Health Mirror: Reflections on Health

Nutralady's Views on Building Healthier Bodies, Minds, & Spirits


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Breast Cancer Diagnosis: The Journey Begins…

Welcome to my new Blog!!  This is going to be a long, ongoing story, told in retrospective segments.  I hope you will join me as I tell it, follow along, and share it with anyone, male or female, whom you feel needs to hear it, for whatever reason. Heck, share it publicly on your own Social Media, whichever one/s you use, to ensure widespread public consumption.  My telling of my story is designed to inform, educate, & share my experience with every woman (& man; they know & love a lot of women), mostly to influence as many as possible to NEVER, EVER skip a routine mammogram and/or ultrasound, no matter how fearful of them & their results she/he may be!!

Early detection is THE BEST Life-Saver, and, in many cases, makes it much easier to treat and more quickly, too!  It saved MY life, for sure!!!

I intend to tell you a lot of the details of my journey, as well as some very interesting things I’ve learned along the way.

SOME THINGS I’VE LEARNED

#1)  Men can and do get breast cancer. Who knew? I didn’t! I’m assuming they use ultrasounds to do the diagnosing for men. Can you imagine a man & a mammogram?

#2)  Ultrasounds are a much better diagnostic tool for breast cancer than mammograms!  If that’s step 2 to confirm it, why not just skip step 1?

#3)  Breast Cancer takes time to develop; it doesn’t just appear overnight.  Once it’s detectable, it’s probably been developing for about 2 years, I’ve been told.

Some, well, most of my story, is definitely not pretty, and I’ll try to keep it non-gory (some of it is even comical at times), but if you or anyone you know ends up setting out on this journey too, I want you to know what you may (or may not) be in for. Everyone’s journey is very unique, different, and very personal.  I have just decided to open up and share all of my journey, for your benefit.  Don’t “expect” all of the things that I experienced will happen to/for you; they won’t, not all of them.  I’m weird!  I’ve heard the word RARE waaayyyy too many times in the past year!!  You will probably have different things happen, too, but whatever you experience, know that others have experienced that occurrence/feeling/emotion/fear too!

If this becomes difficult to read, may I suggest you suck it up and read it all anyway; if you need to, skim the difficult parts, but it’d be better if you didn’t.  Whatever. None of this is fun, that’s for sure, but it’s better than finding out too late, or when you need to have much more extensive treatment than I needed!!  About one in eight women will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in their lifetime.  Look around you; who will it be?  Them?  or you?  There’s no way to know!!  Make sure you read all the comments on my blog-posts, too, as there may be some input from family members, etc, shared there from time to time, as they remember things and feelings/emotions/fears, etc, as my blog-posts bring them up.

There is not much information out there (I’ve looked – hard) that tells a woman (or man; yes, some of them get breast cancer too!) what the personal experience is of the patient, from the patient’s own perspective, during this journey.  There will also be input, along the way, from my family members; they will be telling their own tidbits of how this affected them, and how they have felt at different steps in this journey. My surgeons, doctors, nurses, and care-takers have also agreed to give their own perspectives of their part in my story; there were some very rare complications (very specific to MY body) in my reconstruction phase, right from the beginning and all along since then.

In short, though, if only one life is saved (but I pray for many more), then I will be very happy, and the effort and time involved in blogging about it will be well worth it!!!  Be prepared; I will be sharing some helpful tidbits about feelings, emotions, and fears (in little side-notes) where it seems appropriate to me.  I will not be sugar-coating anything, because, for anyone who is stepping out into this journey as well, it could well help them to know that the feelings, etc, they are having are perfectly normal, and not to fear them, just roll with them; they will pass.

And so…  The saga begins…

Last June (2016), I had my yearly physical exam with my GYN.  All went well.  My doctor put me on a beginning dosage of a medication to help with an Overactive Bladder problem, and we made my appointments for all of those pesky tests that need to be done routinely, including, of course, the infamous mammogram.

On August 31st, 2016, I went for the yearly mammogram.  I have always been very compliant with getting these done, as my own mother had breast cancer when she was 50 and she had a 2-year journey that included chemotherapy before she was declared a survivor, and of course, after 5 years of no recurrence, you are considered cured.  So, I’m compliant.  Every single year since I turned 40!!  Yay me!!

