By June of 2009 Libby and I both had our fill of chemo, radiation, bald heads, wigs, steroids, estrogen depletion, barf bags and Costco sized boxes of toilet paper. It was finally over and we were looking forward to a normal life, free of needles, labs, surgical masks and appointments.
Following the final radiation treatment I asked Dr. Schlabach how often they would schedule scans in the future. His answer felt like a punch in the gut, “There will be no scheduled scans from now on, we will simply watch for symptoms.” I questioned him further and his answer haunted me for the next four years, “We don’t routinely test for secondary cancers because early detection of metastasized breast cancer does not improve life expectancy.” (Interpretation: If this comes back it will be bad and finding it early will not buy any more time) Wow, I didn’t think I had heard him correctly, or at least I was hoping I hadn’t, but he went on to say that he had been so aggressive with the surgery, chemo and radiation for the past few months because if breast cancer metastasized there is little that can be done to treat that secondary disease.
Seeing the look on my face Dr. Schlabach quickly added, “That doesn’t mean we won’t try, and new drugs are being developed every day, it’s just that the best chance of stopping breast cancer is in the primary treatment”. I would later find out that Libby was so happy to be through with all of her treatments that she was completely oblivious to the conversation I was having with Dr. Schlabach.
Two years went by before any major scans were done although they were testing Libby’s blood regularly for tumor markers. Then in January of 2011 Libby began complaining about some hip pain and so Dr. Schlabach ordered a PET scan.
Here is a Caring Bridge post:
It’s funny how quickly we can get back into a “normal” routine after being away from hospitals and treatments for several months. Then, in matter of a few seconds, every latent fear resurfaced instantly when checking messages on the answering machine as a nurse called to say, “Libby, this is Dr. Schlabach’s office calling with the results of your test…” Time stops for those few seconds until she says “…All of your test results were clear”.
Ten months after the PET scan Libby was back in the doctor’s office having her six month blood test, which for Libby, was just an opportunity to catch up with all of her friends among the staff and patients. Then, during some small talk with the Physician’s Assistant (Dr. Schlabach had taken off for the week of Thanksgiving) she asked if our family had any plans for the upcoming holidays and I told her that we had been discussing a trip out west to ski. “What a coincidence,” she said, “that’s where Dr. Schlabach and his family are this week.” After a routine checkup and more small talk, Libby made her rounds again with hugs and goodbyes for all her friends telling them all that we would see them again in six months.
Three days later, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I was driving back home from Nashville when my cell phone rang. Dr. Schlabach said, “Hi Barry how are you?” Reflexively I said, “I’m okay Dr. Schalbach, how are you?” then I added quickly without waiting for him to answer, “What’s wrong?”
Libby and I had been on this roller coaster for long time it was so easy to have a manic high from great news one minute and then in the next minute, experience a depressive low from the worst news yet. I always I prided myself for staying on an even keel, but now, with this unexpected call from Dr. Schlabach, I felt my composure slipping away and my heart was racing.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked him again. “Oh,” he finally said, “I just heard that you were thinking about taking a ski trip out west and I wanted to invite your family to stay in our Big Sky condo.” “Wow,” I said, “that is very generous of you. I was afraid you were calling me with bad news” Dr. Schlabach went on to tell me about the condo, the current skiing conditions, some of his favorite runs and quiet frankly a lot of other things to which I paid no attention because I was so relieved that he wasn’t calling me with some bad test result I couldn’t really concentrate on the details.
With my heart rate returning to normal and the lump in my throat gone, we agreed to talk in a few weeks to firm up our travel plans and ended the conversation when I said, “I’ll talk it over with Libby and we will get back to you soon.”
The pause was so long that I thought the cell connection had been dropped. Then as if it was an afterthought Dr. Schlabach asked, “Speaking of Libby, is she with you right now?” “No,” I said, my heart quickening. “Good,” said our doctor, “you and I need to talk about something…”