My journey with Breast Cancer

My journey started Sunday, December 6, 2015.

Note – everyone’s journey is unique, everyone’s cancer is unique, everyone’s treatment is unique. Listen to your care providers, they will know the best protocol for you. My prayers are with all who have cancer, have family or friends with cancer.

Gerry was on call, but it was one of those few times that we were actually able to lie in bed and talk about everything under the sun.  When you live with a general surgeon, it isn’t uncommon to have him perform a breast exam, which he was doing while we talked and laughed.  Then Gerry stopped and got serious, “there is a lump here i think you should have checked”.

I had to travel that week for work, a mammogram and ultrasound were scheduled for the following week when i returned 12/16/15.  I had been diligent about getting an annual mammagram and I knew that I had dense breasts (had been told several times), what I didn’t know, is that if you have dense breasts you should have extra testing, research this in your area.

My Mammogram and Ultrasound showed that there was definitely something that needed further investigating.  (Note to all – my lump wasn’t easily felt standing up, do your exams standing up and lying down)  A biopsy was performed for the following day 12/17/15. I also learned that typically a lump cannot be felt until it is at least 2 cm and by that time it has probably been around for 5 years, the cancer cells take a long time to split and grow. Crazy to think this cancer has been with me all this time and I had no idea. They say one of the worst things about breast cancer, is there are minial or no symptoms. Encourage all your friends to have regular mammograms and self exams, even when you think it could never happen to you.

I think that anyone that has received a diagnosis of breast cancer (or any cancer for that fact), will remember the date they received the news.
12/18/15 Gerry came home in the middle of the day and told me the news.  It was confirmed I had breast cancer.  Seriously, how was this possible… i had nursed, you weren’t supposed to get cancer if you nursed.  I worked out, I had a good diet, etc., how could this be happening to me???  This is only supposed to happen to other people… I suggested that perhaps they mixed my tests up with someone elses… that didn’t fly, they wouldn’t switch mammogram, and ultrasound, and biopsy 😦  I tried . . .

That night we told my daughters, 17 & 20, it is a scary thing telling your daughters that you have cancer.  Our emotions were running high, but we were putting our faith in God.

12/21/15 I was scheduled for a MRI.  The MRI is done on your stomach with your breasts pressed in their each compartment, it takes approx 45 minutes,  while you are receieving the MRI, they are running a fluid introveneously that helps them to spot the cancer.

12/22/15 I met with my general surgeon. I was told that I have an Infiltrating Ductal ER/PR negative HER2 positive breast cancer.  Only in the left breast, and at this time it doesn’t look like it is in the lymph nodes.  Pretty greek isn’t it… I was given my options – trying to remove with a quadrant surgery, followed with radiation and chemo, a mastectomy on the one affected breast, or a bi-lateral mastectomy (both breasts).  I opted for a nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy.  Thinking that even though I only had a 10% chance of developing cancer in the second breast, I didn’t want to have any worry, plus, I wanted a matching set.  🙂  What can I say, I will be perky til the day I die… LOL.  The mastectomy reduces the necessity of radiation (it would only be required if something more was found during surgery). My surgeon spoke to my oncologist who indicated that with my age, size of cancer and tumor receptor status, regardless of the outcome of the surgery, I would likely need chemo.  I elected to have a port inserted for the chemo during surgery.   I also decided to start breast reconstruction immediately.

12/23/15 I met with the plastic surgeon.  Measurements were taken, procedures were explained, I elected to go with a tissue expander, inserted during the mastectomy.  This means that the general surgeon removes all breast tissue, then the plastic surgeon follows by making an incision through the pectoral muscle and inserting an expander that is best described as a bladder that will be filled over the course of the next few months until it is to my original size.  The expander is very hard and filled with saline.  The plan was to fill on surgery day to 240 cc, then fill up to 520cc, which is over filling, then doing a surgery (at least 30 days post chemo) that will remove the expander and put in the permanent prostetic, which will feel much more normal.  I knew that I wanted to have removal and reconstruction the same time, the soonest calendars could be coordinated was 1/15/16 (another date I will probably never forget).

Now that i have filled you in on all the dates, let me tell you a little about myself.
I have always been the type of person that embraces life to it’s fullest,
I have blind faith in God that He will never give me anything I can’t handle,
But i wasn’t expecting this… it was quite surreal.  I was on an emotional roller coaster from 12/18 – 1/15 when i finally had my surgery.  Every day, wondering what they would find during surgery, would there be complications, would i come through surgery o.k., would they find that my body is full of cancer and on and on and on… One moment I would be fine, the next I would find myself an emotional reck.  I have been blessed with a truly wonderful support network of family, friends and co-workers.  God would always make sure, that just when i was feeling really down, He would send something my way to cheer me up and give me support.

