Docs have talked, and the call at this time is “benign.” No need for biopsy right now. Follow-up MRI at end of month, and, if it shows concerns, we’ll take it from there. <sigh>.
Initial news is good: no mass, tumor, lump — ultrasound showed a bunch of dense and enhanced tissue + a lot of shadows. What does that mean? Not sure, so ultrasound doc will follow up with doc who read MRI, and she will compare with my previous MRIs to determine what exactly has changed and if there is anything to biopsy. If not, a repeat MRI will probably be scheduled. Surgeon will also be looped into the mystery. So, while I did not get a definite “everything is fine,” I am at peace knowing there was nothing alarming discovered!
Ultrasound scheduled for 10:30 this morning.
“I’m sure you’ll be in a suspended state until you know.”
Credit for these words, which are so fitting for my situation, goes to Anna. She’s my boss, a faraway friend, someone I’ve never even seen in person — that is so strange, isn’t it? The virtual world makes it possible for me to work at home in Florida with a staff of others who fill a New York City office building. I am so lucky. (Not to have never seen Anna, of course, just to have the great gift of working in my house so I can be a professional and a mom.)
So, if you have not read the posts that come before this one, I am waiting. waiting. waiting. for an ultrasound (hopefully on Monday) that will give a second look at a “new conglomerate of small enhancing foci in the retroareolar region” of my right breast (not the one where I’ve already had breast cancer) and a non-mass-like something in the posterior of the same breast. Malignancy and infectious/inflammatory etiologies are considered, says the MRI report.
The MRI I had on Thursday was just a routine follow-up — a test that was supposed to reveal I am still cancer-free.
Maybe I am still cancer-free. Maybe I’m not. The ultrasound, and probably a biopsy, will flesh it all out. While I wait for that second look, though, I’m sorta just going through the motions and hanging in a balance. I’m up and down, and, well, this is what I feel:
There is still plenty of happy in my world, though. I mean, how can I not count my blessings with a boy who is willing to dance his little heart out at the Gator basketball game last night just to get on TV (and in the newspaper).
1. Incomplete MRI of right breast with new conglomerate of small enhancing foci in the retroareolar region and non-mass-like enhancement of posterior breast as detailed above. Malignant and infectious/inflammatory etiologies are considered. A second look with ultrasound is recommended to evaluate for discreet lesion that would be amenable to biopsy. If ultrasound in unsuccessful, MRI-guided biopsy should be considered.
2. Normal left breast MRI.
Next up: ultrasound, early next week.
Funny thing: seven years ago, just before Thanksgiving, it all happened pretty much like this.
Of course, it could be nothing.
Or it could be something.
I just want to know.
I had my fifth post-cancer MRI today. I get one every year, right at this time. It’s just a routine thing, a method of peeking at the insides of my breasts to determine if cancer is coming back or not. I don’t know what today’s results will reveal — gotta wait for my oncologist to call — but I do know it was a pretty good visit. I can’t always say that, because I usually wait so long to have my turn in the tube that I’m steaming mad by the time I slip into my awesome blue gown.
Today, though, no one made me wait, no one made me pay, I got my MRI in the new part of the hospital (first time there), and besides one minor blood spill when the needle came out of my arm, everything went well. The best part of the morning was meeting a woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer, telling her it’s been almost 7 years since my story started (see, there IS hope!), and leading her to my blog, where she can hopefully see that what lies ahead isn’t always horrible.
And to the newly-diagnosed woman — if you are reading, welcome to my blog. It’s really long (that’s a good thing — it means I’ve been surviving for a good amount of time), but I hope you’ll find what you seek, and if you don’t, please just leave me a comment or send me an e-mail (address is on the card I gave you), and I will happily answer any of your questions or lead you to someone who can. Best wishes to you!
Dermatologist upon seeing suspicious spot on my arm: “Yea, we’re gonna need to biopsy that.”
Yea, I figured.
And in a week, if I learn I’ve got skin cancer, it will be cut out, and I’ll sport a matching slash next to the one I already have for a basal cell cancer that was removed from the same arm in 2009.
