No more bras?

I believe I mentioned earlier that humour is one of the ways many of us handle tough times. Please know that I do not actually take breast cancer lightly and that my experiences and thoughts are not meant in any way as judgement on others with this disease!

After my appointment with my family doctor it was time to share the news with my husband, children, and siblings. I would have given anything to be able to call my mum to talk about things, but that was no longer possible. I called my husband and he called our son. When I got home I told my daughters.

I pointed out to the girls that it wasn’t as if the breast was essential to survival. Having breastfed when they were babies, they were no longer of any practical use. We talked about how it was the most common form of breast cancer and that meant that doctors had tons of experience dealing with it. When we finished talking they went back downstairs.

Later on when they were both upstairs I said to them,  “At least I won’t have to wear a bra anymore!” They both broke out laughing. They looked at each other and said, “That’s the first thing we said to each other when we went downstairs!”

Heading to meet the radiation oncologist.

I have been working to catch this blog up to my present day, but today I am going to jump forward to today for a moment. Today I have an appointment with the doctor who will be my radiation oncologist. It seems odd to be meeting him first as it is my understanding at this point that I will be having chemo first.

There is a lot I don’t really understand about how the systems work, or what is regular timing. I was told by both my family doctor and my surgeon that things would be moving quickly and yet it has been a couple weeks and I am still not scheduled for all of the tests that have to be done before meeting the chemo oncologist. Knowing that it takes a week or more to get results from tests it is hard to imagine getting started attacking this thing before December. I lack perspective partly since I have not had any major health issues before.

Ok, so.I’m here in St John for my appointment. We were early so we went to the cafeteria for lunch. As we were walking past all the signs for radiation and cancer treatment I said to Tom, “I vote for a no-thank-you serving!” It is all just a little too real now!

The waiting room is nice and every other person has the same yellow wrist band I have. It isn’t a club I would have chosen for sure!

OK, the appointment is over. I’m glad I have written down a list of dates for all my appointments and tests so far as the doctor asked me for all of them. He went through that, did a breast exam and then went through things with us. He says it is T4 (Staging & Grading) which means I won’t qualify for the trial treatment which doesn’t irradiate under the arm. He agrees with my surgeon that he will be seeing me after chemo and surgery are done. He expects me to need 25 treatments which is 5 weeks of radiation each week day.

The diagnosis is in

“You have breast cancer.”

These are the words I was expecting to hear from the doctor when I saw her 11 days later. They didn’t really illicit much of a reaction. She told me that I had both in-situ and invasive ductal carcinoma. She said that I was referred to a very good surgeon and that after surgery I would likely have radiation. She even gave me a copy of the lab reports.

Other than telling me the general plan, my doctor explained that I would be mostly in the hands of cancer experts for my treatment, but that she would be there for any other needs I had. She said I was a VIP and that if I needed anything I should call and they would get me in as soon as possible. I said, “Woo hoo, I’ve always wanted to be a VIP!” Humour and sarcasm are my default settings.

She told me she would have to rely on me to let her know how I was doing, because I was hard to read, and then she gave me a hug, “For this I give hugs.”

 

Distractions

On the Friday that I was scheduled for my biopsy my mother, in her 80s, was scheduled for a blood infusion. I went to the hospital early to spend some time with her as infusions are pretty boring. Before I left for the hospital I had a text from my sister to say that she was not really responsive and that she had never seen her worse. Despite this warning, when I saw her I was totally shocked! She was totally still and breathing steadily but made no responses of any kind. The nurses were a bit freaked out by her condition and called her doctor, who is a palliative care specialist. Before I left for my biopsy the decision had been made to move her into an open bed in the palliative care unit at the hospital.

Then there was the biopsy…Two main comments here; holy crap I’m glad I didn’t look at the needle before hand! and I have never lost the feeling in my entire arm before and hope to avoid that in the future as well.

The nurses and the radiologist were awesome and worked hard to make sure I was as comfortable as I could be while laying on my side on the very edge of a hard table with my breast laying on the mammogram plate and then squished flat. One nurse stayed right by me the whole time, held my hand (which I could feel at the beginning) and kept me up to date with what was happening. The other nurse worked very smoothly with the doctor as they took images and then samples from a mass in the upper left of my right breast. They were very efficient and helpful with getting redressed and everything.

The doctor told me I should hear the results the next week and to call my doctor if I hadn’t heard by the next Friday.

Back upstairs I went then to see Mum who was now in a room in palliative care with one sister and one brother with her. My other two siblings were on their way from out of province. Everyone asked how things had gone, and I kept up with icing my incision site through the rest of the day, but Mum was the real focus the rest of that day and through to her death two days later with all 5 kids present. The next week of waiting was overshadowed by funeral arrangements and all that goes with that.

The journey began

I will be turning 52 shortly and have been dealing with symptoms of perimenopause for a few years now. In the late spring/early summer I noticed that I was having tenderness and fullness in my breasts periodically. By July it was isolated to my right breast and I could feel a sort of thick area. I did some Google research and read about fibrous tissue in menopausal breast tissue. I thought about going to the doctor, but decided it was probably nothing.20160823_094418_hdr

The fullness increased over the summer and the appearance of the breast was changing some. In September I made an appointment with my family doctor. On September 27, 2016 I went to the doctor. She did a breast exam and ordered a mammogram. Later she told me that she was quite concerned.

I went to the DECH for my mammogram, fairly certain that I would indeed find out that I had cancer. As usual, the process of having my breasts flattened and then having to try to keep my  balance in the awkward positions was less than pleasant. After regular and then magnified images I went next door to have an ultrasound. The radiologist talked to me as she looked. First she mentioned how thick my skin was. She showed a comparison between the breast skin and the skin between my breasts. It was 5mm thicker (I think 5). She then pointed out a lack of definition of the lump area which seemed to imply that it was not contained within a duct. We also both noted that my breast seemed solid and hard directly below the nipple, but she couldn’t see anything with the ultrasound. Before that appointment was over I had an appointment for a biopsy the following week and an MRI was ordered as well.