I believe that I have been walking through a fog since 12/18 when i learned I have breast cancer.  Each day I feel alert and positive, but when i look back on yesterday, it feels like it is in a dream.  I know that your brain has ways that it helps to cope with stressful situations, I just pray that my brain keeps up the good work, my number one goal, Keep Faith and Keep Positive. 🙂  With God on my side, i know that all is possible.  And I know that God will ALWAYS be by my side.

12/29/15 My youngest daughter and I went out wig shopping and ordered one that we both thought looked pretty good.  the gentleman that helped us was phenomenal, they work specifically with cancer patients and were very helpful on what to expect and when, I will start losing my hair within 7 days of my first chemo!!!  wow, thought maybe it would take awhile.  I have decided that i don’t want to let it just fall out in fistfuls.  I am going to have a head shaving party, will figure out details when i know what my chemo schedule will be.

1/15/16 finally came.  My surgery was scheduled for noon.  I had to start fasting at midnight.  My mother and sister came and stayed with us the night before and took me to the hospital for pre-op.  Gerry met us there as he had a couple cases in the morning.  Prior to surgery there is a lot going on, meeting with the general surgeon, the plastic surgeon, the anesthesiologist, admissions, etc.  15 minutes prior to surgery they took me down to nuclear medicine to inject my breast with a nuclear tracing agent that passes through the lymphatics to the sentinel lymph node or nodes which are the first nodes a cancer will spread to.  The surgeon uses this information during surgery to know which nodes need to be sent to pathology to determine if the cancer is contained.  All i can say, the injection hurt like (&^*&%^*&%^%((*.  However, the pain was gone within 15 minutes.  My surgeon did the injection, his case before mine was running late and i was going to be starting probably an hour late.  Gerry, Mom and Julie were able to stay with me until they took me to surgery at 1:00.  Anita, an amazing friend and scrub nurse brought me a very soft cozy blanket while i was in pre-op.  Anita was off work, but stayed and was in the operating room during my surgery watching out for me. 🙂  an added level of comfort.

The plastic surgeon marked me up prior to surgery – it would be a very bad thing to have your breasts placed in the wrong place… lol nothing worse than having your cleavage off center… lol

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I was wheeled to the operating room just before 1:00.  The last thing i remember there is the anesthisiologist telling me they were giving me something to make me more comfortable.  Goodnight.  Then next thing i remember is waking up in recovery.  I was wheeled to recovery around 6:00. And to my room probably around 7:00.  I recall when i came to in recovery they asked where my pain level was from 1-10, I responded without hesitation, 12!!!  I was in  a lot of pain, especially on the right side. I guess I kept dozing off as they were working on the pain meds for me.  I heard someone say they gave me tylenol in my IV, I think that is when I started feeling better.  I also had a button I could push with morphine.  What I found out is that when i started taking the oral pain med, it actually worked better than the morphine.  Go for that as soon as you can. 🙂  But make sure you have something in your stomach with it. 🙂

On Surgery day, go to the hospital looking like you want to wake up 🙂  fix your hair, put on some makeup, it will help you feel better when you finally get to your room.  I am a firm believer, if you look like you feel good, you will feel good, and heal much quicker… mind over matter 🙂 Take things with you that are your good feeling comfort things 🙂

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I went into surgery for bi-lateral mastectomy, thinking that I would be able to keep both of my nipples, however, during the surgery it was discoverd through pathology that the cancer in my left breast had gone into the nipple and surrounding skin, it all had to be taken.  The plastic surgeon did a purse string closure that will ultimately be the center of my nipple.  The left nipple will be tattooed on when all chemo is complete and the permanent prosthetics are in place.  Note to self, never say never… haha, I had always said I will NEVER have a tattoo… lol, never dreamt I would have a tattoo of a nipple… lol

I had read several blogs as well as the American Cancer website and had expected to be heavily bandaged when i came out of surgery.  I also knew that I would have drains in each breast.  The local cancer center had reached out to me and would be brining me special cammisoles to take home that have pockets for the drains.  a definite must in my mind…

What i had – on the right breast – no bandage, and stitches only along the top of the nipple, easily hiding the scar.  a special clear coating (like super glue) over the stitches.  On the left breast – a square bandage max 2×2, very thin, just over the center.  Each breast had been filled to 240cc, so I actually had breasts, now, they are round and flat and very hard (about as hard as a shoulder), but they weren’t flat :-).  I had a drain coming out of the bottom exterior side of each breast.  The drains are actually stitched into place and then covered with a large 3×5 bandage.  I was able to shower before I went home!!!

My room had a sofa that was a futon.  Gerry stayed with me in the hospital.  I was there from friday night until sunday morning.
I know I was blessed to have so many praying for my healing.

Months ago before we learned that cancer was in the cards, we had purchased tickets for sunday night at the civic center.  As it turned out, we didn’t have anyone that could use the tickets.  So we went.  Gerry was able to get us a parking place close to the door, we went straight to our seats and stayed there during intermission.  It was great to be out, but with my pain meds i kept dozing off during a great play. 😦

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Tuesday after surgery I had lunch with a group of ladies called Amazing Women.  All of these ladies have had / do have cancer and it was wonderful talking to them and learning what to expect.  I highly recommend support groups of this sort.  A group of positive, like minded ladies helps immensely.  Get your support group as quickly as possible.