I don’t watch movies with a very critical eye, and mostly, I don’t really care much if what I see on the big screen matches reality. I’m just happy if films make me think, laugh, learn, and sometimes cry. Tonight, though, I saw 50/50 (about a young man who is diagnosed with cancer and must endure the rigors of fighting it), and it had me thinking for all 100 minutes, “Is this an accurate portrayal of a cancer battle?”
I’m thinking it was.
Not everything mirrored what I personally encountered, but a lot of it did.
Like the blurring effect a crushing diagnosis can have.
Like the chemotherapy infusion room — same pink leathery chairs and same gathering of cancer patients making small talk that turns into something more.
Like the shaving of the hair in preparation of the inevitable.
Like the bald head.
Like the pre-op room, with family standing by the bedside and doctors buzzing around, requesting signatures and pushing drugs that cause sleepiness.
Like the post-op room, with family standing by smiling because the news is hopeful.
Like the therapist still working on her Ph.D., dispensing relaxation techniques and advice and managing anger and frustration.
Like the nausea, the fatigue, the nervousness, the insecurity.
Like the mom who worries and is always ready to help.
There was no actual vomiting for me, no “medical” marijuana, no cheating significant other, no major big meltdown (just a bunch of minor ones), no Seth Rogan funny friend.
Still, the movie rings true.
Probably because it’s inspired by a true story and written by the guy who lived it.
(And Seth Rogan really was his funny friend).
October is almost over, which means (a) my house is filled with candy, and the ultimate challenge is upon me: to eat or not to eat, (b) the time will soon change, and I will begin hating how it gets dark so early, (c) the onslaught of pink that has probably been gagging you for 31 days will slow to a medium roar, and (d) it will soon be seven years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sometimes, I feel guilty for surviving cancer, because some people are not so lucky. Why did I get a break when so many, like Amy, did not?
There’s nothing fair about the way it happened, the way Amy died just 15 months after a breast cancer diagnosis seemingly similar to mine. She heard the same string of chilling words—you have cancer—as I did, just months after a doctor hurled them at me, over the phone, a day before Thanksgiving. Both in our early 30s with husbands and small children, Amy and I felt like two peas in a pod, situated in what we believed were almost identical positions. We were both young, both with early stage breast cancer. We both knew our cancers, while caught early, were considered aggressive because of our age—young women tend to have aggressive forms of the disease—but we also knew we had a high likelihood of survival, about 93% for at least five years.
Amy and I had common hopes, fears, and worries, and, on several occasions, we cried tears we were sure flowed from the same well. We also shared an instant urge to reach others with our breast cancer stories. Amy welcomed local newspaper reporters into her world and allowed them to capture through words and photographs her most intimate cancer moments. I began authoring my own breast cancer blog and then ventured into the world of freelance writing. We both wanted to make our experiences matter. And judging by the flood of reaction we received from our combined efforts, it’s clear we did.
Amy and I shared victories—we both managed to escape the threat of lymph node involvement—and we shared cards and e-mails. Thank you for holding my hand through this journey—it would have been pretty lonely without you, Amy wrote in one e-mail.
Amy and I also shared care packages, family photos, even hats. If misery loves company, then Amy and I were in love. And in celebration of our love, we basked in the glory of our most important similarity—our cancers had not spread. This was key to our survival. Or so we thought.
A mutual friend—her high school buddy and my college roommate—matched Amy and me. Ericha was one of a few close friends who after my diagnosis offered to hop on a plane and come to my rescue in Florida. I never accepted her offer—I was sure I could handle cancer all on my own—and so she stayed in Ohio where Amy, also an Ohio girl, welcomed her assistance. It worked out well this way.
Ericha helped Amy as she recovered from surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy, and countless physical and emotional twists. She watched Amy’s kids—ages 4 and 1 at the time—and cleaned her house and drove her to appointments and selflessly assumed some of the burden drowning this young wife and mother who continued working as a nurse while managing a life with cancer.
“I quit my job,” Amy told me just after she announced her cancer had returned. She said she should have quit after her first diagnosis. She should have taken better care of herself. She should have played with her children, spent time with her husband, given up the chore of work. She would do it right this time, she said. She would crush cancer. She was sure of it.
