Feb 14, 2020 Latest post:
Mar 30, 2020
Hi, my name is Shelli. I am 45 years old, and I have cancer.
My hope is to update this site regularly to keep everyone informed on where I am in this journey. I know you all have questions, and hopefully I can continue to keep you updated on my diagnosis and treatment. Below is a timeline to give you some background and perspective.
November 12, 2019 – I went in for my regular, yearly exam…routine and no big deal. When I arrived, I signed in and they gave me paperwork for my mammogram, which I didn’t know I was having. They offered to forgo the mammogram since I wasn’t expecting it…I had no idea that at age 45, with a history of breast cancer in my family, I needed a mammogram every year. So, I elected to go ahead with it, since it was already scheduled. Afterwards, I went about my day as usual.
~2 weeks later - I received a letter in the mail telling me that some “abnormalities” were detected on my mammogram that were no big deal and likely benign, but I needed a more complex test: a diagnostic mammogram with an ultrasound. I had one 3 years prior and really wasn’t very worried because it just showed “calcifications” that weren’t concerning at all. So, I called, and couldn’t get it scheduled until the end of January. Then began the dreaded wait for almost 2 months.
January 28th, 2020 – I went in for my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. I have to say, my radiologist office has been phenomenal throughout all of this. I really couldn’t ask for a more compassionate and caring staff. I was there for 3 ½ hours and had about 5 different tests performed. I kind of thought after test #3, something probably wasn’t quite right. You REALLY know something isn’t right when the doctor comes in to do the test herself because she doesn’t like what she’s seeing from what the ultrasound/mammography technicians were doing. So, the last test, yet another ultrasound, and the doctor came in and watched the tech. I could tell by her face that she didn’t like what she was seeing, so she then took over doing the ultrasound herself. She told me that I had “microcalcifications” that seemed suspicious. She said they were probably nothing, but typically, when scattered, they’re no big deal; but when grouped together like mine were, it was a cause for concern – but as Dr. Gayden put it, “probably isn’t anything at all, but to be safe, I’d like to do a biopsy”. So, there I go, off to talk to someone else to schedule the biopsy and get all the pertinent info about the procedure. They told me they would place a “marker” in the area that they took the specimen from.
February 3rd, 2020 – The biopsy itself wasn’t all that big of a deal. Scary, yes; slightly painful, yes; but still, an outpatient procedure and not invasive. I was done within 3 hours. I was able to watch as they took images all during the procedure, so they knew exactly where to go and where to place the marker. The worst part of the whole thing…. the waiting game. Dr. Gayden said she would call me in 2 days to let me know the results. Those 2 days, I did my best to forget about it, go on about my routine, crack as many jokes and laugh as much as I could.
Wednesday February 5th – The call that nobody wants to get. The doctor must have looked at my school schedule and knew that dismissal was right at 3:10 because I was leaving the parking lot from work and right at 3:20 my phone rang. I answered and could instantly tell that Dr. Gayden was about to deliver some news that she wasn’t happy about giving. I could hear it in her voice, the disappointment and the empathy…then she said it, “Well, the biopsy showed that you do have breast cancer”. I pulled my car over and didn’t really hear much after that point. She said some stuff, but I really don’t recall much. I just know I asked about next steps and she said surgeon and MRI. That’s all I heard. Cancer, MRI, Surgeon.
Thankfully, Cyndy Godley (it’s not a coincidence that her name has God in it, because she truly is a gift from God) called me about an hour and a half later. First thing she said, “okay, well now that a little time has gone by, how do you feel”. I wasn’t sure how to respond…shocked, confused, emotional…my head was spinning. Cyndy kindly explained everything from the start and broke it down into pieces that were easy for me to understand. I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), intermediate grade nuclei – which translates to, it’s not slow growing, it’s not fast growing, it’s somewhere in the middle. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which means that my cancer is still within my milk ducts and has not infiltrated the breast tissue – yet. Apparently, cancer has a feeding source and mine just happens to be my hormones. So, my tumor cells are estrogen receptor positive by 96.81% and progesterone receptor positive by 85.45%. After that, it was a quick appointment for an MRI to see just how extensive the cancer was and an appointment with a breast surgeon to discuss my options.
February 11th, 2020 – The day of the MRI –I would be lying if I said it was pleasant. It wasn’t painful, but just imagine laying on a pole, face down for 45 minutes and being told not to move. I had to lay completely still for 45 minutes…imagine how many things started to itch when I was told I couldn’t move! I was asked what kind of music I wanted to listen to…I said soft pop – I got Frank Sinatra – not exactly my idea of soft “pop”.
