Jan 27, 2018 Latest post:
Apr 17, 2018
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
And it seems as though 2018 will be inspiring a lot of dancing in the rain.
My story began in November 2017 when my yearly mammogram revealed “calcifications” in my left breast. I was told the calcifications are not cancer, but they are “markers” that could indicate cancer cells nearby. I then had a 3D mammogram on December 5 revealing a possible suspicious area. I could wait 6 months and do a re-screen, or have a stereotactic biopsy. I opted for the biopsy and had that on December 15.
On December 20, I had a message on my phone while I was at work to call the radiologist because the results were in. I called Greg and he met me halfway between our offices...in a McDonald’s parking lot...so we could call together. “I wish I had better news” is about all I remember from the phone call. The radiologist and nurse offered to stay late so Greg and I could drive there to discuss the results. When we arrived, both the nurse and radiologist gave Greg and I a much needed hug and began to take great care in explaining my diagnosis: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). It’s a Stage 0 cancer where all the cancer cells are inside the ducts...as if in a sealed jar. This is good because it meant, as far as we knew at this point, that they had not leaked into the tissue and spread. Standard treatment would most likely be removing a small area of tissue (lumpectomy), followed by 4-6 weeks of radiation. We were given a few names of surgeons to schedule an appointment with and chose Dr. Rachael Hayes.
Still in disbelief, Greg and I went home trying to process it all. Greg is blessed to have two very good clients/friends that are extraordinary cancer doctors in Fort Wayne, a radiation oncologist and an oncologist. He called them that night to discuss our news and they both assured us that the surgeon we chose was a super star and one of them called her that night and actually got us in to see her the next day at 11am! (normally would have to wait 10-14 days to get in). The radiation oncologist that Greg knew volunteered to meet us the next morning at his office at 7:30am for a consult.
December 21 was a day full of appointments and Greg and I had that "deer in headlights" feeling all day. Upon meeting the radiation oncologist, I felt immediately calm and hopeful. This man is amazing in his demeanor and caring disposition....I feel lucky to have him in my corner. The other oncologist stopped in to check on me during the day of appointments and he equally calmed my mind. We also met with a nurse at the radiation oncologist’s office and he spent so much time explaining this process and helping us debrief...I am still amazed at the quality of care we have been given thus far.
Next we met with my surgeon and her team, we were there 2 hours. Once again, amazed at the quality of care these doctors provide. Due to my strong family history of cancer, I had a genetic test done (which has since come out negative, meaning I did not develop cancer due to a cancer gene passed on). I was given an ultrasound and it was decided I needed an MRI since my tissue is “dense” so it’s hard to easily see through it (that has since come out OK, meaning no tumors were found). My surgeon has been honest and direct with me from day one...telling me that, even though DCIS is early stage and has not developed into a tumor yet, it can be tricky and spread on a cellular level through the ducts and eventually break through into the tissue. She told me I have “grade 3” cancer cells...fast developing (on a scale of 1-3). She gave me the personal choice of a lumpectomy or a mastectomy...she told me that lumpectomy and radiation is a common practice; however some women at this point choose mastectomy with reconstruction to eliminate possibility of recurrence. At this point, we opted for the lumpectomy with radiation...it was now time now to wait again, this time... for surgery to occur....while also trying to get the visual out of my mind of fast developing cancer cells hanging out in my boob! Waiting is hard.
On January 16, I had that surgery. We had to arrive 2 hours early for the pre-surgery prep, involving the placement of a wire “hook” (think fish hook) via a needle, while having a mammogram...time of my life! It took an hour and a half and they were amazed at my calmness and composure...I deal pretty well with pain and I just meditated through all of it. Surgery went well; she removed what amounted to be a grape size piece of tissue (and that damn hook!). What’s ironic is that the good news is I have no tumor...however, that makes it tricky because there is nothing solid to look for and remove...so it becomes a guessing game...take a chunk of the area that had cancer cells and hope you get it all. We had to wait again for pathology results to see if my margins on the tissue sample were clear of cancer. If so, then finish with a few weeks of radiation. If not, more extensive surgery.
On January 22, my surgeon called me. “I wish I had better news” is what I heard once again. My margins were indeed NOT clear, there was quite a bit of DCIS left, and there was a “micro-invasion” of tissue noted (less than a millimeter)...bumps me up now to Stage 1. I am still being assured that this is early stage and very treatable. Because I have “modest breast tissue” (ha! “modest”...this is the cancer team’s polite word of choice to describe small boobs), me having another lumpectomy would result in the excision of the majority of remaining tissue.... and, they have no idea where else the cancer cells are, so don’t know what area of tissue to take. Therefore, she is now recommending a mastectomy with reconstruction.
Pretty crazy going from stage 0, nothing to worry about, to this. Fact is, a mastectomy is not like it used to be...I keep my skin and muscle, they just make a small incision, take tissue out (“modest” amount mind you!), and a plastic surgeon reconstructs it with a filler at the same surgery (they work side by side)...cancer GONE...and nearly no real tissue left for it grow again. And, at this point, she is now NOT thinking radiation (or chemo) will be needed. (because all the bad tissue would be removed, nothing left to radiate)
“Very treatable”, however, involves a choice... which is where we are at now. I am told many women opt to treat both breasts with tissue removal and reconstruction to eliminate chances of having to deal with this again in the other breast. I have talked with many of these women and am finding strength and hope from them. I’m amazed that 1 in 7 women develop breast cancer, which means many people already know others who went though this and have given me their contact information. This allows me to hear about their first hand experience to help me make my decision. And these women I’ve spoken to are strong and inspirational!
Our next step is to meet with the surgeon’s team on January 29, meet with a plastic surgeon on February 5, and with the radiation oncologist on February 6. We then make a final decision and hope to have surgery in February. I now know why they call this a ‘Journey’.
I want to acknowledge that I am blessed to have had friends and family by my side and from afar supporting me through this all and keeping me positive and even laughing. I have to laugh because I’m sick of crying. I have felt such an outpouring of love, support, and guidance that has helped me more than any of you could know...and I thank you for that.
Austyn and Haley have been my little rock stars. And then there is Greg...who has literally been at my side at every appointment, even was allowed in the MRI room to sit next to the machine and hold my hand while I was inside of it. He has been next to me when I first heard the news... he has been shocked with me... cried with me... and, when I needed to stop crying and be strong and start fighting... he has then given me the famous Greg motivational talks that we all know and love. He is my soul mate, the love of my life, and my champion...and I am grateful to have him walk through this with me.
I am feeling strong (most days) and ready to kick some cancer ass.
Cancer has invaded my body...but it need not invade my spirit! Time to dance through all this rain.