Sunday, December 23, 2018

Same Boob, Different Story

Oh, a simple complication
Miscommunications lead to fall out
So many things that I wish I knew
So many walls up I can't break through

Now I'm standing alone in a crowded room
And we're not speaking 
And I'm dying to know
Am I killing you? Or are you killing me? Yeah
I don't know what to say since the twist of fate
When it all broke down and the story of us
Looks a lot like a tragedy now

It turns out that I can write Taylor Swift parodies about bikes, trails, dudes, races, and now, even my own body parts. I debated on even sharing the news about my breast surgery in November because it was so minor, and it turns out that it was basically a false alarm. There was a lot of miscommunication when my old doctor retired last December, and when I finally went to see his replacement a couple of months later than I was supposed to, she immediately wanted to do surgery based some year-old biopsy results that I’d been told were fine during my last conversation with my old doctor. I just sort of went along with it, she did the surgery, and they found nothing but healthy tissue and an old biopsy clip. At least I got some extra days off work, I guess.

This story wouldn’t even warrant telling except that a few days after the surgery I noticed a clearly discernible pea-size mass in my left breast which is just generally lumpy now due to all the scar tissue from the last lumpectomy and a couple of other subsequent needle biopsies. It’s had a rough couple of years. Unfortunately, this was something distinct from the normal generally lumpy feeling, and the concerning part was that it seemed to have suddenly popped up out of nowhere.

I went through yet another round of the mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and needle biopsy, although the radiologist who did the biopsy wasn’t completely convinced that it wasn’t just a sebaceous cyst that she was going to inflame by poking at it. Everything seemed so routine that I didn’t even have a follow-up appointment with my surgeon, so when she called me on Wednesday morning to say I needed to make an appointment to get my pathology results, I knew it was a bad sign. However, I was expecting, “You need to have another lumpectomy” bad. Frank offered to come with me, but I knew I had to rush back to State College for a dentist appointment after and I really only expected the whole thing to take 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, she told me that the latest biopsy was DCIS, which I had a couple of years ago. At the time I opted to forgo the recommended radiation, because there was a good chance that the surgery had gotten rid of it, and it wouldn’t come back. Now that it did, she was encouraging me to get a mastectomy on the left side, or at the very least, get another lumpectomy plus radiation this time.

The thing about DCIS is that while it is technically cancer, it is non-invasive, and it there’s still some debate as to the general likelihood that it will ever be. Of course, I’m glad to not have “real cancer”. I don’t have to have chemo, and if I give in and consent to the mastectomy, no radiation. If I give in now, I can get a high-quality implant and keep my real nipple, albeit likely cold and numb for the rest of my life. I’m afraid of the recovery time and its effect on my next race season, but realistically it’s comparable to the collar bone break from which the bike injury gods have somehow spared me for 13 years, so maybe I’m just due for an ill-timed hiatus. What I can’t shake is the feeling of dread when I imagine spending the rest of my life looking down at the aesthetically acceptable but basically dead mass stuck to my chest and wondering if it was worth it.

“Cancer has a language problem--not just in the way we speak about it, as a war that drafts soldiers who never signed up for it, who do battle and win, or do battle and lose. There's also the problem of the word itself. A 57-year-old woman with low-grade DCIS that will almost certainly never become invasive hears the same word as the 34-year-old woman who has metastatic malignancies that will kill her. That's confusing to patients conditioned to treat every cancer diagnosis as an emergency, in a world that still reacts to cancer as though it's the beginning of the end and in a culture where we don't talk about death until we have to.” – Time Magazine Article

My biggest problem in relation to the quote above is that I am not a 57-year-old woman with DCIS; I am a 38-year-old woman with DCIS, so doctors don’t know WTF to do with me. Friends and acquaintances don’t know what do with me, because DCIS doesn’t fit into the “breast cancer” narrative in anyone’s head. For something that accounts for 25% of breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve yet to hear about anyone else with a story similar to mine (age, diagnosis, etc.), so it’s hard to know where to look for guidance. I’ve come across a handful stories of 30-something-year-old otherwise healthy cyclists who suddenly discover invasive cancer, accept their mastectomies like champs, and altogether embrace the “brave survivor” story that we love to hear about in others while we not-so-secretly fear it for ourselves.