I wrote and published a post about Amy on The Cancer Blog just after she told me how cancer had shown up in her brain and lungs, just five months after her chemotherapy for breast cancer ended. I wrote about my shattered hope, my fear this would happen to me, my complete and total sadness. And then Amy left a comment on my post. She wrote:
Jacki, I am not giving up. I will beat this again. Don’t you give up yet. I have Luke and Ella and they alone are worth fighting for. Just everyone send me your prayers and positive vibes. Quoting the cancer crusade couple, “Setbacks are a chance to pause and review the lesson of life.”
Amy, the one staring down death—doctors said she had two to 12 months to live—was comforting me. Amy, with her spunk and spirit, convinced me she would annihilate this evil disease. I believed her.
Amy lived for only five weeks after she wrote these words. Ericha called me with the news of her death just as I was leaving my house one Saturday morning to run in a race. I stopped in my tracks when Ericha told me—Amy passed yesterday—and I felt nothing but shock and sorrow for the duration of the run I struggled to finish. I finished for Amy, though. If she could fight cancer—twice—then I could surely pound out a few miles in honor of a friend whose face I never did see.
Amy and I talked about meeting at the beach with our families one day after we’d survived cancer for a few years. We dreamed of going on the Oprah show and proudly announcing our survivorship. We talked about a lot in our short 15-month friendship. What we didn’t talk about was that our situations really were very different. Perhaps we weren’t aware of it at the time. Perhaps we subconsciously chose to find common ground in the midst of our harrowing journeys, to ignore the fact that we were not traveling the same path at all.
Amy had a family history of breast cancer. I did not. Just after Amy completed her chemotherapy, her mother was diagnosed with the same disease that now has affected four generations in her family. Additionally, Amy’s tumor was slightly larger than mine, she received a different chemotherapy protocol than I received, she was not eligible for a year-long drug treatment I accepted to keep cancer at bay and because she had chosen the radical route of removing both of her breasts—I had a lumpectomy—Amy was not a top candidate for the radiation therapy that zapped me five days per week for seven weeks. She wondered if she should have demanded this treatment. She wondered if it would have made a difference in her survival.
The final and perhaps most significant difference in our diseases is that while Amy’s cancer, like mine, had not spread to her lymph nodes, it had found a way to penetrate her bloodstream and was spreading in a secret, silent, and deadly fashion. My oncologist, who dried my tears when I sobbed about the unfairness of Amy’s death, said some young women have a very aggressive disease right away. Amy was one of these women. I, apparently, am not.
There’s nothing fair about the way it happened, how Amy died just 15 months after a breast cancer diagnosis I have now survived for almost four years, how Amy died so quickly and I didn’t, how there is no cure for this mysterious disease that strikes far too many women and some men too.
Amy’s husband sent me an e-mail just after she died. He wrote:
You were a great inspiration to Amy. Your quote ” Fight the Good Fight” was front and center on our fridge. Please don’t let this news get you down, Amy would want your chin up, would want you to keep fighting. Thanks for all your support.
My chin is up. I am fighting. And Amy—thank you for your support.
I’m not sure why I didn’t fully understand the whole 1 in 8 thing before this week, but, clearly, I did not. Because when my friend who happens to spend his days hunting down a cure for cancer told me that the 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer is a lifetime risk and not a risk for every woman at every age, I was sorta shocked. And way relieved.
My friend directed me to the National Cancer Institute, where I located some facts about the often-thrown-around statistic, and here is what I learned:
If you are 30 years old, you have a 1 in 233 chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, a 1 in 54 chance in the next 20 years, a 1 in 24 chance in the next 30 years, and a 1 in 8 chance in your lifetime.
Did I have a 1 in 8 chance at age 34? Nope. I still got the disease, yes (which means I’m pretty unlucky, I guess), but my chances were not as great as one might believe.
Now, your risk does increase as you age (because, as my friend told me, cancer is mostly a disease of older people), but, still, even a 70-year-old woman has a 1 in 27 chance of getting breast cancer in the next 10 years. Not 1 in 8.
