Truthfully speaking, “Cancer” was always just another word in my vocabulary until November 11, 2013, the day I heard the words for the first time “you have Cancer”. It’s a word that took me from feeling healthy on a routine, beautiful North Carolina Autumn Day to weeks/months of Doctor appointments, more tests, feeling tired, pain, confusion and making quick decisions about my health. Now “Cancer” is not just another word in my vocabulary. I hate it! So, I have abbreviated “Cancer”, “CA”, in parts of my post. CA, which means “Cancer’s Ass” versus the politically correct word, “Cancer”.
Just wanting everyday to be normal: In the midst of all of the “CA Drama, Doctor appointments, Tests, Bloodwork….” I continued to work, hang out with family and friends, take care of my house, teach fitness classes and play tennis when I could. Staying active was by far the most important task for me to keep doing. I felt great after a workout. In some way, having “CA” still didn’t seem real to me and didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted to be ME without the word “CA” attached to ME.
My family, especially Dad, Lisa and Michelle stayed in touch more so than normal. We had lots of laughs especially during the “CA” appointments and tests. I’d wake up from a procedure to find my sister hacking into my cell phone posting things on MY Facebook account “about how wonderful SHE is”. Facebook friends’ comments on the posts she wrote were about “how sweet it was that I’d be so complimentary of my sister”, how great “Sisterly Love” is, blah blah blah. Once she returned my phone to me, I set the story straight. “Lisa had hijacked my phone”. She found so much humor in doing this, that she took every opportunity she could to do it again for weeks, months and now years.
The laughter from these funny moments took away
Cancer’s Narcissistic Power
to make everything about “CA”
About a week after after my Lumpectomy, Rich and I met at his gym on Saturday morning, November 16, to take Cycle and BodyPump classes. (BodyPump, especially, is a passion Rich and I share). That was his Saturday morning routine.
Rich and I were setting up our BodyPump equipment with the other participants when the Group Fitness Manager walked into the room and spotted me. She was aware of what I was going through with “CA” and said very sweetly “if you aren’t feeling up to it, I’ll understand but the BodyPump instructor scheduled to teach the class had an emergency come up. We need someone to fill in. Do you feel good enough to teach?”. Without hesitation I said “YES”. I ran to my car to get my music and back to the studio. I was a little nervous, as I always am, about teaching for the first time to a class of people, including Rich, who’d never taken a BodyPump class I taught. I started the warm-up and remember praying, as I glanced down at my bandaged left breast, that she please not bleed. Once endorphins kicked in, my only thoughts were about teaching a great class. I was in my element doing something I loved. I was Tina, the BodyPump Instructor.
Afterwards, Rich said “he was in AWE of me”. Okay….so that may be a little exaggeration. :-0 I know for sure he told me “he was proud of me”. Actually, he said that a couple of times including when I saw him again later as we were walking to Dinner. Those are words that still make me smile.
Next Tests: Breast MRI and Sentinel Node Surgery
- Breast MRI Appointment: November 27 at 3:30 (the day before Thanksgiving)
- Sentinel Node Surgery: Friday, December 6
November 27: I went to the Breast MRI appointment alone which was at 8:00pm on the night before Thanksgiving. It was a non-eventful appointment. I just showed up, changed into a gown that opened in the front so my breasts could be placed in cups on the table where I was laying face down. There wasn’t any pain. I got home around 10:00pm and went straight to bed. I wanted to be ready for hosting my first Thanksgiving Dinner in years.
Thanksgiving Day: My family usually went to my sister’s house on Holidays. Their house was more spacious and had plenty of room for the kids to run and play. This year, I had room in my new home for everyone and a great backyard for the kids to run and play. It was a wonderful day for so many reasons including my family meeting Rich for the first time.
The weather was beautiful and a bit unseasonably warm. I made the Turkey and a few other items. Everyone else brought their contributions to our dinner. We all had fun in our own way including more phone hijackings by my sister. Rich played with my youngest niece who was 9. They were hiding from each other but I wouldn’t call it Hide-N-Go-Seek. I had to send them outside to play so they wouldn’t break anything in the house which is laughable considering Rich was the adult. The day could not have turned out any better.
