Routine Tests

I sat in the waiting room, book open, staring at the words but not seeing them, my mind racing.

Several other women, all well beyond my 34 years, also waited in the room with powder blue carpet and swirly-patterned chairs that weren’t all that comfortable.

A woman with short gray hair busied herself knitting a cabled sweater, her needles as confident as the expression on her face. The brunette sitting closest to me read People Magazine, the one featuring Cher after Sonny’s death. She flipped the pages casually, smiling every once in awhile, presumably not because Sonny had skied into a tree. Everyone looked so calm.

“HOW CAN YOU JUST SIT THERE LIKE THAT? DON’T YOU KNOW?!!” I wanted to scream.

But I was sitting there too, hiding my inner screaming, perhaps looking much less scared than I actually felt.

After my breast cancer diagnosis, the oncologist ordered three “routine” tests.

RoutinePerformed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason; ordinary.

Whereas it’s true that those tests are performed as part of a regular procedure for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, they are done for a very special very scary reason: to determine whether the cancer has spread to other organs.

Breast cancer doesn’t kill if the malignant cells stay in the breast or even if they migrate to the lymph nodes. But once those traitorous cells populate other organs, that’s stage IV and the prognosis turns grim.

The problem with having a Ph.D. in biology and a background in cancer research was that, as a patient, I knew way too much. My training, although useful for making treatment-related decisions, mostly just unnecessarily scared the living crap out of me.

Unlike those other women, I knew the results of those tests were anything but routine. They were life versus death.

During the first two tests, I tearfully expressed my greatest fear to the technicians: that I wouldn’t be around for my baby, that I’d never even see him go to kindergarten. The results?

Life.

I’d just done the final test, the bone scan, my radioactive body rendering me unable to see my young son for the rest of the day.

And then I waited to learn whether this cancer would kill me or if I had a chance to beat it and die of something else, hopefully much later. That didn’t feel remotely routine to me.

The other women in the waiting room were blissfully ignorant, and I envied them enormously.

“Stacie, there’s a spot on your scan. We need to redo it.”

Death.

I hung my head in despair as the tears flowed.

But it turned out to be a technical issue. The repeat scan detected no cancer in my bones.

Not only did I live to see my baby go to kindergarten, two days ago he asked a lovely young lady to his junior prom.

IMG_0333

She said yes.

And I lived to see that too, because my tests were routine after all.

___

Thankfully, I am nearly 15 years cancer-free. Click on the links if you’d like to read about my diagnosisan acquaintance’s missed diagnosis, how I can’t bear to part with my pre-cancer ponytail, or my harrowing chemo experience.

I’m linking up with yeah write. It’s a birthday bash and there are presents! Come check out all of the awesome posts on the grid. You won’t be sorry!

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48 Responses to “Routine Tests”

  1. cath/waterloo,ONMarch 20, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    thanks for sharing your story, stacie. this is how we learn empathy -> by learning from others. xoxo!

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks Cath!

  2. BeeMarch 20, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Stacie, despite knowing “too much,” I’m so glad you went to the doctor. My grandfather was a doctor but hated being a patient and died though he probably could have been saved. I have an uncle who’s the same way and ended up in the E.R. for something that he knew was dangerous if left untreated. So I’m glad that, even with your knowledge, you faced whatever fears you may have had and went, and that you’re here.

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 11:12 am #

      Doctors make the worst patients! But I’m super-paranoid. I don’t leave anything to chance. Thanks for the sweet comment 🙂

  3. IASoupMamaMarch 20, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Yay for routine tests and babies who ask girls to the junior prom!

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 11:12 am #

      I’ll second that!

  4. Samantha Brinn MerelMarch 20, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Every time I read another part of your story from your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment I am just in awe of you and your strength. Also, you have such a romantic son! Prom proposals were decidedly less dramatic (and, therefore, far less fun) when I was in high school. His is great!

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

      Thanks Sam! It’s not really strength. At least that’s not how I felt. Prom proposals have gotten incredible – I had no idea. Back in the day it was just a question!

  5. PeachMarch 20, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    *tears*, my dear. Your baby is all grown up now, and I’m grateful for you, your heart and your words that inspire me weekly. Big Peachy hugs to you. xox

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

      I love me some Peachy hugs!

  6. KristinMarch 20, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Oh my. My my my. That’s all I’ve got after that horrific roller coaster. So good.

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

      Thanks Kristin. That’s exactly what it felt like, at the time.

  7. The Dose of RealityMarch 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Oh, what a scary time and what a beautiful “ending” to this story. We absolutely loved it. –The Dose Girls

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Aw thanks you two!

  8. Natalie the SingingfoolMarch 20, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

    Woohoo! This gives me so much joy and hope. 🙂 Both of my grandmothers died of cancer at young ages, so I regularly get checked because I know the percentages. Reading about your experience makes it a little less scary for me.
    Also? Your son is awesome. I love the picture!

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Thanks Natalie. It’s all about catching it early. I’m happy you’re vigilant! I had no idea the prom “proposing” had turned into such a big deal. So cute.

