Food Won’t Fix This. Muscle Memory Won’t Either, But…

EDITED ON 1.15.18:

BIG SIGH OF RELIEF: I do not have breast cancer. It is PASH. The breast care center dr said he would present my case to the committee on Weds to see if they wanted to do anything with it since it’s growing too fast and my primary care doc just called me & told me the news as well and said I don’t have to do anything with it unless I want to wait til I lose weight, have it removed, & get a breast reduction… to which I replied, “Yes please….” anyway:
This is what PASH is:…/pseudoangiomatous-stromal-hyperp…/


This afternoon, I ate some Raisin Bran Crunch, which is a slip; I tried to stay awake for the movie, Battle of the Sexes–couldn’t do it–no disrespect to the movie–it’s common for me to sleep through movies; and I’ve listened ad nauseum to my overgrown baby of a dog, Jake, bark at his favorite stage show, which I call “Jake’s Goat TV,” A.K.A. our 2 Nigerian Dwarf Goats, who are now separated from the dogs by a beautifully built fence, courtesy of Ye Olde Tyme Goat Ranchers, Beth and Daniel, and our rain-soaked efforts last Sunday.

This is Onslow and Daisy. They no longer have to stay in the bathroom while the dogs are outside. This is, as Martha Stewart would say, “A good thing.”

I just popped 2 Extra Strength Tylenol and changed out the ice pack in my bra. I’m burrowed under two throw blankets. I have the heat turned up a little too high. I’ve been wearing a jacket since arriving home, and, oh, yes, you read that right: I have an ice pack in my bra. I guess it’s no surprise that I can’t get warm.
I had a biopsy this morning on a nickel-sized mass in my left breast that was discovered in my December screening mammogram.

Last Week
I found out about the mass in my breast a week ago yesterday, and I thought it was a 2 mm little bitty thing–I thought that’s what my doctor said when he called me himself on Thursday, 1/4.
I said, “I appreciate you calling me yourself,” and he said, “Yeah, I knew you’d freak out if I didn’t.” And the rest of the phone call is pretty much a blur, although I am certain that my voice sounded as high to him as it did in my head. He suggested that I could go to Baylor in Dallas or ETMC Breast Care Center in Tyler, but I’d be able to get into ETMC faster than Baylor. He told me, “We’re catching it early.”

So, 2 mm is tiny, like the size of the tip of a crayon. Lucky for me I didn’t read the lab report til yesterday when we were on our way to the doctor, because if I’d known it was characterized as an ENLARGING MASS (their caps, not mine), 12 mm x 14 mm x 18 mm, which was not there a year before, I’d have probably been more of a wreck over the past 7 days than I was. It’s actually the size of a grape, or a nickel, except that a grape is an oval and a nickel is nice & round, and the thing in my breast is kind of triangular.

My sweet doctor called me to tell me this news so that I would not freak out, but I did freak out. And when I freak out, it does not look like Kevin McAlister in Home Alone, running around screaming or putting his hands up to his cheeks and proclaiming, “ARRRRRGHGHGHGHHGHGH!”

It looks like shutting down. I shut down and I go inside myself and my mind works 24/7 on trying to process the thing that’s making me shut down. I even dream it. If I don’t tell you, you’ll have no idea how freaked out I am unless you’re close to me and know what I was like when I went through trauma recovery. This shutting down thing/hiding inside myself is a kind of muscle memory from being abused as a child. Back then, I shut down a lot. I stayed in my own mind. I worked feverishly to figure a way to avoid being touched or watched or stalked or worse. My survival mechanism is planning/plotting, and when there is no way for ME to figure a way to save myself, it sends me into a dark place. I mean, hell, for so long, there was only ME, you know?

I freaked out on the inside, and I was determined to not let on to my family how freaked out I was (I have no idea if I was successful or not), and what that looked like was getting really, really quiet, and going to bed earlier than I usually do, which is already pretty early. It looked like trying to be sarcastic and dry-witted about the whole thing to people who are not in my inner circle, and making jokes about “if I have cancer and need reconstruction, I’ll get the tits of a 20 year old. Those things will be up under my chin.”

It looked like sharing with only one other person how scared I was, and he did not respond, but I know that’s because he wanted me to prove to myself that I can do this: I can handle this. I have what it takes; I’m going to rise to the occasion, whatever it is. I know this because in the past, this was our pattern, and I know him, and he knows how I think. (Thanks, Matt.)

