And basically, in my mind, the news is great!
The PET scan showed only two spots of concern and I am convinced that both these spots are related to inflammation and scar tissue from my mastectomy and ongoing breast expansion. And everything else is clear. Hooray!!!
The first spot is a lymph node measuring less than 1cm with an SUV rating of 2.2. (Generally an SUV rating of 3 or below is considered inconsequential). So I figure we can just go right ahead and cross that one off the list. My oncologist agrees. Done.
The second spot is in the subpectoralis region of my left breast at the top of my ribs at the site of my mastectomy. It is 1.4cm and has an SUV value of 5.9. My oncologist has ordered a bone scan and x-ray to evaluate the area further. We’re not sure yet what to think about this spot. Hopefully further scans will clarify what’s going on there.
But then, on my way to pick up Miss M from school after my appointment I was pouring over the scan results in my brain. I remembered that tumors in previous PET scans all had SUV values of 13-16. Nothing as low as 5 or 6. Then it occurred to me that the lymph node that lit up was in the same area that I had a lymph node removed during my mastectomy. Could it just be coincidence that I only had one lymph node removed during surgery and now only one lymph node, in the same area, was lighting up on the PET scan? You know me, I don’t believe in coincidences.
So when I got home I started to do some research… Turns out scar tissue and inflammation can cause false positives in PET scans up to 6 months after surgery. One woman told how her PET scan lit up after surgery and the doctors ended up doing a biopsy of the area, thinking it was cancer, only to find out it was just scar tissue from her mastectomy.
I also looked up my old scans and realized previously suspicious areas with similar SUV ratings in the 5-6 range were dismissed with a simple note to keep an eye on the area in future scans. And all of the seemingly suspicious areas disappeared in subsequent scans.
So now I am seriously thinking that both the areas are scar tissue and inflammation from my surgery. Which means that in a roundabout way my scan was essentially clean. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it (until proven otherwise).
I also told Dr. K about my plans to take a break from the Herceptin. His first question was why. Although he did seem concerned, he did not try to talk me out of my decision. I told him about my fears and presented my reasoning, to which he said that I offered a very good argument. We agreed to take a break, at least till my next set of scans… Then, who knows…
He also asked me yet again about my plans to take the estrogen repressing drugs Tamoxifen or Arimidex (as he does every time I see him). And again, I told him I had no plans to take these drugs. I’m not sure how many times I’m going to have to tell him before it sinks in. Even when I told him about the good results of my hormone tests with the naturopath, he still encouraged me to consider having my ovaries removed as an alternative way of lowering the level of estrogen in my body. I told him I’d think about it. And I will. I have been.
I truly love Dr. K. He has been amazingly attentive, warm, caring, and open minded oncologist. But I get the sense that he believes there is no way to keep cancer from spreading without the use of pharmaceuticals. After agreeing to my sabbatical from Hereceptin and hormonal suppressing drugs, he asked if I was aware that the cancer may come back and spread if I don’t use these treatments. And my response was, yes, I’m aware. But I’m also aware of many women who do the treatments and have the cancer spread anyway.
I know everything can change in an instant.
But I keep coming back to the idea of uncovering the roots of why I got cancer in the first place. Not just trying to cut off the infected rotting branches but addressing the roots of the tree, the soil, the environment, to ensure no more infected branches grow.
In my case, I am pretty confident in the knowledge of how my roots became diseased… Ultimately, it was the combination of a bunch of different factors that eroded my soil and left me prone to disease… The hormonal surges of pregnancy and breast feeding… The incredible amount of stress I was under that severely compromised my immune system… The fact that I started smoking cigarettes again… All the horrible foods I stuffed in my face to deal with the stress and sadness… The lack of exercise… The 20+ pounds I packed on… My poor coping skills… My inability to ask for help… Taking care of everyone else but myself… Pretending like everything was ok when it so wasn’t… And most importantly, the immensely heavy grief I carried from losing my mom to cancer…
It was the perfect storm. A rare occurrence. A convergence of factors that together left my body ravaged and vulnerable. Each ingredient compounding with the next to send my previously dormant cancer cells into a flurry of activity.
These days, I think a lot about a question my therapist asked me… When the next storm starts brewing (because we all know storms will come) – how will I handle things differently?
I think about this every day. So I’m making changes. Preparing for the storms. Addressing the root causes. Tending to the soil. Changing the environment – both inside and out. And this I believe will keep the cancer at bay way more effectively than just cutting off or treating the rotten parts of me and never addressing why I started rotting in the first place.
I encourage everyone to take stock of their lives. Take a look at your roots. Your soil. Figure out what’s helping and what’s not. Fortify yourself. Nourish yourself. Prepare.
Are your roots strong enough to make it through the storm?