Waiting for a Diagnosis

This past week I went back to the orthopedic surgeon for the results of the CAT scan of my shoulders. I thought this would be a rather routine appointment and I was actually wondering why I was going. Oddly enough, the orthopedic surgeon first said that my shoulders were okay. I asked him what he meant by that, since two weeks before he felt my shoulders were so unstable that I needed to find a different way to transfer. To answer my question he gave me a wide-eyed look and began to explain what the CAT scan showed.

He said that at some time in the past my right collarbone was fractured. I did not heal correctly, but it is healed. He also said that my shoulders were good enough for me to transfer standing, the way I have been here for a long time. I was quite relieved.

Then he asked if I had ever had surgery around my right shoulder. I told him I had a mastectomy on that side in 2007. He said a couple of lymph nodes appeared to be enlarged near my right arm. Though he thought it could be mastectomy scar tissue, he suggested I contact my oncologist about it because of my cancer history. I felt my face drop. Since that surgery I have had normal concern about the reoccurrence of that breast cancer. It grew last August when we discovered an enlarged lymph node on that side. When it disappeared by October, my oncologist thought it was caused by an infection.

My oncologist was being pragmatic, but it never really left the back of my mind. In the first five years after breast cancer it is very hard to forget that you have had it and that you can get it again. Every little pain becomes larger than it really is and you wonder why it is hurting.

The day after my appointment, I sent the CAT scan report to my oncologist and my facility physician. My facility physician stopped in a few hours later to tell me he thought a biopsy was needed. He gave me a very serious look. I was a bit surprised by his concern. Usually doctors keep their poker faces a bit better. On the positive side he was pleased to tell me there were no tumor cells on my bones.

So the waiting game to be diagnosed begins. To me that is the most difficult part of the whole thing. My lymph nodes may not be cancerous. But if they are, I will have to deal with the situation. So I must think about malignancy and the possibility of more surgery, IV chemotherapy, and radiation. These are difficult things to think about in a long-term care setting. My previous experience with chemo and radiation for breast cancer in my other breast was 19 years ago. Back then I was living on my own with the help of caregivers and working part time. I also believed completely in my oncologist. Now I must think about traveling to appointments in ambulettes and ambulances instead of in my own private vehicle. I remember well listening to music tapes in my van traveling to radiation therapy appointments. It was amazing how many songs I memorized during that summer.

My oncologist scheduled a biopsy with my surgeon later this week. It will probably be another week before I have the results. It will be an anxiety filled couple of weeks. But during it, I will use magical thinking to get me through.

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