My name is Melissa. I am 37 years old, a mother of three, a wife, and a career girl, and I have breast cancer. This is my 2017 story.
I have the BRCA1 and CHEK2 gene mutations. I found out in 2015 at the age of 35 after a recommendation from my primary care doctor to have genetic testing based on my family history of cancer. I took steps to be proactive. I lost weight. I began closer monitoring for breast and gynecological cancers and planned to undergo prophylactic hysterectomy and mastectomy before the age of 40.
On December 22, 2016, I went into the hospital for my planned hysterectomy. The procedure was to remove the organs as precancerous and prevent any gynecological cancers. I suffered some complications and we re-admitted on January 9, 2017 for a second surgery to repair a tear.
On Friday, January 13, I saw a breast oncologist to evaluate the potential for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. In plain English, that means removing both breasts as a method of cancer prevention in a woman who does not have cancer but is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation. The breast oncologist scheduled me for mammogram and ultrasound on January 18.
On Wednesday, January 18, I went in for the mammogram and an ultrasound. A large mass was discovered in one breast (left) and a small spot in the right breast. The radiologist was so concerned that they did another type of mammogram on both breasts, using 3D imaging, and scheduled a same-day biopsy.
On Friday, January 20, I received a call from the Radiologist. Pathology had returned the results - CANCER. The appointment I had to be evaluated for a preventative surgery suddenly turned into actual, active cancer.
On Thursday, January 26, I met with the breast surgeon. Through radiology reports, he felt my cancer was designated as Ductal Carcinoma in SITU, or DCIS, which means the cancer was only in the milk ducts and hadn't broken out of the ducts or spread to other areas of my body. Scans did not show any involvement in other places. DCIS is "curable" with a mastectomy and, therefore, a stage 0 cancer... I wouldn't find out until later that the reports were wrong and the cancer actually had broken out, metastasized, and was bigger and more invasive than originally thought.
February 2nd was 6 weeks after my hysterectomy surgery. I should have been released to return to work at that time. Unfortunately, I was already in this new battle with cancer. The NEW plan, based on a diagnosis of DCIS, was to have a double mastectomy, scheduled for 2/22, and return to work 6 weeks after. No chemo, no radiation, no further treatment necessary.
Forward to February 22… Surgery began at 7:30 AM. The surgery was expected to last between 4-6 hours. This simple bilateral mastectomy was supposed to be straight forward and cure the cancer.
I did not wake up in recovery until almost 12 hours later. The simple mastectomy turned into a radical mastectomy in surgery when they found out the original mass - 6.5cm in size - was invasive and had broken out of the ducts, and had also spread into the lymph nodes. The surgeon removed 16 lymph nodes on the left side. Mastectomy was no longer a cure. The cancer became Stage II/III... still determining depending on more scans pending... and now chemo and radiation became a sudden reality.