Exactly how often should someone living with metastatic breast cancer undergo the tests that monitor our health?
These CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs are inevitably nerve-wracking, expensive (even if we don't pay for them out of pocket) and sometimes come with a risk of cancer inherent in the test itself. Cancer patients waiting for tests results refer to being in a state of "scanxiety."
It's impossible to describe what it feels like to wait for test results, unless you've been there.
And those of us with metastatic breast cancer go through it over and over again. It's brutal.
When you live with metastatic cancer, one of your greatest challenges is balancing potentially life-saving interventions with the quality of the life you're keen on saving. It's important to check often enough that you catch any change quickly but not so often that you spend your entire life waiting for tests, undergoing tests and then waiting for results.
Because that can be paralyzing.
I was speaking to a friend last week who was considering delaying scheduled scans by a few weeks. She said that it had been implied that she wasn't fighting the way she once had. This made me furious on her behalf, as I can completely understand her need for a period of sanity, when cancer isn't always at top of mind.
In my case, I have the advantage of being in remission and the disadvantage of having an un-protected brain. I know it could just be a matter of time until the next brain tumour. I want to be able to catch it quickly. I also want to stop living my life from scan to scan.
I currently have brain MRIs every three months, at the suggestion of my surgeon. My oncologist would like me to wait until I'm symptomatic but I just can't do that. I have symptoms all the time. Symptoms of brain tumours include headaches, irritability, nausea and clumsiness. Who doesn't feel any of those things from time to time?
My last scan was April 10. On April 14 my lovely GP called me and opened with the line, "Want to hear the good news?"
All is well and I can wait another three months until I go through all of this again.
Or maybe I'll let it stretch to four.