for when I go to hospital. It made the ordeal much less stressful than I'd anticipated.

One of the things that had gnawed on my nerves was a fear that they wouldn't be able to get a vein for the contrast dye. Most of my veins collapsed during chemotherapy. Well, they got one straight away. Phew!

If you've never had a breast MRI... It involves lying face down on a scanner bed with your chest over an open box and your face poking through a hole. You have to remain entirely still throughout the scan. Mine lasted about half an hour and, at one point, a leg started trembling and I worried that the nervous reaction would spread to the rest of my body.

In spite of ear plugs and headphones, I could still hear tapping and thumping sounds that are particular to MRI scanners. I'm glad I knew about those in advance because they were very loud and quite scary. I can honestly say, I did not feel the contrast dye going in - even though I was repeatedly warned I may feel a cold sensation. A much better experience than having contrast dye for a CT scan.

Towards the end of the MRI, I was praying for it to end - and not because it hurt. Staying still on a hard surface, in a tightly enclosed space that is mega noisy seemed to get harder as the minutes very slowly ticked by. Plus, it wasn't lost on me that I was subjecting myself to something that could one day soon herald the start of the end of my life. If that machine suggests my cancer has come back and subsequent tests confirm it, I'll likely end up in the 'non-curable' whack-a-mole stage - consigned to systemic treatments for as long as either they work or I can tolerate them. I'm prepared for it, because I've known from the outset that it is a possibility. But being prepared doesn't mean I won't be devastated.

Taking my mind off things

Apart from vowing to never subject myself to a mammogram again - if I get the all-clear this time - I've been getting out and about.

Today, I took my granddaughter to a fossil festival led by the Natural History Museum and then treated her to a pub lunch. On the way home, we bought tubs of slime, drawing things and a few sweet treats.

On the skincare front, I've started testing Dragon's Blood Serum by Balance Active. It promises to tighten and hydrate skin and costs a mere fiver. I'll let you know if it works.

My make-up today comprises:

  • Concealer

  • Facefinity powder foundation by Max Factor (it doesn't look like powder on the skin)

  • Blue gel eye crayon (lining the top and bottom eyelids, inner and outer)

  • Black eyeliner (ageing, yes, but still my fave)

  • Pink gel crayon lip stain with gloss

  • Black mascara

  • Laura Geller baked blusher, blended with foundation

Let's hope my next post is more positive!

UPDATE: Everything was fine, including the mammogram. I've been informed that I will now have an annual MRI alongside the mammogram as part of my post treatment monitoring.

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