“CANCER” isn’t done with me.”
It had no problem interfering with “MY LIFE”.
It has been several weeks since I posted Part 3 of My Breast Cancer Story. Life got in the way along with the holidays so I’m BACK!
I have outlined a review of Parts 1-3 below. If you want more details or haven’t read my story from the beginning, links to each part is below.
Below is another look at Important Dates during My Breast Cancer Journey that brought me to make a life altering decision.
- October 1, 2013 – My Annual Mammogram Appointment was routine until I received a phone call a few hours later from the Breast Imaging Center. A “suspicious area” was found in my left breast so I was asked to come back the next day for a 2nd Mammogram. “I was told this was normal protocol and not to worry.”
- October 2 – I spent most of my day in the Breast Imaging Center having multiple scans and an aspiration of the “suspicious area”. When no definitive information was gleaned from all of the tests of the “suspicious area”, I was asked to return the next day for a Needle Biopsy. Once again, I was told that “this is normal protocol and I had nothing to worry about”
- October 3 – Needle Biopsy performed. Pathology Report should be available the next day, October 4, which was a Friday.
- October 4 – I received a call from the Radiologist who told me they could not get conclusive results from the tissue removed during Needle Biopsy. She went on to say that they needed to run more tests on the tissue and would call me the following Monday.
- October 7 – The radiologist called around midday. She said that the “suspicious” tissue was classified as “Lobular Carcinoma In-Situ – LCIS”. LCIS is an uncommon condition but not Cancer. She referred me to a general surgeon, Dr. Blackman, and had already set an appointment which was 3 days later, October 10.
- October 10 – Met with Dr. Blackman. He explained further what the results of the pathology findings meant and that a Lumpectomy was needed to remove the “suspicious” area that now has a name, LCIS Necrosis. Once again, LCIS by itself isn’t necessarily concerning” but because Necrosis (dead cells were present), it did increase my risk of developing Cancer. LCIS Necrosis had to be removed from my body. Once that was done, the doc told me I could move on with my life and no worries of Cancer in my Future. NOT!!
- November 8 (a Friday) – Lumpectomy Day has arrived. The surgery went well and I went home. All I had to do was take it easy for a few days and they’d call me with the pathology results from the Lumpectomy. Enjoy your weekend they said. Don’t worry they said. We feel confident the LCIS is contained they said. Did I worry? Yes. The sick feeling in my stomach was there with me. Did it consume or paralyze me? No. I went home, slept a lot for a couple of days and went on with my life as if nothing could be wrong.
- November 11 – Pathology results were in and I received a call from my surgeon. Dr. Blackman said… “I’m so sorry Tina but your results were positive for Cancer”.
- November 19 – A full day of doctor appointments to come up with a game plan for how they are going to address the Cancer in my left breast that was supposed to not be Cancer. Surgeon, Oncologist, Radiologist, many people looked at my breasts and reports, more blood was drawn and tested and the list goes on. More tests were scheduled to determine if the Cancer had spread and again I was told… “We caught this early. This is protocol. We don’t anticipate the Cancer has spread. Relax and don’t worry.”
- November 27 – First and Second Breast MRI. The second one was done because according to the radiologist I moved during the scan so they didn’t get a clear picture. After the MRIs, I was ready to go until the radiologist stopped me in the hallway. He said, “I have bad news”. My heart sank. He then apologized and said it had nothing to do with the MRIs. He’d somehow stuck himself with a needle that had been used on me which meant that they had to test my blood for HIV even though my medical records stated I didn’t have it. It was a Law. (How many needles does one person need to be stuck with in one day? Ughhhh!)
- December 2 – I received a call from my Oncologist who told me the MRI showed more “suspicious areas” in my left breast so more tests needed to be done before a course of treatment could begin. “This is protocol. We don’t anticipate the Cancer has spread. Relax and don’t worry.”
- December 4 – MRI Needle Biopsy performed.
- December 6 – I had Sentinel Node Surgery to determine if the Cancer had spread to my Lymph Nodes. “Go home. Relax and don’t worry.”
- December 10 – Results from tests showed only one Lymph Node was compromised. That was the good news…. but the Cancer had spread towards my chest wall so more tests needed to done. That was the “not so good” news.
- December 13, First Infection Sets In – The site in my armpit where the Sentinel Node Surgery became very painful. It began to fill with puss. I had to return to the Surgeon’s office so they could aspirate it 4 more times over the course of 5 days before I was hospitalized on December 19 with a high fever and severe pain. The surgery site had become so infected that I needed antibiotics given to me intravenously. I was released two days later but returned back to the doctor’s office for another aspiration on December 27. The infection returned.
I felt like a Robot that was doing what everyone told me to do. “Everyone” included Dr. Blackman and all of the other Doctors and Nurses involved in my case, family friends. The doctors and nurses were all very qualified, nice people but I didn’t know any of them before the Breast Cancer stuff started. Their credentials suggested I was supposed to trust their opinions because they are in the Medical Profession and do what they told me to do. I realized that although I had been doing everything they asked me to do, the results they told me to expect never turned out to be the case. That’s why their field of expertise is described as “Practicing Medicine.