I can’t see myself as a “brave survivor” right now, because I’m not even sure what it is that I’m supposed to be surviving. My life isn’t in danger right now; my future quality of life is, and all of the options seem equally bad in their own way. I realize that regardless of the diagnosis; invasive cancer, recurring DCIS, or BRCA positive; everyone who faces it probably goes through a similar stage of, “Why is this happening to me? I want this to not be happening to me.” Then you’re supposed to be brave and do what you have to do. People expect it. Except they aren’t the ones that have to live with it. That’s the part they never tell you.

I think this is the part of the post where I’m supposed to end on a positive note, but I’m nowhere near there yet. I’m still struggling to write my own story, which hopefully will be useful to someone else later. I think it’s important share a “cancer” narrative that doesn’t fit the mold, but that is brutal its own lonely way.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thank You, Next

As you may have noticed, I really like writing song parodies. It's just something that comes naturally to me, and I've done it since I was a little kid. At that time, the subject matter was usually my show chickens (yes, show chickens). My brain basically just wants to align one thing with a seemingly unrelated thing and figure out what lessons can come from it. Too bad it took until my 30's to realize that song parodies and business analysis are basically the same skillset.

For months I've been wanting to write a parody of Taylor's Swift's "Fifteen" called "Cat 3" as a retrospective on how my cycling career has involved over the last 13 years. That's right, my bike racing history has become an angsty teenage in and of itself. 

The problem is that I just can't make the song work, because there aren't enough verses to cover my evolution. It's starts off well enough at my first XC race as what is now Cat 3 in mountain biking, although it was just called "Beginner" back then. When I try to skip forward getting to my Cat 3 upgrade in cyclocross, it gets off topic fast. 

You like some pics from a red-head named @lwkwafi
And soon enough you're Instafriends
Laughing at the shiny dudes
Who they think they're so cool
And you're happy that he goes to the gym

I guess it realistically reflects what was important to me as a new Cat 3 cyclocross racer and maybe why I never made it to Cat 2.

Then I heard Ariana Grande's "Thank You, Next", and it seemed very on point with my recent circumstances. My bike stable has been through a lot turnover in the last couple of years as I've tried to figure out this whole enduro life. In 2016, I was lucky enough to get a promotion at my job that gave me a level of financial stability that I'd never had before right at the same time that I began to expand my repertoire of mountain bike challenges beyond simple trail riding and XC racing. To complicate matters more, I think that the evolution of mountain bikes has sped up a lot in the last few years, making it harder to settle down. In the past few months, I've had a short-lived relationship with a downhill bike, sold off two extremely nice bikes that I loved but simply didn't ride enough anymore, and completed the build of a Juliana Strega with 180mm fork because I finally justified having a "park bike" to myself. 

So what better way to look back on my cycling career than through the bikes that have taught me important life lessons along the way? 

Thought I'd send it on Rhaegal
But he wasn't a match

And it makes me a bit sad

Then I went full enduro
And for Brienne, I'm so thankful

Wish I coulda kept Jaime
'Cause she was an angel

One taught me love
One taught me patience
And one taught me pain
Now, I'm so amazing
I've loved and I've lost
But that's not what I see
So, look what I got
Look what you taught me
And for that, I say

Thank you, next 
Thank you, next 
Thank you, next
I'm so forkin’ grateful for my ex (bikes)

I've still got some good friends
I ain't worried 'bout nothin'

Plus, I've got someone else
To get better at jumpin'

I know they say I move on too fast
But this one gon' last

'Cause her name is Maggy
And I'm so good with that 

She taught me love

He taught me patience

How she handles pain 
That shit's amazing 

I've loved and I've lost 
But that's not what I see
'Cause look what I've found 
Ain't no need for searching, and for that, I say

Thank you, next
Thank you, next 
Thank you, next 
I'm so forkin’ grateful for my ex (bikes)

One day I'll hit the some big drop
Without so much trauma

My 90 mil Anthem
Couldn't imagine that drama

Wanna send it big real bad
Gon' make that shit last
God forbid something happens
Least it's not road rash 

I've got so much love 
Got so much patience
I've learned from the pain 
I turned out amazing 
I've loved and I've lost 
But that's not what I see 
'Cause look what I've found
Ain't no need for searching
And for that, I'll say

Thank you, next 
Thank you, next 
Thank you, next
I'm so forkin’ grateful for my ex (bikes)

I was able to find pictures of all but two very early road bikes and my first 'cross bike before he was transitioned to a commuter. It funny how much better the photo quality gets over time.