Discovery to Diagnosisa detailed glimpse inside my thoughts and feelings...
Now My Troubles are Going to Have Troubles with Me
My New Journey Begins.
Every day 635 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in the United States. That means, in our country alone, that every single hour another 26 mothers, sisters, wives and daughters are faced with that terrifying news and they join the courageous ranks of their fellow 2.8 million survivors…fighters. I had always felt deep compassion and sympathy for these brave women, but I never thought about what being diagnosed with cancer all really meant, in its grim totality – that all changed this week, when I became one of them.
This is my journey. My honest and very open perspective every step of the way. I don’t feel like my story is any more special than the next but I feel compelled to document this fight for a few reasons.
1) To help other women going through this very same fight
2) It’s emotionally exhausting to have the same conversation many times in a day – anyone that wants to know what’s going on can read it here
3) Writing is my therapy. It seems like once I write it out it really isn’t as big of a deal as it was in my head.
Now, please bear with me because I am the furthest thing from a writer or storyteller. I usually don’t take the time to proof read and if I have a misspelled word I usually assume everyone else is smart enough to figure it out on their own and know what I mean. Please know that this section is pretty detailed and more information that a lot of people would ever want to know about anyone…especially me, but with the amount of questions that people have asked and the detail they have requested I figure that if anyone wants those details they have them below, if you don’t then please feel free to skip ahead. 🙂
How it all started.
About 6 months ago I had a spot pop up on my right breast when I was ovulating. I am among 20% of women that can tell you when they ovulate – – not the most comfortable feeling in the world but not horrible. At the time I thought I just had tender breast tissue and it was hormonal. This spot went away once I started my cycle. Two months later it happened again, ovulation, tender breasts, spot pops up, nothing to worry about, right?
My husband, Kayce, and I were actually in the shower together (if this is TMI for you my blog isn’t the right site for you, find another) and I asked him to feel the area and he asked it that was normal, I said yes. This time it doesn’t go away, it stays there. The soreness subsides but the spot remains.
Life got busy and I was focusing on work and getting all of our boys ready for the next school year to start, yes I’m a planner. In July Kayce and I had to go to a meeting for work (we work together on the same team…an amazing team if I do say so myself!). The women on our team are very close friends of mine. So close that I asked several of them to feel my spot. Every one of them looked at me and said: “you need to get that checked out!”
So I got home and my sweet husband put a reminder in his phone to remind me EVERYDAY until I made an appointment, a little annoying at the time but my goodness I have an amazing husband! I actually called my plastic surgeon first (yes, I have implants) and they suggested I make an appointment with them. After seeing my plastic surgeon he said that my implant wasn’t leaking (Dang! I was really hoping that would be the case! Easy fix!) and that I should make an appointment with my GYN. I raced to my car, called my GYN and she was leaving the next day and would be on vacation the whole next week (insert worried face). The nurse said she would ask the doctor if she would mind writing an order for an ultrasound. She didn’t mind and an order was written.
That next weekend I had a much needed spa day celebrating my friend, Karens, birthday. While hanging out and chatting with Karen, Amy, and Kelli I mentioned to them all that I had a spot that I wanted them to feel. Karen and Amy are nurses so I figured they have felt a few ta ta’s in their time. Karen said, “I’ll be honest, it’s either nothing or really bad!”
I was hoping for NOTHING!
Boy Was I Wrong
The next week I had an appointment for my ultrasound on a Tuesday afternoon. Kayce wanted to cancel everything he had scheduled but I assured him that all he would be doing was sitting in a waiting room and I surely wouldn’t be getting any results that day. BOY WAS I WRONG! On the way there I spoke to by best friend, Kristina, and she mentioned that she thought I would get the results immediately and that I better call her as soon as I find out…I said “don’t tell Kayce that, he maybe upset with me for being wrong!” *Sorry My Love!*
They called my name and took me back to this little dressing room and handed me strange looking top. Now, as women we have all experienced the “napkin” they ask you to wear during your annual GYN visit but we don’t have to leave the exam room with it on. This “top” they gave me was more like a painting smock/apron big enough for a Kindergarten student. It has a hole for your head and it’s open on both sides. No big deal, normally. But then they prance you around the office in that delightful attire. If I remember correctly my smock theme was unicorns.
