I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I wanted to let y’all know that I’m alive. Gloriously alive.
For those of you who don’t follow my Twitter feed on this here blog, I’m a biomedical editor for a continuing medical education company that specializes in oncology, which, in layman’s terms, means I read about cancer all day. More specifically, I read about the types of cancer that need the most research, as current treatments are too toxic or too ineffective, or–I shit you not–doctors have no clue how to handle treatment for them. Did you guys know that there are types of cancer that doctors really don’t know how to treat? Like, there are treatments, they just don’t know about them? FYI, if you come down with thyroid cancer (and I hope you never, ever do), QUESTION the dose of radioactive iodine your doctor wants to give you. Just do it. Trust me.
So, yeah. I basically read about the most terrifying aspects of the most terrifying disease of our time ALL DAY LONG. This has some obvious repercussions for a girl like me who’s struggled with hypochondria her whole life. In short, my hypochondria has become carcinophobia, an actual term for people who are cripplingly afraid of getting cancer.
It’s perfectly normal to be afraid of cancer; it’s a horrific disease. I suppose the difference is when that fear is something you deal with every single day in a very real, conscious way, rather than lurking around in your subconscious where it belongs.
For example, the other day Boyfriend and I were discussing my finances. I thought that I should put the bulk of the money I’ve saved toward paying off my car, but he suggested that I put some of it toward paying off my car and some of it in a 401(k). To this, I replied,”Let’s make sure I don’t have cancer first before I start saving for retirement.”
Look. I know this is ridiculous. That’s what makes it a phobia, right?
So, in the past year that I’ve been at this job, I’ve become convinced that I had:
1. Ocular melanoma (cancer of the eye)
2. Cervical cancer
3. Some weird cancer that presents in the form of a mysterious leg mass
4. Breast cancer
With the ocular cancer, I’d been feeling a weird bump on my eyeball, so I went to the eye doctor. They dilated my pupils and looked all around in there, felt the bump, and then called in the on-staff surgical oncologist for a consult, who said that I could either get an eye biopsy, which would be incredibly painful, or get a different job reading comic books. In short, I was probably fine. He thought the bump might be my lachrymal gland, but he wasn’t really sure. (I still worry about it.)
The weird leg mass is the most recent one in the saga. It appeared a while ago. Maybe a year, maybe several years, who can keep track of time anymore? It’s never really bothered me until recently, when it became painful–it felt like a lot of pressure was building up there, and I became worried that it could be a blood clot, since I’m on birth control, and that can be one of the more severe side effects.
Here’s a picture of my leg from my vantage point (yes, I realize this angle makes my calf look HUGE). You can see the weird mass thing just above my ankle, where that shadowy crease is.
I went to the doctor just so she could rule out that it was a blood clot, and she did. However, she also seemed somewhat alarmed by it and recommended that I get an MRI pronto. I balked because of the cost. I have insurance, but it pays only 80%, which meant I would be responsible for about $400.
“Do I really need it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, with wide eyes.
“But it’s not like it could be anything life-threatening or…”
“Yes, it could be. It could be a tumor, and our next step would be a biopsy.”
Well, shit. 2011 has officially become the year of the biopsy, the scariest word in the English language.
“Call your parents!” she said, underestimating my age.
“No, no, I can afford it. It’s just, you know. A son of a bitch.” Meaning I would have to spend the bulk of my tax return on a shitty shit medical test that at best would be a huge waste of money, and at worst would reveal something I really don’t want to know anyway. But I guess I would need to know it, whether or not I wanted to.
On Monday I went in for the test. The doctor had requested no contrast to save me some money, and the radiologist told me their policy was to use contrast (meaning, they inject a dye that’s visible on the imaging into my bloodstream) on any and all masses, so they can more clearly see what’s going on. Then there was also a hubbub over the fact that I marked that I could be pregnant on the form. I told them I was on birth control, took it faithfully every day, but even then there’s a .01% chance that I could get pregnant, which is why I marked it. A technicality, really. I said every single woman on birth control should check that box. They said the form accounted for that chance, even though it didn’t say that. How was I supposed to know that?
I was sent home to take a pregnancy test and return the next day to mark definitively that I am not pregnant on the form. I’m not. But now at least I knew for sure before exposing a potential fetus to the intense, humming magnetic field, right?
I returned on Tuesday, did the MRI, no big deal, and waited for an agonizing two days to get the results. My doctor called back yesterday morning while I was getting ready for work, so I missed the call. She left a message.
“The MRI’s fine. Just some swelling. No tumor. It’s fine. Ice it. It’s fine.”
I think she said “it’s fine” so much because she’s catching on to my carcinophobia. Either that, or she feels bad for scaring me with her worst-case scenarios. The fact that my leg is swollen for no apparent reason at all is concerning, but hooray! No tumor!
Next up is breast cancer. I found a lump in my boob last week and haven’t really told anyone except for Sarahthe, who has done an excellent job of fielding my daily questions of “should I go to the doctor and get this checked out?” The good thing is that, ironically, due to my job, I know my odds here are good. It doesn’t quite fit the profile of a tumor, and I’m still pretty young for breast cancer yet. And so, for now, I wait to see what this thing does. Hopefully it’ll just disintegrate and take with it the last remaining of my legitimate cancer fears.
Until, of course, I have to return to the lady doctor for a repeat pap smear in July.
I was afraid to write this post because, although my fears are ridiculous, I don’t want to make light of cancer at all. Every single time another cancer-free, tumor-free diagnosis is delivered, I am incredibly grateful that I’m alive and healthy. And I’m also aware of the many who aren’t, like Nathan and Elisa Bond, a couple with a young daughter who both were diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer within the same week. I usually don’t do this sort of thing on my blog, but if you guys feel like it, send some love or some money or both their direction: http://friendsofnathanandelisa.blogspot.com/.