I feel like I have so much to discuss since yesterday’s appointment, so here we go. NET CANCER DAY has really got me thinking a lot about how much responsibility falls on us as the patient. I’ve always known this, and I often discuss how the information I share relies on us (the patients) to advocate for themselves in an unbelievable way
Somehow yesterday living it in real time while the campaign ‘know the symptoms, push for a diagnosis’ echoed in my mind…. It hit different
I’ll be giving a bit of a health update, while sharing how I prioritize multiple symptoms and conditions
The difficulty of living with more than one health condition is having to navigate which is most urgent. This can be dangerous and counterintuitive for the overall picture and quality of life for someone with chronic disease.
I went to see my palliative care doctor, who is also my family physician. Those of you who know our past with palliative care has been rocky at best.
Anyway I like her, I trust her, and she was the only one we continued with for my local care.
There was a lot to go over, and so already that can be overwhelming for both of us.
I typically talk about my concerns in order of urgency. I also try not to be rushed and I do make an effort to lead with what I’d like to prioritize.
discussing multiple concerns…
Normally doctors appointments begin with going over what’s happened since last time. This ends up taking up the bulk of the time, leaving little room for what’s currently going on. Honestly I had too many new issues of concern to discuss so I quickly dived in, not leaving room for previous updates
First I had to address my breast health, she did a thorough exam and agreed with my self exam findings. She ordered a mammogram and marked it urgent. Good that it’ll be quick, bad that it’s considered urgent. I requested there be an ultrasound with it due to my age.
I wouldn’t have known to ask for ultrasound with it if not for so many #breastfriends sharing their stories. I always ‘feel it on the first’ and that helped me to identify when something felt different.
I had brought up my concern at my last appt with a resident before seeing my specialist. I wasn’t laying down when she did her super quick ‘exam’ and if I had relied on her “there’s nothing” I wouldn’t be having this investigated at all. You can see the importance of self advocacy in ALL medical situations. Following your gut instinct and pushing for answers is essential for your health
Young women’s breast health requires a different approach, and so ultrasound is recommended as a supportive measure. We talked about the possibility of a breast MRI as well, but are starting here. I am used to not reacting before something is actually real or concrete. Still a little scary tho!
With #netcancerday on my mind I informed her of the high rate of NETs that can be in other parts of the body such as the breasts (always an advocate!)
I will be referred to a dermatologist for some issues with the skin also. She suggested the use of antibiotics to try and relieve the recurring skin issue I have under my breast. I declined, as I reserve antibiotic use for EMERGENCY matters.
My medical resume came in handy at this appointment as she asked which medications I cannot take or am allergic to. Sometimes we think we don’t need these resources because it’s a doctor we are used to or not a big deal. ALWAYS bring your medical resume. I was able to hand her the sheet of contraindicated meds with mast cell activation disorder. You can find that here
It was feeling like a lot already at this point, but there was still other matters to deal with. We discussed the progress or lack thereof with my painful twitching and spasms. My upcoming MRI for the brain to investigate further and how I didn’t vibe with the movement specialist 😂 but I quickly veered back to the current unresolved issues at hand. Breast, lymph, feet. Like a mantra in my mind, making sure I didn’t forget what I’d come for
I asked about the possibility of lymphedema in my left arm, since it’s never been brought up at a single appt for the last several years. She looked at both arms and immediately saw a difference in size. I pointed out how the skin sort of puckers inward and how it’s always been very painful to do blood pressure on the left. She agreed with the strong possibility of lymphedema. I asked about the possibility that it can be impacting my abdomen as well since I’d had such an extensive de-bulk surgery. She said she’s never had a patient with it but it’s a possibility
I’ll be referred to a local lymphedema clinic.
Last, I brought up my chronic foot pain. I explained that this one really has me worried and I don’t have any idea what it could be in relation to. Things like this are always a bit tricky because we have to ask if it’s related to my existing conditions. I haven’t had any luck connecting the dots in the patient community. My endo tried a complex B vitamin to see if that would help, but I’m still having the issue.
First thing I am asked with each concern I address “have you talked about this with your specialist?” it happens every single time. Each doctor asks if I’ve talked about it with someone else.