Have you all ever had a mammogram? Holy moly, what an experience. I went in and the sweet older lady doing my scan placed a small sticky marker on my spot and had me stand in front of the contraption. Looks harmless from a far…little did I know. Left breast was easy peasy, squish up and down, squish side-to-side, squish at an angle this way and squish at an angle that way. Right side, several words came to my mind every time she lowered that plastic plate down, sideways, and at an angle…because the machine wasn’t enough, she then had to use this little knob from hell and squish the plates a little more. Now, this was all after pushing my implant back and focusing on how condensed this “sweet” lady could make my natural boobs! Back to the discomfort…the right side was super uncomfortable because my spot was there, it is dense and hard, it doesn’t move or squash easily! Not sure who missed the memo on that one!
After finishing the mammogram the now “sweet” lady who had to be from another planet took me back to my special dressing room, prancing around once again for everyone to see my side boobs and potentially my back fat! She had me sit in the chair where I got to watch other women come in and out of their room wearing the same fabulous attire. I was right, side boobs for all to see! I sat here for about 15 minutes before she came and got me and took me back to the ultrasound room. Right before I walked into the ultrasound room she asked “who came with you today?” The look on her face was one that you NEVER want to see from a health care provider…I knew something wasn’t right. I laid on that table for another 10 minutes, waiting and praying. Asking God to please, if it was something just make it something that wouldn’t take me away from my boys and Kayce!! I can get through anything, I’ll go through as many chemo treatments, cut my boobs off fifty times…I just want to see my grandchildren one day!!
The ultrasound girl entered the room, younger girl this time. Super sweet and understanding that I recently had shoulder surgery and couldn’t lift my arms above my head. She got right down to business, warm jelly (so not what I needed, I was already sweating from head to toe worrying that I wouldn’t be there to see by boys graduate from High School…yes, women tend to allow their heads to get crazy at times like this…don’t blame us, Jesus knew exactly what he was creating when he created us!) and ultrasound moving around all over my spot. She took so many pictures of that one little area…more than was taken at our wedding! She then placed that little wand down onto my armpit and I KNEW THAT MEANT NOTHING GOOD!! HOLY MOLY, WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS GOING ON AND WHY DIDN’T I ALLOW KAYCE TO CANCEL HIS DAY AND COME WITH ME!!! She was checking out my lymph nodes, that must mean there is something suspicious on that little screen. She then states that she will go and get the radiologist to do an additional scan and then she will go over all the results.
The Radiologist entered the room, introduced herself, and went to town on my boob. Again, taking so many pictures!! After she was finished up she wiped me down and had me sit up.
Well Holly, there are some concerning areas on both your scans. We see some calcifications on your mammogram and a rather large mass on your ultrasound. (it’s now a mass…my spot isn’t a spot anymore, it’s now a mass!!) Let’s get you set up for a biopsy as soon as possible to see what is going on.
If you that know me well you know that vagueness generally doesn’t fly with me so I ask, “What are you thinking this really is?”
I think it’s cancer, this is exactly how cancer presents itself, we just need to find out what kind of cancer it is and how aggressive it is.
Me: Deer in headlights trying to hold it together and act like a rational human being…I was successful! The rest was a blur but I did manage to schedule my biopsy for the following morning at 9am.
I held it together until I got in my car and called Kayce. He is the love of my life, my better half, my everything, the one person I can be my complete self with and know without a shadow of doubt he will love me unconditionally (go ahead and throw up in your mouth a little, gag yourself, whatever you prefer…it’s true, all of it, he’s amazing and I’m so glad I get the honor of calling him my husband). Kayce answered the phone in his normal chipper voice and asked how bad the boob smashing was…I told him it didn’t go very well and I surprisingly got results back today…and started to cry…ugly face cry as I was trying to drive down the road. I finally got out that the radiologist is sure its cancer and that we have to go back the next day. Kayce, in true Kayce form tells me simply how much he loves me, I’m his life, I’m his everything.
