A couple look distressed and worried.

Diagnosis, Part I

Constant pain in the left side of my chest had been making me nervous the whole summer. You see, two years before, I had undergone a double mastectomy for stage 2b breast cancer and was told I was in the clear. That I had the "good" cancer, and with the Tamoxifen I was taking, the chances of a recurrence were nil, like one in ten thousand. However, I had a sinking feeling I was that "one."

In late November, I sat down on the floor to do routine stretches and felt a pop in my ribs. My lower right rib had just broken. I confirmed it with the doctors, and I still had to fight to get a CT scan. I had emailed my oncologist the day it happened, and she called me back the next day. She was always very good at calling me, making me reluctant to tell her how to do her job. I told her the facts and hoped she would send me to the tomography lab to have peace of mind.

Instead, she said, "oh no, breaking a rib can be very painful, but there's no way you could have mets." I pushed, asking if she could do any tests. "Maybe a bone density test," her way of giving in. "Ughh!" I said I would pass. Then hung up the phone and cried. Why would I be worried about osteoporosis?

Knowing your body

The truth was I knew my body, and I knew I wasn't well.

My boyfriend had heard the conversation and encouraged me to demand what I felt I needed. He was right. So, I gathered all the strength I could muster, and I messaged her, saying I needed a CT or MRI. She called back and said she would order a CT as long as I called my insurance to find out where I should go.

They were pretty surprised I called them, but they gave me the name of a third-party tomography lab down the road from the hospital, which I am sure saved the insurance company some dough.

Images

It was now Friday when I got my CT test. The technicians were nice enough to send me home with a DVD of my images, which took me a while to crack because the image reading software included only worked with PCs, and I have a Mac. Hence, I forced myself to figure out that Photoshop would read most types of medical image files.

Then, before I was ready, I saw the most haunting images I had ever seen: the bones of my back curved and gutted like a branch from the coastal live oak after a fire. Of course, I needed my doctor to explain those to me, and I wouldn't see her until Monday. At least that gave the lab plenty of time to send her my results.

Going downhill fast

When I arrived at my appointment on Monday, I was going downhill fast. In addition to the mysterious chest pain and the broken rib, I threw out my back while washing my face that morning, and now I needed a wheelchair to get to her office on the third floor.

Worst of all, she hadn't received the lab results yet. I told her what I had seen in the pictures, but she just brushed it off. Instead, repeating the line about mets and Tamoxifen. I knew she knew something was wrong because she gave me some painkillers for my back and set me up for an MRI the following evening.

Now Tuesday, one week since my broken rib, I called the lab and found out I could pick up my results myself. So, without thinking of the consequences of reviewing the results without my doctor, I asked my boyfriend if he wanted to come with me, and we sped over.

Metastatic

Twenty minutes later, we stood in the lab's parking lot staring at a piece of paper. For the most part, it seemed to read mainly in Latin, except for one word, "metastatic."

He pulled me into his chest and stroked my hair. There wasn't much to say.

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