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Fail The Test: Then You Get The Answers

Imagine you have a final exam in Grade 12 that will determine your whole future:

Career, lifestyle and overall health going into the world.

Now also imagine no one has given you the study material you literally walk in and sit down to write a test without any information.

This is how it feels to navigate a cancer diagnosis.

A close friend who is much farther down this path than I am currently said to me:

"Don't get left behind, that's what happened to me."

I sat on the bed of the Royal Alexandria MRI department, IV already put in. The date is July 24th.

The synchronicity was not lost on me of having a breast image on this date.

<-- It was four years since we lost this soul to metastatic breast cancer. We could never imagine our future at 17!

I sobbed uncontrollably, completely involuntarily. I felt calm when I walked in but something cracked when I sat there waiting to go into the machine. I let it happen and thought of Carla and her journey. As fast as it started I suddenly felt a calm presence I knew she was there.

Scanxiety is real, this term should be in the dictionary.

It's a real thing. After any biopsy, imaging or test you wait. And the waiting can be torturous. While I'm in the scans I picture my future and what I see myself doing in a year, five or ten. It's the easiest way to keep yourself grounded and focused.

I had just come out of the mountains and headed to the surgeon's appointment. The easiest way to deal with these things is to have no expectations because I don't know what the future has for me.

What will worrying about it do? Nada other than rob me of joy in the present moment.

As the surgeon came into the room what she said was surprising.

"Due to the one lymph node metastasis in your armpit, you might need a second surgery to clean out all the rest of them. We don't know how far it has spread."

My response caught her off guard:

"I know it hasn't spread anywhere else I already had a PT Scan done August 4th before my surgery".

She was gobsmacked. "How?" She asked. My family physician ordered it at my request. She still couldn't fathom how I managed to get one. Here's the reality of Alberta Health Care; unless you're on death's doorstep they don't give you the upgraded test that could SCREEN EARLIER. It is more like playing a game of whack a mole, hammering down on each problem as it pops up instead of staying ahead of it.

I also requested genetic testing to know whether I was a carrier of DNA that my own family had to be diligent about in the future. The Comprehensive Breast Clinic informed me I did not qualify for testing under Alberta Health Services since my parents didn't die of breast cancer (only colon cancer).

A very helpful nurse informed me that if I wished to pay for my own testing I could visit Color online and submit my saliva sample. The date: July 11th. $400 later I had a kit on its way by July 13th. The results in my hands by August 23rd. NO GENETIC MUTATIONS!! Hallelujah, my kids could breathe easier.

Adding this information to the surgeon's package was also useful. She had no answers for me that day because the roundtable discussion with oncologists, radiologists and all the team about my case was that night. No problem for me and no anxiety because I already had some answers she didn't.

The health system is efficient when you need it, as much as I am frustrated by some of it. The following morning Helen the surgeon's amazing assistant phoned me bright and early letting me know there would be no extra surgery; the Cross Cancer would be in touch.

One day after that they phoned with an appointment date:

September 12th.

The truth is I have saved myself a minimum of two to three weeks of waiting for new imaging, consults and stress. Simply by being proactive about getting tests done prior to surgery.

Right now I feel like a person living a double life. One day on top of a mountain or paddling in a sunset. The next day drains are inserted at a hospital. It's surreal. To keep a strong mental game you need to keep living normally, not recklessly however if you sit back and feel sorry for yourself that's not going to keep you moving forward.

There are a few more tools I plan to use on this journey or at the very least discuss with my doctor.

The future is bright for cancer treatment with immunotherapy and pre-screening diagnostics through bloodwork to detect micro-cancer cells in the body before they become a bigger problem.

If you have time or the patience to listen to a fairly technical but informative podcast this was interesting.

I'll leave you with this quote:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain

To think humans don't feel fear is to not be human. It's what you do with it that matters most.

Sending You Love N' SUP

Lisa Stocking

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