It then hits me like a TON of bricks that I have a younger sister that has never had a mammogram…we have the same mom and the same dad…what if this is genetic. Our grandmother did have breast cancer and was diagnosed when she was in her early 40’s. I immediately called Julie, who is not just my sister but the bestest esest sister friend anyone could ever have and she always knows when something is wrong. So in true Julie fashion as soon as she heard my voice she asks, “what’s wrong?” All I could say was, “it’s not good, it’s not good, it’s not good.” Again with the ugly face cry…driving – definitely not a recommended part of this process, I could barely see the road with all the tears! I think my sister was in shock, stunned! She cried a little and we talked about the details, I think, it’s all a little fuzzy. Julie is the type of person that can make you feel like a supermodel worth a million dollars just when you crawl out of bed, have crazy hair, stinky breath, and gunk in your eyes. She has a God given gift to share a special type of love with the people that mean the most to her…just don’t piss her off! 😉
I called my mom…hard decision to make because my sweet momma has so much more to worry about and I don’t ever want to put anything additional on her plate. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and when you walk into a room she makes you feel like the most special and loved person on Earth…and like she hasn’t seen you in ages. It really is an amazing feeling and I know how blessed I am to have such a loving, accepting, giving, nurturing, throw down your life if needed momma! I told my mom the news and that I needed her to stay calm and strong for me, so she did. She told me she loved me and asked what she could do…just pray momma, just pray. I can’t leave my boys yet, I just can’t!
I then called Kristina, who was expecting my call with an update…she was tied up in a clinic…the joys of our jobs…sit and wait!
I called Kimber, my dear friend and manager. Kimber is the type of person that will shoot you straight, tell you like it is but does so with this sweet high pitched southern voice that you can’t help but want to squeeze her cheeks when she tells you something (not as hard as the mammogram but just a little pinch). Kimber is the most thoughtful, caring, giving person I know. She truly cares for the people close to her and will fight for you until the end! I sometimes find myself frustrated and aggravated when I see people take advantage of her kindness.
…I was weeping, could barely catch my breath, trying to tell her what was going on. She cried with me and immediately told me to take the rest of the week off and focus on me. If the results came back good then Kayce and I could celebrate, if they were bad then we could be together. I seriously have the most amazing managers and teammates to work with and company to work for. #bejealous
I then sent a text to my friends, Karen and Amy. The next day was Karen’s birthday and I didn’t want her to be thinking about anything other than herself that day so I simply told them both to please pray for the biopsy the next day and that it would come back negative.
Karen had been through so much in the last few years and I would never want to add my issues onto her plate. She has been such an amazing friend for me and really helped pull me out of my sadness when I was still single. Karen is fun loving and caring. She is scheduled to go on a mission trip to Africa in September and has raised money to help cover the cost of her trip. She actually still needs a little more support to help fund the trip over there and back…if you are interested in supporting her please find her on FB, Karen Tanner or click here. She will have the opportunity to touch so many lives and take care of so many children that need her nursing knowledge and her loving motherly touch.
Kristina called…now for those of you that think you know Kristina…you have had a mere glance into whom she is. She’s guarded and only allows “special” people to fully come into her life…now, I wasn’t special at all, I had to force my way in! HA! I knew she was exactly what I wanted and needed in a friend. She has loved me through my darkest secrets and has proven that she will stand by my side and always have my back no matter what! I’m pretty sure we, as women, only hope that we find a friend like this in our lifetime and here I was only 30 years old, at the time, and finding a friend for a lifetime. She puts up with me and ALL the crazy things I say, mostly just to get a rise out of people. She listens, actively, with no premeditated thoughts..just listens. Then she provides sound, Christain advice that is real world!! She challenges me be a better mother and wife and loves me the same even if I fail. I wish I could remember exactly what her response was then I told her, but I don’t. All I know is that she told me she loved and would be praying for me and no matter what it would all be okay. I spoke with Kristina until I pulled into my driveway and saw Kayce. He was standing there waiting on my arrival with open arms.
Kayce held me and we cried. He again told me how much he loves me.
I had to pull myself together so I could walk into a house of 4 young boys (ages 5, 8, 9, and 13) and act like everything was perfect. The rest of the evening consisted of dinner, showers, bedtime prayers, and tucking the boys in with extra snuggles and kisses…fighting back tears every single second. Love is a weapon in a soul’s battle against cancer.
I was diagnosed on Tuesday August 4th, 2015 and each day after seemed more insane than the last…
As we entered the breast center that morning the receptionist looked at me differently. She was much nicer that morning, not that she wasn’t nice the day before but she looked me in the eye this time as she checked me in. She called me “hon” and then Kayce and I proceeded to sit and wait…and wait.
