So, when I asked on Instastories what you guys wanted to see more of on my blog, there was a lot of requests for a blog post such as this…..how I was diagnosed. First and foremost let me say that the process of being diagnosed with breast cancer is different for everyone. I mean, essentially the tests and exams are the same, but the timeline may be very different. As I have learned, everyones cancer is different.
To the beginning we go. Oh and for the purpose of not writing a three part series, clearly this will be condensed (still long), but hopefully hit all the major milestones.
I didn’t exactly chronicle this experience, but I took this picture at one of my scans to send to Chris because I thought it was funny that this was the smallest size scrubs they had, complete with the belt we rigged to hold up the pants!
So, back in June I was having some other unrelated health issues. A little thyroid/hormonal symptoms happening. Chris was away in the field, so of course I tried to battle through the best I could. After a trip to the emergency room, we thought we were in the clear, just a follow up with some doctors. But then, and for reasons still unknown I decided to give myself a breast exam that night. And I found a lump. I of course thought I was crazy because of everything I had just gone through at the ER. I decided to get a second opinion from Chris, who looked at me like….are you fucking kidding me? This is a little dramatic. Sure enough he felt the lump too. I really tried not to panic, but the lump just felt weird. It wasn’t soft and fluid like a cyst, it was hard, and not exactly round. Again, not panicking, I made an appointment with our family care doctor.
At that appointment it was your usual exam. My doctor felt the lump, asked a million questions, and had a very concerned look on his face. He said he wanted me to get a mammogram and an ultrasound. So that was next on the list.
It was about a week or so for that appointment. When I showed up I was in a room full of about 10-12 women, also waiting for mammograms. I remember texting Chris that I was the youngest person in the room by about 10 years. One by one they called women back. Then it was my turn. They took three images and asked me to go back to the waiting room. I sat and watched the number of women in the room dwindle down. Again I was called back for a few more images. And again I was asked to go back to the waiting room. This time I was the only one sitting in the room. I started to get a little nervous. Why was I still sitting here? Could they just tell me something? The nurse popped her head back in and said the radiologist wanted three more images. After those were taken they brought be back for an ultrasound. The ultrasound tech said that the radiologist has some concerns and that he would be right in to look at things. After he took a ton of images he sat back in his chair and said, can you be here in the morning? I’d like to do a biopsy. He explained that my age and the amount of calcifications surrounding the lump, and another lump that he found, were very concerning. So biopsy it is.
The next morning I was back in the hot seat for an ultrasound guided core needle biopsy. They took nine core needle samples and sent them for testing. The pathology wait begins.
At this point, even though the doctors I had seen were concerned, my family and I just held on to the fact that I was young….I had no other criteria setting me up for breast cancer. Slightly naive, but you gotta hunt for the good stuff.
The pathology took a little longer than we expected and when it did come back it wasn’t a definite. The result was “conclusive with invasive ductal carcinoma requiring a larger sample”. I was pissed. So you are kind of telling me I have breast cancer? My radiologist scheduled me for another biopsy and also a breast MRI, with an appointment to meet with a surgeon. When the radiologist told me this I remember saying “okay, I want you to be very real with me. No bullshit. From what we know from imaging and this preliminary report and your 20+ years of experience what are the chances I have breast cancer?”. He said….95%. Well fuck.
I went in for another biopsy, this time it was done with a vacuum needle so we just essentially sucked up as much as we could to make sure we had a large enough sample.
I truly think this is the hardest part. The waiting. You want to go on with your everyday. You try to. And some days you accomplish just that. But you wait by the phone. Every time your phone rings your stomach drops into your ass. You have multiple hospital numbers memorized by now. And you are clinging to the idea of hope.
I went for my MRI scan which was basically done to see if there was any lymph node involvement, and to see if the cancer was contained to the left breast like the other images were showing. I also met with the surgeon who I absolutely hated! That is when my family and I were on the hunt to find a new surgeon. My family threw out every option. Me moving to Philadelphia with my in-laws to get care. The possibility of getting a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic. Basically at this point you throw cost out the window and get to someone who can save your life. That is when I found an article online about a breast surgeon who was known as an innovator in breast cancer surgery. And as cancer luck would have it, that doctor was here in Savannah. I dialed his office so fast and explained my situation. They got me an appointment right away. But the thing was…..we were still waiting on pathology results from this last biopsy.
And we waited….and waited. This is when I knew I was in the wrong hands. Pathology shouldn’t be taking this long. I mean I think we were on 10 days at this point. When with my new surgeon he said he would have had results back in 24 hours. I called the current doctors office about four times a day. I needed those results to be able to move forward with my new surgeon.
Finally they came, but again, they were somewhat incomplete. We had most of my cancer characteristics, but there were still some pieces to the puzzle missing. What we did know, was that it was very aggressive and we had to move fast.
I finally met with my new surgeon and his team and upon a physical exam he determined that we now had lymph node involvement. In just three weeks we had images showing no involvement, to him being physically able to feel an enlarged lymph node. This cancer was pissed. After the exam Chris and I were called into a conference room and one by one that room filled up with doctors. They told me that I had Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and DCIS (meaning cancer cells still in the milk ducts). And then the room moved fast. Just in that day I was seen by five doctors, had more scans, ultrasounds, and labs. We needed to know a few more things about my cancer before we could decide on a treatment plan. So I had genetic testing done, and another biopsy on the lymph node.
My cancer is ER+, PR+, and HER2 +3. The triple threat.
As we were going through this my surgeon found a spot on my liver that he was concerned about as well. This is when I lost it. I was prepared to fight breast cancer, and that was about it. My family basically crumbled at this point. We now had to wait for more imaging on my liver to be able to proceed. My team of doctors said that we had to be thorough at this stage of the game, and to just focus on what we know. Another CT scan, and now a liver specialist added to the team, and everyone felt comfortable calling the point of concern a benign tumor. And as my oncologist said about my liver, we have bigger fish to fry right now. Because of that little detour we delayed a final treatment plan.
Then came hurricane Irma who ran us out of town, and again, delayed a start for treatment for another week.
Once we got back from the evacuation and the hospital was up and running again, I went in to have my chemo port placed. And started chemo a few days later.
Which brings us to now. I just finished my third round of chemo, WOO HOO!! And we are just chugging (which feels like limping at times) right along.
Feel free to ask me any questions. I have connected with so many women on social media that are going through, or have gone through this process, and I want to keep this conversation going!