If you remember, I was waiting to see my surgeon to have my neck nodes looked at. It was meant to be Friday but my surgeon was poorly, and so my appointment was moved to Tuesday. However, last Thursday night I was having a rummage around. I'd seen my GP who couldn't feel any other nodes, but I thought I'd double check. And I found a couple of large lymph nodes in my right armpit (the other side to my original breast cancer). And this worried me a lot more than the neck nodes.
The most obvious logical explanation is that they're all a delayed reaction to a bad cold I had over Christmas, but I'm a worrier and I imagine the worst, unlike my husband who always looks for the positive in things. On Friday I had to drive up to Sheffield to speak to @SheffSurgSoc and give a key note lecture at their 5th National Surgical Conference for Foundation and Student Doctors on the Saturday. No pressure…. Now I love speaking and enjoy being able to take the audience on a journey with me, making them laugh, then cry, and hopefully end up inspiring them. But it was really, really hard when part of me was worrying about my nodes.
Ross and I
I had told the amazing Ross Fisher (@ffolliet), my presentation guru and honorary @SheffSurgSoc president, and he was wonderful. He gave me a hug and a double G&T, and it was great knowing that at least one person in the audience knew what I was going through. The talk was a huge success. I was a bit concerned as it was the 3rd different talk I'd given in 8 days, and I was just glad that I didn't start talking about health technology instead of breaking bad news.
Back in the breast clinic
Anyway, Tuesday came, and I was remarkably calm. My surgeon examined me and could feel the nodes, and then she arranged for an ultrasound of my neck and armpit. The sheer relief of someone else feeling what I was feeling, and more importantly for me, being independently concerned, was all I needed. Even though I'm a doctor and a breast surgeon, I don't want to be a bother to my own doctors unnecessarily. It's very hard to accept the patient role and not diagnose myself.
The ultrasound showed that my neck looked OK, but one of my armpit nodes was a bit chunky. This is code for - it's bigger than it should be and we can't tell why, NOT that it's suspicious for cancer. And this all fits with it probably being just a reaction to the bad cold I had. They took 2 biopsies from the node and this time the local anaesthetic didn't hurt at all. I was more upset that I couldn't go swimming the next morning because I had to keep the dressing dry for 24 hours.
Today I had a CT scan (just to be on the safe side), and I got to relive the joys of the contrast that is injected into your veins to make things show up on the scan. You get a metallic taste in your mouth and then you really feel like you've wet yourself. You feel this warm flush deep in your pelvis and I had to stop and remind myself that I hadn't just wet the bed.
I get the results in a week, and strangely, at the moment, I'm not worried. I'm relieved that I wasn't wasting anyone's time, and that they're concerned enough to investigate things. My wonderful breast team are the ones doing the worrying for me. I can't change what the results will show, and will deal with whatever the outcome is.
How do you know when to worry?
But what should you be looking for after a diagnosis of breast cancer? Well, the fabulous Jo Taylor of @abcdiagnosis has this great infographic on her website that can help.
If you have any of these signs and they've been there for 2-4 weeks and you can't explain them, go and see your GP or call your breast care nurse. I've had to learn that it's not my job to worry in silence. I've had cancer, for god's sake and if I think somethings's not right, I need to see someone to get it looked at. Even if that means seeing my GP every 3-4 months with a new symptom. Having cancer changes everything, and this is not a time to sit on things. All of our weird symptoms may turn out to be harmless, but the mental stress / anxiety / fear of worrying is not good for our health. It will drive us and our partners crazy. So this is my plea. Don't wait - get someone to investigate.