• Cheryl

Lump Day: The CT Scan

Ever since my breast cancer, I’ve had off-and-on rib pain - same side as my surgery and radiation, but lower down on my ribcage. It’s not always there, but when it is, it HURTS. And it only hurts to touch - when I roll over to sleep on that side, when Casey hugs me and nonchalantly runs his hands up and down my sides, when I wear a bra. It’ll start up out of nowhere, linger for a few days, then disappear. I told each of my team of oncologists about it at our follow-up appointments, and they all poked and prodded and, in one case, took an X-ray, but nothing turned up, and none of them were too awfully concerned, explaining that it would take me a good year or two to be fully healed from everything that had been done.

Back in February, I had my usual three-month follow-up with my oncologist, or rather, my oncologist’s PA. Since it was the first I’d ever met with her, I told her about it, too, along with some other concerns. She asked if I’d ever had a chest CT scan. I hadn’t. She ordered one. When the report came back, it indicated that everything looked perfectly fine with my ribs, noted all my scar tissue on that side, and then explained that tiny lung nodules scattered throughout both lungs were present. The radiologist added that given my history of breast cancer, metastases shouldn’t be ruled out.

As luck would have it, I’d read the report before I heard from my oncologist, and this sent me into a tailspin. My oncologist, however, was wonderful - very calm, very thorough, and said that “we want radiologists to be as thorough and as serious and worst-case-scenario as possible so we don’t miss anything.” Lung nodules are very common, she explained, and mine were/are extremely tiny, so tiny they wouldn’t be picked up by X-ray, so it was entirely possible that mine had been there all along and we just never knew because I’d never had a diagnostic CT scan. She reached out to my radiation oncologist to see if my radiation set-up films could be pulled for comparison. The two of them got together and checked the films out side by side, and while my radiation films weren’t diagnostic and didn’t include contrast dye, it APPEARED that the nodules had shown up on them, which meant that they weren’t new. Furthermore, my radiation oncologist saw nothing alarming when she studied my CT films. Still, my oncologist told me, we were going to take this seriously and keep an eye on them for the next two years. She ordered a three-month scan, done on the same machine as the first, so we could see if anything changed.

In the interim, I had a routine appointment with my family doctor to check on my thyroid (I swear, some days it feels like I’m coming apart at the seams!) and updated him on the CT scan. He shrugged and said I’d probably had a lung infection of some kind somewhere along the way, so his minimal concern helped soothe my anxiety, as well.

I had the three-month scan done last week and saw the report over the weekend. And thankfully, everything - including the nodules - is exactly the same: none of the nodules have grown, and no new ones have appeared. I haven’t yet spoken to my oncologist to talk about our next step, but in our conversation back in February, she’d said that if the three-month scan was okay, we could wait six months for the next one, so that’s what I’m assuming will take place.

At every doctor appointment I’ve had since the initial discovery of the nodules - oncology and otherwise - they’ve taken great care to listen to my lungs, having me breathe in and out while they listen for longer than is routine. All of them have assured me that my lungs sound clear. I’ve continued to exercise regularly throughout quarantine, in some cases doing some intense cardio, and rather than feeling winded, I’ve felt energized and exhilarated. Aside from the stiffness that is my Arimidex side effect, I feel perfectly fine and normal. And that’s what I’m going to go with. To coin a phrase, I’m not going to borrow trouble.

With this CT scan being over with, I don’t have any other doctor appointments until mid-August. Regardless of the state of world affairs over the next few months, it feels good to know that at least I won’t have my own personal health anxiety contributing to the mix.