At the end of the day, there was one common denominator during this unexpected health scare inconvenience in my life.
My mind was spinning during all of the drama surrounding my Left Boob. The thoughts I had were so incomprehensible. It never occured to me that I would get Cancer. It was difficult to say the word “Cancer”. It still is at times. Somewhere inside of me I still felt that I didn’t have it but obviously something was wrong. The constant tests, infections, Doctor Appointments, other tests said Cancer was inside me. Cancer, the disease, hadn’t begun to affect me but the tests to confirm it was present in me were taking a toll on my body.
The Non-Robot Me returned and had to take a time-out to weigh the path that lay ahead. This started with reliving/reviewing the events and test results from the previous 2-1/2 months.
My conclusion was that the common denominator through all of the tests and surgeries….None of the results turned out to be what all of the “New People” in my life told me they felt they would be.
None of the results were GOOD NEWS.
None of the results allowed me to go home, relax and not worry.
The “Next Steps”
- Another Lumpectomy was definitely in the cards to address the additional “suspicious areas” found.
- Radiation: 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 after two lumpectomies along with everything else was hard to digest. There are so many possible side effects from Radiation including pain, fatigue, insomnia, lymphedema, redness, swelling, skin peeling and most likely permanent deformity.
- Radiation treatments would not start until my boob had completely healed from the surgeries I’d had up to that point. That meant putting my life on hold for a minimum of an additional 5 months. I kept thinking….That’s five months of not being able to return to the life I had before October 1, 2013.
- Taking a Hormone inhibitor med for 5-10 years. I call it a Chemo Med. The formal name is Tamoxifen. Taking Tamoxifen scared me more than dealing with Cancer. There are so many possible side effects including brittle bones, lethargy, weakness, nausea, swollen legs, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, vision problems, etc…
The thought of not being active or just doing and enjoying ordinary, everyday life things for an infinite amount of time was unfathomable.
Most of the “Next Steps” would most likely affect the physical activities I love to do.
Other potential “Next Steps” if there is more Cancer.
- Chemotherapy + Radiation + Chemo Meds
- A Single Mastectomy.
- A single mastectomy with Reconstruction surgery.
- A Bi-Lateral Mastectomy.
- A Bi-lateral Mastectomy w/ Reconstruction Surgery followed by hormone inhibitor meds (tamoxifen).
December 16 appointment with Dr. Blackman: During this appointment which was to aspirate the infected site in my armpit, I asked Dr. Blackman… “which option would be the quickest way for me to have peace of mind and get my active lifestyle back?” He answered without hesitation and in a very empathetic, caring way with… “if I were his wife, a BiLateral Mastectomy would be his recommendation”. His answer this time is totally opposite from when I asked him after the Lumpectomy in early November. Back then he told me to absolutely not think about a mastectomy. Now he’s just as adamant about the unthinkable.
“which option would be the quickest way for me to have peace of mind and get my active lifestyle back?”
Bilateral Mastectomy with Reconstructive Surgery
January 6, 2014 was the day the Cancer was removed from my body. My breasts were amputated (formal term – a bilateral mastectomy was performed) and the reconstruction process began.
My sister took me to the hospital that morning. My Dad and his wife were there waiting to see me. I was nervous. The surgery went well according to my doctors but the pain I felt when I woke up in recovery was excruciating. There were tubes coming out of me. Once I was taken to a room, my family was allowed to see me. I recall seeing them along with a nurse who was hooking me up to machines. The nurse began checking me over, taking my blood pressure, pulse and messing with the machines beside me. There was a strapless wrap around me that opened in the front. It was secured with velcro-like strip. I noticed the drains coming out of me on the right and left side of my chest. They felt strange but I was prepared for them because the doctor told me what to expect.
I remained in the hospital for a few days. I was on some heavy duty drugs during that time so much of it was a blur. The nurses were constantly checking the drains, emptying the fluid collected in them, checking the bandages on my chest, my vitals and all of the things they do that keeps you from getting rest.
My Sister happened to be in the room with me when it was time to change my bandages. Lisa wanted to watch so she could see what my chest looked like. That was fine with me. She said “they didn’t look as bad as she thought they would” or something like that. I didn’t care and didn’t want to look.
Once I was feeling a bit better, I wanted to feel clean. I did get “so-called” daily baths while in the hospital bed (I wasn’t allowed to shower). I also wanted to shave and wash my hair. (I’m a freak about having smooth legs.) The nurses and my family told me not to worry about that stuff right then. HA! I WANT MY LEGS TO BE SHAVED and HAVE CLEAN HAIR. Phew.. That’s just me. Then my sweet cousin, Michelle, came to my rescue and took care of both for me. Below are Michelle’s memories in her words…
Michelle’s memory about washing my hair; “I remember washing your hair in the hospital – we had to put that cap thing (that the hospital gave you) on your head. It looked alien-ish and I attempted to wash your thick hair. Your hair was everywhere with that “stuff” in it and we laughed more than we washed!” There was no way to rinse the stuff that was put on my hair to clean it so my hair felt goopy and stunk. Probably should’ve let that one go but Michelle made it fun.