Once I was called back I was taken back to a different room, one that resembled a blood draw laboratory, blood pressure was taken and she asked me to sign a paper of consent for treatment. She then offered me some medication to allow me to relax…DUH! Yes please! I didn’t sleep all night and I was wound up like a yo yo! I took the medication and she asked me to change. This time I had a burgundy flower print smock – super sexy! Kayce was right there with me and as he unfolded the smock and attempted to help me put it on you could see the confusion come over his face..one hole…open everywhere else. In an attempt to not make him feel stupid I held out my hand and put it on and then modeled it for him..not really, modeling wasn’t on the agenda, I just complained about the fact that I forgot to pee and would not have to take that stroll down the hallway showing off my side boob again just to pee. I walked down the hallway, no one saw me! WINNING! Crap, door was locked. Occupied! Just my luck these days, back up the hallway and wait, back down the hallway again with this time, I’m pretty sure, every single person that works there was standing at the nurses station. This time is was unlocked…success!
I proceeded to the biopsy room where they had the ultrasound ready. They went over what the procedure would be like and allowed Kayce to be in the room as long as he agreed to not pass out! HA! That sounds like a super fun experience for anyone to be a part of, anytime anyone has the chance of passing out I’m game! :-/
I laid down on the table and the nurse placed a wedge under by right side to prop me up, asked me to raise my right arm above my head and began to cover my right breast in iodine and got me all prepped.
Wooooweeeee….that medicine started to kick in and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to take a nap or giggle! Why in the world would anyone about to get a needle stuck in their boob want to giggle?
*****OPT IN FOR THE MEDS PEOPLE! OPT IN! THEY HELP!
Holly you’ll feel a little stick and sting as I numb you up…
Spot on doc..you where correct…stick and sting (really wasn’t that bad, she is actually pretty good at that). The next day I got the detailed version from Kayce which is much different than mine since I couldn’t see so I’ll include his perspective as well. All I felt from that moment was a little pressure from the ultrasound wand.
Kayce on the other hand saw a lot….which allows me to be a little more descriptive here…
The radiologist first went in and injected me with several spurts of numbing medicine. She then inserted this long hollow tub and then inserted the biopsy “gun” inside the tub. Every few minutes she would count to three and I would hear a clicking sound. The gun reminded me of what the volunteers use to pick up trash on the side of the road but I much smaller and thinner scale. She took five tissue samples and after each one she would place it into a liquid container. Kayce said he would have thought I would be really bruised after having all of that done because it seemed really invasive…I think he is just partial to my boobs and doesn’t want anyone to hurt them, ha! The nurse then held really firm pressure on the incision site for 10 full minutes to lower the risk of a hematoma.
So I laid there with my breasts hanging out, covered in iodine, and a nurse pushing down on the side of my right breast. Still trying not to giggle or fall asleep! The radiologist spent a lot of time with us answering our questions, playing the ‘what if’ game, helping us to prepare ourselves for the results we would be getting the next day, which was the longest day ever!
I woke up and felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest the entire day, couldn’t set still but was so tired from not getting any sleep the night before.
At 5:08pm we finally received the phone call. Kayce and I set there and listened to every detail. Yes, it’s positive for cancer. Grade II Invasive Ductal Cancer. We were all hoping it was non-invasive but now we know what we are dealing with…to a certain extent. The full pathology report wouldn’t be back for several days and that would show us if it is ER+ or ER-, HER+ or HER-, the growth rate of the tumor, etc. The radiologist said the next step would be to get scheduled to see the nurse tomorrow and she would set me up for a breast MRI and would show them if anything has spread to the lymph nodes or other breast.
Deep breaths…continue breathing…just breath…
After getting off the phone Kayce and I started to digest the certainty of the news and I think we both proceeded to get pissed off and angry at the situation but neither of us showed anything but acceptance and willingness to fight. Kayce and I were both trying to be strong for the other one…little did we know we both had the exact same emotions at the same time. Our pillow talk that evening was coming up with all the questions we now had for the doctor but had no clue which doctor to ask…how long would chemo be, when would surgery take place…many more.