I get frustrated because when I’m at my specialists… they need to focus on their specialty! So they often ask if I have a family doctor. With complex medical issues and multiple concerns, there’s a lot of ping pong as I like to call it. Which is why I often bring up the most urgent issues to each doctor. I then see who’s willing to help or what their opinion is. It allows me to get multiple opinions and saves everyone time
I do get a bit tired and upset when it’s always me that has to find everything. I try to think back to a time the onus didn’t fall on me to find answers, I can’t recall a time that it wasn’t like this.
A lot of it boils down to 2 things, when you are rare and medically complex… we deal with order of urgency. Which means the less urgent matters gets swept aside until there’s time to deal with them. But there’s never time, so you have to eventually make it a priority. PAP tests, women’s health checks, and regular labs for vitamin and hormone deficiencies are often not done.
A lot of the sweeping aside ends up turning into bigger issues later on. It can become the things that impact our quality of life the greatest. Ignoring small issues adds up into big problems. It ends up being what creates other advanced issues due to lack of treatment or care early on.
For example, my endometriosis diagnosis had been put off until last year. It meant not doing regular PAP tests, because I am treated palliatively. I was asked verbatim “would you really want to know…?” meaning: do I really want to know if there’s something else wrong?
I’d like the opportunity to deal with whatever is going on with my body. Putting my head in the sand saying “I’m guess I’m dying so LALALLAL” that’s an unhealthy and incorrect approach to palliative care or ANY care for that matter
By the time I got answers I had been suffering with unimaginable pain for over 10 years. Pain that was always blamed on the cancer. I was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 deep infiltrating endometriosis. It can’t be cured or surgically removed. I have to just live with it and try to manage the spread with hormone therapy AND pay out of pocket for uninsured pelvic floor therapy to manage pain. So you see, these ‘lesser issues’ can wind up being what impacts your life and pain levels greater than anything else
Quality of life improvement for me means taking care of root cause issues and treating what needs to be treated. We can live long lives with reduced pain
So this is where I’m at currently with just the appointment from yesterday. I won’t know what my cancer is doing or not doing until later in the year – as those labs take a long time. I will have to get imaging in the new year so we won’t have an up to date look into that until 2023 for now.
This is why I am prioritizing all these other concerns. While putting a focus on improving my baseline health. I put a constant effort into regulating my nervous system, managing stress levels, and doing daily healing practices of my own
I do what I can with what’s in my control, I realize I am doing a lot at once and it’s time to be patient. So I can begin to see the results of all my efforts.
I got upset yesterday seeing that I am rapidly gaining weight with no cause again. This becomes an issue because it’s happened many times with no answers as to why. Unexplained weight gain is often hormonal, but that doesn’t narrow it down for me. We know it’s because of the excess stress hormones – but In 12 years no one has been able to identify which. Why it happens suddenly when it does, and so I’m determined to do it myself. With the next round of labs I will be able to see which level has increased.
I will also request to have my inflammatory levels checked, insulin and leptin resistance, hormone deficiency, food intolerance, and vitamin deficiencies. Any and all things that can be related to weight gain. I had requested (non specific) labs to be tested with her, but she refused on the basis that we need to have a specific reason we are looking for. Or else they can find issues we weren’t trying to find, which I just think is ridiculous. If you have an incidental finding it should be seen as positive. It’s not as if we’re looking for fun without any cause. So fun, right?!
In the meantime, I am reminding myself I am doing what I can. I am doing my best. I wish that someone had told me sooner in my journey to stop focusing on trying to control the things that are simply uncontrollable…
And put focus on what I can
For example: if my body is rapidly changing, creating more resistance by fighting back with restrictive eating and unhealthy movement is dangerous for me.
Instead: learn to love my body in all forms through self compassion and patience. Relieving the pressure and stress this causes until answers come, allowing me to be at peace and letting things just … be
The lesson I am taking away and am sharing with you is that self advocacy is a powerful tool. It can also be overwhelming, exhausting, and feel like a lot of responsibility.
There are times when we have to loosen our grip a little and let the universe, let god, let our bodies, let be.
We have to put a bit of trust into something other than ourselves. That’s what hope allows for, faith, and mindful practice. It’s a delicate balance for our own good and emotional well being
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