The Cancer Test Results Waiting Game

Breast cancer and melanoma survivor finds herself waiting for results again.

How do you play the test results waiting game? Has this changed with time and experience? Six years after breast cancer and three years after melanoma, my answers have and haven’t changed.

During active treatment for breast cancer, I didn’t wait comfortably at all. The people I shared my waiting and then my results with probably suffered from TMI—too much information about Barb’s medical results. They were good sports, but I think about it now and shake my head a little. Even after active treatment for a while, I kept them in the loop about mammogram results. Then came my melanoma. My melanoma wasn’t my first cancer rodeo. I was three years out from the breast cancer diagnosis by then. How much should I share about my melanoma? Who should I share it with? How big a deal was it? I shared the information, had the surgery, and then got on with it. The “it” I got on with was a regular regimen of mammograms and oncology visits to be vigilant about the previous breast cancer, and now regular skin checks to monitor for melanoma.

During the skin checks, sometimes moles get removed to get biopsied and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the biopsy results call for additional surgery in the biopsied area, and sometimes they don’t. I have been fortunate. Even though I have had several additional surgeries for larger safe margins, nothing has been a melanoma. Some things have had strange names and could be pre-cancerous, but no more melanomas in three years. Phew.

My need to share each of these events, biopsies and surgeries isn’t what it used to be. I tell my husband and sometimes a close friend or two who I happen to be talking to right before or after these procedures. I call the larger surgeries “dog bites” because of the long scars and indentations they leave behind on my body. I don’t really talk about all the little moles that have been removed in three years and all the little tiny scars left behind.

Yesterday, I had four moles biopsied. I really hadn’t expected that. I knew my six-month full-body skin check was coming up, but I hadn’t felt the need to discuss it with anyone. I don’t think any moles were biopsied six months ago, but I don’t really remember. Four seems like a lot. Still, I would rather be safe than sorry. I try to think of it as preventative. I worry while I wait for the pathology reports to come back—the test results waiting game.

My “A” team, my husband, knows I have four fresh wounds and that I am playing the test results waiting game. I haven’t called in my “B” team—my family and friends. I don’t want to cry wolf. I don’t want to raise concern on my behalf if it turns out, hopefully, to be nothing. Have you ever felt that way?

I am OK with that choice right now. I allow that if I change my mind, that is OK too. I allow that if I choose to tell a few people I come into contact with before I get my results, it is OK. That said, I know I need to be responsible and remember who I need to tell afterward that, hopefully, the results turned out to be OK. I think as cancer survivors, we can play the test results waiting game in whatever way works best for us at the moment. Is that fair? What do you think?