On February 23, 2018, I received the call no woman wants to get: I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the extensive history of breast cancer in my family, it still came as a shock to me to get this diagnosis at age 41.
After numerous screenings, it was determined that I have Stage 3B, triple positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. This is considered advance stage, and IDC is one of the most common forms of breast cancer; unfortunately for me, the hormone response I have also makes it one of the most aggressive. By the time of my diagnosis, the cancer had already affected the skin, as well as 5 or more lymph nodes. Had I waited even just a couple more weeks to be screened, it would have been at Stage 4.
Because of how aggressive it is, my treatment also had to be fast and aggressive. Less than a month after my diagnosis, I was started on chemotherapy in the hopes of shrinking the tumor and prevent further spread in the lymph nodes. Chemo was just the first of many phases of treatment I'll be going through for the next year or so. I went through 6 rounds (18 weeks) of TCHP, which is a very potent chemo "cocktail" but has been proven to be effective. I completed my final round on July 5th, and I'm still struggling with the side effects and overall exhaustion of so many months of such intensive medication. The great news is that as of my last scans, I've shown a great response to those 6 rounds of chemo! My tumor has shrunk to a more manageable size, and my lymph nodes are clearing out, which is exactly what we were hoping for.
On September 12th, I will be having a double mastectomy with sentinel node dissection, and stage 1 reconstruction. Basically, I will have both my breasts removed, along with the "main" affected lymph node (and some friends), as well as having expanders put in. Even though my response to chemo has been good, the kind of cancer I have has a high rate of recurrence, and I just don't want to be worrying about it affecting the other breast. While I had hoped to have both the full reconstruction and mastectomy done in the same surgery, it wasn't recommended because I am still in the middle of treatment.
You see, even after surgery, I still have 30 rounds of radiation to get through, not to mention a year of immunotherapy. Don't worry... I will still be having reconstructive surgery, but not until next year, so my body has time to heal.
As you can see, it's a long road to travel. I've been reassured that the hardest part, the chemo, is over; but the reality is that the whole thing is hard. I haven't been able to work full time since I started chemo in March. I've tried to do as much as I can, but chemo is extremely hard on the body. And because those chemicals remain in your system for at least 3 months after the infusions are over, the lingering effects make it difficult to bounce back to a normal energy level. It's been great returning to the office part time before it's time for surgery; chemo time can get very lonely and isolating, so it's nice to interact with others again. I just miss the go! go! GO! level I used to operate on.
But I knew early on that "normal" for me would take on a very different meaning after all this. And that's okay. It's just a lot to accept.
The recovery time from my mastectomy will be anywhere from 8-12 weeks, provided everything goes well, and that there is no need to go back in to remove more lymph nodes (we're rooting for clear margins everywhere!). In that time, I'll be very limited in what I can do, since I won't be able to use my arms normally for several weeks. Towards the end of that healing window, I will be starting radiation, and will resume the immunotherapy infusions. Those are jokingly referred to as "Lysol", since they're basically given to clean out any last microscopic bits of cancer that might remain. I know it will be challenging, but I want to attack this from every angle possible. I am DETERMINED to survive this!
This wasn't how I had intended to spend 2018. I am still fairly new to my job, and was on track to promote within a year. I had plans to finally start going to concerts again (live music gives me life), and possibly take that mini vacation I've been trying to take for my 40th since I turned 40 (I'll be 42 in a couple weeks). I was revamping my blog and finally starting the new one...
I had plans. But cancer took over.
Unfortunately for cancer, it chose the wrong person to mess with. Yes, it is a formidable foe, but I have a lot more life to get through, and I have no intention of letting cancer stop that. It may have hit "pause", but I still have plans. I will enjoy live music again. I will go to the beach and feel the warm sand between my toes while I gaze at the ocean. I will write my books, and save all the cats, and taste all the food, and see the world. This is hard, but I'm not giving up. I'm giving this everything I've got. I WILL beat this!
Thank you for being my cheerleaders. Your support means more than you'll ever know.
Sorry it's taken so long for me to check in, but the past couple of weeks have definitely been challenging. As you saw in Peggy's last update, my surgery went well. It was a very long day with a couple of hiccups, but as far as the surgery itself, that went smoothly, thank goodness. Oddly enough they sent me home the same night, which was a little strange but in a way it was kind of good because at least I could be in my own home and away from risk of secondary infection from being in the hospital. It was rough though... I'm not going to lie about that. I did have some issues breathing that night and feel like it would have been helpful to be in the hospital for that sort of thing, but I guess this is the new protocol for patients who are able to tolerate the pain fairly well. Who knew?!
Anyway, it has now been exactly two weeks since my surgery. I hit a rough patch a few days into my recovery and either had a reaction to too many meds, or some food poisoning or something, but whatever the case I was pretty miserable. Fortunately that part is over and I can continue healing, which I feel is going pretty well so far, and my surgeons do too. I still have a couple of drains in which is no fun at all, but it's part of the procedure and what you need to heal well, so I'll continue being a good little patient and follow rules. (Doesn't mean I won't grumble a little bit here and there haha.)
I had my first fill yesterday, which was a very interesting experience. Basically they swapped out the air that was in my expanders since surgery and replaced it with saline which I will have in there until the time comes for me to be cleared for reconstruction. While it feels a little bit better in some ways than the air, I'm very very sore, so I feel like I've taken a couple steps backward in terms of pain management. But all things considered, that part is going well. It just hurts that's all.
I did also get my pathology results last week and like my surgeon said, it was kind of a mixed bag. The good news is that there was nothing in the other breast, so no surprise cancer to deal with there. I'm still happy with my decision to have had both removed because I didn't want to take that chance of having it come back in the other breast. The tumor in the affected breast shrunk dramatically with all the chemo that I went through during the spring. It went down from 4.8 cm to .7 cm! So that's a huge improvement! Not a complete response to chemo, but a very positive one.
The yucky news is that of the 7 lymph nodes that were removed, three of them still came back positive for cancer. That news was very rough on me, especially because I had been so hopeful that I would be in the clear after surgery so that I could move forward with my next treatment, which is radiation. Unfortunately because of what they found, it means that I have to do chemo again. I'm not quite sure if it's going to be as heavy duty as it was before, and I certainly hope not. But that is for my team of doctors to determine and I should be finding out that information in the next couple of weeks. I do still need to have radiation afterwards as planned, but they do need to make sure that they are aggressive when it comes to attacking any possible micro cancer cells that may linger, especially because the lymphatic system likes to share stuff. And we don't want that!
Like I said earlier, that news was very difficult for me to hear and process, because I've already been through so much. But I am determined to beat this and I will do what I have to do. I just needed time to feel the emotions that went along with something like that, and time to be able to refocus on the positive. Because truth be told, even if I have to do chemo again, I have made so much progress already and I don't want to forget that. I am in good hands with my medical team, and I am confident they will choose the best solution for me so that I can be here for many years to come.
I'll stop here so that this doesn't get too long. Maybe in the next couple days I'll post another update regarding help that I am going to need after this weekend, as I'm not going to have any helpers 24/7 after this week and will definitely need help from anyone who would like to come by! But I will do that in a separate post.
For now, I just wanted to say thank you again for all of your prayers and love and support, and I look forward to seeing those of you who will be stopping by to help or just visit. I would love some visitors! So if you have some time just shoot me an email or a text and let me know and maybe we can work something out!
Anyway, I hope you're all having a great week! I'll check in with you soon!