Michelle’s memory about shaving my underarms and legs; “I bought you one of those all-in-one shavers and we went into the hospital bathroom and shaved your underarms and your legs as they were propped up on the sink.” I vaguely remember this but mostly remember “laughing more” while my cousin was shaving me. She was so gentle with me.
Five days after surgery, learning how to drain and keep up with how much fluid is coming from the tubes coming out of my chest, I was released from the hospital.
It was great to be home. My Dad, Sister and a woman who has been my second Mom for many years, Barb, were there to take care of me. Once I was home, all I wanted was to take a bath in my beautiful tub in my beautifully, newly renovated bathroom. Of course I received some lip service from my family (3 against 1) but I was determined to take a bath ALL BY MY SELF! I headed upstairs to do just that. Well….. my sister went with me too to help.
You take for granted how many of your muscles you use for the most mundane things like taking your clothes off, turning the knobs on the bathtub, reaching for a towel, etc. All of these things were so painful to do but I was as careful as I could be. Taking a bath wasn’t easy. Lisa held the drains coming from my chest while I carefully stepped into the tub. I couldn’t use my arms because that would include the use of my chest muscles which was a no-no for two weeks post surgery. (They’d been cut starting at one armpit crossing the entire front of my chest to the other armpit.) I also had to be careful to not get wet the tubes/drains coming from my body. Once I stepped into the tub I felt my legs would be strong enough to lower me down so I could sit. Not as easy as I thought. I did it very slowly while Lisa held my drains (yes I was feeling like an Alien). I squatted down and then put one knee down at a time. I was now kneeling in the tub. It’s a really laughable when I think about it. There I was on my knees in the middle of my beautiful tub of warm water and bubbles with my arms somewhat holding onto the sides of the tub while Lisa was still holding my drains. Eventually I was able to pull my feet out and extend my legs. I then scooted on my butt cheeks to the back of the tub and Lisa hung each drain from my chest sides off the side of the tub. Wow! I should write a book on how to get into a deep bathtub without using your upper body.
I called for Lisa when it was time to get out of the tub. It didn’t take us long to realize that getting out was going to be an even harder task than getting into the tub. Without using my arms and with Lisa holding onto my lovely drains again, I was able to somehow get my knees under me but couldn’t get my feet under them so there I sat or I should say kneeled on my knees again, buck naked, in the tub. Lisa stepped into the tub behind me. She couldn’t lift me from underneath my armpits because that would be too painful and my left armpit was still recovering from the Lymph Node Surgery. She couldn’t lift me from my ribs or even waist. It was too awkward and we were both afraid I might get hurt if she or I slipped. So there I was, still naked and kneeling on my knees. Lisa began to LAUGH HER ASS OFF which made me laugh! It was so painful to laugh but felt good at the same time. Nonetheless, we laughed until we could finally get somewhat serious about needing a plan to get me out of the tub. As I stated earlier, my 2nd Mom, Barb was downstairs. (She’s always been there for Lisa and me whenever we need her.) Lisa went downstairs and whispered quietly to Barb that we needed her. Lisa didn’t want Daddy to get alarmed for many reasons but the most important reason was…. We didn’t want him to see me in all my glorious nakedness. “This was major, traumatic, life altering stuff that we were dealing with” according to Lisa as she kept laughing. In that moment we felt like two kids who made a big BOO-BOO because we did something we should not have done. Yes, you can still be in trouble with your elders even in your 40’s.
Barb enters the bathroom, stops when she sees me staring at her innocently from the bathtub, starts LAUGHING HER ASS OFF and says “YOU GIRLS!” in her Ohio Accent. (I’ve only heard her say “YOU GIRLS” a gazillion times since I was 12) Once she had her good laugh with us, Lisa and Barb grabbed me by the waist and lifted me up so I could get my feet under me and stand. They helped me step out of the Bathtub and I’m pretty sure we all laughed again and again.
Even though I was naked throughout the Bathtub Fun, I never looked at my chest!
I just couldn’t.
I got dressed and went downstairs where my Dad was with Lisa and Barb. They scolded me for my stubborn behavior in a lovingly and laughingly way which I was totally prepared for them to do. They also told me to not even think about taking a bath again until I could use my arms. I was good with that and did what I was told. :-0
The next couple of weeks were filled with me recovering, friends and family visiting most everyday. There was always someone who stayed with me at night. Also, wonderful friends started a “Meal Train” so we always had great food in the house. I didn’t eat much but it was great to have this for those who were taking care of me. I am still grateful for the generosity I received and know that I am blessed to have had so much support during that time.
Just when I thought I could be getting more of my life back because the drains hanging from my body were going to be removed, I was hospitalized with another infection. Cancer was still haunting me. It was gone from my Body but left my body in a mess in its Wake…..