After a little over eight years, I thought it time I start blogging about that dreaded disease I had the displeasure to experience, which seems so long ago. Yes, folks, I’m talking about cancer. Breast cancer to be more specific. Or as I called them, “The Intruders”. I remember it like it was yesterday. The norm was to have your first mammogram at the age of forty, so a month after I turned that golden age, I schedule my first mammogram. The day came, and I was a little nervous not knowing what to expect. Thank goodness, the technician had wonderful bedside manners, and was very compassionate all the while explaining what was happening step-by-step. The standard procedure is to be notified at a later date after two radiologists read the film results.
I ended up receiving written correspondence from the facility. After reading it, I wasn’t really too concerned because I had no clue what they were referring to. Meaning I didn’t know if it was minor or major. Needless to say, it meant more procedures were necessary to rule out anything suspicious found in my left breast. Microcalcifications that resembled a cluster of stars, on the film, were discovered. The radiologist attempted to perform an out-patient procedure, a stereotactic biopsy, which was unsuccessful. Okay, no problem. Soon thereafter, February 8, 2007, and under general anesthesia, the general surgeon performed an excisional biopsy. I was impressed with the incision and stitches – lol! That was on a Thursday. Monday afternoon, an hour before picking up my sons from school, the surgeon calls. I swear, he sounded extremely nervous over the phone, like a kid being caught doing something he shouldn’t have. He nervously, but calmly, told me that pathologists found breast cancer in the tissue removed. My entire body immediately felt numb and my mind was clouded. I instinctively reached for a pen and paper, writing down all that I heard, but wasn’t completely comprehending. I was diagnosed with having Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). Meaning, the cancer cells were non-invasive in my milk duct, stage 0, cribriform pattern and fairly aggressive at grade 2. Amazingly enough, I was told I’d endure another surgery to remove more tissue, followed by radiation treatments and five years of medication, Tamoxifen. I cried for one hour and while driving to pick up my kids. Then I was done. My feelings turned and I was ready to fight. So, I did what any woman would do, go on the internet and research the hell out of this DCIS!
I had issues with insurance for over a month, but I won’t get into the details. My human resources crew worked their wonders and I got what I needed. I was referred by a family-friend surgeon, to have my surgery performed by a Chief of Surgical Oncology. Surgeons know surgeons, so of course I had a consultation and moved forward. My re-excisional, segmental mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy was scheduled for April 5, 2007.
During my first postoperative visit, the pathology report was not complete. A few days later, the surgeon called me. Again, why do these men sound so nervous over the phone? Come to find out that my margins were clear, but were very close. I asked, “How close is close, doctor?” I swear he gulped before telling me by one millimeter. My heart sunk to my stomach upon hearing this. A surgeon’s preferred margin is one centimeter. At this point, I was upset and wanted to cry, but instead asked him what’s next? He told me no more surgery was needed, have my radiation treatments, and take the medication as directed by my hematology oncologist. What I really wanted to yell at him over the phone was, “Why the FUCK didn’t you just take more tissue you stupid idiot!!” He’s actually one of those surgeons who try to preserve the breast if he’s able to. Whatever.
Fast forward, I had 39 radiations treatments, which I referred to endearingly as “tanning sessions”. At my first treatment, I was EXTREMELY nervous. I eventually ended up going out on disability as my energy level was constantly drained, which I wasn’t used to. My co-workers were very supportive, and brought meals twice a week for those nights my husband was at school. I don’t know why, but I felt insignificant in comparison to the other cancer patients. I felt like because I didn’t need chemotherapy, that I wasn’t really a cancer patient. I don’t know why I felt that way. A co-worker of mine told me that cancer is cancer and that what I was diagnosed with doesn’t make it any less of a disease. She was going through chemotherapy at that time.
I endured five years of tamoxifen, which rewarded me with having to experience menopause symptoms. My first hot flash was very memorable. I was in a small meeting and my supervisor was talking to all of us, and it just hit me out of nowhere. Major burning sensation from my chest up to the top of my head! I didn’t say a word, but was freaking out inside!
On radiation graduation day, and to thank my wonderful nurse and radiation technicians, I surprised them with a “THANK YOU” written in red on my right breast along with my signature heart! They had a good laugh at my sense of humor! Then I asked them to autograph my left breast for posterity!
(I apologize if this photo offends anybody, but I had to have a sense of humor during all of this)
I continue to have my annual exams, and everything has always checked out fine. My chances of recurrence was within those first five years, but I still feel it’s my responsibility to take care of my own health. Eating right and exercising play very important roles for everyone!
Please feel free to ask me any questions. I don’t mind sharing my experiences with anybody. Thanks for reading this!