In early February ’08, I was diagnosed with Stage 3, Invasive Ducal Carcinoma Breast Cancer, I was 39 years old. I found a lump while doing a self examination in November ’07. Because I live out in the country it took some time to get all the tests that were needed to render the diagnoses. In the end it was the needle core biopsies that told the story.
I remember waiting in my surgeon’s office for the results thinking, “This cannot be happening to me – Breast Cancer – no way”. (I try not to listen to my brain these days, it usually gives bad advice.) It was the longest and scariest 15 minutes of my life. However, I knew, in my heart of hearts, back in November ’07 that I had cancer. But since no one had actually said the words to me…Maybe I could hope and wish it away. No such luck.
After my surgeon used my name and cancer in the same sentence, my life as I knew it changed. Every aspect of what I had come to know to be true and believed in had either come into question or changed completely. The next two weeks went by in a blur. I had so many decisions to make and my brain would not function…it could not process anything.
Next I knew I had to call my mom and tell her, ” Mom, I have breast cancer, I’m scared out of my mind and I need you.” We cried and she said what every little girl wants to hear when she is scared, “I’ll be right there and we’ll do this together.” That phone call was the beginning of our journey together to kick cancer’s ass and to discover each other in some very life changing was. . My mom left her home and partner in Washington and arrived at my front door 2 days later, prepared to put her life on hold to help me for as long as the journey took.
In February ’08 I had what I was told to be a left breast mastectomy (more about that later) with centennial lymph node dissection. The surgeon took a total of 12 lymph nodes, 8 of which contained cancer cells. The last 4 lymph nodes were completely clear. I awoke from the surgery with such a sense of relief, that the cancer was out of my body and could no longer continue to grow and harm me. Many wonderful people came to see me in the hospital to offer their support, prayers and love. I think I called on every single one of them over the course of the next year.
Two weeks after surgery, I was scheduled to start chemotherapy. One small glitch had to be dealt with first. I need to move out of the house I had been sharing with my partner. During this whole process I got to see my partner as person who’s actions I could not live with. So the weekend before chemo my gang showed up to paint the new place and move me in.
My best friend, Cheryl, took me to my first chemo appt. I was schedule to receive 4 months of High Dose Dense ACT, every 2 weeks and I was just plan scared. I remember when the nurse wheeled in the IV pole that was strung with several bags of chemicals I could not pronounce, that it was real “I had cancer and I had to do this to save my life.” Cheryl held my hand and was my strength while I cried over my new realization, She gave me one of the greatest gifts that day, she loved me unconditionally.
I had a very hard time with Chemo. I was almost immediately violently sick and lost 40 pounds off my already shrinking frame in the first 2 months. I had to go to the infusion center almost daily to receive IV hydration and anti-nausea medications in an effort to stay out of the hospital. I remember during one of my chemo treatments having to ask the nurse if it was “ok to puke with all these tubs in me”. It seemed like I was either getting sick or lying on the bathroom floor recovering from being sick. I got shingles, carbuncles, chemo soars in my mouth, all of which delayed and hence prolonged my chemo treatment, I was hospitalized twice and in if losing all my hair was not bad enough, I also lost all my toe nails. I must say that by the time I was done with chemo not only did I feel like the walking wounded, I looked like it too. I had to learn to be gentle with myself during and after chemo. I could not do what I used to be able to do and on some days all I could do was get up. My mom feed me as best she could and cared for me when I could not care for myself. And we made it threw chemo alive!
Radiation was just as hard for me. I had to commute for 1 ½ hours one way in the limo the hospital provided to get my treatment. The radiation made me so tired. I experience 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over my left chest and back and I basically slept for 8 weeks. I was so frustrated with still being so sick at this point. I just wanted to be able to stay awake for more than a couple of hours and have a coherent conversation with the people I loved. Both were not possible for me. Again I needed to be gentle with myself and keep believing that one day, I would start to feel better. “The Limo Gang” was so wonderful. We held each other up as we walked this part of the journey. And even though I felt like shit, I made a vow that everyday that I rode in the limo, when I got out the first thing anyone would see is a very, very sexy shoe attached to my very long legs. The rest of my might have looked like I was run over by a truck, but by God I was gonna make a statement every time I got out of that limo!
After radiation, I went to Stanford to seek advice about my right breast and reconstruction surgery. At Stanford I met 2 wonderful doctors who told me several things. First the surgeon informed me that the surgeon who had performed my left mastectomy had left “a lot” of breast tissue behind. Not a good thing with the aggressive – estrogen positive, Stage 3 Invasive Ducal Carcinoma . I was beside myself. This quake had left milk ducts and breast tissue behind. I wanted to scream and then ring his neck. So, with this new piece of information I scheduled surgery to complete the left mastectomy and perform a prophylactic right mastectomy. Second, the plastics guy let me know in no uncertain terms that he could not do any reconstruction to my left chest until my radiation burns had healed. I was looking at a 6 to 12 month wait. Sigh, I just wanted to be whole again but it was not in the cards I held at that time. So on December 3, 2008 my Stanford Surgen removed my breasts without any reconstructive surgery. She removed over ½ a pound of breast tissue from my left breast. I was shocked and wanted to ring the first surgeons neck again. The pathology reports for each breast came back clean!! Thank God !!! I was so I relieved. The reports from my oncologist also came back clean. For now I was done. God, my mom, my doctors, my friends and loved one and myself had kicked cancer’s ass!!! Now I could get on with the business of healing and rebuilding my life.
What cancer has taught me: I never take today for granted…it just might be my last. I cherish everyone I love & tell them that I love them often. I smile if for no other reason then because I am alive. I am good to myself & others, it heals the body, mind and the soul. I laugh a lot just for laughter’s sake. My loved ones & friends will save my ass when I just can’t save myself. I am stronger than I could ever imagine. My back bone is composed of courage, honesty, compassion, determination, & faith. And I can make all my dreams come true! I choose Life After Cancer!. God bless each one of us as we stand tall and walk into the next phase of our lives as survivors!