“Calling it a scare is actually ridiculously understated”

“Calling it a scare is actually ridiculously understated”

By Jennifer Ryan

I tend to lean into the positive with my blog posts and I certainly consider myself to be an optimistic person most days. However, I wanted to share my experience this fall with my scare of cancer recurrence.

Calling it a scare is actually ridiculously understated. This event in my life was debilitating and traumatic and occupied my thoughts throughout most of my days from discovering it to following up with professionals to investigate it.

During the summer months I had noticed an odd ridge in one of my breasts that was new to me. I found myself poking at it and questioning what it could be, but didn’t vocalize my concerns to anyone until early September. In hindsight, I was stressing over this but did so in silence. I’m a stress eater. I always have been. When I look back at it, I can now see how unhealthy of a reaction this was but it was comforting to me at the time. I often snacked on sugary treats in the evening watching TV to avoid my invading thoughts of, “do I have cancer again?”

I finally called my family doctor to whom I described my symptoms and she asked me to come in for a breast exam a couple of days later. The exam went well. My doctor didn’t see or feel anything alarming but due to my history of cancer, she sent a referral for me to have a mammogram. I waited a full month for my mammogram appointment which I thought was great in comparison to wait times I have had in the past. During this time, I continued to poke at this strange new part of my body and eventually started to experience pain with it as well. It wasn’t a level of pain that I needed medication for, but just enough to make me painfully aware that it was still there. Again, I continued to snack almost nightly.

I was overly anxious the day of my mammogram appointment. I had convinced myself that I was about to get bad news. That it would be cancer and the avalanche of emotions I experienced from my first diagnosis came crashing down. I went back to work following my appointment to try and stay busy and not overthink every single detail of my appointment. Distraction has served me well in the past but feeling my emotions and talking about them is something I continue to struggle with. I’m a work in progress.

My doctor called a couple of days later to share my mammogram results with me. She said, “there was no sign of malignancy.” I do remember breathing a short sigh of relief to hear those words but I still had this overwhelming feeling that something was wrong with me that I couldn’t seem to shake. My doctor sent a requisition for a breast ultrasound to further investigate due to my symptoms and the pain I continued to have. I had my breast ultrasound appointment a month later. So the waiting continued, and so did the snacking.

I arrived for my ultrasound feeling a little more positive than I was for the mammogram but I was still quite uneasy. A resident radiologist came into the room to complete my ultrasound so my mind went into overdrive wondering why a resident would be doing it instead of a regular ultrasound technician. A couple minutes passed and another doctor entered the room and introduced himself as the radiologist on that floor that day. They both conversed briefly using medical jargon before explaining to me that they are satisfied that it was normal dense breast tissue that I was feeling.

I expected some magical feeling of relief where I could celebrate not having cancer again but I never seem to get to that point. I continue to practice gratitude, get in my weekly exercise and embrace what’s important in my life: health, family, and friends. I decided in January that I had to address my unhealthy snacking choices during stressful events. I am not a person that can successfully follow a restrictive diet plan but I knew something had to change. I decided to try a fasting regime to see if I could take back some control of my body. I fast from 8 p.m. to noon the following day and have significantly increased my water consumption. This plan seems to be working well for me. I am feeling much better in my skin already and that has motivated me to make better food choices in general.

During the recent virtual Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) conference, there was a session on the topic of fear of recurrence. I was eager to watch the recorded session as I had just gone through this experience. It was helpful to validate what I was feeling and also provided a lot of great coping tools. I’m going to look into how to reframe my thoughts and consciously practice this skill. I also plan on incorporating yoga or meditation as outlets to manage my stress instead of heading to the snack cupboard.

I am so incredibly grateful to have YACC as a constant source of support as I continue to navigate the ups and downs of my post-cancer life. If you are a young adult cancer survivor, I highly suggest you get involved. It has been life-changing for myself, and I am confident it will be for you, too.


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