Those of you who read the most recent installment of my breast cancer blogs may recall I mentioned that, rather than being "tattooed" in preparation for my radiation treatments, the doctor indicated they would simply use permanent marker. His rationale was that a tattoo truly is permanent, whereas permanent marker will eventually wash/wear off one's skin, and he doesn't believe most breast cancer patients necessarily want that permanent mark and reminder of their treatment.
Well, I can only speak for myself on this one: Honestly, it wouldn't bother me one way or the other. Just as the biopsy scar doesn't bother me, or the surgical scar (which I keep being told won't even be visible.) They've become part of who I am and, like all scars do, tell a story. It's not a story I'm likely to forget, either, with or without the marks. Experiences like this tend to stay with you. Now, I can see how for some that might be a bad thing, something they'd prefer to forget and put behind them. And maybe I'll feel differently about it a few months or years down the road. Certainly, I hope this never becomes something -- the thing -- which defines me. But is it shaping me? Is it leaving a mark? Yes. Hopefully in a way which makes me stronger, not weaker; weathered, not damaged.
Yesterday I went in for the CT scan and requisite marking so that the radiation oncology folks can map out my treatments. First, though, another mammogram was needed -- not for diagnostic purposes, but for positioning purposes. Now, here comes the part I'm a little loathe to share, though I have spoken about it to some friends and family, and even discussed it on the radio show with Josh last night: It really hurt. I've been feeling quite lucky that, post-surgery, I really haven't had all that much pain. A little sensitivity and tenderness still around the incision, but it's what I've likened to that feeling your skin gets when you're starting to come down with the flu -- kind of achy and annoying, but really nothing in the whole scheme of things. That is, until it was time to be squooshed again. This may not come as a surprise to many, but significant squooshing of recently-operated-on boob does not feel good. At all.
The tech could see it was hurting me and advised me to grit my teeth. I assured her, I already was. I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised by this either, but given my past mammography experiences (somewhat uncomfortable, but not painful), and my relative lack of pain since the surgery, it really didn't occur to me. My reluctance to share that is not embarrassment or shame on my part -- I know it's okay for me to admit that some things hurt and this whole experience isn't rainbows and unicorns -- but I don't want it to scare any one of my readers away from having the all-important screening mammogram! Because they don't feel like that. And honestly, I suspect a month from now, it probably wouldn't feel like that for me, either. But I've been somewhat in a hurry to get going with the radiation because, quite frankly, I'd like to get it done before the end of the year so that I won't be starting over with a new deductible and significant medical bills. (More on that in a moment.) Anyway, point being, that it probably is okay for folks to give themselves a little more time to heal post-surgery before hopping back in the MammoMat. So, that would be my advice to anyone else going through this if asked -- assuming the docs say it's okay.
That said, I (obviously) survived the squooshing. The rest, after that, was pretty much a breeze. I was directed from Mammography down to Radiation Oncology (just the next floor down -- I'm becoming quite familiar with the layout of the Cancer Center these days.) There, I was placed in the CT scan machine -- which, for those who've not experienced it, is not unlike an MRI machine, only instead of a long tube, it's really more like a doughnut. You lay down on the table and it rolls you back and forth under the scanner. The tech positioned me and made note of it all so that they can be sure to position me the same way each time. Then the doctor came in and drew some marks on me which will serve as the blueprint for where they deliver the radiation. Though it's permanent marker, it obviously would wash off between now and the end of my treatment, so they put a clear plastic tape over the top of it. As I mentioned on Facebook yesterday afternoon, I look a bit like I did battle with a Sharpie -- and the Sharpie won.
Next up, the folks at Radiation Oncology will finish calculating everything and setting up my plan, then call me back to officially schedule my treatments. And then I'll enter the "radioactive" phase. (Yes, that song is permanently stuck in my head.) Not really, though. External Beam Radiation (which is what I'll be getting) does not make a patient "radioactive." So no glowing or setting off geiger counters for me! And friends and family ought not fear being irradiated by hanging with me.
Now, on a more serious note, as I was ruminating on this latest entry, I came across this article: "Death By Obamacare: 'Reform' Reams Cancer Patients." I shared it several places and noted that, yes, this pisses me off. It should piss everyone off. Because under the guise of assisting those who were (involuntarily) uninsured, our government has done a serious number on us. Rather than simply expanding Medicaid and other programs designed to help those with lower incomes and/or in high-risk categories, and raising taxes to do so (which would have been far more straightforward, but, of course, tantamount to political suicide), instead, we've been handed a top-down, one-size-fits-all program which, in truth, fits few. The net result of it is that many of us are having insurance plans with which we were content canceled and/or finding our premiums and deductibles skyrocketing. (See?! We're not really being taxed more -- we're just having to pay more, which is a completely different thing, right?!) What's worse, as the article rightly notes, the ripple effect of this is forcing many providers out of certain networks and forcing patients to either sever their ties with doctors with whom they already have a relationship, or pay tons more out of pocket.
I've spent the past two months becoming acquainted and comfortable with a staff of medical professionals who've helped me navigate a significant health crisis. I've relied on them to help me fight this battle and developed a level of trust in their care. I've managed to remain somewhat Spockian throughout this adventure, and approach it clinically, rather than emotionally. But if I were suddenly told that I'd have to switch everything up, or find myself out significant additional funds, I'm pretty sure I'd lose it.
Fortunately, I'm one of the lucky ones -- even though my plan is being canceled, I was given the opportunity to renew it now (rather than in July) so it will be good until December, 2014. Assuming my treatment goes as planned, I should be pretty well done with everything long before then, and just following through with regular screenings. But what if I'd been diagnosed this time next year? I'd have to hope and pray that whatever "government-approved" plans are available to me would still include this network of doctors and not cost considerably more out of pocket. As I said, I'm one of the lucky ones. For now. A lot of other folks aren't.
Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences often is written not just in permanent marker, but in indelible ink.