Thank you for visiting! I so appreciate your kindness, concern, thoughts, and prayers! Here is my story:
Earlier this year during a self exam, I noticed that a lump in my breast was ever so slightly bigger than before. It had previously been checked thoroughly with mammogram and ultrasound and found to be not of concern at that time. I had the lump rechecked via mammogram, ultrasound, and later a biopsy. On March 10, 2016, I was diagnosed with infiltrating (invasive) ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), both of which are cancers of the milk ducts. Since then, my life has been a whirlwind of doctor appointments, education, and preparation for treatment. (And somewhere in there, I am still homeschooling, shuttling the kids to their many activities, volunteering, teaching children's Bible study, and all the usual wife/mommy stuff!)
Here is what we know about my cancer so far:
- My cancer is the most treatable kind of breast cancer.
- My hormone receptor test came back triple positive: HER2+, ER favorable, and PR favorable. This is a good things, and means that my cancer will respond well to certain targeted drugs.
- My BRCA 1/2 genetic testing came back negative for the most common gene mutations that cause cancer to run in families. This is good news for my family!
- My MRI appears to show another area of cancer, but two surgeons strongly believe that it is a false positive. This area will be fully tested during surgery (more on that below).
- There doesn't appear to be cancer in any of the lymph nodes at this time, but they will also be tested during surgery via sentinel node mapping.
- My cancer will not be fully staged until surgery, but the surgeon I saw for a second opinion at Emory believes that it is either stage 1 or 2.
I have chosen Dr. Robert Cannon in Athens for my main surgeon. He is experienced, knowledgeable, and compassionate, and most of all, committed to getting rid of my cancer! The surgeon I saw at Emory for a second opinion, Dr. Grant Carlson, was also wonderful. He specializes in surgical oncology as well as plastic surgery. However, though I usually don't mind an occasional trip to Emory, I was not willing to base the majority of my care there due to the distance, Atlanta traffic issues, and the fact that I will need so many follow up visits for the type of reconstruction I am having. Also, I really like Dr. Cannon, as well as the other doctors I have chosen, and it is nice to have all my care here in Athens.
Due to many factors such as the multifocal (multiple tumor) nature of my cancer, the size and location of the tumors, the invasiveness of the cancer, and other considerations, both Dr. Cannon and Dr. Carlson believe that it is inadvisable for me to get a lumpectomy. The cancer is only in one breast, so medically, I only need a single mastectomy, but after talking to many who have had singles, I am electing to have a double. Even though the plastic surgeon can do an amazing job getting the reconstructed breast to match the natural one, they won't necessarily stay that way over time, especially when one loses or gains weight. Let's just say I value symmetry. ;)
My plastic surgeon is Dr. Gumucio in Athens - I really like him. He is very caring and compassionate, and does amazing work.
My surgery is scheduled at St. Mary's for Tuesday, May 31. Dr. Cannon will do the double mastectomy, then Dr. Gumucio will start the reconstruction right after. He will put in expanders, which will be filled with saline over a period of weeks or months (depending on my level of healing and comfort), then these will be swapped out for permanent implants later.
Due to the type of cancer I have, I will definitely need chemo starting a few weeks after surgery. I won't know all the details on that until the full pathology comes back after surgery. At this point, they think that the likelihood that I will need radiation is very low.
I have another issue worth mentioning that has affected me for more than a year now. I have Superior Canal Dehiscence Syndrome (SCDS), a vestibular disorder caused by a thinning of or hole in the bone over one of the semicircular canals. Basically, this hole or thinning creates a third window, letting in sound where it's not supposed to be. Also, this absence of bone causes the fluid that regulates balance to be displaced by noise or pressure. My symptoms vary in severity from day to day (or even throughout the day), and include: vertigo (spinning sensation), imbalance, dizziness (esp.sound-induced), distorted sounds (esp. my own voice), tinnitus, sensitivity to sound, hearing bodily noises inside my head (creaking neck, popping hip), and a feeling of fullness/pressure in my ears. Currently, my symptoms are mild enough to permit me to drive (I've had special testing for this), but I have to be careful with my balance issues. When I first stand up, turn suddenly, or walk down stairs, I often have to steady myself. (I'm fine once I start walking straight.) I imagine I will need to be extra careful after surgery and during chemo. SCDS is rare and was only discovered in 1998, so many ENTs know little about it. Hopefully my symptoms will not worsen as I go through breast cancer treatment. (They could stay the same for a decade, or suddenly worsen; every case is different.) Here's a link if you would like to learn more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superior_canal_dehiscence
Currently, I am in really good spirits and am completely trusting in the Lord to help me through this time. This verse means so much to me right now:
Be careful for nothing [don't worry about anything]; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philip. 4:6-7)
God has given me that peace, and it is truly indescribable! It is making what I am facing so much easier.
He has also sent so many women my way to share their experiences and advice regarding breast cancer. There is a whole sisterhood out there, and it is amazing! Not only have many friends have taken me under their wings, but even perfect strangers have reached out after hearing my story through a mutual friend. I don't know what I would do without their help!
My family has been wonderfully supportive. I especially appreciate my husband, Dan, who really understands my need to be open, even though it isn't necessarily his comfort level. He knows how much it helps me to talk to people about what is going on, as well as to gather support and information. He is doing everything he can to support me in every way possible - coming to all my appointments, helping with housework, and helping guide the kids through this. I couldn't be more blessed!
The kids (Cubby, almost 16; Tiger, almost 14; and Bunny, 10) are handling all of this so well. We have been open with them from the day of the biopsy, when we were told that it was very likely cancer. I knew that they would be looking to me for cues, so I am doing my best to show them that although this is a major challenge, I am ready for the fight. Also, because I grew up in a home that was more secretive, I want our home to be a safe place where the kids don't have to wonder or worry. They can ask or say anything without fear. The way we joke around about all of this is probably far more than what most families would be comfortable with, but humor really helps us through it all!
My family and I will be posting here to keep friends and family updated on my progress and current needs. I am so grateful for all of you!!!!
Before closing, I would like to encourage my female friends to be vigilant with mammograms (depending on age and doctor recommendation) and self-exams. My lump, which had occurred before I'd ever had a mammogram, started out being very difficult to feel; I second-guessed it for a long time. Even now, I can only feel it when I rub in a certain direction. It's important to know your own body, and to do the exam in a variety of positions and angles. Some women fear mammograms based on outdated or poorly sourced information, but today's mammograms use 50 times less radiation than those from years ago. The amount of exposure one receives from a bilateral mammogram is about the same amount of radiation one would get from their natural surroundings for 2-3 months. So unless you live in a lead-lined, windowless home, you're already exposed to radiation. I recommend talking to your doctor to see if mammograms are right for you.
Thank you all so much for your love, prayers, and support!