I had emailed him post-surgery, asking if it would be okay for me to return to work before the biopsy results came back. Since I work in a highly vulnerable environment, I wanted his approval so that I wasn't putting myself or others in jeopardy.
I was already in quarantine after getting a COVID test on Saturday, and I remained in quarantine until my surgery on Monday.
To be better prepared to answer my question before my anticipated return to work 3 days after my biopsy, he called the pathologist, then he called me.
"The pathologist is seeing some of the same material that was found the first time, but he's also doing more testing. Until we find out for sure what the results are, I want you to stay in quarantine."
Damn. This may really be positive.
I had hoped that this was all just inflammation from a 3-week cough I'd had this spring. After all, my labs are normal, I feel fine, and my oncologist kept telling me that what was presenting was "not typical with recurrence."
I spent most of Wednesday making phone calls and filling out on-line forms for a possible medical leave from work, while lying to a few of you who asked for an update. If the results were still not definite, I did not want to alarm you unnecessarily. I also had no news or answers that would alleviate the worry I know you were all feeling on my behalf.
I don't know what the next steps are. I don't know if I am going back to work anytime soon. I don't know how bad this can get.
I had music playing, I had received good news about possible interim financial support, and my body soreness from the day before was improving. It was a good day.
But then a certain song got the best of me, and tears began to flow.
"How the hell can I do this again? And what if it doesn't work this time, either?"
Can I please just rewind back a few months to have caught this just a wee-bit sooner?
When I was initially diagnosed in 2018, what I thought were heart issues led me to the doctor, which quickly led to a cancer diagnosis.
Son of a gun, did the same thing happen this time, too?
Just weeks before Christmas, I felt a stabbing pain in the wedge just below my sternum, with a very subtle clenching in my throat, much like the constriction that is felt upon throwing up. I was walking around Costco, thinking to myself that there were plenty of people around me should I go down, but the pain subsided in about 5 mins.
It wasn't until I was at work in late February when it happened again, but this time the pain was less severe and it lasted about 3 minutes. I was in a resident's room and was able to complete my nursing assessment when it disappeared as quickly as it had started.
But when it happened again just 2 weeks later, I worried that I may have to get my heart checked out again. Around this time, I also started getting heart palpitations, which set my nerves on edge.
But was this typical of a heart issue? I had no pain around my heart, no left arm discomfort or numbness, and the constriction I felt in my throat did not radiate from the bottom of my sternum, but was separate from it.
I also know that heart attacks do not present with typical symptoms in women, so I contacted my PCP. A standard stress test came back positive for coronary artery disease (CAD), but it was ruled out a few days later when a more detailed, nuclear stress test showed that all of my veins and arteries were in great working condition without any signs of disease.
It didn't even occur to me to consider if cancer was returning.
So when my CT came back positive on May 12th, I was surprised.
Reading up on recurrence while recovering from my biopsy this week, I was reminded that it's not uncommon for NHL to return, especially in the first two years.
Somehow I'd missed that tidbit of information last time, perhaps because I was so focused on surviving the first round. Since this journey has been so full of irony, it can't be left unsaid that I celebrated 2 years since my initial diagnosis on May 8th, and May 12th was my routine CT.
But I sobered myself up with some encouraging stats:
- There are proven treatments for NHL recurrence;
- NHL is very treatable but finding the right cocktail sometimes takes time;
- My labs are all super-normal; and
- I had TWELVE tumors last time, the largest measuring 10.6 cm (that's just over 4 inches!).
This time, I'm hoping it was caught early since it's just a minuscule size of 1.6 cm. I believe I'd been walking around with lymphoma in my system for months, possibly years, the first time so this is hopeful news, indeed.
At least that's how I'm pacifying myself while I wait for the results and the plan of care from my doc.
Having time alone to process this new information has been helpful. It's been important that no one else knows yet so I don't take on any of the sadness and fear that will undoubtedly be shared with me. While I haven't freaked out (I never did last time, either), I have been able to sit with my raw feelings of sadness, then put it all into context.
After all, this does not necessarily mean a death sentence, nor does it mean the end of my life as I know it. It's merely another annoying interruption where I get to focus all of my attention on my health.
So while I've been home waiting for the "official, definite" results of the biopsy, I have already gotten used to the idea of a major life shift that you are only now learning about.
A few hours ago when I received word that the biopsy results confirmed a recurrence of NHL, I was already primed.
But please understand this: I am not afraid, because I am good at Doing Hard Things. And I've been here before, so I already have a road map.
My job was to call some of my people to let them know, to finish writing this to let you know, and to officially notify my employer that because of COVID and pending cancer treatment, I have to take a leave of absence from work, effective immediately.
In the meantime, my case will be reviewed at a Tumor Board on Wednesday by several top-notch oncologists from around the area, including Seattle, because this recurrence as it has presented itself is so "unusual."
The lack of rush and "atypical" status have actually put me at ease, so I'll take both as good news as I plan to enjoy my weekend.
Thank you for all of your well wishes and prayers.