The short story:
Diagnosed December 1, 2016
ER-, PR-, HER2- Stage 2b Triple Negative
.5cm, 2.5 cm invasive ductal carcinoma with 6cm inductal carcinoma connecting the two. No lymph node involvement.
Chemotherapy- 4 rounds Adriamycin, Cytoxan
12 rounds Taxol with Carboplatin for 4 rounds
Surgery- Double mastectomy with reconstruction
Radiation x33 treatments
Completed treatment August 24, 2017
The long story:
The Monday after Thanksgiving 2016 I had a sinking feeling inside my gut. Something told me that the lump I had been ignoring for about 6 weeks wasn't just a 'clogged milk duct'. See, I had a two month old baby and kept telling myself it was nothing, just breastfeeding issues.
Monday my gut told me to message my OB/GYN office, Tuesday I was getting an ultrasound, Wednesday I had a biopsy of 3 suspicious areas and on Thursday December 1, 2016 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Whoa, really!? I was 41 years old. Married with FIVE daughters. How the hell did I have breast cancer.
Well damn. This was definitely not what I was expecting to deal with right after I had my sweet baby and during Christmas.
I got the ball rolling immediately. I saw my first Oncologist who was a breast surgeon specialist on December 5. She is literally one of the smartest women I'd ever met, although she told me things at the time that I had no idea what they meant. Things like I was a Triple Negative. Huh!? I needed chemo first before surgery. Huh!? And mine was aggressive and had a high recurrence rate for a distant cancer, um yea, there was no Huh!? on that one. I heard her loud and clear.
I quickly went in nurse mode. Maybe it was survival, fighter mode. Call it what you may. I said well let's get started. I had my port placed, genetic testing done and a Cat Scan within the first 10 days. And by December 19th I was receiving my first round of chemo.
To quickly address the genetic testing, thank heavens I was negative for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 especially having 5 daughters. Also my Cat Scan was clear of any metastasis at that time. Again thanking the man above!
Back to chemo. I began what would be five months of chemotherapy. My mother-in-law moved in and was devoted to staying and doing whatever needed to be done while I went through this. She helped me raised my newborn and was literally a god send. I had a friend push me to get out, get fresh air, WALK, when my body could but my brain said no. My parents rotated in and out, and my best sister friend was here every week: taking care of me, helping me get up, move, walk and taking care of anything I couldn't. I had and still have an amazing support system. My husband, my children, what more can I say...... I was beyond blessed.
Sorry, back to chemo........ I lost my hair, my eyebrows, eyelashes and my two big toe nails. Ugh. Ick. Yuck. That's how I felt of myself for oh I don't know........'til now. But we'll get to that part later. The chemo truly flew by. I had some nausea, GI upset and aches and pains. But nothing that I hadn't expected. It sucked, but you just do it and you know inside it wont be like this forever.
I was then looking at surgery. I insisted on a double mastectomy even though my surgeon insisted that I didn't need one. Remember she said I was at a high risk for a 'distant recurrence' not a local, as in the other breast. But I didn't care. Chop them off! I'm a bit extreme I've been told lol. But hey, my body, my choice. On May 26th, my best sister friend's birthday, I had my double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.
I woke up from this with a whole new lease on life. Clean margins, no lymph node involvement. What more could I ask for? I went home rejuvenated, ready to kick recovery's ass and move on to radiation! There was a light at the end of this tunnel.
Mind you, all this time, my spirits mostly were high. I had sad moments and scared moments. Yet overall I was doing pretty okay mentally. Then week 2 of recovery hit. A cloud came over me that would not leave. I kept telling myself and my husband that I knew I was having a hard time mentally but I would be fine. I would get it under control. My days though became darker and harder to manage. I got to a point that I could barely function. I felt as if I couldn't breathe, I couldn't stand my own mind. I was terrified of living because I didn't want to die. Sounds a bit crazy, huh!?
I was afraid to eat, afraid of all things that could spark the cancer to come back. I lost 13 lbs in a few weeks. I was bald, I was nothing of the woman I once was. I avoided all mirrors. I didn't want to go in public or interact with anyone. I just sat there day after day living in fear. My mind was so dark, to you tell the thoughts that ran through my mind every moment of the day would ensure me a place in a psych ward. This was beyond me. And as I found my husband in my backyard sitting with our baby, sobbing, I realized that it was beyond any of us. He was lost because he saw me crumbling and he didn't know how to help me.
Mom to the rescue. My mom came to help out my last week of recovery and was literally at my house less than a day when she realized what a mental disaster I had become. She spent the week gently pushing me to do 'normal' life things again. But after a few days she sat me down and asked me if I was open to medication.
She saw that this was not something I was going to easily overcome. I knew I had to do something so I made an appointment with my primary physician who I hadn't seen through this whole process. Yet he was aware of what I had been going through. He took one look at me, put his arm around me and said "I'm going to help you." I began sobbing. I told him I was terrified. I was living in fear, yet not even truly 'living'. He smiled so gently and said "This is expected, you have been through hell and back. You just need a little help coping now." And with that, he prescribed me an antidepressant and gave me some words of encouragement and off I went.
It took 3 weeks for me to notice some relief from my mental torture. But it happened. The clouds parted, I was smiling, laughing and enjoying my days. All the while I had begun radiation. For 33 days. Even as my skin burned and blistered, I did it. It made me tired. It stole my summer but I did it, with a light in my heart and in my mind.
There it was. August 24th, 2017 almost 9 months after my diagnosis, I completed my treatment. My life would never go back to the way it was, but in many ways it has become better.
The fear still comes, but leaves almost as quickly. I'm well aware of my risks and dread the scans, labs and general check-ups. But I do it with much more ease and most importantly I enjoy my every day of being here.
I am not saying one way of handling this is the answer for all. It is simply what worked for me.
Please read my next blog, coming soon!