Are you sitting comfortably? This is going to be a long one.
In late August, during a regular appointment with my medical oncologist, I was informed that my latest brain scan revealed a tiny spot on my cerebellum, exactly where mytumour was in 2012. I was going to write that I was blind-sided but I really wasn't. There had been lots of little signs over the course of the summer that my balance was compromised. At one point, while I was with my family in New York City, I had stood up and almost fallen over, catching myself against a wall. I'll never forget the very quick glance I exchanged with Tim, before carrying on with my day. A new tumour was something I didn't want to think about and I had fairly successfully succeeded.
“I'm never going to lie to you,” Dr. G. said during our regular phone appointment, before delivering the news. He also reassured me that the spot was tiny and the situation was “fixable.”
I told family via email, as well as close friends that I had a new tumour. We told our kids at dinner that night. I was outwardly calm but inside, I felt devastated. Although I had been reassured that this tumour could be easily disposed of, I felt like it was the begin of the end. If some stray cells had escaped treatment and metastasized so quickly, then others would surely follow. This new spot might be treatable but the next could easily – even likely – be some place treatment couldn't access. I'm so afraid of this possibility that I've never been able to put it into words (I have notes for a blog post entitled “my worst fear” that I've never been able to publish).
A week after this phone call, Tim and I went to the cancer centre for a brief appointment with my medical oncologist, followed by the radiation oncologist who'd treated mewith the Cyber Knife after conventional surgery (we refer to him as the Gallic Shrugger because of his eloquent non-responses when we were planning treatment in 2012). This time, Dr. GS dropped a bombshell: It was possible that the new spot was not a tumour but necrotic (dead) tissue caused by radiation. He told us that necrotic tissue can grow and tends to appear 3-18 months after treatment. He explained that even my wonky balance could be explained away by scar tissue building on my cerebellum.
We were stunned.
I might have had a glass of wine with lunch.
A week after that, we met with Dr. S., the neurosurgeon I liked and trusted so much in 2012. It was hisadvice that we eventually followed for treatment and he performed my nine hour brain surgery. We always wait for hours to see him but it's worth it. This time, he'd shown my scans to several other doctors. He said that while my case was “perplexing” (not something you want to hear from a medical professional), they were fairly confident that the spot would turn out to be necrotic tissue or easily removed by surgery. He suggested that we wait a few more weeks and do another, more precise scan that would also measure activity (which might identify a growing tumour, versus inactive, dead tissue).
Four weeks later, I had the brain MRI. A week after that, I received the good news: my surgeon was prepared to say that the new spot on my brain was very likely necrotic tissue. No treatment is necessary at this point, unless I start to feel unwell. We'll just make sure to monitor for any changes. I heard the good news from all three doctors in separate appointments. Each, endearingly, was practically jubilant.
Oddly, I was not. I was definitely relieved but it all felt anti-climactic. We didn't even celebrate. I felt embarrassed to have to go back and tell everyone that I didn't in fact have a tumour (I know this is ridiculous. This news was extremely well received). Surprisingly (or perhaps not), I mostly felt tired and angry that we'd been put through this trauma.
I'm mostly over that now (but not entirely) and I've trying to immerse myself in the things in my life over which I have some control. Until today, I have not felt able to share this story in this space. I haven't felt much like writing at all. I've finally just decided to spew it all onto the page because it feels somehow dishonest not to have blogged about it.
It's done now.
Time to exhale and move on to the next thing.