DECEMBER 2: I received a call from my oncologist. She told me that the MRI results showed more suspicious areas in my left breast so now an MRI Needle Biopsy followed by a Mammogram was necessary to further evaluate. I thought to myself, here we go again! The sick feeling in my stomach is more intense.
December 4 @ 7:30am MRI Needle Biopsy: I taught BodyPump every Wednesday at 6:00am and decided that December 4 would be no different. I taught BodyPump, met my Sister at my house and we went straight to the imaging office.
The numbing part of the MRI Needle Biopsy was very painful. The scan was done and I was sent to a room to change back into my clothes. While changing, a nurse knocked on the door, walked in and told me that I moved during the scan. That meant a second MRI Needle Biopsy needed to be done because the initial scans were inconclusive. Once they were finished and bandages were applied, I changed back into my clothes.
I walked into the hallway where the doctor was waiting with my sister. His first words were “I have bad news for you”. My heart sank and I saw an alarmed look on my sister’s face. He then said “it wasn’t what I was thinking” and apologized for how he phrased his comment. Then he told me that he’d accidentally stuck himself with a needle that had
been inside me during the MRI Biopsy. Long story short, I had to have blood drawn so they could confirm his health was not compromised. (This is protocol when a health professional’s blood is mixed with a patient. They have to verify the patient does not have HIV/AIDS even if the patient’s medical records state so) I was totally shocked. I wasn’t mad at him. Just shocked and I truly wanted to SCREAM. I thought to myself….
YOU’VE GOT TO BE F***ING KIDDING ME!!!! I was tired of being stuck with needles.
Soooo, I was led back to another room where blood was drawn. Once this was finished, my sister and I walked out to her car. She started the car, paused and then turned to me, looking back and forth between me and my left boob (as if my boob was a person), and told US, playfully, that it was time to head to our next stop. She totally cracked me up and I bust out laughing. I totally needed that!
The next stop was The Breast Imaging Center where a mammogram was going to be done. My boob started bleeding during the mammogram so the technician stopped everything to take care of the bleeding, finished the scan and applied new bandages. Ugghhh!!
DECEMBER 6 – SENTINEL NODE SURGERY: My Dad wanted the honor of taking me to the hospital for this surgery. (Of course I can’t say no to my Dad’s baby blues) We were at the hospital by 9:15am. Once I checked in, I was taken back to a room where I was prepped for surgery. Dad was allowed to come to the room where I was waiting. Dr. Blackman, my surgeon, arrived and talked to us prior to surgery. He had received preliminary results from the December 4 MRI biopsies which showed more LCIS (Lobular Carcinoma In-Situ) but he was not concerned about it because of the type of LCIS. He was very positive, expected that the surgery would go well and they’d find no additional cancer in my Lymph nodes. (Later on in this journey, the above positive news gets reversed).
Dad smiled after Dr. Blackman left the room and said he felt that was positive news. Dad has the best smile. He’s got these marbly, baby-blue eyes that light up when he smiles. The nurses loved him. It’s hard to not be drawn in by his smile which exudes positivity and feel safe.
Around 10:30am, a very good cocktail was injected into my i.v. leaving me feeling woozy. Then my Boob was numbed AGAIN and a Radioactive Solution was injected into my breast. (The radioactive solution would light up any Lymph-nodes in my armpit that were invaded by “CA”). About 30 minutes later, I was wheeled into surgery. I woke up with severe pain in my breast. I was surprised because I expected the pain to be primarily in my arm pit which is where the surgery was performed. I recall the nurses giving me several injections of dilaudid for the pain. One nurse in particular kept coming to me assuring me that they wouldn’t let me go home in pain. Hearing her voice was comforting. Eventually, the pain was manageable and I was released.
The days following were hard. This was the most painful surgery/procedure by far from my “CA” journey. My sister stayed with me the night of surgery as well as most of the following day. Rich came over for a while as well as my cousin, Michelle, who stayed until very late. I slept most of the time.
