Beverly McKee MSW, LCSW

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cannot control 2I’ve talked before about finding a new “normal” when dealing with a health crisis or any other challenge in life. When a crisis hits, everything is turned upside down. Emotions assault us and at times overtake us, nightmares, sleepless nights...we have no control over anything. As we start to deal with the semantics of the crisis as well as the demands of ordinary life, we begin to settle in to a “new normal”. This has happened for me during the last six months since my breast cancer diagnosis.

My new normal includes a specific treatment plan. I was thrilled to be on the “downhill slide” of treatment when I started radiation last week. My countdown to summer and a trip to the beach had started and I was happy with my new normal. “new normal” was interrupted. “Please hold for this breaking news. We will resume normal programming after the break.”

I found it two mornings ago: a small, oval lump under my armpit that was malleable. I assumed it was fluid buildup from my lymph node surgery a few weeks ago and that my doctor may need to drain it. I was wrong.

My radiation oncologist felt it and said that it was a lymph node. I tried to argue with her...I just has 22 lymph nodes removed from that couldn’t be a lymph node! She said it was higher than the field where they removed my other lymph nodes and while she was sure it was probably just reactive (inflamed due to the surgery, excess fluid or fighting an infection), she ordered an ultrasound.

I was not overly surprised by this plan, but wasn’t prepared for the flashbacks that I felt when I was lying on the ultrasound table a short time later. I’m not sure if it’s harder going through this the first time or the second time. This time, I recognized the ultrasound tech’s sudden quietness as a bad sign. The moment she told me that she needed to talk to the doctor confirmed my fears that I would need a biopsy. This time, as I watched the clock, I wasn’t thinking that my life was about to change. I was wondering what kind of biopsy they would need to perform.

As the doctor walked in with the tech, her words confirmed what I already knew...I needed a biopsy. I know this doctor...she did my biopsy back in October. They agreed to squeeze me in within an hour. I walked to the waiting room to call my husband. I texted my sister and a fellow survivor. I sat in shock. How could this be happening again? I put on my brave face and greeted the nurse navigator, a woman I already know and like. During my wait, I wore my pink gown to the café just outside of the imaging office when my chemo nurse walked up. She made a light joke about my pink gown being the latest fashion then quietly asked me why I was in the imaging department. She knew that my “new normal” was radiation, not the pink gown from imaging. I explained my situation and she gave me a hug and made me promise to report back to her later in the week.

The biopsy wasn’t painful or maybe I’m so used to being poked, prodded and cut on that I didn’t even notice. It was over quickly, the bleeding subsided, the nurse applied surgical glue and I found myself back in the changing room. I started shaking uncontrollably. At first, I thought my body might be reacting to the procedure, but I was able to surmise that I was about to break down emotionally. I dressed carefully, keeping my ice pack in place over what will become yet another scar from this journey. I walked into a beautiful spring day...bright sun overhead, birds singing. My five hours at the doctor’s office finally over. I called my mom and told her the details and I cried tears of frustration, anger and exhaustion. I called my sister and did the same. I texted my husband and then headed off to school to pick up my boys. Life doesn’t stop for an unexpected bump in the road.

Now for the next step: the waiting game. The long, difficult test in patience and sanity knowing that the results would not be in until Thursday at the earliest. I know that the odds are in my favor that my lymph node is reacting to the trauma of surgery and fluid retention under my arm. But "what if?"...those words creep into my thoughts, infiltrate my dreams and woke me very early this morning.

So now, I continue to wait...hopefully I have answers by the end of the day. I like the quote from the picture above. I can’t control this part of my journey. I can only control how I handle it. This is true of any challenge in life. It’s okay to feel the feelings (shock, anxiety, sadness, anger, etc) but then I have to decide how I will handle the change. In this case, I choose to stay positive with a healthy sprinkle of apprehension until the test results are in. I hope that you can use this in your daily life, when faced with unexpected change. Will the change master you and take over your life or will you decide to master the change? Only you can decide...what a powerful concept.

As for my waiting game...all I can say is this: to be continued...

Thanks for reading!

Beverly McKee, MSW, LCSW

UPDATE:  The biopsy results were normal!!!!  Prayers of gratitude and relief!!!

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