The Big C

I have The Big C. Cancer. Breast cancer. I know, right? I don’t even have boobs…

It was definitely a shock; I’m still trying to accept it. I’ve decided to write about it since you’re all along on this crazy journey with me anyway. It will help me get it out, process it and keep people informed. And it might help someone else going through the same thing.

So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?

I’ll start off with the good news, which is I have two things going for me in this battle: up until now I was healthy {“medically boring” as my surgeon said,} and we caught it early. Now I’ll give you the bad news – the breast cancer I have one of the hardest to treat. I have learned more about breast cancer over the last few weeks than I ever wanted to know and now I’m about to share it with you.

The Big C Breast CancerScreensaver made by one of my best friends’ daughters. I can’t wait to hit Close…

The Diagnosis

Back in April, I was laying down and rolled over on my right side. An excruciating pain starting in my breast went through my entire body. I thought my bra was on too tight. I’m not even kidding. When the pain never really went away by the next day, I started feeling around.

I found what I would consider a huge lump, about the size of a quarter. It made my blood run cold. I now know, this is what the medical profession considers a small lump. I Googled “sore lump in your breast” and found out if it hurts, most likely it’s not cancer. The few people I told also said the same thing. Apparently, this is common knowledge. Well, it’s false.

When I called to schedule an appointment with my doctor, no one seemed concerned that I found a lump in my breast. I saw her two weeks later. She confirmed it was a lump, told me not to freak out that it was most likely benign, or a cyst they could drain. She ordered a mammogram and ultrasound, which happened two weeks later.

Again, they confirmed there was a lump, and I was told with 98% certainty that it was not cancer. Whew, exactly what I wanted to hear. The Radiologist showed me on the ultrasound what they look for when identifying cancerous tumors, and mine didn’t have any of the characteristics. He told me to come back every six months for two years and if nothing changed I was in the clear. I said it hurt {it still does but not as bad as the beginning} and I was just supposed to live with it?

He said yes, or I could have it removed, but most women just lived with it. My gut told me this sounded stupid so I asked if I could have a biopsy. He said that was definitely an option. I said my yearly mammogram was in eight weeks, could I just do both at that time or should I come earlier for the biopsy? He said he didn’t see any reason to rush and if I wanted to consolidate it into one trip, he was okay with that. So that’s what I did.

He did warn me that if the lump felt noticeably larger that I was to come in immediately. I did notice about a week before my appointment that it felt kind of bigger, I wasn’t sure, so I just decided since I was going in soon anyway, it wasn’t an emergency.

At the beginning of July, we did a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy. He told me it seemed a little bigger to him and I agreed. He said he would call with the results the next day and he called with the results the next day – “I’m sorry to tell you it is cancer.”

He asked me to get a pen and started giving me a lot of information. I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. They believed it was Stage I or II – that there was no indication it had gone beyond the breast. It was however, a high grade cancer. On a scale of 1 – 3, one being the slowest moving and three being the fastest moving, it’s a three.

My next step was a consultation with the surgeon. I would also get a call from a Care Coordinator who would help guide me through the process. She called within half an hour of the diagnosis and things have been crazy ever since.

My Team

These are all the amazing people taking care of me, or will be taking care of me in the future:

  1. Surgeon
  2. Oncologist
  3. Care Coordinator
  4. Social Worker
  5. Financial Advisor
  6. Another Care Coordinator for chemo appointments
  7. Dietician
  8. Physical Therapist
  9. Genetic Counselor
  10. Radiologist
  11. Oncology Cardiologist
  12. Plastic Surgeon
  13. General Practitioner for anxiety medication…

I think that’s all of them. Needless to say, my phone has been ringing off the hook and each and every one of them has been nothing but compassionate and kind.

This all happened on the Friday before the holiday weekend, so I saw the surgeon the following Tuesday. She’s amazing and I felt a little relief once I spoke with her. She did discover a swollen lymph node in my right arm, but since that was the arm I had my COVID shot in, she told me not to panic. They were seeing a lot of this with the vaccine and she didn’t want me to freak out. It meant the vaccine was doing its job, but it was also concerning to a lot of women. FYI – I felt the lump before my vaccine. They did ask about that as well.

Ok, here’s where things get tricky and here’s where I got a lesson in, I think, physiology?

We know what type of breast cancer I have, but there are other factors as well. What is the cancer “feeding” off? It’s either hormones, or HER2 protein. My hormone tests {estrogen and progesterone} came back negative. Actually, the progesterone test was positive, but it’s such a low percentage, we’re counting it as negative. My HER2 test was inconclusive and had to be sent back for further testing.

If the HER2 test was positive, it is treated one way. If the HER2 test was negative, it is treated another, therefore they needed a firm result one way or another. Regardless, I was looking at chemo and surgery.

I then met with the oncologist a few days later. Also amazing. Both of these women have a lot of experience and great training, and they are young {I promise never to say anything bad about Millennials again.} Both of these women are tasked with saving my life.

When I realized I may have triple negative cancer {something I had never heard of until a month or so before,} I had a meltdown. The oncologist talked me off the ledge. She specializes in HER2 cancers, and in her words, “It’s my job to cure you.” When she questioned the two month gap between my first mammogram and my diagnosis, she looked me in the eye and told me to trust my gut, even with anything she tells me. She then ordered a bunch of tests.

These people are not messing around.

First up, I had surgery to put a port in my neck {it’s actually under my collarbone} for the chemo and anything else that requires the use of a needle. I had a PET scan and a brain MRI. All clear, the cancer has not spread and the lymph node actually was just swollen. I had a heart ultrasound to make sure my heart can withstand chemo, and finally a breast MRI.

On Friday, my HER2 test came back negative. That means, all three test were negative, hence triple negative breast cancer. Don’t Google it, most of it’s not good {except all hail the Queen, Robin Roberts who also had triple negative Stage I breast cancer and look at her now.}

If it’s hormones, they shut off your hormones. If it’s the HER2 protein, they infuse you with medication that stops the cancer cells from feeding off the protein. Because they don’t know what’s feeding my cancer, they don’t know exactly how to treat it, so they treat it in the traditional ways.

I have been reassured triple negative cancer responds well to chemo. I’m also going to listen to my oncologist since this is what she does for a living.

Now that we know it’s triple negative, it’s either genetic or environmental. I do my genetic testing next month. I’ll go into the environmental stuff later, but growing up next to a plant that built plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs might have something to do with it.

I start 16 weeks of chemotherapy tomorrow.

How Can I Help?

I keep getting asked this question and to be honest, I don’t know right now. Also, since I have been asked several times, yes, I have insurance.

I have been told to keep up with social engagements, that getting out and being with friends, talking about something besides cancer, is going to be very important. My Bible Study ladies are starting a meal train, my best friends have offered to take me to chemo appointments. My other best friends who live elsewhere are calling or sending me uplifting text messages that make me cry, or sending me fruit and flowers, books and sweaters to keep me warm.

I have an amazing support system with my family and friends, but if you believe in God, then please pray for me.

There are no two ways around this, it sucks. Even my cat is depressed. And telling your teenage daughter you have breast cancer is as fun, and got the same reaction as, telling her seven-year-old self her parents were getting divorced. We are being positive and I whole heartedly believe I will beat this. Mindset is going to play a big part in my recovery.

And rest assured, when this is all over, my new boobs and I are going on an epic beach vacation. By epic, I mean sitting in a beach chair, staring at the ocean and not moving for days. You’re welcome to join me if you wish.

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