DECEMBER 9: More results were in from my MRI biopsies. I received a call from the Radiologist who did my biopsies. There was something in the first test that concerned him so he ran additional tests. The new results showed more invasive qualities… meaning more cancer…. and the Cancer had spread towards my chest wall versus being contained in one area. ONCE AGAIN, the results of the tests were not what the Doctors told me to expect. Thank goodness they did the “protocol” testing but “DAMN IT! Can’t I get some good news?”
I immediately called Dr. Blackman. He had not seen the reports yet and was apologetic that I received the phone call which should have come from him. At that point… I didn’t care who gave me results. I cared more about “WHY” none of the results of any of the tests where what the Doctors expected. Dr. Blackman told me he’d call me back the next day after he reviewed the new MRI results and received the results from the lymph node biopsies.
December 10: Dr. Blackman called and confirmed the Oncologist’s findings that the Cancer in my left boob was more widespread and then he told me that ONE of the 4 lymph nodes biopsied showed a small tumor. The sick feeling in my stomach was exhausting at this point.
Dr. Blackman also said that ANOTHER LUMPECTOMY should be scheduled to determine what type of cancer was hanging out around my chest wall. (That’s my “simplistic” terminology.) He needed to confer with my Oncologist, Dr. Kahn, before confirming that would be the next step.
My thoughts, as I listened, were this whole “CA” Saga started on October 1. That was 2-1/2 Months ago. They haven’t started treating me for the Cancer yet. They’re still exploring. I feel like shit and my left boob looked like a mini “Boob War Zone”. WHAT’S NEXT?
When Dr. Blackman started talking about more surgery, I was overwhelmed with so many thoughts about what my life is going to look like. Will this Cancer, part of me is still in denial about, come back after treatment? I don’t want to be a burden to anyone. Will I still be able to work, exercise, take care of Me, be there for my family and friends if they get sick????? I want LIFE back just the way it was before October 1, 2013.
- Will there be a different course of treatment now that more Cancer has been found?
- Even if the suggested treatment was still “just” Radiation (that’s laughable… “just” radiation), my left boob no longer looked the way it did on October 1, the day I had my annual mammogram.
- Radiation would most likely cause pain, redness, swelling, skin peeling and permanent deformity. Radiation could cause me fatigue or insomnia. It could create other medical issues such as Lymphedema and so on….
- Radiation treatments would not start until at least February because my boob had to be completely healed from the surgeries I’d had up to that point which meant I’d be out of commission until at least April or May. That’s another 5 months.
- “I’m a single woman who is a straight commissioned Sales Rep. In other words, I don’t get paid unless I sell.
- The testing and surgeries I’d been through to date had already affected my quality of life. I was no longer playing tennis. I was no longer teaching fitness classes. The thought of not being active for an infinite amount of time was unfathomable.
My “Next Step” Options or Possibilities:
- Another Lumpectomy followed by Radiation and then hormone inhibitor meds for 5 to 10 years as long as no more Cancer was detected. (Considering that not ONE single surgery or test done since a “suspicious area” was found on my October 1 Mammogram scan concluded there was NO CANCER, the odds for not finding Cancer were not in my favor.)
- More Cancer from “Next Step” Option 1 could result in Chemo, Radiation, Chemo Meds and god knows what else.
- A Single Mastectomy followed by hormone inhibitor meds.
- A Bi-Lateral Mastectomy w/ Reconstruction followed by hormone inhibitor meds.
I asked Dr. Blackman… “what option would be the quickest way for me to have peace of mind and get my active lifestyle back?”
He said “if I were his wife, a Bi-Lateral Mastectomy would be his recommendation”.
His answer this time is totally opposite from when I asked him after the Lumpectomy in early November.
Asking a question about amputating my breasts was somehow easy.
I was numb.
I wanted MY LIFE back.
“Memories of MY LIFE from the months leading up to October 1, 2013 when Cancer entered my life” and a few during that time.
PART 4: Christmas is around the corner. All I want is a sense of Normalcy but “CA” isn’t done with me and had no problem interfering with my plans.