June 23, 2017

Detour Ahead

I contemplated for quite a long time whether or not I wanted to publish (or even write) this post.  It is quite personal and may hit home with some readers.

We all go through "detours" in our lives.  This one just happened to come upon and hit us from nowhere.  Literally.

Friday, March 3, 2017
It isn't unusual that I have to make a second visit to the radiology department for more mammogram images, so I wasn't too concerned.  I'm one of the 50% of women who have dense breast tissue.  What was unusual was when the technician came back in the room and said, "The doctor wants to talk with you".  I have no idea how far my heart sank at that moment.  I never expected to hear those seven words today.  The doctor said he saw a formation of calcium deposits which can be indicative of breast cancer.  My mom is a breast cancer survivor.  She turns 80 this year.  She's still quite active and healthy.  She had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy at the young age of 49.  I'm 53.   

I was asked if I could come back later in the afternoon for a needle biopsy.  Um, sure?  I was given an informational sheet and told to come back at 1:30.

If you've ever had a mammogram, a needle biopsy isn't too dissimilar.  Except that you're laying on a table instead of standing in front of the compression machine.  The two nurses were very good at keeping me calm by talking about my upcoming trip to Japan.  I'm sure they see a lot of first time patients in there.  I was given a localized shot of a numbing solution.  The biopsy went smooth.  I was out of there within 90 minutes.  Good thing it was a Friday because I was told to go home and take it easy for a couple of days.

They sent me home with this booklet.  Something I hope you never have to read!!

Now the hard part.  Waiting for the results.

Monday, March 6, 2017
My phone rang around 5:00 in the afternoon.  Dr. Khine was on the other end.  He told me I have Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, DCIS for short.  He talked with me for a few minutes and said I would be hearing from the cancer department about setting an appointment with a surgeon.  I reread the section in my booklet about DCIS.  It's Stage 0 Breast Cancer.  This form of breast cancer is localized in a milk duct and has not spread to other areas outside of the duct.    

Monday, March 20, 2017
Ron and I walk into the surgeon's office with optimistic thoughts and open minds.  Dr. Foster explains to us what DCIS is.  She shows us photos from another booklet.  I know most of this from reading my informational booklet.  Ron is hearing most of it for the first time.

She explains our next step will be a lumpectomy.  She also says that I will have a team of doctors working on my case.  They'll be meeting to discuss my case in a couple of days.

She encourages us to go to Japan and she is excited for us to be able to go abroad.  Such a nice and caring doctor!

more reading material

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Dr. Foster called.  I wasn't expecting her call.  My team wants me to go in for another biopsy.  There are two additional areas that they're concerned may be DCIS.  If the areas test positive Dr. Foster said she would likely recommend a mastectomy.  This news totally shocked me.  Thankfully she said I can wait until after our trip for the second biopsy.

Monday, April 17, 2017
We really enjoyed our vacation!!  Back to reality...  Today is my second biopsy.  Unfortunately this time it didn't go quite as smoothly as the first one.  It was likely the dose of Aleve I had taken that morning that caused my excessive bleeding from the biopsy site.  I was in compression for awhile until the bleeding stopped.  Even then, one of the nurses had to practically put all of her weight on my breast once I was turned onto my back to keep the bleeding from starting all over again.  She was worried that too much bleeding could cause complications which may prevent my surgery from taking place in a timely manner.  Good thing is I didn't develop a blood clot and I healed fine.

Thursday, April 20, 2017
I answer the phone as usual.  Dr. Foster is on the other end.  She has good news for me.  The lab results are negative.  I do not have more DCIS!!   I do not need a mastectomy.  I am elated!  Surgery is scheduled for May 17th. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017
We arrive at the hospital at 7:30am.  I couldn't eat because of surgery.  Ron didn't eat because it's simply too early in the day.  Even though I am pre-admitted, I still have some paperwork to deal with.

Once that's taken care of it's off to the radiology department.  There's nothing for Ron to do but wait, so when Stacy takes me to the back room he goes home to eat.  This first procedure is a combination of a mammogram and a biopsy.  I'm seated in a chair, a pillow is placed behind me to make it a little more comfortable.  But really, how comfortable is it to have your boob squished and held in place?!  Got to add a little humor in right :-)  I'm numbed, then a needle is inserted to the point where the marker is located.  A marker was left at each biopsy site so they can find the exact spot again.  Next some blue dye and a very thin wire are inserted through the needle, then the needle is removed leaving the dye and wire behind.  Stacy puts a big clear bandage over the wire to keep it clean.  She then walks me over to the main surgery center building.

