I Have Been Diagnosed With Breast Cancer
I'm Still in a State of Disbelief
In the fall of 2019, I was told by a radiologist over the phone that I have low-grade invasive ductal carcinoma. What does that mean exactly? It means I have breast cancer in my milk ducts on my left breast. I had gone for a follow-up mammogram, but many female friends told me that they had also had follow-up mammograms, and it was nothing. So I wasn't too worried.
But after that, I was told they needed to do a biopsy on a dark area on my left breast. The radiologist said there was a 50/50 chance it was cancer. The other possibility was that it was scar tissue from a past infection. Since I had nursed three children, and often had had the beginning stages of mastitis, I was pretty sure that's what it was and tried not to worry. But as promised, three days after the biopsy, I received a phone call with the results of the biopsy. The results were that I have breast cancer.
That was ten days ago. It's still hard for me to accept. During those ten days my emotions have been up and down and I feel like I am just treading water until we see the surgeon. On my down days, I spend too much time on the internet. I joined a Facebook Breast Cancer Support Group because they don't have any breast cancer support groups I can go to nearby. The trouble is, there are some horror stories out there and I have read some and it scares me. On the nights I have read the posts before bed, I have trouble falling asleep. Although I try not to think about it, many different thoughts about breast cancer pop into my head. I learned throughout the week to stay off Facebook at night. On my up days, I laugh a lot, make boob jokes, and spend time with my husband and as many dogs as I can find to pet since we don't currently own a dog.
Apparently, everyone's breast cancer is different. And therefore, each recommended treatment is suggested based on their cancer. I don't even know how to explain the differences, other than some breast cancers are genetic-based and some are hormone-based. I don't know what mine is, but there should be more information based on that pathology report which the surgeon will have at my appointment.
I have 52 questions to ask the surgeon.
Appointment with the Breast Cancer Surgeon
I went to the breast cancer surgeon and at the end of the consult, I was more confused than ever. My cancer is a low grade, slow-growing invasive ductal carcinoma. The size is 5 millimeters, which is approximately 1/2 a centimeter. That's pretty small to be causing this much trouble, but I am grateful and feel blessed that they caught it so early.
My surgeon is recommending a lumpectomy with radiation, and medication to lower my estrogen levels for 5 years afterward. I asked about a mastectomy and she said that is very aggressive since my cancer is so small. But a lumpectomy would include radiation and I am afraid of radiation and how it might affect my heart if they miss. I have researched it and read that radiation could also cause heart issues in the future. It also can cause the breast to have issues like being hard, lumpy, misshapen, or have a red or brown tinge to it. And often the skin of the radiated breast loses all sensitivity.
Plus it feels like radiation is poison to my body. I told her that and she said that while it IS poison to my body, it does kill cancer cells. I imagine myself lying on the radiation table for every session with a tear running down my cheek from the corner of my eye into my hair...you know that type of tear...because I will be allowing them to shoot poison into my body.
A mastectomy would remove the breast, but would most likely avoid the need for radiation or chemo. I am not necessarily that attached to my breasts at the age of 59. They have served their purpose which to me was always to nurse my three babies. My "three babies" are now all in their twenties and so my breasts have done their main job!
One of the things I am anxious about with a mastectomy is that it is more of a major surgery, could possibly cause an infection, and would need drains for anywhere from one to three weeks. Drains that I would have to empty myself. Sorry if that's a little too gruesome for you. It is gruesome to me too. But I would rather empty drains than die of breast cancer!
And remember those 52 questions I wanted to ask the surgeon? She answered a lot of them during the session, but I was so confused by her push to get me to agree to a lumpectomy and not a mastectomy, that I forgot to ask some of them. I brought my husband with me because it's important to have an extra person with you at the doctor's appointments to listen for anything you might have missed. Between the two of us, we gained a lot of information, but when you are talking about something as serious as cancer, it's easy to get overwhelmed and forget some of what was said, or as in my case, forget to write down what was said.
My nurse navigator told me to make a list of pros and cons of each procedure, and that will help me to decide. So I will, and am going to ask my husband Chuck to as well in case he can think of anything that I forgot.
Breast Cancer Is Like a Roller Coaster Ride
Being told that you have breast cancer begins a roller coaster ride of emotions and making decisions that could mean life or death. I was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks ago today. Since then, I have had good days and I have had bad days. On the good days, I am surprised that I have happy moments and even laugh. On the bad days, I have moments of despair, confusion about what the plan should be, and feelings of numbness.
It seems everyone is wanting to help and tell me their story or refer me to a friend who has gone through the breast cancer experience. That is helpful, but the odd thing is that I don't want to actually talk on the phone about the experience or what I am feeling. I don't mind writing about it through texts, emails, or Facebook Instant Messages, but I can't talk on the phone. They say breast cancer is different for every woman, and that's definitely true. I love to write, and so it's easier for me to write than talk. But another woman might feel better talking about it rather than writing. I seem to be able to talk to strangers about my breast cancer easier than people that know me and love me. I know it will make me cry, and I have already shed a lot of tears since I was diagnosed. I just don't want to hear pity in people's voices. It will push me over an emotional edge.
I think that once I do decide what I want to do, I will feel a lot better. Having a plan that I get to decide on will help me feel more in control.
More to come as I go through this breast cancer journey. Stay tuned...
Genetic Counseling Appointment
Although my breast cancer surgeon was on the fence about whether or not I should get genetic testing, I decided to do it anyway. It will give me more information about what type of surgery I should have, and whether or not my children have to be seen for mammograms earlier than normal.
The genetic counselor sat across a table from me and asked questions about family members that had cancer. She drew out a really interesting diagram. I had the choice of just doing the test for carrying the breast cancer gene, or a whole gamut of tests which will tell me if I carry a gene fr any other family cancers.
I spent about one hour with the genetic counselor at the end of which I had to spit into a test tube. It's the same thing you need to do if you have ever had the DNA testing done for Ancestry.com. BUT when you do genetic testing along with a counselor, you have to spit into the test tube in front of them. That was a bit awkward but we joked about it.
The doctor had put a rush on the test because the results will help me decide what type of surgery I will have. So now it's a waiting game; the test results should be back soon.
Stay tuned for more as I update new chapters in my journey.
The Results of My Genetic Testing
I am excited to report that on 11/26/19 I received the results of my genetic testing and it was negative. Phew, what a relief. Not only relief for me but also for my children. It means I am not a genetic carrier of breast cancer and my breast cancer is not hereditary.
I asked the genetic counselor what that meant then in terms of how I got breast cancer. She said no one is really sure what causes cancer, so no one really knows, but mine is not genetic. Since many women who test positive for breast cancer decide to have their ovaries removed, it is one less surgery I will even have to contemplate.
There is a myriad of things that women who have breast cancer have in common. So some of those things may have played a part in why I got breast cancer. But I am not going to dwell on those things right now. I am just going to revel in the fact that my breast cancer is not genetically caused. And celebrate one small victory in my breast cancer journey!
Do you now or have you ever had breast cancer?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Karen Hellier