I had an oncologist appointment today. I am now down to two appointments a year.  I’m usually pretty calm before these. After all, having had twenty surgeries since 2002, I am constantly being poked, prodded, having blood drawn, sonograms performed, x-rays done. I pretty much know what’s going on in my body.

Today, though, was a tough one.

I had been having pain in my chest area, near where the cancer had been.  I have scar tissue in that area. For some reason, as cancer survivors will do, I convinced myself somewhere between Christmas and now that what I feeling was not scar tissue but, rather, some new tumor ready to invade my body and ruin my life. Granted, I am not completely crazy. The scar tissue was swollen and felt a bit different than it had before but, this was probably due to the fact that it is still “settling”, along with the fact that is has been frigid cold here in New York, which always causes more pain to all my surgical sites, along with some swelling.

In any case, that was not the only reason I was nervous. I had also been having some pain between my rib cage, up near my chest. Now, I have had a full cardiac work up (another time, when my heart palpatations caused me to believe I was having a heart attack – turns out I was having anxiety attacks – wonder why?) so, I was pretty confident that this, also, was rampant cancer invading my body rather than some kind of cardiac issue.

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. I turned to my Facebook friends and asked for prayers (which always just makes me feel better) and prayed to God that there was some other explanation for these strange symptoms.

As I enter the oncologist’s office, I look around. It is the usual. I am invariably the youngest one there, by quite a bit. I get the usual looks of pity and surprise. I ignore them. I look at the bald women talking, with their wigs and caps on, and think that if I have to go through that again, I might just die. I look at the poor old man, with his oxygen and his hearing aids, who is being told by the lovely nurse what his chemotherapy schedule will be. Neither he nor his wife seem to be able to understand or comprehend what she is saying.

I feel myself becoming  anxious. My heart begins beating faster. I try playing “Doodle Jump” on my IPod Touch to take my mind away from where I am and what brought me here. It doesn’t help. My little “Doodle Man” keeps falling to his death. I hear my name called. It is time to have my finger pricked for some blood.

I sit in the  chair and make sure to tell her the technician that I must be stuck on the right side. If not, and I am stuck on the left, I might develop lymphodema, which is a horrible condition where your limbs swell. I once saw a woman at the oncologist with lymphodema. Her arm was the size of an elephant’s leg. It is my understanding that once you get lymphodema, it is incurable. There is not much you can do. This is why I have to be careful not to injure my left arm, not to cut it, not to go on certain roller coasters because the harness might injure me, not to have a blood pressure reading done, not to hold my bags in my left hand when I am shopping, not to burn it while I am cooking. I have to make sure that my dog doesn’t scratch my left arm or hand while we play and that my children don’t bang it or pinch it while we are tickle fighting. Any of these simple actions can cause me to have a condition that will cause me pain, embarrassment and discomfort for the rest of my life. This is always in my mind.

I am a wonderful advocate for my left arm when I am at the doctor’s or when I am in the hospital being prepped for surgery. I often wonder, though, what would happen if I was in a car accident, or some other incident where I was not conscious. How would they possibly know how fragile my left arm is? How the simple act of starting an IV in it to save my life, could change it forever? I suppose I could get some kind of medical arm bracelet but, really? I want to get as far away as possible from the dark time, not wear a constant reminder on my arm. I want to wear my Pandora bracelet or my new Movado watch that I got for my fortieth birthday. Medical wrist bands are for old people. It’s just not fair.

In any case, I digress. I had my finger pricked and was sent back into the waiting room. I checked my cell phone, I looked at my Facebook news feed, I shook and sweat a little.

Finally, it was my turn. The doctor could see how nervous I was. He spent a lot of time with me explaining why the hard areas (lumps, really) in my chest were only scar tissue and not tumors. He had me feel them, and went over the difference with me more than once.

As far as the pain in my chest and between my ribs, it is an ulcer brought on by stress. I had stressed myself out so much about the scar tissue issue that I had actually given myself an ulcer. Good news is that it’s a new one and the symptoms are not severe. Four weeks on a medication should work to heal whatever damage I have done. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I must try and stay stress free. Now, I know that that is easier said than done but, for a cancer patient, it is a cardinal rule.

You see, cancer is a bitch in that way. Of course it is going to stress you out and cause you untold anxiety. BUT, the worse thing for your cancer recovery is stress and anxiety. A real bitch! Just like when I was told that chemotherapy for breast cancer doesn’t cause weight loss but, weight GAIN because of the steroids that have to be taken in conjunction with it. Can you imagine a bigger slap in the face? Let’s be honest, the ONLY positive I could think of when I was told that I would have chemo (besides it possibly saving my life, of course) was that maybe I would be able to shed some pounds. NOT. Another cruel cancer truth.

I told the doctor, once I was able to breathe again, that I had convinced myself that my cancer had come back. His reply “I’m sorry to disappoint you but, you are fine.” I just love him. He gets me. Non alarmist with a sense of humor. Once I was done with my treatment he said to me “Now, go and LIVE”.

That’s what I am trying to do. I consider this period a set back. I had come so far in maintaining calm and trying to use reason when my mind wants to jump to irrational. I couldn’t do it this time. I was not in a strong enough place.

That is ok. Like I’ve said before, when you are knocked down, you have to pick yourself up and keep going.

I will sleep well tonight. I am cancer free at this moment. I’m going to ride that wave for a while.