You have breast cancer.
I was just hanging out after a long day. My husband was out of town, and I had just put the kids to bed when I scratched an itch on my chest… WHAT IS THAT!?! OMG is that a lump? I tried not to panic, but so many thoughts crossed my mind…
What if it’s cancer?
What do I do?
How do I deal with this?
I called my husband and told him. He helped me slow down and told me to call to set up an appointment.
At my appointment, my doctor felt what I did and recommended me to get an ultrasound and mammogram. They tried to get me in as soon as possible, but the waiting in the meantime was a constant struggle of trying to stay positive and moments of panic.
Honestly, the waiting was the worst part…
Waiting for appointments.
Waiting for results.
During my ultrasound, they found a few lumps that they were a little concerned about, but they all had clean edges, which is not indicative of cancer. After some discussion, the doctor recommended we wait 6 months and do another ultrasound as he was thinking it was fibroids. So, I waited again, although with a little less anxiety.
6 months later, I am sitting in the ultrasound room again and they mention that the lumps have grown. Now I need a biopsy. They took a sample and sent it to the lab. Wait again… This time the panic was growing some.
Please be fibroids! Please be fibroids!
Then I got the phone call…
You have breast cancer… my heart stopped.
How do I tell my husband?
How do I tell my kids?
How do I tell the rest of my family and friends?
Sharing the news
I went to tell my husband and just started crying… We hid in our room until I could control myself enough to talk to my kids. It was incredibly difficult. We sat them down and told them that I was sick (they were 10, 9, 6, and 5). I told them just the basics of what I knew, which really was not much. I mentioned that I would need surgery and that the treatment afterward may make me tired and sick also. We kept as positive as we could and allowed them to ask questions. They didn’t have many when we told them but as the weeks went by, a few more questions came up.
I spent a lot of time asking how they were doing and giving them extra hugs.
My husband and I made phone calls to our families and close friends. There were so many different reactions: prayers, tears, encouragement, and fear… While I appreciated all the care, it was an exhausting evening. I remember falling into bed and sleeping so hard it was a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. We had so many questions that were not answered yet and everyone wanted to stay updated…
Meeting the surgeon
The day of my appointment with my Breast Surgeon arrived. We sat in the conference room. The first thing she said to me was, “Are you telling anyone? Do you have a good support system?” I told her we told everyone already and she said, “That’s great! Having people to support you is the most crucial factor in the survival and coping with cancer.”
She educated us on some breast cancer statistics, such as 1 out of 8 women will have breast cancer, so I was not alone. She told me I would hear so many people telling me their stories of lumpectomies and mastectomies, but each person’s cancer is unique so what applies to one person will not necessarily be what will work for me.
She told me more about what she knew about my case. I had cancer in one of my ducts that was invasive. Being as young as I was, it “should” have been aggressive, but my particular cancer probably started 5 years earlier and was very slow growing. It was feeding on my hormones, so we immediately scheduled an appointment to get my IUD removed.
Treatment for my breast cancer
Next, I would need to decide on what type of surgery I would like to do. We did a further test to see if I could have a lumpectomy, but it showed that the cancer had spread too far for that option.
Mastectomy was the best option. Many women choose to have both breasts removed, but I chose to keep my natural breast on the one side.
My surgery went well, but my recovery was long. I had two drain tubes put in to keep the swelling down. One was wrapped around the area of tissue that they removed, and another was in my armpit where they had removed a lymph node to test, and they exited on the side of my body. I spent many weeks sleeping on the couch so I could sit up and not pull my drains out. I was in pain and tired for a long time. I, fortunately, had people who dropped off meals, called, or watched the kids for us while we navigated the recovery period.
After I had recovered some, I had an appointment with my oncologist. He walked through my case and asked me questions about what kinds of treatment I wanted. He listened to me, and we made a plan to get my tissue tested to see if I would need chemotherapy. Those test results showed that chemo wouldn’t be beneficial to my cancer, so we decided to only do radiation therapy.
My radiation specialist took a bunch of measurements, assisted by a CT scan, to make sure the tissue around my cancer was treated but my heart and lungs would receive minimal damage. I am a shallow breather, so I needed to fill my lungs while they radiated my tissue. I had a pair of glasses I needed to wear that told me when they were filled enough.
Every weekday, I would head to the hospital, change into a robe, and wait my turn. The nurses and technicians were amazing! They talked and got to know me, which helped put me at ease. They would set me up on the table and line up the machine to a few blue tattoos that they put on my stomach and chest. I would take my breaths in, and they turned on the machine. It would make a loud buzzing noise. Once it stopped, it would move to a different position and would start again with the nurses telling me when to breathe deeply over an intercom.
After a few weeks, my skin started to stay red, as though I was sunburned. It also started to blister. I had to keep it bandaged and put cream on it. Once my treatments ended it took a few weeks for my skin to fully heal. I had heard that radiation could cause tiredness, but I did not have too many side effects. I did take naps more often but was able to do all the things I needed to.
I needed to wait a few months before I could start the reconstruction process. Once I was able to, my plastic surgeon started expanding the cavity to be able to fit an implant in. They stretched the skin by injecting saline into the expander. Once the skin was fully stretched out, I was able to have the surgery to place the actual implant and match my natural breast to it.
Once I healed from that, we needed to wait a while to see if I needed a fat graft. I did not, but I did choose to have a nipple reconstruction procedure. That procedure was done in the office but required some stitches. Unfortunately, the first procedure collapsed, and I needed to do it again. After this one is healed, I am hoping to have it tattooed and then I will be done with the entire process.
Breast Cancer still affects my life
It has been 3 years… My recovery and reconstruction are still not complete but I am looking forward to finishing it soon. I have fewer doctor appointments, but I will need to have a mammogram every year and my daughter will need to start them at 28 (10 years before my diagnosis).
I still have very few answers… I saw a genetic counselor and I did not have any markers that they knew about for cancer. I eat healthy. I breastfed my kids. Based on all of the questions they asked, I should not have even had breast cancer. But I was 38, so it should have been worse.
Cancer hits with no rhyme or reason, which is why early detection is so important. I urge you to check yourself often. You will be able to tell if there is a lump. Waiting is the worst part of the process but waiting to get checked out could be disastrous…