  9. rogue winoMarch 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Not knowing can be absolute torture. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be in this situation, but I’d bet you appreciate every moment with your kids now

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

      I sure do! In those moments, even scientists are irrational and torture themselves, at least I did.

  10. Ginny MarieMarch 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Those dreaded bone scans! I’ve actually never had one, but my mom had several since her breast cancer metastasized. It was hard to explain to people that no, she didn’t have bone cancer–her breast cancer moved to her bones and then to her liver. She was a 26 year survivor before she died, and very proud of that fact! My 17 year anniversary is coming up in June. I can hardly believe it.

    And what an awesome way to ask a girl to prom! Where were boys like that when I was in high school? 😉

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

      I’m so sorry about your Mom. 26 years with metastatic disease is incredible! Congrats on the 17 years, so awesome!

      I don’t think anyone asked prom dates like that when we were in HS…

      • Ginny MarieMarch 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

        Mom’s breast cancer actually didn’t metastasize until the last 5 years of her life. She was cancer-free for 20 years when it came back. *sigh*

        And you’re right…no one was fancy back then! 😉

  11. BizMarch 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    This post made me teary Stacie. I can’t imagine going through that. My cousin is now fighting. She fought breast cancer twice, but now its in her bones, but she retired last year and is crossing things off her bucket list.

    You can read about Pam here:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pam-zwemer/

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

      Oh no Biz, I’m so sorry she’s going through that. But see Ginny’s comment above about her Mom who lived 27 years with metastatic disease. It can happen! I’ll definitely check out your link.

  12. RobbieMarch 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Knowing to much can be a curse at times. i cannot imagine not being able to see your son for a day because of the radiation. heartbreaking indeed.

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      It was hard, especially since I was in a doomsday mood!

  13. christieMarch 20, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Oh, sweet Stacie, what a fabulous post. Thank you and thank god you are here and he’s here and she said yes. So much to celebrate. Thanks for reminding me. WHat a hellish time that must have been.

    My favorite line: My training, although useful for making treatment-related decisions, mostly just unnecessarily scared the living crap out of me.

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

      Thanks for the sweet words Christie! Knowledge is power but ignorance is bliss. There are times when both scenarios are beneficial. All of my logic fled during that time (and that says a lot since I’m very logical!),

  14. DianeMarch 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    I must admit…I was more than happy to be “blissfully ignorant” too. I’ve had lots and lots of practice with that in Riley World. Haahaa!

    I love the last picture!!!!! Congrats on almost 15! Woo-hoooo!!!
    Diane

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

      I think I would have been a lot calmer during much of it if I had been blissfully ignorant. It’s good sometimes! I’m happy you’re here Diane!

  15. Michelle LongoMarch 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    I feel like I always say the same thing – I’m so glad you’re here with us, I’m so glad you’re OK. You tell your story so well, I feel like I can almost imagine what a terrifying and difficult time it must have been for you.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • StacieMarch 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

      Thanks Michelle, coming from you that means a lot!

  16. GinaMarch 20, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    I cringe every time I read one of these stories because it scares me. Even though I know you just wrote it and you are here. The other word that scares me is “follow-up”.

    What did he use to light up the word? I loved when the kids asked dates to dances. So fun!

    • StacieMarch 21, 2013 at 7:42 am #

      Tealight candles!

  17. Larks (@LarksNotesThis)March 20, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Ugh. Waiting can be so hard and so scary. Thank you for sharing this story and what a cute picture of your son!

    • StacieMarch 21, 2013 at 7:52 am #

      Thanks!

  18. DanaMarch 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Thank goodness routine was indeed routine. I have been fortunate to have good health thus far but I still get so nervous just going for an annual exam… I can only imagine the stress of what you’ve been through. And what a delightful way to end your post, with your “baby” and his ever so clever question to his date!

    • StacieMarch 21, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Thanks so much Dana!

  19. Mary @ A Teachable MomMarch 20, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    Every one of your cancer posts outdoes the last. This one is especially happy. Prom? No way! What a reason to celebrate your courageous journey! Here’s to many, many more miracles for you and your beautiful family.

    • StacieMarch 21, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Your comment made my day Mary! So nice 🙂

  20. icescreammamaMarch 20, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    oh the end made my heart sing. and that prom picture!! perfect!!!

    • StacieMarch 21, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      😀

  21. Daffodil CampbellMarch 21, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    Even with the label “routine” tests – the very NEED for tests – is so frightening. I am glad yours turned out to be routine – sometimes knowledge = power…….to make you crazy. (Is that why they say ignorance is bliss?)

    • StacieMarch 21, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      Thank you! And yes, sometimes knowledge makes you crazy…

  22. Dawn BeronillaMarch 21, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Yet again, another great and honest post from you!
    Hooray for health and for proms!!

  23. Mod Mom Beyond IndieDomMarch 21, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Tears. I’m so, so happy you kicked Cancer’s ass and that you’re here to see all that and more! Huge hugs Stacie! XXX

  24. IleneMarch 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    Oh, how scary. I am so glad for your prognosis but what a tough that day must have been – back in that waiting room.

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