My Breast Cancer Story Thus Far

I feel compelled to write, to write a lot, but it’s difficult. I feel like I’ve asked for enough prayers that that’s all the talking I should do. But I know that’s not right. On October 16th, 2015 I went for my yearly mammogram, although it had actually been 16 months. That was a Friday. On Tuesday of the next week my gyn office called to tell me that some suspicious areas had shown up in my right breast and they wanted to do more mammograms and ultrasounds. We set that up for the coming Friday, October 23rd. The mammograms were targeted to the specific areas of concern and didn’t take long. The ultrasound technician took a good 30 minutes looking at my breast tissue. I knew something was up. This wasn’t a shadow, or a fold in the skin that had gotten in the way. Then the radiologist came in and they spent another 30 minutes showing me what they’d found. The radiologist’s exact words to me were, “No matter what they (American Cancer Society) says, this is why we tell you to come for your mammogram every year. 16 months ago, these areas were not here. Now they are. If you had waited until next year, this WOULD have been a very big problem.” Red flag #1.

From the results of the ultrasound the radiologist ordered two core needle biopsies set for Wednesday, November 4th. Although I was scared, it was relatively painless. Two days later I called for my results and was told I had invasive ductal carcinoma. I was a bit surprised that they told me over the phone but glad they did. Actually, it was sort of funny. I called the Winship Breast Care Center at Emory where I’d had the tests done, and the nurse who answered immediately told me that there was good news. One of my biopsies was clear; the radiologist was just reviewing the other one and would call me back shortly. Hmmm…really? I just happened to call in the middle of MY particular two biopsies. No. Not that coincidental. I knew then what I was going to be told. And I was correct.

From that point an MRI was scheduled. The MRI showed a larger area that the mammogram and ultrasounds hadn’t elsewhere in the same breast so I was scheduled for my second core needle biopsy. The results of this were as I expected. More cancer. I had already met with a surgeon but to make a long story short, I just didn’t click with him. My gut was telling me to look for another surgeon. I call it my gut, but it was that still, small voice talking to me. God was guiding me in what to do. I made the call to get a change in surgeons. If I was going to have to be cut up, I wanted to be comfortable with my choice of surgeon. And believe me, I’ve been cut up plenty in my day! We had a meeting with the second surgeon (this after a PET scan, which fortunately showed no other sign of cancer in my body). I was happily pleased with this surgeon, a young Indian woman with personality and compassion. The other surgeon, I am sure, was excellent. But his background was life time Army until he came to Emory. He as very business-like. I needed a little more personality and I got that with Dr. Preeti Subhedar. I recommend her to anyone in my situation. She explained things in a way that the other surgeon had not. I had three areas of invasive ductal carcinoma, meaning the cancer had broken out of the milk ducts into the surrounding tissue in my breast. 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer area diagnosed with IDC.  One area was .08 cm, one was 1 cm, and the largest was 1.5 cm. I could have done chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumors and then do a lumpectomy to remove what remained. After talking to not only my surgeon but my clinical oncologist, my husband and I agreed that a right skin saving mastectomy was my best course of action. Again, my gut told me to GET IT OUT!!!

So, on Wednesday, December 22nd at 7:30 a.m., Dr. Subhedar performed my surgery. My Mom, my sister Jane, and my Dad came down to be with me. I woke up sore but in good spirits. I was strapped into a tight sports-like bra which had Velcro everywhere it needed to attach on the arms with front closing snaps. I was covered in steri-strips so it was difficult to see what I looked like. I was in the hospital until the next day when they sent me home with exercises to do and two lovely drains for lymph fluids and blood.

I’ve had several surgeries, but never have I been so dependent on my husband. Fortunately one of my friends from home who’d been through a double mastectomy a couple of years ago told me to get one of those small nail aprons from Lowes/Home Depot to hold the drains in. Genius! I got two (.77 each!). I got ready to take a shower the next day. I had had four lymph nodes removed too to make sure that there was no cancer metastasizing there so with all that, I was not supposed to lift my arm over my head. And I couldn’t twist without pain. Scott, my husband, had to remove my bra, help me remove my underwear, position the shower head, everything. When he removed my bra I saw myself in the mirror for the first time. Would that everyone see what this horrible disease called breast cancer does to a women’s body. It’s ugly. I felt broken and deformed. I broke into tears and Scott just held me while the shower ran. I finally got into the shower and wore one of the nail aprons with the drains in the pockets, took a gentle shower, letting the warm water and gentle soap just run over my broken chest. When I got out, Scott had to dry me off, get the wet apron off and the new dry one on. I have no idea how a woman without some type of amazing support could go through this.

I was out of work two weeks, which included the Christmas and New Year holidays. I was worried about going back to work. After a hugely rough physical year which included severe anemia, I was afraid my stamina just wasn’t there. Fortunately I’d been working 30 hours/week since about August 2015 because of the anemia. Once we found out I had cancer, my boss was happy to extend that arrangement for three more months.

Now, the biggie. My tissue was sent off to Genomic Health, the company that performs the OncoType-DX breast cancer genetic test which tests 21 chromosomes and estimates that possibility of recurrence of cancer. I went back to work on January 8th and did well. All this whole time, from the time I had to go back for a second look at my mammogram through all the testing, through my mastectomy and back to work, I’d done really well. One reason. Prayer. I reached out on Facebook, which most people might not do, and asked all of my friends for prayer. My Mom did the same as did my sister. I have no idea how many people prayed for me, but I will tell you this. I could feel God’s peace upon me each day. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t have bad days or worry or think about things to come, but they didn’t overwhelm me and my co-workers seemed to be amazed by this. When asked, I immediately told them why. Not just the support of friends and family, but specifically God’s grace. Hopefully I’ve had a chance to testify to God’s amazing grace through my faith during this time. If that’s why I’m going through this, I’m happy to do it. It’s not fun, it’s not happy, it’s emotional, it’s ugly. It’s just darn HARD. But God never said every day would be easy and He gave us this life to live.

My OncoType-DX test scores are back…14! That’s a good low score so I’m hoping when I see my oncologist this week that she agrees that I don’t need chemo or radiation. But if she suggests that one or both would be expedient or a good idea, I will go with her recommendation. Fortunately I’ve known her for 10 years. She’s gotten me through two spells of severe anemia, but her specialty is….yes, breast oncology. We’ll see what she has to say this week but I’m confident with whatever she says. Regardless of whether I need chemo or radiation, I will be on hormonal treatment. Fortunately my cancer was estrogen and progesterone + which means I am a good candidate for follow-up therapy with oral chemo. This chemo is nothing like intravenous chemo. It’s a pill, and the main side effect is softening of the bones. So I’m already taking extra calcium and vitamin D. Since I’m post-menopausal because of surgery in 2008, the most likely drug I will be put on is Arimidex.

God is good and Jesus loves me, you and every human being on this earth. He chooses to use some of us to witness and testify to others with out lives and the way we live through trials such as these. I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that my Lord and Savior will be with me every step of the way, holding me up and giving me the strength I need. I may not be Superwoman, but right now, I feel like I can do anything!!!

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