Numb Spot

On the back of my right arm, I have a numb spot the size of a quarter, the result of nerves that were severed during my axillary lymph node dissection 15 years ago.

In plain English, that’s the armpit surgery that accompanied my lumpectomy, the resection that removed the cancer from my breast.  I lost one-third of my already small breast and gained a numb spot all in about two hours under general anesthesia. A quarter-sized spot was actually a coup for the surgeon.  And for me. Usually it’s bigger.

IMG_0493

This operation was scary, not because of the general anesthesia  (which makes me puke every time) or because it might have resulted in permanent arm swelling called lymphedema (which fortunately it didn’t). The frightening thing about it was the pathology report. This single sheet of paper would be the best predictor of my overall chances of surviving breast cancer. As a scientist I knew this, knew too much.

Even with all of the great strides made in better understanding breast cancer, the number of cancer-positive lymph nodes was (and still is) the best prognostic factor for survival, so I worried. About what I didn’t yet know.

The size of my tumor categorized me as a stage 1 cancer patient, but cancer present in my lymph nodes would change that to stage II or III, depending on how many were found, with more being worse.

After the procedure, the surgeon told me everything looked promising. He couldn’t be certain that my lymph nodes were clear, but he could tell me that they were all of normal size, meaning any cancer that might be present hadn’t grown very much.

That was good, of course. Still, I worried about the pathology report.

When the path came back, the results indicated that I had cancer in one out of the fourteen lymph nodes removed. This micro-metastasis classified my disease as stage II instead of the stage I I was hoping for. The surgeon pointed out that this lesion was less than a millimeter, and overall the results were quite encouraging.

But even as my incisions were healing, my brain froze in fear, numbing me to rationality. Good news would have been zero positive lymph nodes. But no, I had one.

The cancer got out.

Cancer in the breast doesn’t kill. Cancer in the lymph nodes doesn’t kill either, but the nodes are the gateway to invading other organs. And that’s what’s deadly. So I worried about cells that might have escaped and migrated to my liver or lungs or bones.

I had a hard time viewing the news as favorable and was still mentally going over worst case scenarios.

Until my family made me snap out of it. We went out to dinner that very night and actually celebrated for the first time since receiving my diagnosis two weeks earlier. That’s right. We celebrated my one positive lymph node. The numbness in my brain receded over a big plate of pasta and an even bigger helping of love.

But the numb spot on my arm remains as a constant reminder of what turned out to be good news after all.

____

Back on the yeah write challenge grid, and happy to be here! 

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54 Responses to “Numb Spot”

  1. KarenNovember 5, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    15 cancer-free years is definitely worthy of celebration. I wish you many more years of health and wellness.

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      Thanks Karen! It’s very nice to be 15 years out.

  2. RobbieNovember 5, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Fifteen years?? WOW!! I imagine it must have been very difficult to wrap your scientific brain around it. Sometimes knowing too much is worse?

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      There were definitely things that were worse, like the knowing what all the tests meant. But I was able to make better treatment decisions, so overall it was good to have the science background.

  3. zoeNovember 5, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    15 years , Stacey! Amazing… I try to celebrate a bit every day.

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

      That’s the way to be!

  4. thedoseofrealityNovember 5, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Good for you Stacie for being so open and candid about what you went through and the lasting effects.-Ashley

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      I’ve always wanted people to know. Even if it just helps one person, it’s worth talking about.

  5. LisaNovember 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    I’m glad you are doing well now! That is definitely scary! I have a lump removed from my breast a few years ago. It was the most stressful time. About 2 months before I knew whether it was cancer or not. (It wasn’t.)

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

      Wow, two months seems like an unusually long time to wait for an answer. I knew within a week of my biopsy that I had cancer. Glad didn’t have cancer!

  6. Angela RyanNovember 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Bravo for fifteen years cancer free. I’m so glad you are around to share your story of survival. 🙂

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

      Thanks Angela, me too!

  7. Ice Scream MamaNovember 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    god this post gave me anxiety. those unknown factors at work in life are really hard to come to terms with. i’m so happy you’ve been cancer free for 15 years! poo poo poo! (sorry to spit on you.)

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      No worries about the spitting 😉 It’s important not to worry about things you can’t control. But equally important to dive right in if there is a medical issue.

  8. GinaNovember 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    15 years is huge! I’m so happy for you. Then the other stuff like numbness I get. My spot from my accident is at the armpit but in the front between my shoulder and chest. It’s still so weird but will e weirder if it still there in 15!

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

      We have reciprocal numb spots! Go us. I don’t notice it that much. But I could still stick a pin in it and not feel it (of course, I don’t spend a lot of time doing that).

  9. Sam MerelNovember 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    The unknown is always so much harder. I’m glad you had your family around you to help you celebrate what was, indeed, good news.

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

      Thanks Sam. You are right: the not knowing is the worst.

  10. Christie TateNovember 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    Oh how much you’ve endured. I’m glad it was only one but totally understand why you only wanted zero!

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Zeros definitely the best. But actually, anything less than 4 is a good prognosis. I just lost my head to death spiral thoughts.

  11. MarcyNovember 5, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    I had a biopsy a few years ago that turned out to be OK, but I was a nervous wreck. Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t know much about this.

