Cancer Waiting Game
Waiting sucks – especially when you deal with anxiety on a daily basis. If someone doesn’t give you an answer right on time (or as soon as possible), you start thinking of all the things that could be causing the delay. Is it bad news that someone is refraining to tell you? Is it even worse than I expected? Is it actually really great news? Is it something that I’m not expecting at all? Should I have prepared for another possible outcome?
On the other hand, I become just as anxious waiting for an answer, even if I know it’s way too soon to start worrying. I start counting down the minutes and staring at the clock in the most neurotic way, just wondering when my phone is going to ring or when my email is going to alert me of a new message. I go through this process nearly every time I have to wait for an answer, but especially if it involves someone’s health, including my own.
Three-month cancer follow-up
I had my three-month ovarian cancer follow-up appointment this morning at 7 a.m. My blood draw was scheduled for 7:45 but I was still with the doctor at that time so it got pushed back about an hour. It takes about 4 hours for the results to come in so 1 p.m. would be the expected time to hear something about my results. It’s not yet 1 p.m. but I keep checking my email anyway to see if my results are in. They’re not, so my anxiety flourishes.
For the most part, I don’t mind going in for my follow-up appointments. I have an amazing care team at the University of Minnesota, and I’d rather go in and be on the safe side instead of letting another massive tumor grow in my abdomen. Looking back, I still don’t know how I (and numerous doctors) went so long without knowing that I had a tumor, nonetheless had cancer.
I don’t mind going in for the appointments since they put my mind at ease (after the waiting period for test results, of course) and the week or two leading up to the appointment cause me some stress, but at the end of the day, I’m just glad that I went in and I feel luckier than anything else.
Peace of mind comes at a price
Even though they provide peace of mind, the appointments themselves, however, are pretty uncomfortable. I’ve already had two colonoscopies so it really shouldn’t be a big deal, but you get the idea. These appointments take place every three months and are not the most glamorous things to experience at 7:30 on a Monday morning. BUT – better safe than sorry.
Oddly, I wasn’t that stressed out or worried about today’s upcoming appointment, probably because I knew I would be seeing my oncologist’s nurse practitioner this time, so the appointment didn’t feel AS serious as it normally does. As a worrier and over thinker, though, I still worried about it and didn’t get much sleep last night.
My phone finally rings (right on time)
Just as I finish writing this, my phone rings and it’s the nurse practitioner that I saw today – the same doctor who I will be seeing moving forward, as long as everything continues to look good and there are no signs of recurrence. I’ve been seeing my gynecologic oncologist every three months but now that we’re almost to the one year mark (coming up in October), I will be seeing his nurse practitioner every three months for the next year and then it will increase to every six months for the next several years.
Thankfully, my new nurse practitioner was incredibly sweet, kind, and genuine and I felt really comfortable with her. When I told this to my husband, he said, “well that’s because it was basically like you talking into a mirror!” He’s always trying to find ways to make me laugh (especially in a difficult situation), so I will definitely take it as a compliment if I’m really as easy to talk to as my new nurse is.
Anyway, my nurse practitioner called to tell me that my results look AWESOME and are actually even better than they were after my last blood draw in January (so far, they have been alternating between CT scans and blood draws every three months).
What the CA 125 means for cancer
When you have ovarian cancer, they monitor your cancer during and after treatment by using a blood draw called the CA 125 (cancer antigen). The CA 125 is a tumor marker that measures the amount of protein (CA 125) in your blood. If elevated, they will usually follow-up with an ultrasound and/or a CT scan because the CA 125 is not 100% reliable on its own for diagnosing cancer.
While the test isn’t accurate for every person, it has proven to be accurate for tracking my cancer (so far). The first time I had my CA 125 tested in September 2015, my results were at 73 (the normal range is 0-30). In January 2016, my results were 13. Today (seven months later), my results are 9. Whoo hoo! Often times, a decreasing number means that therapy has been effective. I’m just going to keep on enjoying my healthy vegan diet (well, it’s healthy MOST of the time) and work on my stress levels a bit more (more on that later) and continue to hope for the best. That’s all anyone can do, right?
After each of my three-month follow-up appointments is over and I’ve received the test results (last time it was the CT scan I was waiting on), I finally feel a sense of relief. I stop obsessing over every little symptom of abdominal pain, minor bloating, or fatigue. Instead, I just remember that while I am still recovering from cancer and will be for a while, I am doing exceptionally well and I am very, very lucky.