Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Three Strikes...

The day of my diagnosis was followed by a whirlwind of tests and exams. I was tested for specific breast cancer-causing genetic mutations. I had to have an MRI and talk to a medical oncologist and radiation oncologist. I definitely saw a lot more of the inside of a hospital than I cared to.

I learned a lot, too. I'm a reader, so as soon as I was diagnosed and given a great handbook (Your Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook, by Judy Kneece) I immediately devoured it and learned everything I could about what I was facing. It's definitely not a subject in which I'd choose to be an expert, but I'm a firm believer in being my own advocate.

From what I learned by the doctors and through my reading, I was a good candidate for a simple lumpectomy (breast conserving surgery only removing the tumor and marginal surrounding tissue) since I was right at Stage II (which is early stage breast cancer.) Opting for this surgery would buy me radiation, but that was a small price to pay for me to keep my breast.

And then came the following week...two days before my scheduled lumpectomy, my genetic test results came back. I tested positive for the BRCA-1 mutation. You can read about it on the link I provided, but in layman's terms, this mutation carries an 87% lifetime risk for breast cancer, and 44% lifetime risk for ovarian cancer. It also increases the risk for recurrence of existing cancers. Strike One.

I had an MRI done the same day. I had an appointment with my surgeon the following day, one day before surgery, to discuss the MRI results. Unfortunately, when I went to see the surgeon he didn't have the results and sent me home prepped to arrive at 6:30 the following morning for my surgery. Imagine my surprise devastation when the surgeon called at 8 that night to tell me that my MRI results showed that my tumor was sitting directly against my chest wall, and that he felt even a full mastectomy would not allow him to completely remove it. Strike Two.

Following that phone call was the first time I really, truly cried since my diagnosis. For the first time since this saga started, I felt like absolutely nothing was in my control...I absolutely hated it. I had to dry my tears quickly, though...my cancer needed a new plan of attack, which included neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemo before surgery) in hopes to shrink the tumor away from my chest wall for safe removal. Since I had planned to have surgery in Hawaii and subsequent treatment after I transferred to Washington, I had to expedite my move to start my chemo as soon as possible.

The Navy was able to get me transferred in less than two weeks (nothing short of amazing!) In that time, I had more tests and appointments to get more information about my cancer. I had to have another biopsy, since my first wasn't conclusive enough for the pathologist to determine my tumor markers. The day before my biopsy, I had flu and pneumonia vaccines for my soon-to-be compromised immune system. I ended up having an allergic reaction to the pneumonia vaccine and developed a nasty deep skin infection of my arm and a really high fever (topped out at 103.5!) all while healing from biopsy #2. Luckily, my mom came at the end of the week to take care of me.

Two days before my transfer, while meeting with a Gynecologic Oncologist to discuss my ovarian cancer risks (nice to be talking about risks of other cancers when I'm fighting a different one right now!) my biopsy results came up. My tumor was triple negative. This fact, combined with my positive BRCA-1 results and my MRI imaging meant that my tumor was Stage IIIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma--advanced stage breast cancer. Strike Three.

And so the stakes were raised...

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you decided to blog this life experience. Hopefully it will provide the education to all of your family and friends whom have now been touched by breast cancer.