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

      Glad yours was ok! I’ve actually written a bunch of posts about my cancer. Usually I do several in October for breast cancer awareness but I didn’t blog this October!

  12. Natalie - The Cat Lady SingsNovember 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    Oh my gosh. I am wishing you luck, girl! Scary stuff here. 🙁

    On a probably inappropriate side note, I love your new look on the site!

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

      Thanks Natalie! It’s all good. It’s been 15 years since the cancer so I’m fine 🙂

  13. Elin Stebbins WaldalNovember 5, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Echoing the others here-congrats on 15 years and the love. Agree, the sharing for sure will help someone out there, you never know who will find your story.

    • StacieNovember 5, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      Thanks Elin, for the sweet comment!

  14. Michelle LongoNovember 5, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Being with people you love really does pull you out of the darkness sometimes. Wishing you 15 more years of good health my friend.

    • StacieNovember 6, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks Michelle!

  15. Cindy I the Reedster SpeaksNovember 5, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    Congratulations! Such a moving post.

    • StacieNovember 6, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

      🙂

  16. Andrea@WellnessNotesNovember 5, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    Glad the numb spot is a reminder of what ended up being good news! 15 years cancer free is awesome!

    • StacieNovember 6, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

      Thanks Andrea, me too. I’m quite happy with the 15 years 🙂

  17. Jen and TonicNovember 6, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    That is definitely worth celebrating. Having a little reminder isn’t always a bad thing. We get to look at what we’ve overcome, and how we were able to come out on the other side relatively unscathed.

    • StacieNovember 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      I don’t notice it too much anymore. Just occasionally. But it will always be there. I was very lucky.

  18. theinnerzoneNovember 6, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    This is a beautiful story, 15 years is great! It is always good to remind ourselves of the blessings that have come our way to help us cope with life and its accessories. Wish you strength and good health for many more.

    • StacieNovember 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Thank you! I try never to forget, although after 15 years sometimes I do now get caught up in worrying about dumb stuff.

  19. KristinNovember 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Beautifully told — and what an appropriate reminder of past numbness and future strength.

    • StacieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks Kristin. Here’s to future strength for everyone!

  20. DianeNovember 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

    Anticipation is THE hardest! 15 years…I bet sometimes it feels like only yesterday and other days it seems like a lifetime ago. At least that’s how it can be for me.

    Great post! D

    • StacieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:48 am #

      Yes, that’s true. Sometimes I completely forget about it. And others it’s with me quite vividly.

  21. darkcirclesetcNovember 7, 2013 at 1:55 am #

    Guess the fact that you yourself are a scientist made it even worse to “just keep the faith”. Knowledge can be a horrible thing, sometimes.

    • StacieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:49 am #

      For the most part it was good, allowing me to make more informed decisions. But I do think I was more scared because of it too.

  22. RaraNovember 7, 2013 at 4:22 am #

    It’s so easy to forget to celebrate, so I’m glad you didn’t. 🙂 It’s that sort of focus that makes things a little less numb.

    • StacieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:50 am #

      Yes, but I can’t take credit for that. I have a great family!

  23. Ginny MarieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    I have a larger numb spot due to my mastectomy, and boy! If I ever have a mosquito bite near that area it itches like crazy, but I can’t feel myself scratching it! I have to be careful.

    I didn’t realize you were Stage 2. So glad that your treatments were effective!

    • StacieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:51 am #

      That is so interesting that you can feel the bite but not scratching it. I can’t feel anything on my spot (although what are the chances a mosquito would bite me exactly in that quarter-sized area?

  24. Linda Roy - elleroy was hereNovember 7, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Hurray for 15 cancer free years Stacie!! Huge celebratory hugs. I don’t know those firsthand feeling of worry and fear, but I do understand it from the perspective of a parent of a child who had cancer and is now almost a year in the clear. So I can relate and this is an excellent reminder: less worry, more celebration!

    • StacieNovember 7, 2013 at 8:53 am #

      Wow Linda. Having a child with cancer would be so much scarier than having it myself. In fact, I used to be very thankful it was me instead of my son. My heart goes out to you and I am so glad you are a year in the clear – here’s to many more!

  25. Andrea @ Maybe It's Just MeNovember 7, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    15 years! Reason to celebrate.

  26. NaptimewritingNovember 14, 2013 at 4:02 am #

    Geez. I’m so sorry. I had no idea.
    I had a similar process and diagnosis with melanoma. The wait was terrifying. It was deep, and the third surgery was supposed to root it out. But the lymph nodes? I had an infant and a genuine terror of dying while he was small.
    Stage Ib. Locally invasive but not in nodes.
    I have no words for how big my hope is that it’s all gone: from your breast, your lymph node, your body, your mind. I hope it’s just all gone. But that numb spot won’t let the fear go. I don’t know, but I know. My two-inch scar serves some of the same function.

    Health to you!

    • StacieNovember 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      Thanks, I’m really ok now. That was 15 years ago. My son was 1.5 at the time so I know what you mean. I also had melanoma several years before that but it was “in situ,” (stage 0) so I didn’t have to do anything besides the resection. Health to you too!

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