"It's breast cancer" is something I thought (I hoped) I'd never hear again. However, on the evening of June 8th, I found myself hearing those exact words.
I first noticed a lump in my left breast when I was 25. Initially, I didn’t think much of it but after several months of following, I decided to bring it to the attention of a physician. Since I had recently moved to the area, this wasn’t a physician I had seen before or had an established relationship with. After examining me, he said, “some women have lumpy breasts… you could get a mammogram if you want to.” He didn’t seem overly concerned, so I wasn’t, and I did nothing- after all, women don’t get breast cancer at 25, right? Fast-forward 3 years. I was pursuing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering with a focus on breast imaging research and surgical guidance techniques (insert irony here). The lump was still there, seemingly unchanged but I decided to bring it to the attention of my gynecologist. She too felt it was likely nothing but wanted to do an ultrasound just in case- this time I went for the exam. They decided to biopsy the lump that same day and 5 days later, on February 14th, 2005, at the age of 28, I was diagnosed with IDC (Stage IB). Since, at the time, there was no evidence of metastatic disease, I opted for a left nipple-sparing mastectomy. I also had a SLN biopsy, which resulted in having a total of 11 axillary lymph nodes removed (due to failed mapping of the SLN), all of which came back negative for disease. Following surgery, I had 4 rounds of chemo followed by 5 years of Tamoxifen (my cancer was ER+, slightly PR+ and HER2-).
For the next 11 years, I considered myself a breast cancer survivor (a term I now hesitate using- I much prefer thriver), with only a few blips along the way. However, last year, a small mass was seen in my lungs on my annual breast MRI- a follow-up CT scan confirmed the same- there was a solid pulmonary nodule in my upper right lobe, measuring 9 mm in size. The mass was initially called indeterminate- either an infectious or inflammatory process but cancer couldn’t be ruled out, especially considering my history. I had multiple repeat CT scans over the next year- all showed stable appearance of the mass until this past May (2017). The CT was followed up with a PET-CT, which demonstrated low-level uptake of the radiotracer, but wasn’t hot enough to definitively call malignant. Next step- CT guided biopsy. The results of the lung biopsy shocked us all- metastatic breast cancer.