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When Will a Headache Just be a Headache?

The time between my blog updates seems to get longer and longer. The truth is, I haven’t had much to share -- and I think that’s a very good thing! Just trying to be normal during this very non-normal time for the rest of the world.

I finally have a few updates, so I figured it was time to write it all out. Also last week was a very tough week for me from an anxiety perspective and writing helps me process.

Let’s start with an update on my gallbladder. I finally had the sucker removed at the end of March. It took an emergency room visit and an overnight stay at Mayo to get it out, but we did it! I felt so VINDICATED. In fact, my oncologist said “we should have listened to you two years ago!” I haven’t barfed in almost two months and that’s got to be some sort of record for me. For the last two and a half years, I have had the surprise barfs at least once a week and I am THRILLED to be on a vomit free streak! Recovery was relatively straightforward -- I felt like someone ripped out my abs for a few days, but I didn’t have a panic attack when I woke up in recovery and I wasn’t puking anymore so I’ll take the wins where I can get them.

In between having my gallbladder removed and my next set of scans, I turned 32. Birthdays are always worth celebrating and this was no exception. My friends and family sure made me feel so damn loved.

This brings me to last week. I had my quarterly scans in the beginning of May and to be honest, they sort of snuck up on me. The date wasn’t really looming in my mind, and kind of surprised me when I was looking at my May calendar. And then, I got a sore throat.

I know what you’re thinking -- really? A sore throat? And the answer is yes. Something so simple and so common really threw me for a loop this past week. It started about a week prior to scans and I can only describe it as feeling like something was constantly stuck in my throat. It was very isolated to one side and continued to get worse. By Monday, I was having trouble swallowing and eating/drinking/talking (you know, all the fun things). To ease some of my concerns, I went to get a strep test thinking at the very least I’d get some sort of antibiotic and be on my way to recovery. Well, I got a strep test (t’was negative) and a giant dose of anxiety. Turns out my medical history was a little too much for the Minute Clinic nurse to handle. She told me I didn’t have strep and urged me to see my normal provider. I likely had some swelling or inflammation in my lymph nodes and we all know what that can mean… cancer.

I had my scans just two days later and I was convinced something was going to show up on the PET. At the very least, there had to be inflammation. If that showed up, it’d likely require further testing and… I (admittedly) spiraled. Monday and Tuesday night were difficult. I was anxious and frustrated and honestly preparing myself to start this jOuRnEy all over again. Which I recognize is a pretty large jump, but that’s where my head went. I, once again, spent the greater part of Wednesday inside some sort of tube. I had the PET scan first thing in the morning followed by the back-to-back MRIs. I didn’t cry during my MRIs which I consider a big win, but I was still anxious as hell leading into the appointments with my doctors the following day.

Typically I get messages from my doctors as soon as they see the scan results. Something as simple as “everything looks good, see you tomorrow,” and I am VERY fortunate they always reach out. I recognize that not everyone has only 24 hours-ish between their scans and knowing results and I am very grateful for the fast turnaround but when you’re in it -- it feels like weeks. This time I didn’t get any messages from my medical team. Knowing that they won’t deliver any type of bad news via the patient portal, I assumed the worst (as one always does). I had sent my doctor a message about my throat issue to warn them in case something showed upon the scan a few days prior and about 2 hours before my appointment I got a message back simply saying thank you for the information. WHAT. How could you not tell me anything else!??

Enter: sheer panic.

Turns out, scans were all clear.

There was some slight lymph node activity from my COVID-19 vaccine but that was anticipated. The only reason I’m mentioning it is in case other cancer survivors didn’t know that was a side effect of the vaccine. Apparently they’ve been ordering all sorts of follow up scans because the vaccine is throwing false positives for cancer recurrence. So, heads up!

My throat issue is just a throat issue after all. I’ve been on allergy meds for about a week and I’m feeling totally normal.

I’m still trying to figure out why I had so much anxiety. I think my next milestone is really starting to apply some sort of mental pressure. Statistically speaking, if I have a recurrence, it’s the most likely to happen within the first two years after treatment. My two year mark is October of this year and the closer I get to that date, the more pressure I seem to apply to each set of scans.

You’d think that each set of clear scans would provide more reassurance and security, but the opposite seems to be happening. Each clear scan makes me wonder when the bad news will start again - because surely I can’t be this lucky and my streak of good news must run out.

Turns out N.E.D stands for No Evidence of Disease but also No Everything isn’t Done. I think it’s going to be awhile before a headache is just a headache… and before a sore throat is just a sore throat.

In the midst of my scanxiety, I finally colored one of the pages of my bad word coloring book that was far too inappropriate for the Mayo infusion room. I'd like to take a second to remind you that all these bad words are dedicated to cancer ;)


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