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been freaking out, and I’m going to say here and now that it’s okay that I’ve been having these feelings. They are normal.

I felt freaked out during the day at school, and what that looked like was getting confused easily and feeling like I was going to cry and calling kids the wrong names halfway through the school year and not recognizing my own car one time and forgetting how to spell things, and I’m the queen of spelling.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

And I freaked out when I came home in the afternoons and a couple of days that looked like eating some Raisin Bran Crunch and eating after dinner, which I don’t do when I’m eating the way I need to eat to manage my eating disorder (it was a protein bar, but you have no idea how badly I wanted ice cream. NO IDEA.)

And one afternoon it looked like standing at the kitchen counter with an open jar of Reduced Fat JIF and a spoon in one hand acting as an automatic shovel. I think I ate 5 spoonfuls, but it was probably more, and I know there was a random spoonful here and there. And I thought about writing it here, but I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.

And I wrote a little bit about how nervous I was/am on Facebook, but I was trying to be really careful not to be needy and pathetic and pandering because that’s not me (any more. Used to be but it’s not any more.) I appreciated the confidence my friends expressed in me to be able to handle whatever the answer is, and the way they shared their own stories that were not scary ones.

Yesterday Morning
I was a wreck. I was walking to my classroom in the morning, because I knew that I needed to work 1/2 day rather than taking the whole day off; I needed to be somewhere other than stuck inside myself at home, and that’s part of my muscle memory; my training, if you will, that I received when I entered trauma recovery in 2004. It includes things like:
A to-do list.
Having a purpose.
Thinking about others
Focusing on one day/hour/minute at a time
Breathing through the anxiety

As I walked to my classroom and I felt a sob climbing up the back of my throat, threatening to escape, I stopped in the hallway and thought, “I’ve been here before. I have been in this feeling/this space/this body, when I was so racked with anxiety and it was a struggle even to breathe. I have been here. And I got through it, even when I wanted to die, so I just need to remember what it felt like.”
(You can read more about it in a recently published post on the Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt website I share with my co-author, Matt Jaremko: What Trauma Recovery Does to Your Close Relationships.)

And I went through my list of “What I Can Do Right Now to Cope” and decided that even if I couldn’t do anything else, I could still “do” one day/hour/minute at a time, until I got to the next one.

That’s been the last 7 days.

Yesterday Afternoon in Tyler

There is something about the cross street just before the turn to the hospital in Tyler that made the blood feel as if it ran out of the rest of my body and puddled in my feet. I told Daniel, “My body feels cold. I think I’m going to cry.”
He said, “That’s nice,” which is a lot better than if he had said, “Oh, honey, I know, and I’m scared, too.” Because Daniel is the one who does not get scared or if he does he does not let me see it. And if he’d said more than 2 words, I’d have lost my shit completely.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

The atmosphere at the Breast Cancer Center is colored by patients whose faces looked like I felt: terrified, and the office staff who work with an amalgam of militant precision, saying the same words again and again in the same way again and again, and carefully controlled kindness. It’s as if they balance the terror in us with a businesslike manner that does not invite meltdowns. I think it works well for them. The mammogram tech is more personable, and the doctor is a compassionate expert.

I had a diagnostic mammogram that confirmed the mass. [I named it Trump, after my daughter asked me what I would name it, since it’s an ugly, unwanted, irregularly-shaped lesion. My friend Jean suggested that it should not have orange hair.
Noted, Jean. 😉 ]

This diagnostic mammogram was followed by a comprehensive sonogram that could not easily find the mass, which is a characteristic of the type of cancer (Mucinous Carcenoma) that I was tentatively diagnosed with 24 hours ago by a diagnostic radiologist who is also the director of the ETMC Breast Care Center. He found it at last and used words like “sinister.” He noted its irregular shape and said he didn’t like that.
I asked, “Is this the kind that stays in one place?”
He said, “Yes–as long as it’s caught early.”
Later, he told Daniel and me that this thing was not something he was comfortable “watching,” i.e. giving time to evaluate if it grows or not, but that if it was cancer, surgery could take care of it. The doctor said it could also be just an angry lymph node, but he left Daniel and I with the impression that he thought it was cancer. He also told me he’d like me to do genetic testing since I have cancer in both grandmothers (breast and uterine), and breast cancer killed my maternal grandmother’s sisters, as well. He wants to see if I am a carrier for this hereditary cancer, and he said if I’m not, then my daughters won’t get hereditary cancer.