The next day we woke up and started our normal routine. Knowing we had to go back, once again, to the doctors office but not really speaking a word of it. The appointment was at 3:00pm. We walk in, normal, sympathetic, expression from the front office girl and we begin our wait. Finally the nurse pops her head out of the back door and calls us back. We sit down and she gives us this pink folder (nice…more pink…I would prefer black at this point because that would better mimic my emotional state). It’s full of brochures, support groups, and details about the MRI that she set us up for on Monday afternoon. We also discussed details around the genetic panel that they wanted me to have completed to determine if I carried any other mutations for cancer in any other areas of my body. This would then allow my family members to go in and have themselves tested for that specific mutation versus paying for an entire panel…which is apparently expensive – what exactly is expensive when discussing cancer treatment??? I have yet to see a bill, the cost for anything up to this point. The potential financial stress starts to settle in…what if I have to take unpaid time off from work? We have 4 boys that are about to start school and all the sports they are involved in, we have 2 of the 4 boys birthdays coming up in the next two months and then the holidays hit. How in the world can we make ends meet and not allow this horrible disease to affect our children anymore than it has to? All these emotions are running through my veins. I think these are all things we, as parents, start to consider and think about when faced with a crisis.
After meeting with the nurse she walks us over to meet with the Cancer Support Home Coordinator. Another PINK folder full of more brochures, support groups, where to purchase a wig, how to receive financial help if your insurance doesn’t cover genetic testing and where my family members can now go to receive a free mammogram since I was diagnosed. I feel like I’ve either put a lot of fear into my family or a lot of awareness, maybe a little of both. Julie is currently seeing if her insurance will cover the cost of a mammogram for her since she’s in San Diego, my mom already has annual mammograms since her mother was diagnosed at 42 years old, my other sister, Denise, is also checking into it for herself and her two daughters.
At this point I’ve been in a whirlwind of emotions, doctors appointments, updating my family and close friends, trying to hold it together for my boys – never want them to carry my emotional burdens for me!! My daily challenge and constant prayer is that I will be vulnerable with my children enough so they will know that I’m human, make mistakes and can learn from them but balanced enough to never talk about my problems, issues, or fears with them – that’s Kayce’s job as my husband, not my kiddos. I want them to be kids, young and fun, a little crazy at times, kids and not grow up too fast. The more they know about my problems the quicker they will be forced to grow up!!
This weekend we only had my two boys since their dad had to be out of town. We decide to take them out to the lake and enjoy some time on the water. I was being flooded my so many emotions that day and not knowing how to handle them. I really was not in the mood to swim but I got in the water for two reasons, I wanted to play with my boys and I figured that if I was wet they wouldn’t notice the tears running down my cheeks as every emotion possible surfaced.
We are lucky enough to have all four boys in the same house again. The thoughts of when and how to tell them was starting to become a reality.
We went over to my moms house for dinner that evening to celebrate my sister, Denise’s, birthday. After the celebration was complete we decided to head home a little early so we could talk with the boys.
We sat them all down on the couch and told them we had some news to share that wasn’t great but we wanted them to hear it from us first before someone slipped up and said something in front of them. We also wanted them to know when we pray together as a family that this would be something specific we would need to continue to pray about. We discussed what cancer is, how it isn’t contagious, and how my body will change when I start my treatments. The boys all had several questions and much to my surprise it is Stone that takes it the hardest. My sweet yet defiant 5 year old starts saying, “NO momma, you are not going to get sick! NO, you are not allowed to get sick, I don’t want you to get sick!” He then crawls behind the couch and takes awhile to come out. Several questions pop up until bedtime and continue for several days. That night Ben asks if he can say the prayer (him and I pray together when I tuck him in every night). His sweet heart has one prayer, for his momma, that Jesus will take this cancer away and I won’t get too sick. Holding back tears I explain to him that regardless of what happens my love for him will always remain and that together as a family, with Jesus beside us, we will fight this and win! Walking down the stairs the tears start to flow and my heart is burdened with the thought of what I would miss out on while going through chemo, I’m not willing to miss out on any memories, big or small!!
I went in for my MRI at 2:00, arrival time at 1:30pm. I arrived, on time and was called back around 2:20pm to get started. Kayce had to wait in the waiting room this time…hard for him to accept but he was a compliment supporter. We were so excited about the knowledge we were about to obtain and the clear picture that was about to be painted for us.