I am not here to minimize in any way the fact that breast cancer strikes far too many women of all ages, and I realize there are risk factors that change the odds listed above, but, I do appreciate a little perspective.
And now, I have some.
This is pretty much what happens in the two months following a breast cancer diagnosis:
- Needle-guided biopsy.
- Echo heart scan.
- Full-body PET scan.
- Muga heart scan.
- BRCA genetic testing.
- Numerous blood tests.
- Portacath inserted in my chest.
- 3 rounds of chemo.
- 2 bone marrow generating Neulasta injections.
- Hair loss.
- Bloating/weight gain.
- Appointments with cardiologists, oncologists, oncology surgeons for my future mastectomy, plastic surgeons for future reconstruction.
- Too many prescriptions to name.
- Menopause … fun times.
That could so be my list (except for the PET scan and the mastectomy and plastic surgeon appointments).
But, it’s not.
It belongs to Angela over at It Is What It Is. (That’s her in the pic.)
Angela, 31 years old and mom to a daughter and twin boys, is in the midst of treatment right now, and if you are, too, or you are about to be, or you just want to follow someone amazing who is tackling life despite its hurdles, you really should go visit this spunky gal (who also happens to be giving away a Bondi Band headband).
I think you won’t regret getting to know Angela.
I know I don’t.
When my hair was growing back after cancer treatment and I had just teeny tiny little bits of fuzz covering my head, 4-year-old Joey said, “People might think you’re the dad!” Same guy who told me while I was hospitalized for chemo complications and was wearing a mask and a hat, “You look like an alien.”
That boy just always knows what to say!
But, in time, you might like the benefits of bald.
Like no shampoo; no hair drying, curling, flattening; and no time at all to get ready in the morning. (No shaving or eyebrow tweezing either.)
Not that you won’t love it when your hair returns, but bald isn’t the worst thing forever. Just in the beginning.
Today, I spent two hours in a radiation oncology clinic (staring at the same ‘ol boring exam room table) in order to spend maybe 15 minutes with the doctor. I’d write all about it here, but I sorta already did all my venting on Facebook. Here’s how it went:
Antsy. 42 minutes waiting to see doctor. Makes me mad every time.
Go say something. That’s SO RUDE! Imagine if I left my clients waiting that long? RUDE RUDE RUDE!
Exactly! Basically shouts that my time is not valuable, and it is!
I always take it as a big EFFF YOU! So rude.
Thinking of you….
Residents have been in. Now waiting on doc. It’s neverending.
They also obviously do not understand, or care, that the nervousness just gets worse the longer we have to sit there and dream up our own prognoses!! They can be such JERKS!!
Another doctor of mine
You must love coming to see me!
I KNOW it is annoying but PLEASE keep in mind there are times where a seriously ill pt comes into a office and needs immediate care or even needs to be transferred right away to the hospital. If it were your own mother who needed the care you may feel THANKFUL! Also, please let your M.D. know. There is also the event where he may have been double booked by office staff and not knowing it. Keep in mind Monday’s and Friday’s are your busiest days to have a appointment. I am sorry you are having to wait Jacki. I hope you get a clean bill of health. I am THANKFUL! Mine is the way he is! He takes such great care of his patients and his family! We are blessed!
I *do* love coming to see you, because you don’t make me wait … anymore! I wonder what you have written next to my name on the schedule — something like, “Don’t make this girl wait or she’ll freak out!” — ?? My appointment did end well, though — Doctor says I look perfect. Just took 2 hours to get that info.!
Oh, I do understand all of that, Jen, and I’m sure I’ve been the time-consuming patient at times. But over the course of almost seven years of cancer care, I’ve mostly waited and waited and waited — 4 hours was tops — and because I’ve been to places that have a slick system, it always bothers me. My husband gets his care at the VA Hospital, and he never waits! Of course, there are exceptions, but the norm should be that patients get in when they are scheduled. OK, moving on …
Four times a year, I report for some sort of cancer follow-up. Tomorrow, my radiation oncologist weighs in. (I had planned to post a photo of what radiation did to my skin, but I can’t do it. It’s too gross, and it sorta makes me cry.)