Tuesday I also recieved my final pathology report.  All margins are negative… YEAH!!!! That means that Radiation isn’t in the equation (i hope, i meet with the oncologist on Thursday).

Friday i met with the plastic surgeon, received 60cc more in each breast and had my drains removed!!! for the first time I was actually able to sleep on one of my sides, which is good for me because I am a side sleeper. with the expanders my breasts are still more flat than domed, but that will come along as they get filled more.  When the permanent prosthetics are put into place, they will go through the nipple scar on the right breast and will need to make a new incision under the left breast.

Bright side???  I will never need to wear a bra again for support… becuase the prosthetic is between the pec and the ribs, the pecs actually hold them firmly (and i mean firmly) in place.  🙂  I never realized how uncomfortable bras are until i don’t have to wear one… lol
I am going back to work this week, (1/25) i worked a little last week, but was very low on energy and didn’t get as much done as i had hoped. 😦
This Wednesday is my follow up appt with my general surgeon and Thursday is my appt with my oncologist.  It’s a very small world, i learned Sunday that my oncologist is the little neighbor boy… lol, God has brought really wonderful people into my path.
I have been prepped, that I may be having chemo for a year!!!! how can this be??? I will let you all know more as soon as I have more details.

Now, how have I been feeling – 9 days after surgery.

Physically….  better each day, for the last three days i have only been taking tylenol 🙂  I have been practicing range of motion and stretching as much as i can, however, i am still limited to under 10 lbs so need to take it easy.  I have to be careful not to do too much.  if you do, you could get too much fluid build up under the expander and possibly an infection, definitely don’t want to go there.  I have what i think are phantom pains and sensations.  For all of you moms out there that have ever nursed, you know the sensation of your milk letting down… I have that feeling at least 3 times a day even though I no longer have any breast tissue.  I get periodic sharp pains in the center of my breast, I think those are phantoms as well.  The tissue expanders have folds in them until they are completely inflated and the folds/creases can also cause discomfort. The breast skin is for the most part numb. The first week extremely tired, as if I had been running a marathon, however better each day. It can be exhausting just standing up, but that too gets better each day. When I went into the hospital I weighed 129, when I came home, I weighed 135… Seriously… where is the justice, I lose my girls and weigh more than I started? It was swelling water weight gain, after a week I was back down to 129. My internal thermometer is whacked. I go from hot to cold to freezing to boiling. Guess I should add, I am 58 years old. 🙂

Mentally….  I am taking one day at a time, the unknown is the part that is difficult to deal with. When will chemo start, how will my body react, how long will it last, what side effects will I have, and on and on…  I still have an emotional roller coaster going on.  One moment I am absolutely solid, the next moment, I am choking up and can’t even talk about what I am going through.

Gerry has been so incredibly supportive.  He has been there 110%, supporting me when I am feeling weepy, giving me just what I need, when I need it.  I can’t imagine a better partner.  I have had so many friends reach out offering help, so far, I haven’t needed to ask for help, but am afraid that may change when chemo starts.  I continue to pray for strength and healing.

Next update will be post surgeon and oncologist visits.  Keep a smile on your face and faith in your heart.

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6 thoughts on “My journey with Breast Cancer

  1. Linda, you are such a strong woman and have such a positive attitude. I will continue to pray for strength and healing for you and your family. Keep the faith and know many are here if you need us. Hugs my friend.

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  2. Linda, I can’t even imagine what you are going through but I know that you are strong and will persevere. My mother went through this when I was in my late 20’s but I never asked her anything about it. I was young and at that age you don’t think that you will ever have to go through anything like this. I now wish that I had asked her all of the questions that I don’t have answers to. I will never get to ask her now. I hope that you will keep sharing your journey with us because I may get all of my questions answered through you. Stay strong my friend and if you ever need to just talk I am here for you. Even though I have never gone through this I know that sometimes we just need to know that our friends are there for us. Love and Hugs Linda!!

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  3. Linda — We have a mutual friend in Kelly Romeo, of ALTA. I too had breast cancer (2013) and was HER2neu positive. Your “wonder drug” will be, I think, Herceptin, which you get for 1 year after chemo starts. Watch the movie “Living Proof” with Harry Connick, Jr. to learn about Herceptin. Happy to talk with you and add to your support group!

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    1. Carol, thank you for your post, Kelly shared your contact information, I am looking forward to reaching out to you. I will definitely check out Living Proof and yes, Herceptin is the drug that I will stay on for the year. 🙂 God Bless 🙂

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    2. You are amazing and I am happy your first round of chemo is done and you have a better expectation for how to better manage the next treatment. You have an amazing spirit and smile. You go girl! You are so strong and with each post you provide more inspiration for others that may be going through this or know someone going through it. Hugs and keeping you in my prayers…

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