They took me back to another little dressing room and had me put on my usual attire. Bright green clovers this time – maybe it will bring me a little luck. After I walked to walk down the long hallway with side boob pride – I figured I was about to lose them so I might as well enjoy them while I can – the two older ladies instructed me to lay face down on the table, making sure that each breast dangles in the two cut out holes. Since I had shoulder surgery earlier this year and still unable to get my left arm above my head they allowed me to have one arm beside me and the other above me. Now, I’m generally a little clausrophobic but this machine really wasn’t too bad, the place for my face was very similar to that of a massage table other than about 5 inches from your nose was the bottom of the machine so the air flow wasn’t as great as a massage chair. When my face was secure they then started playing with my arm to find a vein and found one they liked. Poking me then having the vein “run away” according to their description she had to jab the needle around a little to make contact with the vein. I honestly didn’t care, my focus was on prayer. Praying that this cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes and chest wall. Praying that God would give me strength to get through each day I was about to face. Praying that he would give Kayce strength and understanding as we started the treatment plan. My imagination would start up and I would see Benjamin and Stone growing up in my head, I would imagine their graduation from High School and College. I would imagine them arguing with me about their girlfriends and assuring me they were good and kind girls…I know better that that…all girls (most girls) are pretty much crazy until they are in their mid 30’s and find themselves…I think I was nuts until just a few years ago, ha!
Dye was injected and the MRI took about 45 minutes to complete. After that I was told to get dressed and Kayce would be waiting for me in the Sub waiting room outside the radiology room.
Kayce and I waited there for about 20 minutes and talked with another physician who is old neighbors with my best friend, Kristina. She sat there and talked to us and went over things with us, she was so sweet and kind and helped the time to pass. The doctor then called us both back and went over the MRI.
To say the least we were happy and disappointed at the same time. We were happy because the cancer didn’t appear to have spread to the lymph nodes but sad because the rest of the study was pretty much useless. Younger women generally have dense breast tissue, I’m included in that category…at least someone thinks I’m young! I also had “hormonal breasts” because I was about to start my cycle. The cancer also didn’t appear to have spread into my chest wall…luckily my implants had prevented the cancer from spreading!! I say insurance should start covering breast implants!! Implants for all who want them, it prevents cancer from spreading! The radiologist did mention that girls with implants generally discover cancer before women without implants because if the implant is placed under the muscle breast tissue changes are more noticeable. Nothing else on the MRI could be determined. Frustrated and confused Kayce and I continued to ask questions and finally they decided to just go ahead and do another ultrasound of both breasts to make sure nothing unusual was found. Luckily nothing more was seen…by the way, normal ultrasound, just like the last time, just with both breasts.
We left the clinic and started making our normal phone calls and text to update everyone. We were both excited and ready to start celebrating that the cancer didn’t appear to be spreading. I figure I will need to start celebrating the bits of happiness that is surrounded by sadness. A glass of wine with my husband was just what the doctor ordered (me being the doctor this time!!), so we did just that!
The next morning I woke up with a bit of energy that I hadn’t felt in awhile. I had a wonderful conversation that continued to reenergize me with my friend, Amy. Amy has the ability to always be honest with me, about anything. If I’m being ridiculous and not rational she will let me know. She celebrates my wins and stands behind me during my loses. I know I never have to guess what Amy is thinking, all I have to do it ask. She is always up for a girls night out and has the ability to put things in perspective and relate with anything you are going through in life. She never judges you for anything you have done or are thinking about doing but she will hold you accountable for the action you took if you screw up along the way. I love me some Amy!
Good days come with bad days, right? Did you know that good days could end as your most emotional day? This day proved that statement to me correct. As the day went on I started to feel depleted and on edge. By the time we started to set the table for dinner I had a situation with one of the boys that pushed me off the cliff. One of them was just being a little more argumentative than I was up for, he said something, I turned around and started to cry. I had to skip dinner that evening, go lay in bed, and have a little pity party for myself. I’m allowing myself to think I owe myself one of these every once in awhile.
The entire day is a blur…nothing major happened and the emotional roller costar continued.
