The Cancer

Once it was discovered that I did in fact have cancer of the left breast, and that it had spread to at least one lymph node, the game was afoot. I was now officially a cancer patient, dutifully subjecting myself to endless tests, procedures and appointments.

I remember thinking how surreal it all felt talking to the nurse navigator. On learning of my diagnosis, she handed me a bag filled with all kinds of goodies to take home…magazines, books, catalogs, a seatbelt cushion for after surgery, among other things.  I felt like I was at some kind of twisted birthday party with really bad party favors. Seriously, I was thinking that this was all a really big crock of shit. Cancer is big business that makes people very rich. I resented being patronized and made to feel like people earning billions of dollars from this whole process “cared” about me and wanted to give me free stuff out of the kindness of their hearts.

But I digress .. after my biopsy I had a bone scan and a chest CT scan at the end of March to make sure that the cancer hadn’t escaped the lymph nodes and spread. Thankfully, it hadn’t. At that point, I was so numb from the shock of the diagnosis that I truly would not have been surprised if they had told me it was metastatic. I was steeling myself for that reality. Next stop surgery.

On April 4, I had a double mastectomy with left axillary node dissection. Lumpectomy was not an option for me because there were diffuse areas of calcifications throughout the breast in addition to the tumor. I chose to remove the right breast as well, even though it was healthy, because I couldn’t live with a constant fear of recurrence. I just wasn’t that attached to my boobs.

I went home the following day with an ace bandage wrapped tightly around my chest and 4 drains resembling hand grenades protruding from my body. I waited patiently for the call that would tell me what “stage” my cancer was at, hoping that my connections in the pathology lab would expedite the process.

All of my imaging studies had picked up 3 enlarged lymph nodes under the left arm. I knew from talking to the pathologist that I could have up to 4 affected nodes and still be stage II, so having only 3 would be good news.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait long for that call. The phone rang shortly after 2:30. I held my breath as the surgeon started to speak. “We got all of the cancer..we removed 16 lymph nodes and 8 had tumor cells in them…” What!?! I’m sure he said something else but I stopped hearing him at that point. 8 nodes??? How could that be? They only saw 3! I went upstairs, closed the bathroom door, and cried. Eight nodes was a world of difference from three. It meant that I had Stage III breast cancer, not Stage II. It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but for all of you who have spent countless hours researching survival statistics, as I have, it meant to me in that moment the difference between being at my girls’ weddings and perhaps not even seeing my youngest finish elementary school. I wiped my eyes and went back downstairs to find my kids. I sat between them on the couch and just stared at them and ruffled their hair as they chattered away about the silly innocent things of childhood. And I truly appreciated them, maybe for the first time.

10 thoughts on “The Cancer

  1. I can relate so much to your story, as I had very similar experiences. And the way you describe it, well, I just love that. (Grenades is a perfect analogy!!) I ended up being Stage III also, but more because of the size of my tumor (8cm) than for the lymph nodes (only 1 micro metastasis). I had opted for a double mastectomy for the same reasons as you. Seriously… did NOT want to go through this a second time. Here’s to renewed health!

  2. Too much to read online technically and it goes over my head, but reading your story, actually helps more. I was just diagnosed August 22 and feel like the new kid on the block. Interestingly, I had started running (slowly) to do a 5k, didn’t know which one, but guess it will be a breast cancer one coming up just before my surgery. Writing about it does feel good. Wish you a speedy recovery.

    • Thanks for visiting. I’m very sorry about your diagnosis, and I’m glad that my story helps a little. The beginning of this journey is the scariest, but you will get through it. Please write if you want to talk or just need to vent. Let me know how you’re doing.

  3. I’m sad to say that your story hits home with me. I too am a runner, biker, wife and active mother of 3. I’m a very active person who also thought it was stress and always being on the go was the reason for my lack of energy! I did a few 5k’s and my annual duathlon in June. Again, I too figured it was my age (43) catching up to me, not allowing me to increase my speed. After numerous visits to the doctor and then a specialist, 2 mammograms AND 2 ultrasounds showed nothing but fibrous tissue changes, as they kept referring to. I even questioned what I thought was an enlarged lymph node to the specialist. Her words, “I wouldn’t be too concerned, it’s not uncommon to have an enlarged lymph node from time to time”. I left that 2 ultrasound (May 2013) in tears, as they reassured me that I was just fine. By the end of July, significant other changes took place in my breast, but I was trusting them! I got my diagnosis on August 16, 2013, researching the different staging and not knowing until I went for further testing. Initially we were hopeful for a stage IIB, but after the MRI showed it was 9cm that went out the window! Next was the PET, and on August 23, 2013 they said that my cancer had metastasized to my bones. WTF?! Sorry! I trusted these people, and I’m still in shock! Needless to say, they are NOT part of my team, nor were they ever my trusted doctors, only people I had been referred to.

    I wish you the best in your fight and recovery. Sorry to have gone into so much detail, but it helps me to get it out there. I’m doing well with the chemo. I’m working and still doing everything I used to. Yes, my house is cluttered, but I don’t care. I just felt that your story was so similar to mine. I need hopeful stories to keep my spirits up! My emotions are all over place!

    Thank you for sharing.
    Lori

    • Lori, I’m so very sorry to hear about this, but I can feel your determination in your writing. I also did pretty well with chemo. I kept on running to feel in control of one small piece of my life when everything else was up to “them”. I sure didn’t do any 5k’s but I never quit.

      I’m not completely through treatment, but having finished chemo, I can tell you that you will feel so much better before you know it.

      If you want to read a truly positive story, which it sounds like you could use at the moment, get “A Race For Life” by Ruth Heidrich. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in her 40’s and went on to do ironmans. She’s alive and kicking. Caution: This book will make you question conventional treatment, but I understand, like you, that we have to do everything possible with kids to raise.

      E-mail me if you want to talk or just need a shoulder:
      drlisamallen@yahoo.com.

  4. First of all I am so very sorry for all of you who have endured this deadly disease. I also had stage 2 breast cancer and opted to have them both removed as I was so scared it would come back in the 2nd. Mine was estrogen positive as well. It had not progressed to my lymph nodes but when I awoke from surgery with those 4 grenades I was told he took out 12 nodes just to be sure. I opted out of chemo or radiation and was put on arimidex which is a chemo drug and had such severe pain in my hips I could not walk. I am on a 6 week clean out and they will then try another drug and I do not know what to do. I have no one to talk with about this who really listens to my fears and I am so happy to be with fellow survivors though I wish none of us were here because of cancer. I am going to pray for all of you! GOD bless and enjoy this day!
    Ellen

    • Hi Ellen,
      I’m so glad you stopped by, and you always have someone here to talk to! I decided against any of the hormone blockers after the research I did. I felt like I had endured enough and just wanted to get back to normal. Of course, it’s a very individual decision, but I don’t hear very many positive things from people who take them. To my way of thinking, quality of life is just as important as quantity. Good luck.

      Lisa

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