So, I wasn’t going to make a blog about this, because I didn’t want to give it all that much attention. But, it appears I won’t be able to carry on and ignore this aspect of life right now, so I might as well create something to update my people about the latest and greatest (?). I mean, I’m sitting home recovering from surgery for another 4ish weeks, so what else have I got going on, right? The title comes from a joke I have with a friend, where when something unpleasant happens, we say “short notice”. Turns out, there’s never really enough notice to give to be able to prepare yourself for the words, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer.”
This story started a few weeks before Thanksgiving. I found a lump. While in normal daily life, I worry about anything and everything I can get my brain cells around, I didn’t have even 5% of my brain worried that this was in fact “something”. I had hand, foot, and mouth disease, which I got from my lovely little boy. (By the way, along with cancer, put that one down as something you don’t want to have. Not nearly as serious, but very un-fun. The laugh is on me though, because it turns out a side effect of chemo is mouth sores, so more to come. Hurray!) I noticed during that virus, my lymph nodes were swollen near my armpit. I figured it was likely due to the illness, and didn’t give it TOO much thought. I emailed my family doc, who said I was probably right, but if it didn’t go away in a few weeks to have it looked at. Which is exactly what I did, when I went to my obgyn a few weeks later. Turns out that it wasn’t exactly a lymph node I was feeling, or if it was, it was near an actual mass in my breast. She was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, and said I could get imaging for peace of mind if I wanted. I did want. I still wasn’t thinking this was something to be concerned about, and was even feeling a little dumb for spending money on imaging just to be told everything was a-ok. After all, I don’t have a significant family history of breast cancer. My grandmother had it later in life, and that was it. I went for the imaging, and was told right then that it “didn’t look good” and there was a 90% chance it was cancer. What. Because it was a few days before Thanksgiving, I was originally told I’d need to wait until the following week for a biopsy, but that wasn’t going to do for me. After many phone calls, I got in the following day. This time I was told the chances looked like 95%. Yikes.
Spoiler alert……it WAS cancer. I know. Since then it’s been a flurry of doctor’s appointments and tears and hopefulness and more tears and more doctor’s appointments and switching of treatment providers and one surgery. Final verdict, is that I have invasive ductal carcinoma, hormone receptor strongly positive, HER2 negative. More on that later. Originally, I was told stage 1A, but that was tentative because they couldn’t tell the exact size of the tumor and whether or not I had any lymph node involvement for sure until the surgery. Following the surgery, I’ve been upgraded (not as cool as the one time we got upgraded to first class) to stage 3A. Tumor was (I say “was” because it’s GONE now!) just over 2 cm, and they took out 22 lymph nodes to test, 3 of which were “microscopically positive”. I knew nothing about this disease prior to this, and I assume you don’t either, but microscopic involvement is better than obvious involvement. No nodes is better than 3, but 3 out of 22 is a pretty good ratio. Nobody on my treatment team is panicking about this except for me. Stage 3 sounds pretty terrifying, but I am assured by people that know more than me about this, that nothing has changed regarding my overall prognosis from their beginning thoughts (which are, incidentally, that this isn’t gonna be what takes me down). What the node involvement HAS won me, though, is behind curtains 1 and 2….brand new shiny chemo and radiation! By the way, universe, if you are listening…..it’s very uncool that I never win any contest I enter, but did fall on the “winning” side of the 1.5% chance that I would get cancer before 40. Thanks for that.
I had a choice about how to surgically approach this. I never realized there would be so many decisions I had to make about this whole thing. I just assumed after the “you have cancer” conversation, there would be an educated professional in front of me telling me what I have to do. Choices sound good until they are yours to make that could affect whether you live or die. First choice to make: I could have a lumpectomy and radiation, or a mastectomy. Because imaging showed that aside from the tumor, there was a larger area of uncertainty going on in ol’ lefty, we decided on a mastectomy. The second decision was whether to just do away with the misbehaving breast, or both. While everyone we spoke with told us that research shows the outcome is the same regarding survival rate, whether you remove the “yet to be a problem” breast or not, I just wasn’t comfortable waiting to see if whatever caused me to develop this cancer, struck again. Both had to go. I want to be able to say I chose absolutely everything I had power over to make sure this is gone and never returns. This surgery happened on 1/9/17, at the lovely all-expenses-not-paid resort otherwise known as Riverside Hospital, and I’ve been recovering fairly uneventfully since then. (Side note, shout out for having insurance, and good insurance at that, that makes this diagnosis something that won’t bankrupt my family.) At the time of surgery, I had tissue expanders placed, which are very not fun and I do not recommend elective surgery to get them just for kicks. These will be blown up over the next few months, and then after I am finished with treatment, exchanged for implants. (I like to picture the blowing up process being done as you would with a pool toy, but I know that this involves no pools, and a big needle.) New boobs around fall 2017, happy birthday to me!
In the great words of Aaron Sorkin, what’s next? I see the radiation oncologist this week to find out the details regarding that, which will be after chemo. I see the medical oncologist in charge of that next week, along with getting my first “fill”. Hoo-boy. My hormone receptors of the tumor being positive is a very good thing, because it means there’s one more tool in the toolbox of fun to treat this and prevent it from coming back. It means being on a drug called Tamoxifen for 5-10 years following chemo and radiation, which will block my body from being able to supply estrogen to my cells, which is basically breast cancer food.
So that’s the deal. Hunkering down at home for now, healing and resting as much as I can to get ready for the next phase. Let me take this moment to thank everyone who has helped us out over the last few months, from baby-sitting to bringing us meals to just being present to raise our spirits. I (we) can’t do this without you. xoxo