This is my story. On September 22nd, 2011 at 37 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had never been sick in my life, never had surgery, no chronic or acute health problems. I had all my body parts (including the ones that are usually taken throughout ones life). I’ve never smoked, always wore SPF, and drank wine socially. I ate kale and took my vitamins. I was a runner, actually enjoyed exercising and I recycled! What do you mean I have breast cancer?
Official diagnosis: ER+ at 95% PR+ at 49% HER2/neu – Ki-67 at 97% 5/16 lymphnodes + Grade III Stage IIIA Multifocal Metastatic IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma). Multifocal means I had a large tumor at 1.4 cm and several small satellite tumors surrounding it.
During this time, my friends and family…. my amazing friends and family had a benefit for me as my OOP (out of pocket) expense was quite high. Pearle for Pink, CCNN, family and my peeps helped immensely with my healthcare finances so I was able to focus on me. I cannot express how much you all mean to me! I love you.
Some of my favorite quotes:
Hunsberger (best friend) ” Can I at least see ’em before they go?”
Shauna (sister) ” Cancer is your new Bitch!”
DJ (close cousin) “Just take em off shelbs. I’ll put new ones on and I want you around more than stupid cancer.”
Angie Coker (close cousin) ” Shiiiiiit… really? You’re the one out of all us who takes care of them selves. this sucks!”
My first surgery ever in my life was a Lumpectomy with LAND (Left Axillary Node Dissection) . After my LLAND, I was not able to raise my arm above my shoulder. This is expected and with daily excercises, full ROM (range of motion) should come back. While I was waiting for my staging scans (nuclear bone and CT w/wo contrast), I was writing my ‘thank you’ notes and met a woman who was fighting her second battle with cancer. Like me, she had had lymph nodes removed. I asked her how long it was before her ROM came back. She said it never had and her lymph node surgery was 2 yrs prior. OH HELL NO, I WILL NOT ACCEPT THAT! I immediately focused on those exercises and within a couple weeks was able to raise my arm well above shoulder. Take that stupid cancer!
In an effort to preserve my option to have children, I decided to freeze my eggs. Because of my age, I was sitting on the fence whether my monthly cycles would return to normal after chemo-pause (chemo induced menopause) or not return at all. So, I consulted with a fertility specialist, received ‘special non-hormone’ shots to produce more eggs (thank you Liz for those morning and afternoon pokes!). Timing is everything and I had 2 viable eggs retrieved and shoved in a freezer the second week of November.
I received my first chemo on November 22nd 2011. Dose Dense AC/T (Adriamyacin, Cytoxin and Taxol) every 2 weeks for 8 treatments. Yes, I lost my hair but didn’t really lose my shit until my eyebrows and eyelashes fell out 3 weeks after chemo was done! Chemo side effects are manageable. I hated the hot-flashes, night sweats and mouth sores! I didn’t really lose my desire to eat or my taste buds until #5. Taxol hurt, bone pain wise usually 2 days after treatment. And I will never forget my special friends helping me off my island lol 🙂 My last chemo was February 29th, 2012!
In March, I was learning how to draw in eyebrows and glue eyelashes on while preparing for XRT. side note – I absolutely did not want to have radiation. It took months of cajoling and my medical team threatening to stage a coup for me to agree. XRT is permanent, forever damage to cells. In the human body, cells regenerate every day with or without chemo. Not so with XRT, those cells will never be healthy again.. My doctors got smart and figured out how to reach my analytical mind with statistics and ultimately they won.
So, while I was preparing for XRT to start in April 2012 (includes numerous scans, stupid pin-point tattoos) I decided to move on with my normal health care stuff ie. dentist appts, yearly exams which includes a mammogram etc. I’m shopping for bathing suits at Scheels, getting ready for summer cuz I’ll be done with ALL of my treatment by May 2012 and Dr. Chu calls me (aka The Surgeon) saying there’s some questionable markers showing up in my left breast and we need to do an MRI. okee-dokee, probably just scar tissue…. I mean, I just completed the Cadillac of all breast cancer chemo treatments right? next day MRI, done. She calls later that night and says there is a larger tumor 3.6 CM in my left breast and we need to talk about a mastectomy.
ummm…. pardon me what? I don’t understand. How could this happen? I just finished chemo. I’ve FINALLY accepted XRT and you say what? I’m supposed to go to Mexico with my friends and parade around in a bikini, I can’t do that with no boobs! We agreed to breast conserving treatment and this is not part of that agreement! CANCER-SHMANCER, you can not take away my perky boobs, I love them! I love my figure! I can shop off the rack and rarely have to try anything on. I love that! I like parading around my house in my pretty bras and panties and I won’t get to do that with no boobs! I’m single, how do I tell someone I want to be intimate with about this? I love my cleavage! NO! THIS IS MY LIMIT! I can deal with the cancer, I’m tough but I can not deal with a mastectomy! NO!
April 2012 was a very long and emotionally exhausting month. On May 16th, 2012 I had a bi-lateral mastectomy. By far the hardest decision I have ever made in my life. It is a very personal decision and different for every woman. Props to my cousin DJ in Spokane. At the time, he was a P.A. (physician’s assistant) specializing in plastic surgery. I had asked him about only doing one side as there was no real concern with the cancer spreading to my right breast, will they look the same. My plastic surgeon said he can make the breasts symmetrical. DJ said, ” Just take them both off. They will never look the same because one side is your tissue, your real breast and the other is not. We can get close but they will never be the same. ” Because of his medical experience and advice, I chose a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Fortunately, I qualified for immediate breast implants as I was STILL supposed to have XRT (you’d think I’d get a pass after this roller coaster) . For my comfort, having breast implants vs. skin expanders for a year would be better.
Recovery was easy peasy and I was back to work 10 days after surgery. I started External Beam XRT in July 2012. My first day, I came out of the dressing room in my lovely hospital gown and there, leaning against the wall was my Radiology Technician, a beautiful man, a young Brad Pitt from Thelma and Louise and I had an instant melt down. Who is this handsome man? He has never been at my other XRT prep appointments. Before breast cancer, I would have hit on him and oh shit he’s gonna see me without my top on. There needs to be a law somewhere that no one that beautiful can work in healthcare! I have often thought about him. He wasn’t there anymore after that first treatment. SMRMC was going through some changes and unfortunately he lost his job. After that, my daily Rad Tech was a gay man and he was fabulous! He was sensitive and funny and helped me endure those stupid sessions.Thank you God for hearing my selfish plea! Needless to say, XRT sucked no matter how much fun my rad tech was. The exhaustion was unrelenting and the blisters on my sun protected skin were quite painful. I received treatments 5 days a week for 35 sessions. Once, the machine needed to be cleaned and I got a break in the middle of the week and was so thankful. I secretly hoped it happened more regardless of how important it was to be consistent with treatment to kill the cancer cells. I hoped they recognized that I was not on a Saturday schedule but nope, they are so smart, they said I needed to come in to make up for the missed day. Bastards! I clearly hated radiation treatment and would choose chemo over XRT any day.
I was done with all treatment in August 2012. I was classified NED (No Evidence of Disease) on September 16th 2012 and started taking Tamoxifen right away. Tamoxifen is the gold standard drug in fighting hormone positive breast cancer. It prevents Estrogen from binding to the cancer cells thus allowing those cells to grow. Super great drug, lots of side effects.
soooo…….. what happens now?