Pretend for a minute that this is you. It's November 25th, 2009. You are 37 years old, just celebrated your 5 year wedding anniversary with your amazing spouse, you have 2 wonderful little children (3.5yrs and 15 mos) and just got into great shape over the last 6 months. Sounds pretty good, huh? Then something happens. The unthinkable really. You are diagnosed with cancer. You know, the big "C".
That is the Reader's Digest version of my story.
The Technical/Chronological Stuff
Immediately post-partum of my 2nd baby (August 2008), I had incredible pains in my lower back and pubis symphysis. I suffered for a few months until I couldn't bear it anymore and ended up getting an MRI and blood tests and wound up in the Rheumatology Department in February 2009. My ESR/CRP count was higher than the doctors wanted to see and I was defnitely exhibiting some arthritic symptoms so the doctors said that I might have something called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which, roughly described, is arthritis of the sacroiliac. So I was a good patient. A great patient. I took ibuprofen twice a day and did physiotherapy twice a week. I got better quickly and by the end of April I was completely off ibuprofen and was able to wind down my physiotherapy shortly after that. I went back to Rheumatology in May and they liked what they saw, except for the fact that my ESR/CRP was up another 10-15 points. They asked me to follow up with them in August. I started personal training twice a week and cardio 3 times a week and felt better and better. I attended my appointment in August at Rheumatology, to find out my first doctor was now on maternity leave and I had about 5 minutes with the head of the department. I told her I felt great, she told me my ESR/CRP was up again and that I should not come back to Rheumatology (unless I had pain) and to repeat the blood tests with my family physician.
I am a good patient. I followed up 4 weeks later with more labs. MY ESR/CRP was up again. I asked what the number was, she said 55. She asked if I felt ok. I said yes. We decided to repeat the test in 4 weeks. It was September. Pre-school started, dance class started, I was working out 5 times a week, the girls started to drop naps, I lost track of time. So, at 6 weeks I had the test repeated. November 12th, I got a call at home from my doctor. My ESR was 72, CRP also high. Please come in, we need to revisit your charts.
I am a good patient. I am also a good student. I decided to find out everything I could about the ESR and CRP tests. The best I could glean was that they are an overall indicator of inflammation levels and in some cases they are used to indicate a person's "healthiness" or response to treatment. I also learned my ESR level should be like 8, not 72. I read that the test has to be properly conducted or you will get an incorrect reading. I figured that didn't apply to me as my tests just seemed to go up and up and up. My body was trying to tell me something.
I surfed some more. What types of diseases use this test as a diagnostic tool? Google. Arthritis (obvious), cancer....ok I didn't get past cancer. Lymphomas. What is a lymphoma? Google. Symptoms of Lymphoma. Google. Fatigue. What Mom isn't tired? Night sweats. Yeah but women have "temperature issues" right? Neck lump. Let me see, right hand goes to right side of neck, and OMG. I have a lump in my neck. No I don't, this is preposterous. Mom, do I have a neck lump? (Mom is in town because my hubby is in the UK for work). Yes, I do feel a neck lump. Crap. Skype hubby. Can you see this neck lump? Um no, you are overreacting. Right. Probably. Hubby comes home on Saturday. Yes, I do feel a neck lump. Sick feeling.
Tuesday November 17th. Appointment with my family doctor. Hubby comes with me as I have an ominous feeling. We review my charts and family history and then I drop the bomb. I have a neck lump. I think. She examines and confirms. Do I have a sore throat? No. Do I have a cold? No. Me - what are you thinking this is? Well it could be anything. Yes, I say, but I do know what the worst could be. Which is? Lymphoma. Yes, but that's an outside chance. Right. Tuesday night - labs, chest x-ray, hockey game.
Thursday November 19th. Ultrasound of abdomen and neck. Tech asks me to wait while she confers with the radiologist. Two minutes, three minutes, four minutes...ten minutes and a knock on the door. Now, I've had my share of ultrasounds but never had this happen. Radiologist walks in - we are seeing multiple abnormally sized lymph nodes in your neck. Your organs look good so that is encouraging, but you need to phone your doctor immediately and book a fine needle aspiration (FNA). I'll be honest with you, in someone your age and with no other symptoms, we often look to lymphoma. Don't wait for your doctor to receive the report from me, get on it right away. The drive home (by myself because radiologists NEVER tell you results when you are there, right?) was bad. Probably shouldn't have been driving. Talked to my doctor and they end up booking the FNA for the following Tuesday.
Tuesday November 24th. Start you day with an FNA and nothing worse will happen to you that day. As I described it to my husband on the way home, it was like being in a sci-fi movie where the aliens (pathologist) were taking samples of the human (me). Anyway no freezing, 2 biopsies, and no answers. You'll get the report by Friday morning at the latest. Sigh. We walk out of the office and I burst into tears. Two minutes later I'm ok and we're on the way home.
Wednesday November 25th. 9:01am my doctor's office calls. We have some preliminary results, can you come in at 11:30am. My hear racing from the shock of the call (when I was expecting nothing until maybe Thursday) I call my husband and go to the mall. Shopping. Shopping can take my mind off the next hour and a half. Please let it take my mind off of everything.