February 12th, 2020 – Probably one of the worst days I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some doozies. It’s at least in the top 5. I met my surgeon, Dr. Lindi VanderWalde; she tried being polite at first, and I could tell she was beating around the bush, but finally she said it…”the MRI showed that the cancer is in a larger area than originally thought, and I am recommending a mastectomy.” I couldn’t recover. I was shellshocked. I’m not really sure what I expected to hear, but that certainly wasn’t it. She walked me through the process that consists of genetic testing, breast removal, reconstruction, drains, expanders, multiple surgeries, medicine for 5-10 years after, the list goes on.
February 13th, 2020 - I met with my radiologist, and she showed me on the MRI all the areas of the cancer. They were right- it is a pretty large area that the cancer has penetrated, but as far as they know, it’s still within my ducts – BUT there is a significantly larger tumor that is toward the back. My doctor believes or has “a gut feeling” that this tumor is more aggressive and potentially outside of the duct. The thing is, they aren’t certain and won’t be sure unless they remove it. But, as she said, “sometimes I can look at a tumor and say oh, yes, for sure, that’s definitely aggressive cancer, in this case, my gut is saying it is, but I can’t say without a doubt”. So, she offered to do another biopsy of this particular area to see what the pathology shows. She offered this option because of my fear of making a wrong decision, fear of regret, a fear of the unknown. So, if it comes back that it is also cancer, then I will definitely need a mastectomy. If the pathology report shows that it isn’t, then perhaps the doctor can try to remove as much as possible without having to have a mastectomy. However, she did admit that it will be hard because it’s such a large area. The thing that is crazy is that 3 years ago, none of this showed up. So, in 3 years, it’s grown this much! What’s going to happen in another year? Or 6? So, I’m at a crossroads…do I spend more money on a biopsy that has a high probability of also being cancer? Or, do I take the chance and do the mastectomy? So many life altering decisions within a short amount of time. Regardless, I will get through it, no matter what happens…it may not be an easy road, but I will live.
February 20th, 2020 – I met with my reconstructive surgeon today, Dr. Tavin from Plastic Surgery Group of Memphis. I really liked him a lot, he was very personable and instantly made me feel comfortable. We discussed my options, his professional and medical opinion of my diagnosis, outcomes/situations of other patients that he’s treated and what his experience has been. He showed me some photos of surgeries that he has performed. Right now, the cancer is occupying what he considered to be a large part of my right breast (which matches with what Dr. Gayden had said). He, along with Dr. Gayden both have now told me that they believe that since the cancer is occupying a larger part of my breast, they think that it’s more aggressive than they originally suspected. So, with that, combined with things that were noted from the MRI in my left breast, I have decided to move forward with a double mastectomy. This has been a very difficult decision for me that I didn’t want to make but I believe it’s what’s best for me and my children. It’s REALLY hard to make a life altering decision based on a “what if”, but I also know that this whole thing has been pretty scary, not to mention emotionally draining and I don’t want to have to go through it again. Hopefully, the cancer is contained in just my breast and hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes, but we won’t know that until after surgery.
March 10th, 2020 – I had a follow up appointment with my surgeon on March 2nd. There isn’t much to update from that appointment. Dr. Vanderwalde reviewed the surgery itself and what to expect. It’s mostly stuff I already knew. She basically drew a picture of how she performs the procedure and then everything that will happen during surgery – I will have 1-3 lymph nodes removed – not sure how the final number is decided exactly. I’ll have a local anesthetic called the ON-Q, which numbs a targeted area and lasts about 3 days. I will also have 4 JP drains that will drain the fluid from my body after the surgery. So, technically, I’ll look like an octopus for a little while. 😊 An overnight stay in the hospital, potentially longer but it will depend on my pain and if it’s managed or not. We talked about what to expect for a few weeks after the surgery and how long I’ll be out. I won’t be able to drive for at least 3 weeks after the surgery and will be limited on what I can do physically for the first 2 weeks. Right now, my leave from work is scheduled for March 31st to May 4th and I am really hoping I will feel good enough to return to work on May 4th. I have Career Day at school on the 6th and really want to be there for my students – it’s something that they absolutely love, and I didn’t want them to miss out on anything just because I’m sick.
Yesterday, I received a call from the geneticist and of all the 34 genes they tested, all of them were clear. This means that a cancer-predisposing mutation was not found, which is good news for my daughter.
Next up, I have a pre-op appointment next week on the 17th and then a “marking” appointment on the 30th at my radiologist’s office. The radiologist will inject me with a certain dye that will travel to my sentinel lymph nodes and mark them for the surgeon to locate easier the following day.
I’m still scared but, it is what it is. I’m mostly scared for how I will feel emotionally, once I wake up from the surgery. Trying to keep my spirits lifted and keep myself busy until then.
Praying for strength and peace of mind.