Game Days as defined by this survivor are days filled with routine follow up surveillance appointments [and] diagnostics (mammograms, MRIs, ECHO)tests. Game days can evoke a great deal of anxiety as you well know and I dare say that we all have ‘game day rituals’ we go through to minimize our anxiety and the impact it has on us in the days leading up to the big events.
November and May are Game Day months for me; these are the 2 months out of the year that I plan all of my surveillance studies and followup appointments so that I can be rid of the healthcare system the other 10 months of the year.
Brilliant: I know, right?!
I call it clustering, and I wrote about it here.
My game day rituals have included everything from music and videos to my signature white tee with my favorite blue jeans and a well-worn pair shitkickers. At one point, I even had a graphic tee that said Game Day on it.
This year, however, I made the decision to throw all my rituals out the window as I realized that they made me even more anxious by focusing more of my attention to the potentials rather than remaining present in the moment.
As I’ve written before, I fight for my moments and this year, I’ve refused to allow diagnostic testing steal my moments.
It’s a fact; I carry a very high risk of developing breast cancer because of the chest radiation used to successfully treat the chest wall sarcoma I had when I was 8. My risk is roughly equal to that of someone who carries the BRCA gene; therefore, I am screened at 6-month intervals with mammography [and] MRI because I’ve elected to watch and wait.
These screenings once terrified me, but no more.
What changed? THIS!
My psychiatrist suggested that I video myself talking to myself about my past experiences with breast screenings including both the good [and] the ones that resulted in ultrasounds and MRI guided biopsies to rule out malignancy.
I was to make 3 videos:
- the night before
- the morning of
- after the testing had been done
What I learned from that exercise was that the rituals, the anxiety don’t dictate the outcomes and regardless of the outcome, I am more than capable of rising to the occasion. Thankfully, I have not been diagnosed with breast cancer to date. The risk remains, but it no longer hangs over my head. It simply pops up on my calendar every 6 months and I say to myself, “let’s do this”.
Sadly, I have far too many friends who are childhood cancer survivors who have been diagnosed with treatment-related breast cancer. It’s a sobering risk to carry, and you carry it for a lifetime. If you are at risk, please be vigilant with your screenings.
Please know that both women and men are at risk; breast cancer does not discriminate.
Breast Health and Screening Guidelines for Childhood Cancer survivors can be found here.