We left the hospital and went to On the Border in Tyler, and, after being told there’s a pretty solid chance I have breast cancer, being freaked out looked like snarfing tortilla chips BUT ordering the Border Smart Chicken Fajitas (the “healthy” version), not being able to finish them, crying a little when trying to explain to Daniel what I had been trying to do for a week to hold myself together, asking for a to-go box, and leaving the box on the table, but not realizing it until we were halfway home.

But, y’all, compared to how badly this week could have gone?
Oh, honey… let me tell ya. My eating disorder could have gone a lot worse than it did. And I need to acknowledge that. I am not going to beat myself up. I am instead giving myself credit and express gratitude for the “muscle memory” that has kicked in after nearly 3 solid months of eating mindfully (again) and avoiding trigger foods/binge foods (again) and establishing a pattern of healthy eating that seems to be overruling the one that had taken root as much as whatever this thing is in my breast.

Like clockwork, we approached that same cross-street on the way to the hospital, and I felt like I was going to cry at the same time it seemed that all the blood left my head and pooled in my feet. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing. We’d been listening to songs from this playlist.

The biopsy wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It was practically painless. It was weird, laying face down on an elevated table with the breast hanging down through a hole in the table, and it was a little slow getting going since, once again, the Mystery Mass made itself difficult to find, but after more mammogram pics were taken, they found the target. A tiny metal coil was placed in the mass after they took samples, so that it’s easy to find next time. It will remain there until such time as it’s removed through surgery, or, I suppose, it’ll stay there forever and hopefully it won’t make me beep in the metal detector at the airport.

Photo by Anton Repponen on Unsplash

The biopsy netted tissue samples that led the same diagnostic radiologist to tell me that his eyeball assessment of the tissue is that it’s quite possibly a benign fibroadenoma rather than the rare invasive cancer that is curable when caught early.

I’ve gotta tell y’all, at this point, I’m afraid to give much power to either diagnosis, especially since this type of cancer sometimes hides in fibroadenomas. (And that, dear friends, is the point that I stopped googling the two terms together.) I’ve decided to take the long-ago advice of my dearly beloved former therapist and now-coauthor: “If somebody wants you to know something, they’ll tell you.”

The boobie doc is leaning as heavily toward it being benign as he was toward it being cancer, and I’m not going to allow myself to be whipped about emotionally. I don’t think I CAN handle that any more. At first I made the decision to be excited; to go with his benign diagnosis, but my daughter who is a nurse told me not to do that. Just be cautious.

Well, I’m going to let the doctor tell me the definitive answer on Monday, Tuesday at the latest.

The Best Laid Plans…
I began this blog in mid-October, 2017, as a way of charting my journey through eating disorder recovery and up to gastric sleeve surgery in March, on my Spring Break.
Is it scheduled yet?
But I made up my mind that would be the date and the surgeon’s staff is aware of it and willing to work with me. I have been compliant with the presurgical requirements. I have had an endoscopy (upper GI) done; I have had a sleep study done (I now use a CPAP at night); I have had labs done; I have had a psych eval done; I have 3 out of 4 nutritionist appointments complete (last one is 2/6); I have had a fitness eval done. EVERYTHING. I HAVE DONE EVERYTHING. I’m even supposed to be starting my bariatric vitamins so I can get used to the pattern of taking those. The only thing I haven’t mastered yet is not drinking anything 30 minutes before, with, or after meals.
I met my 5,000.00 insurance deductible BEFORE CHRISTMAS, y’all.
I have had a GOAL, and this cancer uncertainty (or certainty) is fucking with it big time.

And one thing that’s been swirling through my mind is that if this is cancer and I have to

Photo by Marc Sendra martorell on Unsplash

have surgery and possibly any kind of follow up like radiation or chemo, depending on what is found, my plans are sunk. I told Daniel that I will be so pissed if I can’t get it done before my deductible has to be met again after 8/31.

I know, I know…if someone wants me to know something, they’ll tell me.

I’ll be the snarly sweating one…
Oh, one last thing? The doc told me yesterday that if this is cancer, he wants me off my HRT as soon as possible. My motto has been, “My primary care doc will pry my Estradiol from my cold dead hands…” because I sooo don’t want to be irritable and HOT.  But at this point? Cancer or not, it’s got to go. I can’t risk this kind of roller coaster again.