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In December of 2001, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in my left breast. A cancer diagnosis is always devastating news, but it felt especially so with a seven-month old baby (Grace). I made the choice of a lumpectomy, knowing that would mean radiation, too. One of the reasons for that decision was that I needed to be able to hold my baby, although at 31 yrs old I wasn't ready to part with parts of my body, either. I had hoped to avoid chemotherapy, but the severity of my cancer dictated that I have chemo to give me a long life. Chemo and radiation lasted until July 2002, and since then, I have been considered cancer-free.
Until last week.
On August 23, I had my regular mammogram. I felt off for the rest of the day. I couldn't explain it, but I think my body knew something was wrong. The next day I received the dreaded "you need to come back as soon as possible" phone call. On August 25, I returned for a second mammogram and ultrasound. I asked to see what the radiologist saw on the images. The image clearly showed a mass that was not there a year ago. We immediately biopsied the site. In typical fashion, we had to wait until almost 2pm on Friday, August 26, to hear the bad news - cancer has returned.
On Wednesday, August 31, Matt and I met with my surgeon. The details: - I have invasive ductal carcinoma that is considered triple negative. (This is the same as my first diagnosis.) - Triple negative means my cancer does not respond to estrogen, progesterone nor her-2-neu. Therefore, hormone therapies do not work. - Triple negative means the only option to treat me is surgery and chemotherapy. So she told me to expect chemotherapy. Biggest disappointment right there. - Because I have had radiation, I cannot have another lumpectomy. My only option is mastectomy. - Because I have a BRCA 1 gene mutation, which puts me at high risk for breast cancer, I am choosing a total bilateral mastectomy. (Both breasts will be removed) - Because this is a second cancer, yet same as the first, the surgeon needed reassurance that cancer was only in my breast. So she ordered a PET/CT scan. The scariest part of this was the outcome - if the scan showed cancer anywhere else, I would immediately be Stage 4, and well, my life would never be rid of breast cancer. Thank goodness the scan was clean - I am Stage 1. - Surgery is scheduled for September 16. - Chemo will likely start end of October - beginning of November. I have yet to meet with my oncologist for details. This is the only wait I think I can tolerate. I hated every part of chemo the first time.
As with any story, there are more sides. That's just the medical stuff.
Having to tell my daughters I have cancer was heartbreaking. Calling my parents and my sister and telling them it's back was heart-wrenching. Watching my hubby, Matt, go through this with me and seeing his own heartbreak is enough to make me wither into a puddle on the floor. Telling our family and our friends. Telling my colleagues. I have yet to tell my students next week. Telling my neighbors, my daughters friends and their parents, their dance school staff, their teachers...the list goes on. It is exhausting. And I haven't even had surgery or a single treatment.
Grace and Lola are okay. Matt is okay. I am okay. With the love and support of our family and community of friends and colleagues, we will be able to cope as best as we can, and hopefully find some shared laughter, moments of happiness, and some peace in my choices. Recovery, healing and fighting will take much of my energy for the next six months or so. I guess I'll give six months for a long, cancer-free life.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts, well wishes, words of encouragement, compassion and mostly, your love.