On July 14th I was diagnosed with Stage 3a Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my right breast and lymph nodes. Or, as I like to tell Otis—“I have a booboo in my boobie.” Today I met my oncologist for the first time and we have a plan of attack. Tomorrow morning at 5:30am I will get a port placed in my chest. On Tuesday august 16th (my 35th Birthday woohoo) I will go to Chemo School and start chemo on Wednesday. This year of my life will be dedicated entirely to fighting the good fight and healing.
Last week my dad stood up in front of our family and friends and spoke of my courage, something he says I was born with. The reality is I have no idea if I have courage in the face of pain, discomfort, and fear. Sure, I’m always up for an adventure, but I’m not sure if I have the courage to fight this with grace and humility. This blog isn’t meant to be an inspiration. It’s a way of conveniently updating my friends and loved ones of my journey.
I promise my future posts won’t be as long and detailed. This is just a way for me to bring everyone up to speed.
I first noticed something was weird while my family was on a trip to Colorado on June 25th. It was about a month after I had stopped breast feeding Luna and one breast still felt heavy, like it was still making milk. A week later I was in an appointment with my gastroenterologist discussing lifestyle changes I was making to control acid reflux, and I mentioned the bump. He sent my straight over to the breast center to have it checked out. The surgical oncologist there examined me and kept me in his office for a mammogram and ultrasound. I expertly told the interns, the doctors, and the technicians that I had a clogged milk duct that needed to be drained.
The results of those tests showed “calcifications”. Sounds like something that a clogged milk duct would have, right? When the breast MRI and biopsy were scheduled, I continued to ask if they could drain that stubborn milk when they were in there with the needle. They went into 3 biopsy sights and took about 5 samples from each site—one lump in the center of my breast and 2 smaller lumps in my arm pit. They used a mammogram machine for one site and an ultrasound for the other two. My main question—can I still go on our mega family trip in a week? The answer- you should rethink your trip.
We were feeding the kids dinner around 6pm on July 14th when we got the call from the doctor. CANCER. In the breast tissue and the lymph nodes. In all 15 samples that were collected. I sat in the middle of the floor and held my babies, or rather, they held me. After we put them down tearfully, I stood in my closet and wondered what I should wear to tell my parents their baby has cancer. It felt important to look healthy and hopeful.
“I have it.”
It took me a few days before I could say the word CANCER.
It’s really hard to tell people you love that you have cancer.
My sister knew when she saw us at the door at 9pm, her hand covering her mouth, tears in her eyes as she opened the door and pulled me towards her.
The next few days were spent breaking the bad news to friends, family, a few strangers, emails, calls, texts, hearing stories of other people they know with cancer, hearing that everything will be fine and I will be a better person afterwards, hearing how shitty my life will be in chemo, hearing how strong I am, hearing that they never expected it would be me, wondering about what caused this, fearing the burden this will be on those closest to me, being utterly overwhelmed by love and support—over and over again. It was easier for me to be the positive one and cheer someone up, it was harder when I was in the position of toning down the positivity. I spoke with one person currently in treatment, my friend’s aunt. She mentioned that she loves her doctor at Touro and an hour later on a Sunday night I got a call from his nurse who walked me through my diagnosis, and the next steps. I was sold on her kindness.
My parents, my husband, and my sister came with me to my official first appointment as a cancer patient at Ochsner. The nurse complained that we were too many people for the room. The two doctors that I saw, a surgeon and an oncologist, were Dr. Doom and Dr. Gloom. We learned that if the upcoming body scan showed cancer anywhere else in my body, my case would not be curable. And they gave the thumbs down to going on our mega trip—major party poopers these guys. Oh, and did I mention how many times they said “chemical castration”- at least 5 times. They also both said there wasn’t any nutritional advice they could give; I would be able to eat and drink whatever I like though treatment and beyond.
Body scan Thursday started with a lovely puja at the shop with Chamtrul Rinpoche. We were reminded to pray to end the suffering of all sentient beings, not just mine. There was a lot riding on the body scan, radioactive IV and lots of Om Mani Padme Hums in the machine and a Clean as a Whistle report. This news gave my mom the false impression that I was in fact, clean as a whistle and she ran around the hospital telling people that we had cancer but we were clean!
On Friday we jetted off to Mustique for 2 full weeks of love, family, friends, my mom’s 70th birthday, my daughter’s 1st birthday, fresh food and drinks, golf cart rides and riding waves. I will hopefully write more about our trip when I need to go back there in my mind.
While I was in Mustique, we got word that I was accepted for a second opinion at MD Anderson, and another second opinion through the medical service Grand Rounds.
Walking around MD Anderson I felt like I needed to be there, its a mega magnet for cancer people. It’s a whole city of cancer. My doctor said there was no need to get my treatment there. She spent hours walking me through the details of my diagnosis, her medical advice, the data and research to back it, the side effects. She said this was curable and sent me back home with my head a little higher and a little bigger. Oh- I also got a wig, breakfast in bed, a few tears and few chuckles out of Houston.
And today! Finally getting caught up to speed here. Today my team and my plan fell into place. My surgical oncologist walked me through the process of installing a port (in my chest and up through my neck into a big ol’ vein). No exercising or lifting anything more than 5 pounds for 2 weeks.
My oncologist walked me through our down n’ dirty chemo plan. I’m ER/PR positive and Her-2 negative.
adriamcyin/cyclophosphamide (called AC) every 2 weeks for 2 months.
followed by paclitaxel every 2 weeks for 2 months
If everything goes according to the plan without any hiccups I might finish up chemo right before Christmas! Month to recover. Unilateral Mastectomy (or possibly double). Recover from that. Radiation. Recover. Reconstruction surgery.
That’s a lot of information! This should have been 5 separate posts.
How am I doing? I’m relieved to have a plan and a timeline. I’m confident in my team of doctors. I feel healthy and strong and ready to get the shit kicked out of me. I get sad for Sean, and my family, the people that will have to watch me suffer and wipe my snotty nose. I am sad for my babies. It’s hard enough as a healthy mom to feel like you are doing enough for your kids, and they will only have a weak, tired, bald, sick, caricature of the mom that they knew. They still need to be held, rocked, have their noses wiped, their butts wiped, their boo boos kissed, they need to be chased, tickled, buckled into car seats, physically restrained from getting into trouble. I’m not sure what I will be able to do with—and for them. Asking for help has always been a huge challenge for me, but I know I will need it, and I know I will have it.
It’s a shitty thing but at the end of the day I feel so utterly incredibly whole heartedly GRATEFUL.