Over the years, I’ve had a few scares myself, mostly back in the 1990s.  The first time there was a palpable small lump in the right breast; upon removal it was declared benign, thank God!!  The second one, a few years later, was just a small area which had some calcification spots in the left breast, which were also removed and declared benign.  Thank God once again!!!  The third time (I figured 3 strikes and you’re out, of course), it turned out to be a cyst in the left breast, near the armpit area, about which the doctors and the Radiologist were not concerned.  Again, Thank God!!!  For the past 2 years after its discovery, they had been watching it closely, having me come in for not only a yearly mammogram, but an ultrasound every 6 months.  This did not concern me too much, as this type of thing had now become my new normal, and I expected to need it this time too.   So off for my mammogram I went.  I knew about the cyst & so did they, so we had the ultrasound right then at the same visit.  When they called us back into the Radiologist’s Room to have him go over the results, I got a bit nervous.  This was not the normal routine. He explained that there were some suspicious changes from the films from a year ago and proceeded to show them to us.  I began to get a bit concerned, but he assured me that I was not to worry until/unless he & the other doctors tell me to, as sometimes they see these kinds of changes in perfectly normal breast tissue that is just showing the signs of aging, especially if the breast tissue is dense, which mine was.  I tried to believe this, but my inner “gut feeling” started to tell me to temper my hope with some realistic pragmatism and common sense, just in case I would need to prepare for bad news. My”gut feelings” are generally spot on, so intellectually, I was already starting to think thru the what-ifs (this is a defense mechanism the brain uses to prepare us for needing to accept bad news, I’ve decided; I think it really helps to have these thoughts, if you truly feel the same way I did).

The Radiologist then set up an appointment for me to come in for an ultrasound-directed needle biopsy, just to make sure what we were dealing with.  I had that done the next week (it was not fun, but was bearable; breathe in deeply and exhale slowly – it really helps), and it confirmed his suspicions. He said that he believes I have Breast Cancer, but that it appears to be in the very early stages.  This was all done at my previous provider in York, PA, for these services, even though we now live in Hershey, PA, because I knew they had all my previous results/reports and it would be easier for them to make the comparisons between the older ones and the new ones, and that proved to be true and very helpful.

I, very oddly, experienced no sense of fear or dread at this point; never did, really.  I felt, again quite oddly, at peace. I felt a firm conviction that I was okay, that I was going to be okay, and that all would be well.  This feeling has stayed with me from the very beginning.  I am a Christian woman of strong Faith; that is where my calm assurance came from.  Even if my result would ultimately be physical death (though I did not believe that would happen), I knew this would be okay, since we consider that to be the Ultimate Healing.  This was when it occurred to me to start making a record of everything so that I would be able to tell the story later on.  (Silly me!  I truly thought I’d be able to tell it as it was unfolding, but more on that thought later…)  I decided to blog about the experience, in great detail (reader beware), as it occurred.  Optimistic me! What happened is I found the whole process so overwhelming due to various complications, not to mention drug-induced brain fog, & fatigue (surgically-induced anemia that I’m now conquering) beyond description, that I just haven’t been quite up to it till now.  Daily living & resuming normal chores & activities is a long & slow process!  I am now, however, at a place where I am feeling much better, much stronger (for the most part), and truly motivated (compelled, really) to get on with it.

Back to the story…   After that ultrasound-directed needle biopsy, which was confirmed positive about 1 week later, they referred me to another Radiologist at the Penn State/Hershey Medical Center’s Breast Cancer Center (the best around, maybe anywhere), since I would be having all of my care done up here, and they sent her all of my records and films.  She was to do another ultrasound-directed needle biopsy, on both breasts this time, followed by a CT-Scan.  That was done on October 21st, but she skipped the ultrasound step, saying she didn’t believe it was necessary in my case, as the CT-Scan would also be using needles and tell her all she needed to know. (Side-note here:  the needle biopsy CT-Scan is not fun!  It is necessary, so take a deep breath and roll thru it!!  It is definitely weird and uncomfortable, but it’s soon over and then you get on with your day.)  The results confirmed the diagnosis, but she diagnosed the cancer in both breasts, not just the left one, as the Radiologist in York had found.  The Radiologist in Hershey diagnosed me with Stage 0 & Stage 1 cancer sites, in both breasts.

MORE THINGS I’VE LEARNED

#4)  Breast Cancer has a Stage 0!!  Who knew??  Again, not I!!!  Stage 0 is when it is completely contained within the milk ducts, having not breached the two walls of the milk ducts.  Stage 1 is when the cancer has breached both the inner and outer walls of the milk ducts, but stays gathered right around the outside of the outer wall, and has not spread to what they call “the pathways,” which are the lymph system and the bloodstream.  Fascinating.  I did not know any of this!

OBSERVATION & OPINION:  Many people who receive a diagnosis of cancer, and the people they know, refer to it as “my cancer” or “your cancer.”  You will NEVER hear me say this about the diagnosis I was given!!!  Please, people, consider doing the same!  I will only say “the cancer!”  I do not own the cancer!  I never asked for it!  I never wanted it!  It is not welcome in my life!!!  I have gotten rid of it!!!  The battle is on, and it is a sometimes long and difficult battle; some people win it and some don’t. No matter the outcome, do NOT “own” the disease!!  This attitude will help you greatly in the battle.  It certainly did help me!!

I think we’ll stop here for now.  God Bless!!!

Stay tuned for the next segment…

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