It’s been nearly 18 months since one tumor was discovered, and I was diagnosed with Stage IIa Ductural Carcinoma In Situ (T2N0M0), E+, P+, HER-. That’s scientific doctor speak for breast cancer contained within only the tumor within my milk ducts, and the cancer was being fed by female hormones. Eighteen months have come and gone and we’ve learned so much more about breast cancer that we really wished we never had to know. What’s happened? What’s changed? What’s next?
*An MRI would find another tumor.
*I had to go back on steroids to treat Addison’s Disease due to the stress on my body caused by cancer.
*Genetic Testing would be done to check for the BRAC1 & 2 mutated genes.
*I decided to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction surgery – this would account for surgeries 1 & 2.
*By the time my surgical pathology report was back after my double mastectomy less than a month after diagnosis, a lot had changed. We knew there were actually two tumors instead of one. One seemed to be contained. The other was invasive and had spread all throughout my left breast and had began invading my lymph nodes. I was staged again – Stage IIIb Ductural Carcinoma Invasive (T4N1?M0), E+, P+, HER-, Rate III, Grade III – scientific doctor speak for invasive breast cancer with one possible cancerous lymph node (I’m not sure why pathology couldn’t confirm this) and no signs it had spread anywhere else, but the cancerous cells were multiplying quickly and were healthy, spreading, and being fed by female hormones. The invasive tumor sat in a blood vessel port, so I was told there was no way to know if the cancerous cells were in my blood stream or not, so chemo needed to be considered. I initially denied.
*Chemo appeared to be our best choice of defense. I reluctantly agreed at the request of my husband.
*Surgery #3 – a port was placed in my chest.
*Gentic testing came back positive for the BRAC2 and RAD51c mutated genes.
*Saline fills for breast reconstruction began during the off weeks of chemo.
*4 rounds of AC chemo, AKA The Red Devil & His Evil Twin.
*My counts became too low to continue reconstruction. It was placed on hold until chemo was completed.
*3 rounds of Taxol chemo was attempted but failed due to an allergic reaction to the chemo.
*With tons of support from my brother and sister-in-law, Courage to Conquer Cancer, the business, and Courage Conquering Cancer, the nonprofit, became a reality. No matter what happened now I would know my cancer journey would not be in vain. We manufactured our Recovery Tees and raised money to gift them to those in need.
*Chemo was switched to Abraxane. I would complete 12 rounds over the next 4 months.
*I had to get glasses. Too many surgeries. Too many rounds of chemo. Or maybe just because of age.
*I returned to saline fills to complete breast reconstruction.
*For some unknown reason, I developed fluid buildup that had to be removed by a needle guided ultra sound procedure.
*Surgery #4 to remove my left breast expander because I continued to have fluid buildup. Too risky. Possible infection.
*August 3, 2015 – My New Life Day!!! I was told I was in remission.
*Two, small black spots are discovered, one on each lung during a MRI. I was told not to be concerned. They were probably just a part of my normal.
*I was put on Tamoxifen (low dose chemo pill or hormone blocker) for 5-10 years.
*Surgery #5 – this time on my foot to remove a plantars wart. My compromised immune system was blamed for its growth but who knows.
*Surgery #6 – To put the new left breast expander back in.
*Lymphatic leak remained an issue – I received an overfilled to try and plug the leak. It worked!
*My one year post diagnosis appointments began. Everything was looking good until my OBGYN found a cyst on my left ovary and a mass in my uterus. She did a biopsy. They scheduled a total hysterectomy. Too much of a risk. Ovarian cancer is deadly!
*I was out of days at work and didn’t have FMLA days left, so I had to take a medical leave of absence from my teaching job.
*Surgery #7 – My breast implants were put in place of the breast expanders. The lymph leak was found and repaired.
*2nd MRI showed nothing had changed with those two, black spots in my lungs. Maybe this really is my normal.
*Surgery #8 – Total hysterectomy. I was told I no longer had to take Tamoxifen.
*Eight weeks later, I was put on Femora (a new hormone blocker/low dose chemo pill) for 5-10 years.
*Surgery #9 – my port was removed!
*Phyiscal therapy to help gain strength and stretch out the muscles in my chest, shoulders and upper back from so many months of restricted movement.
*Surgery #10 – Breast Reconstruction Finishing surgery to construct the appearance of nipples from my own skin and correct the sides of my implants to make them appear more normal like. And maybe, just maybe, to fill in the crater caused by my large tumor. (This surgery is scheduled for April 25, almost exactly 18 months since diagnosis)
*In April or early May, another MRI to check on those black spots on my lungs.
*In July, a cortisol check to see if I can say goodbye to steroids again.
*In August, my first tattooing session.
*In October, two years from diagnosis, my last tattooing session.
Whew! That’s a lot! How do I survive? Faith, family, friends, and a mission. The graciousness and kindness of others. An amazing medical team. Research. And in the end, a forever changed outlook on life!
God has a plan, and it is good!