guest blogger

Scanxiety

By Kelly Nemecek

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Many fellow breast cancer survivors, myself included, freak out about scans.  This is actually a thing we call scanxiety.  It’s the anxiety you feel while waiting for a scan, during the scan, and waiting for the results of the scan.  Before I go any further I want to point out that not everyone needs the same scans and while certain scans are appropriate for one patient, they may not be appropriate for another.  Even among breast cancer patients with the same diagnosis, there may be factors that warrant a different approach to imaging studies.  Having scans is a double edged sword-you want the scan for your peace of mind but in the meantime you know you’re going to get all nerve wracked and distressed.

I remember the PET scan I had after my bilateral mastectomy.  I asked the technician when I might receive the results, and she said my doctor would probably want to meet with me to go over them.  I know these were the words she spoke but all I heard was “he will want to see you in person because the cancer spread everywhere and you’re dying and he won’t say that over the phone.”  Waiting for my oncologist to call with the results was like waiting for a clemency call from the Governor.  When he finally called with good news, I made him say it like four times.

During the expansion process last year, my plastic surgeon found a pea sized bump on the scar where my lymph nodes were removed.  An ultrasound was ordered which triggered an acute case of scanxiety.  The radiologist performing the ultrasound was even the same doctor who performed my fateful ultrasound in 2015.  As soon as that probe touched me, all manner of horrifying thoughts flooded my brain, and I had the worst déjà vu imaginable and then experienced flashes of my future with morbid thoughts of my funeral, my daughter growing up without me, taking my last breath.  In a matter of moments, I was in the depths of despair, imagining every macabre scenario.  Then I heard the radiologist saying something about a benign oil cyst, nothing to worry about and come back in six months.  After all that self-induced drama, it turned out to be an oil cyst/fat necrosis.  PHEW!  For now.  See, for those of us with breast cancer, or any type of cancer really, the anxiety is always there.  In my case, it’s been either all-consuming or bubbling just below the surface.  I will be headed back in a couple of weeks for a six month check of my oil cyst, so I decided I needed a plan to combat this fear.

There are methods I’ve found to deal with scanxiety and fear of recurrence so it does not rule my life.  When I’m feeling apprehensive about a doctor’s appointment or a procedure, or even a simple headache I’m convinced is brain metastasis, I go to my happy place in my mind.  Usually this is either on a beach somewhere with my family or a comfy hammock where I am reading my favorite book.  I practice deep breathing.  I blog about my thoughts, my reservations and my blessings.  I spend girl time with my daughter and appreciate the incredible young lady she’s becoming as she gets ready for high school.  I also found that focusing on helping others helps to distract me from my own worries.  I text my good friend whose husband recently went through Leukemia treatment and see how they are doing.  I check on my pink sisters and offer comfort and support.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not always easy and it is not something I learned overnight, but I have gained a measure of peace and that is something I wish for all my pink sisters.

Scanxiety happens to all of us.  Just know that you are normal if it happens to you too.  It’s ok to reach out to other pink sisters about your concerns.  They can probably relate and will help you through it.


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Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal.  She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015.  She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog

guest blogger

I Cried, But Then I Laughed

By guest blogger Kelly Nemecek

In the weeks after my diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer, I found myself crying, out of fear and hopelessness, devastated at the thought that my 12 year old daughter might lose her mommy.  But as I got closer to my surgery date, a strange thing happened.  The hopelessness turned into determination and a sense of purpose, like a soldier preparing for battle.

I knew that I would be relying heavily on my faith in God, but what I didn’t know at the time was that my sense of humor would also be a huge factor in how I would cope with this new threat on my life.  I have always been very self-deprecating, and my husband and daughter can pretty much make any situation hilarious.  Case in point- after my surgery as I was slowly regaining consciousness and trying to get my bearings in the midst of my morphine fog, random thoughts popped into my head, like “I wonder where my boobs are now?”  Turns out I said it out loud because on my hospital room white board, under Your Questions/Comments, my husband wrote, “Where are my boobs?”

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I know he was attempting to lighten the mood.  And it worked!  As I was already so loopy, I couldn’t stop laughing (which unfortunately caused more pain).  I started texting it to all my friends, who were probably like “What the hell? Kelly’s on some good drugs.”  I knew at that moment if I could continue to find the humor in this ordeal, I would be able to fight.

Prior to surgery I was fairly certain I wanted to wear breast forms, but realistically, afterwards, I could not even wear a bra yet.  The nurse gave me a snug white tank top with pockets to supposedly hold the breast forms, only they came with weird miniature pillows that looked ridiculous and nothing like breasts.  I looked at her like “Really?  And they’re white?  You understand I have two surgical drains emptying blood and other bodily fluids, right?  I can’t stand up and it hurts to move, and you really think I care about putting those pillows in this tank top pillow sham thingy?”

My surgeon wouldn’t let me wear a bra until I healed anyway.  As it turns out, I was okay with that.  I was sore, tired, and emotionally drained so I didn’t give a crap about breast forms.  I was a happy flatty Patty.  I felt comfortable wearing just about everything in my closet from before “The Big Chop,” from fitted T-shirts to flowy blouses.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, going braless was a good thing as I would end up with bad radiation burns in the near future.

This change of heart about the breast forms turned out to be true with my hair as well.  Heading into chemotherapy, I was nervous about the side effects, like nausea and fatigue, and really just the unknown.   Originally, my first thought when I heard I was having chemotherapy was “God no! Not the hair!.”  I had long blonde flowing locks so I figured I’d better cut it into a pixie in preparation for “The Great Bald Experiment of 2015.”  After I lost my hair, I thought I might never leave the house.  I was going to get a wig.  I was kind of pretty chunky so I thought I won’t even be cute bald like Sinead O’Connor or Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Sure enough, two weeks after the first round of chemotherapy it was falling out.  I could gently tug on it, and it would pop right out.  I became obsessed with pulling on it a little at a time. After someone caught me doing it at work, I decided it was time to buzz it.  First, my husband, Tomas took it down to an eighth of an inch, and I looked like GI Jane minus the six pack abs.

wp-1489976753757.jpgAfter that I couldn’t handle all the tiny needle-like hairs everywhere and subsequent itching.  I gra
bbed the shaving cream and the razor and just did it.  It felt awesome and liberating.  I know hair can be a sensitive subject for many cancer warriors and not everyone can whip out the clippers and go to town, but I surprised myself and did just that.  I mostly wore these cute cadet style caps but sometimes went commando.  It was summer in Phoenix after all.

My family must have found every bald joke ever written, and I loved it.  They supported me and took care of me with love and patience.  They knew when I needed to not be treated like an invalid, and when I needed to laugh.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing funny about breast cancer but sometimes laughter is the best medicine and cancer will not take that from me.

Recently, I saw a video that featured a woman dancing around the operating room prior to her mastectomy.  It went viral, and it seemed everyone had an opinion about it.  While some thought it was awesome, others, especially other breast cancer survivors, thought it was just cray cray.  Some were even super offended saying it gives the wrong impression of what it is to face a mastectomy like it’s somehow fun and games.  I honestly didn’t know what to think. I sure as hell did not feel like dancing at the time at the time of my surgery, but similarly, I had been making jokes and much like referring to my upcoming surgery as “The Big Chop.”  I get what this lady was doing now. She was coping.  I think as warriors and survivors we have to do whatever it takes to get us through this hell, whether it’s hiding, crying, laughing or screaming.  And yes, even dancing.


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Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal.  She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015.  She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog