A Breast Cancer Journey - An Adventure!
In the beginning
July 29, 2013
I noticed that the fibroid cysts in my left breast were painful to the touch. Also that the area was reddened and dimpled. I started feeling the surrounding tissue for more lumps and found that a lymph node in my armpit was swollen. That's the moment. The moment that years of commercials have told you about. A life altering moment that you identify, then immediately try to deny. I did what most other people do - I tried to reason that maybe I just had an infection or something related to my period, so I would wait until my next period to see if they changed.
August 23, 2013
I called my doctor's office to ask if I could schedule my mammogram a few months early? The nurse asked me if there was a reason, so I told her about the painful area and the lymph node. She said "uh-oh". Can you imagine?? I told her she couldn't say that yet, because I haven't. She put me on hold for a couple of minutes and was back to tell me that I would be coming in the 27th for a mammogram and pap-smear. (it was due also)
I made the phone call while I was at work. I worked on an ambulance. So my partner, and friend was with me. I told him about it first and being a paramedic, he offered to check also. hahaha He is a good friend. He cried more than I did!! I also swore him to secrecy until I knew something definite. No need to get everybody in an uproar over nothing. So the rest of the shift was filled with patient care and jokes about me being bald. (if you don't know any paramedics personally, it does sound mean. But it is how we deal with stress)
"Place your breast here"
Went in to have pap-smear and then up to the next floor for the mammogram. And of course I had to have an ultrasound. Which wasn't anything unusual. The radiologist performed the ultrasound and I waited for him to read it. Yep, now I needed a biopsy. So that is scheduled for the 29th.
It's August 29, 2013
Back down to the hospital for an ultrasound guided biopsy. A hydraulic aided needle. It just goes right in the skin with little effort, the ultrasound shows its route. That was interesting!! A little discomfort, but not painful. And I am one of "those" that had to watch. Hey, might as well take advantage of a teaching moment, right? :) After all, I am a paramedic.
Now this is how "on it" that this particular hospital is. I was on my way home from the biopsy when I get a phone from a nurse navigator of the cancer center. I did not know they had this job position. She is assigned new patients and is the point of contact for questions or concerns. She is also there to assist you in finding your way through the hospital. Fortunately for me, I worked there. So she told me that she would be making my appoints to see her as well as my "care team". And that this would all take place on the same day to save me from making several 44 mile round trips. Wow! Efficient too.
Some risk factors to be aware of
Here is a list of most, but not all, risk factors that you should be aware of.
Gender – Simply being a female is a factor. Though men are at risk also, women are 100 times more likely due to having more estrogen and progesterone.
Age – The risk increases with age. Approximately 1 of 8 women under age 45 get invasive breast cancer. In women 55 and over, this increases to 2 of 3.
Genetics – 5% to 10% of cases are possibly hereditary. Meaning that you inherited a defective gene directly from a parent.
Family history – The chance goes up double if you have a direct relative that has had breast cancer (mother, daughter, or sister). If you have two or more direct relatives that have had it, the risk triples.
Race – Caucasian women have a slightly higher risk than African-American women, however African-American women are more likely to die. Under age 45 breast cancer is more common in African-American women.
Personal history – If a woman has cancer in one breast the risk of developing another cancer in the second breast increases 3-4 times. This is not a return of the first cancer.
Dense breast tissue – This means there is more fibrous and glandular tissue than fatty tissue in the breast. The risk goes up 1 – 2 times over women with less density.
As you can see there are a lot of factors to consider. And of course, always get your mammogram and contact you doctor if you have any questions or concerns. These risk factor do not mean you will get breast cancer, just that you have increased risk.
Please go to the American Cancer Society page for more information.
The phone call that changed my life forever
I got the phone call that would alter the rest of my life. The doctor on the other end of the phone had "that tone" in his voice. I knew - it was cancer. He explained what type of cancer I have and what the next steps would be. Most of that was like a dream. I was stuck back where he said, "I'm sorry to inform you that it is cancer". I was talking with him like I was talking about someone else, another patient, not me. We ended the conversation and I just sat there. Letting it go through my mind again and again. It is cancer, it is cancer. Me! I have cancer!!
After I recovered slightly from the shock, I went out to tell my oldest brother who lives with me. It was the second time in my life I have seen him cry. I told him everything that the doctor told me and what the plan was so far. I would be contacted by a nurse navigator from the hospital that will set up an appointment to see her as well as my "care team". Then my brother made me a cup of tea and I laid down to nap. I was worn out.
My boyfriend of 6 years was at work and I did not text him the news. He never text me to ask either. He knew I was going to be called before noon with the results and I'm sure after he didn't hear from me, he knew that it was cancer.
I waited for him to get home from work and headed over to tell him and (mostly) get support. I needed to be held and hold on to someone. We laid on his bed entwined together. I began with a sigh and said, "I guess I won't be moving to Belize in three years with you". And began to quietly cry while trying catch him up on the diagnosis and plans. He was great. He reminded me that I had a lot of tests to go through before any decisions are made. That we "have to take it one day at a time right now".
Accepting the diagnosis
By September 1, 2013
I was coming to terms with the diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I don't like knowing there is something inside of me that is trying to kill me - I want it out!! I was ready to move forward.
And questions? I have a lot of questions! "What will be my prognosis?", "How long will I be able to work?", "What will I do if I can not work?", "Am I going to lose my hair?", and "Will I look like a zombie by Halloween?" That would solve the problem of knowing what to be. (haha)
Tomorrow will be my first day back to work after being given the diagnosis and I need to tell everyone what is happening. I hope to take this experience and make it a learning one. For me as well as my co-workers.
Now, to call my second oldest brother - it is his birthday. I don't believe I explained that I am the youngest of five. That being said, I am 44. So none of us are young.
Back at work
September 3, 2013
At work today also. Yesterday morning was a bit rough. I went in a little bit early because I wanted to tell night shift before they ran out the door. We shared some tears and I shared the information I had so far.
Then it was time to tell day shift. I almost thought it may be better to tell them at the end of the day, but then thought that I was thinking too much of myself. So at the shift meeting, I told them what was going on. I had received a few texts asking me why I missed a couple days of work and that they hoped I was feeling ok. My friend that I usually worked with had kept his promise not to tell anyone, but was stressed for it. And after a few moments (literally) I told them my plans for being a zombie for Halloween. That made them laugh and gave them the go ahead to make jokes. I felt the tension ease and was thankful. Everyone was very supportive, lots of hugs and tears. I also reminded them of the saying, "the good die young" and that is why I would be around for quite some time.
As luck would have it, I make three trips to the cancer center that day. It was almost like something or someone wanted to make sure I knew I had cancer.
I knew an emergency room doctor that had a bilateral mastectomy and a DIEP so while it was slow I went to talk to her about it. I wanted her opinion. She grabbed me by the arm and we headed for a computer where she pulled up the website of her doctors and showed me the information they provided. She told me about her surgery and things I could expect.
Below you will find a link for the DIEP.
- DIEP Flap
Information on the DIEP reconstruction surgery. It's similar to a tummy tuck.
© 2015 Astra