Kayce and I got up extra early to make our appointment with the oncology breast surgeon. We walk in and the waiting room is empty, we were told that he would be working us in that morning; I guess the wait wouldn’t be too long. Turns out that sweet doctor came in after his rounds and before he started surgery for the day just to see me. In Northwest Arkansas we have a group of physicians that collaborate together on cancer care. It consists of the group of radiologists I have been seeing, three breast surgeons, and three oncologists specific to breast cancer. They meet every Thursday morning at 6:30am to discuss newly diagnosed cancer patients and continue to discuss and follow breast cancer patients throughout their journey. They challenge each other as cases are presented, ask tough questions, discuss potential clinical trials, and make decisions together on a treatment plan. After my breast surgeon heard my case he decided that I needed to be seen.
The nurse walked me back to the exam room and took my vitals. She gave me a top to put on…this one was a little different AND it was tie-dyed. Bringing back my ‘90’s memories! It was more like a tank top with handy dandy Velcro tabs on each shoulder for easy access. After getting changed the surgeon came in with his nurse and introduced himself. He began the exam and then looked at everything on ultrasound, taking lots of pictures and measuring my mass.
I sat up and he started off my saying that he is not sure if he can save my breast. I think he was very relieved to discover that I wasn’t interested in saving my breast; I was opting for a total mastectomy. At that point he continued to answer all our questions and talk about treatment from this point forward. I would need to have an appointment with the oncologist to better define treatment but to help me better understand this is how he explained it to me.
Chemotherapy of A, B, C, and D drug for 4-5 months to shrink the tumor and the little speckles of possible cancer around the main tumor.
Once the tumor is smaller surgery can be scheduled and will have a better outcome for success. If they did the surgery first it would be very difficult to surgical remove all the tissue surrounding the tumor and still save the skin. Three weeks prior to surgery all chemo will be stopped and my blood count will be increased with iron supplements. Once I am no longer anemic a total mastectomy is scheduled.
Prior to the mastectomy the surgeon will schedule an out patient procedure to remove two of my lymph nodes and send them off to pathology to make sure they come back cancer free. If they do then they will leave them, if they come back positive then he will strip out 20 lymph nodes during the mastectomy.
Surgery will be preformed with the oncology surgeon and the plastic surgeon at the same time. All the cancer is removed, hopefully, and the plastic surgeon places these spacers/tissue expanders in my breasts. I’m not sure how this looks but all I can imagine are the old Michael Jordan Pump High Top tennis shoes! I will pump this tissue expander for about 4-5 months until I reach my desired size. Once this is achieved I can schedule my reconstruction.
During the time of tissue expanding I will start back on chemotherapy but will only be receiving “D” drug of the regimen. This is because my tumor came back as HER+ and the herceptin drug that treats this type of cancer is administered every 3 weeks for 52 weeks.
Here’s the kicker!
Once my genetic testing is back we will all know if I have any other mutations for any other types of cancers. Ovarian cancer, colon cancer, a whole panel of cancers will be tested for. If ovarian cancer comes back positive then a hysterectomy will be scheduled. BOO!
At this point I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility. Seemed like everything was isolated in the breast and if I took care of that then I would be in the clear…again, I was wrong! I’m not really used to being wrong this often! HA!
The reality starts to settle in again. This journey is going to be much longer than I had ever imagined. I was hoping to be finished with it all by Christmas and be able to ring in a new year with the hopes of being healthy and living life to the fullest! 18 months is a long time, that’s approximately 540 days, 12,960 hours, and 777,600 minutes…that’s a lot of time to be fighting cancer. Now, I know that my diagnosis and treatment plan pails in comparison to some others who fight many years to conquer this horrible disease but for me, someone who has doesn’t take any medicine regularly and the worst thing I have going on is loose joints this was a big pill to swallow! Stone would be 7 1/2, Benjamin 10 ½, Kolton 11 and Konner would be 14 ½ by the time I would complete therapy…I would be 39 and some change. I have to have this all behind me before I hit 40…I have big plans for celebrating my 40th!
I Choose To Fight
And so that is the story of how I joined those brave millions. And this blog will tell the story of how I fight along their side. I pray my writing will not only help my own mental and spiritual wellness, but that it might also help inspire, inform and challenge other women to chose to fight hard as well.
I didn’t ask for cancer, but it came…and so I choose to fight. And win. And I want to help others fight and win. Because all we have is that attitude, our family, love, faith, and, well, like Dr. Seuss once wrote, a big old bat…
“I’ve heard there are troubles of
more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some
come from behind.
But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all
ready you see.
Now my troubles are going to have
trouble with me.”