The good of it
Hey! The next time you hear someone say breast cancer is cured after five years, go ahead and punch them in the face for me, would ya?
After five years, three months and two weeks, I’ve been diagnosed with a recurrence in my lymph nodes.
First, the bad news: five years ago, I didn’t have lymph node involvement. Having lymph node involvement now means the disease has progressed. Having cancer show up after complete removal of my breasts and serious-ass “fire in the veins” chemotherapy means this beast ain’t playing around.
Now, the good news: after a multitude of scans in May and June, when crippling back pain scared doctors into trying to find some cancer (which turned out to be my little ol’, no-longer-present gall bladder) and a chest CT today, it does not appear I have breast cancer anywhere else.
I’ve been noticing these lymph nodes for about a year. I’ve shared these elusive lumps with my doctors, but no one felt they were a concern. Then, late last fall, I had some intense swelling in my armpit. At first, I got gravely concerned, but then when the swelling got really big overnight, I realized it couldn’t possibly be cancer. I nearly didn’t go to the doctor, but then the pain from it got to be a bit much and I decided it was at least an infection that needed attention. She felt the same way and gave me antibiotics.
It went away quickly, but then returned soon after the antibiotics were done. Another round of those. Then, a few weeks after those, when the swelling was gone, I discovered some hard, painful lumps deep in my armpit. I asked my doctor to take another look and she felt I needed an ultrasound.
This was December. Due to the swelling (which went away), we took a wait and see approach to the ultrasound results. I repeated it in May (during the hunt for what turned out to be my gall bladder) at which time the radiologist suggested I come back in one month and, if there was no change, I should get a biopsy. I did. The biopsy happened June 29. I got the phone call last Friday (July 1). I saw my oncologist today.
Actually, today was like this: 8:30 a.m. oncologist; 9:30-11 a.m. frantic messages to friends; 11 a.m. CT scan of chest; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m sleeping on a waiting room couch and trying to keep my extremely sleep deprived (to the point of drunken behavior) boyfriend from telling inappropriate jokes in public; 12:30 p.m. met with my onc nurse (who was relaying info from the doc) that said the CT scan had good news; 1 p.m. lunch; 2 p.m. met with a breast surgeon; 4:30 p.m. told my daughter the news (see more below).
It has been an exhausting day.
Andy was the hero of my day, though. When I was sent for the CT scan but before it happened, we were killing time in the cafeteria and he was ruminating about why we couldn’t get the results of the CT that day. He made great points, but I didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with trying to convince the staff to let us see the doc again. So, I told him to go for it. Five minutes later, I receive a text from him a floor away that I would see the doctor at 12:30! This absolutely changed my whole day and probably saved my weekend – heck, it may have saved me from a week of anxiety.
And his sleep-drunkeness was very entertaining. Keep him awake for 48 hours sometime and see.
So, what’s the plan?
First, I’ll have my first and second level lymph nodes removed. That will be later this month, but not sure exactly when yet. Then, I’ll have radiation.
I will also need ovarian ablation – which means either surgical removal of the ovaries or chemical shutdown. As hard as it is for me to say this, I’m probably going to opt for surgical removal. With shutdown, I run the risk of it not being completely effective. Furthermore, it will need to be shutdown for years. So many years that it won’t make sense to ever restart them.
Why do I need this? I’m on the drug Tamoxifen, which is intended to prevent recurrences. Obviously, that didn’t work out so well for me. Tamoxifen is the only maintenance drug for pre-menopausal women. There are several other better options for post-menopausal women. Ovaries produce estrogen and my cancer was estrogen-positive, meaning estrogen feeds it. Cut off the estrogen and the cancer finds it harder to live. Cut off the estrogen and I’m forced into menopause, which gives me the options of more drugs to fight any cancer that manages to live.
That part sucks a lot for me. I don’t want to be post-menopausal for a million reasons, not the least of which are that it’s not that healthy for someone my age. Estrogen gives you healthier bones. Healthier heart. Youthful skin and hair. Functioning lady parts. The mood issues with “instant” menopause are not small. Ok, I’m not going to dwell on this right now because I will get really upset, but I’m sure you get the picture. It sucks. I’ll do it because I have to do it, but it blows chunks.
Chemo is also possible, but it’s not definite. I should know more about that in another week or so. I’m really not that worried about it either way. My biggest fear was that it was more advanced than my lymph nodes. It appears to be only there, which is wonderful news! I’m going to live to show this asshole who is boss.
I told my daughter, Colleen, about this tonight and she was amazing. AMAZING. She kept saying, “I’m not really scared. I don’t know why, but I’m just not.” While I was talking to her about the surgery, she interrupted me and said, “Then, will you have radiation?” I laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what happens next. How did you know that?” Books, of course. She told me all about Marisa having radiation in The Cancer Vixen. She makes me laugh so much! I hope she is a doctor when she grows up. An artistic doctor who creates the art that hangs on her office walls.
She really has been very unconcerned about this news. My parents were here and she listened to us talk about details a bit and also listened to me on the phone, asked me some small questions and really seems fine. I am really OK, which I am sure helps! I’m just so freaking relieved to have a clear chest CT, this all seems manageable to me now. Of course, that means Colleen thinks it is, too.
So, that’s my story. The worst part of the last week has been trying to keep this quiet until I knew a bit more. Once I started sharing it with friends today, I had an immediate sense that it was totally manageable. I’m so glad I have you all, even those far away. One of the most important things in cancer treatment is having a supportive community around you – and I’m so grateful to have that!