Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Initial Diagnosis: Breast Cancer
So....it all began when a dear friend and colleague of mine told me just a few weeks ago that she had breast cancer. I was shocked and extremely upset by this news. I immediately started remembering what it was like to watch my late boyfriend, David, battle and ultimately be taken by cancer in 1998. It was a life changing experience for me to be involved in David's journey. It taught me that it's never too late to do or be what you want to be - no matter what your age or past - as long as you're committed to getting it done. You see, David had been so many things in his short life of 44 years - a sheriff, an attorney, a speed skater, an investment sales professional and executive, and much more. And he was excellent at every one of those roles. He had determination, optimism, passion, in spite of being told he had 4-6 months to live when he was first diagnosed. 2.5 years later he was still fighting. I loved him and it was heart breaking to see him go through what he went through for cancer treatment and to ultimately lose him. I knew I hadn't done a self exam in a while, largely because it has been difficult to figure out what feels "normal" since my breasts have changed so much over the past year and a half due to the pregnancy and breast feeding and post-pregnancy changes occurring from the rapid increase then decrease in hormones. Regardless, it was time to check things out again. I proceeded with the self exam, which always just seems so crazy to me since you don't really know what you're feeling that should or shouldn't be in there and with all the hormonal changes and different times of the cycle that change the density of the breasts, I never really trusted that my self-exams were useful. I felt something small in my right breast but then couldn't find it again when I tried. I decided it was too important to ignore it and called my doctor. He told me not to bother coming to see him and that he'd fax a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram order over to the local breast imaging center. My appointment was Wednesday, May 27, 2009. I arrived for the appointment feeling good, feeling optimistic. I still couldn't locate what I had felt so I was convinced it was probably one of those fibroids that come and go with the menstrual cycle. I figured that it was time for a baseline look anyway and to start having annual screenings. I actually have been asking my doctors to order a mammogram for me since my late twenties after I watched David suffer but every time I was told "You're too young....and since you have no family history of breast cancer it's not indicated." Okie dokie. My boobs were handled by the technician, placed into a plastic vice and smooshed every which way. It wasn't painful at all - just strange. Once the mammogram was done I was brought to the sonogram room where the tech asked me again to point to where it was I felt something. She didn't see anything there but decided to check the other side "just in case". Of course, looking back I now know it wasn't "just in case" - she saw something in the mammogram images. She moved the wand over my left breast firmly and said "did you feel that?" as she went over a bump. I did feel it - just then, but never before (and not since then either). She looked at the monitor which showed a big black blob. It looked gigantic. I said "what's that?", and she said "the radiologist is going to want to sample this." Oh lovely. She said she'd be right back and left the room to speak with the radiologist. When she returned she explained what a core needle biopsy was and how it would be done and asked if I wanted it that day or another day. I told her to get it done now. She left the room to contact my doctor's office to request the order so we could do it. I laid on the table for what felt like an eternity, thinking about all the possible things that this could be - giant fibroid (benign), infected milk duct (after all, breast feeding was a disaster for me), tumor (holy shit). Twenty minutes later a tall doctor entered the room with the technician and brashly stated "We're pretty worried about this." My heart sank and I was speechless. Now, if you know me fairly well you know that "speechless" generally is not a trait that describes me. It did then. He explained the procedure and all I could do was nod and say "OK" over and over. I was stunned and terrified. The procedure didn't hurt at all and it was fast. They gave me after care instructions and said that results would be sent to my doctor within 24-48 hours. Bob was away working so I was alone with Cooper that night. I couldn't sleep. I was short of breath (panic attack) for the entire night. I prayed and prayed and prayed that it was nothing to worry about. In the morning I held on to the fact that Bob would be home that night and I wouldn't be alone when the results would come back since they said Friday or Monday is when we'd get the results.. Thursday night, before Bob got home, my gynecologist called me. I had just been to the neighbor's house and the phone rang as I walked in the door with Cooper, my 11 month old son, in my arms as I grabbed the phone. "Hi Julie, It's Dr.N. I spoke with the pathologist and it's cancer." He went on to tell me what to do next - stop taking birth control pills, contact a surgeon (gave me a name and offered more names if needed), and told me it would be OK because he thinks we got it early though that was yet to be determined. Damnit is all I kept thinking and saying over and over once I hung up the phone. I walked right back out of the house and across the street to my neighbor's house so I wouldn't be alone with this information while waiting for Bob to get home. I kept thinking how can this be!? Holy shit! OMG! No! On Thursday, May 28, 2009, I was diagnosed with Ductal Invasive Carcinoma, negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors, HER2 status not yet known but pending. It was that same week, 11 years ago, that David lost his battle cancer. Unbelievable.