My vitals are taken and I'm shown to my gurney.  As expected, everything comes off and I slide under the sheet.  There is a space blanket over the sheet and surprisingly I don't get too cold.  I take out my Kindle and begin reading.  At some point, my curtains are opened.  Time for my IV.  Robert does an excellent job and I don't even feel it.  I can see the bed across from me.  It's a 2-3 month old baby.  He's getting circumcised.  Not sure why the parents decided not to do it at birth.  I continue reading.  Then I hear a familiar voice.  Ron has come back to keep me company for a bit before I head into surgery, which is scheduled for noon. 

Nurses come to ask me questions.  The anesthesiologist stops by to ask me questions too.  Dr. Foster comes to chat for a bit.  She asks us about Japan.  She's so glad that we went.  Ron gave her a great compliment.  He said if he ever needed surgery that she could perform, he would ask for her.

Noon time came fairly quickly.  The operating nurse releases the brake from the gurney and wheels me to another room.  I remember people coming in and saying how cold the room is.  I remember someone placing my arms in position.  Then I went out.

Surgery lasted about an hour or so.  I was awakened around 1:20.  I was in the recovery room.  Ron had gone to do errands while I was in surgery.  He was on his way back to the hospital when the nurse called his cell phone.  He had already talked with Dr. Foster and knew my surgery was successful.

More waiting time to make sure the sample taken is "clean".

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Dr. Foster calls with the most excellent news I've heard in awhile:

I'm Cancer FREE!!!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017
I have two appointments today.

I meet with Dr. Foster first.  We talk for about 25 minutes about all that's happened.  When the lumpectomy sample was segmented and examined by the pathologists they did not find any cancer.  So apparently the earlier biopsy took all of the cancer out.  She is optimistic about not needing any additional treatments but she does want to see me again in six months.   The stitches are healing well and I am released for light duty (I've already been doing that for the past few days because it's quite boring just sitting around) and can resume normal duties in another couple of weeks. 

My second appointment is with Dr Sidhu, my oncologist.  She tells me that I do not need chemotherapy!  What a relief to hear that news!!  She tells me about a drug called Tamoxifen.  It is prescribed to patients for five years.  She advises me that the benefits versus the side effects do not make me a good candidate for the drug.  More good news!  She can't advise me about radiation.  She makes me an appointment with a radiation oncologist.

My hopes for an easy treatment plan after a cancer diagnosis are rising!!   

Monday, June 12, 2017
My appointment today is with the radiation oncologist, Dr. Peng.  The radiation department is located 'off-campus'.  The lobby seems inviting.  The receptionist offers me coffee or cocoa.  I have a seat in the comfy lounge chair while I wait for the doctor.  One of the patients says "see you tomorrow" to another patient.  I hope I won't become too familiar with her or this building...

Dr. Peng's first question to me kind of shocks me a bit.  She asks me if I'm thinking about radiation.  I firmly exclaim NO.  She proceeds to explain there are four categories which she uses to determine if a patient need radiation.  Each category gets a score of 1-3 with 1 being the lowest.  She added that patients with a score between 4 and 6 are given the option of receiving radiation or not.  Those who choose not to have radiation are encouraged to get future exams every 6 months.  My score was 5.  I opt for the 6 month mammogram option.

So that's it!  No chemo, no drugs, no radiation!!

Emotional Ups & Downs
Yes, there were definitely some ups and downs during the past couple of months.  I remember one of the low times.  It was when I was told about the possibility of having a mastectomy.  It was our son who brought it into perspective for me.  His wise words: "A lot of the trauma of having some skin and fatty tissue removed was unfairly placed on you as a little girl growing up in the modern world. Once you realize the public perception and the perceived loss in stature are both meaningless and nonexistent, you are free to understand that you are much better off, even if worst case you have to cut it all off."  Damn, how did he get to be so smart?! 

There were several moments of relief also.  Those moments occurred when doctors told me something positive: you're cancer free, no chemo, no drugs, no radiation!   

I'm one of the lucky ones, my cancer was caught early!

What Now?
Now it's time to get back to living!!  


Part of life for us is working.  With my recent work limitations our PolyMenders waiting list has grown.  This recent heat wave, 105+ for the past week or so, can't slow us down.  Most of the work are day trips so Roamin has been stationary.  We do have a job coming up in the Tahoe area so maybe we'll get to live in the forest for a few days :-)