Monday, October 1, 2012

Keeping you a-breast of my news

Where does one begin?  When the last five weeks have been a whirlwind of out-of-the-blue news, appointments and heavy-hit-you-in-the-gut decisions, where do you begin?

Many of you already know this news, if you've been following along on social media, but for those who haven't heard the full story yet...where do I begin??

I suppose I start at the beginning.

Five weeks ago, today, I went for my annual "well-woman visit" to make sure all the lady parts were in fine, working order.  I went feeling rather proud of myself for not putting off the appointment this year, and I was also pretty happy that this year was the first time it would be co-pay free. (Partisan-aside: Thanks, Obamacare - I liked saving that $25-50!) I went in fully expecting everything to be normal.  I'm in good health, a decent weight, no problems that I know no biggie, right?

That's when the doctor -- who, by the way, is on my heroes/heroines list right now -- discovered something "off" on my breast exam.  She felt a large ridge of density on the top of my right breast that she didn't feel on the left side.  Now, like a long line of females in my family, I have really dense breast tissue and a history of's what I like to call my "bumpy boob" condition.  Yes - I could probably do a lot about this by adjusting my caffeine consumption, but let's not get extreme here, people. Mama needs her coffee, ok?

Since the ridge felt different than the rest of my "bumps,"  my doctor suggested I go to a breast clinic on the 4th floor of the building to get an ultrasound "just to rule something more serious out" and "for piece of mind...I'm sure it's nothing."  I figured I was already running a little late for work, so I obliged.  I headed upstairs and checked in for my ultrasound with a nurse practitioner (NP) at the breast clinic's office.  During the ultrasound the NP, Anna, saw some calcifications on the right breast that caused some concern.  She pulled in one of the doctors to check it out, as well.  They both told me "it could be nothing," but they wanted me to get a mammogram - my first - right away.  They said they would most likely want to follow up with a biopsy of the area, so we scheduled one for 2 weeks later.

I ended up having the mammogram the very next day. I can't say it was the most comfortable experience, but everyone was so kind at Piedmont's Breast Center that it really wasn't terrible. I felt a bit like a cow being milked from all angles, but aside from that not bad at all.  MOO..........

The radiologist pulled me into her office and confirmed what I already knew - I needed a biopsy to check things out.  Despite her grave face, I still wasn't concerned.  I'm young! My mom and grandmother have had cysts checked out! That's all it is, right?  Bring on the biopsy in 2 weeks.  I can pass this test.

Cut to the next morning: I received a call from the NP Anna who had just received the mammography results.  She asked me if I would be willing to come in THAT DAY to have the biopsy instead of the appointment two weeks later.  Suddenly, I became concerned.  Why the rush?  Suddenly, my gut told me something wasn't right.  At that moment, I knew something was wrong.  I tried to tell myself it wasn't anything and to assume the best, but my gut already knew.  Something was very wrong with my breast.  I agreed, and headed back to Dr. Richardson's office for a core needle biopsy that afternoon.

The biopsy procedure is supposed to be an easy one that takes about 20 minutes.  Lordy, was I unprepared.  I guess that for many people it's an easy procedure, but mine required the doctor to biopsy two different areas, leaving my whole breast a bruised mess.  And when I say "bruised," I mean BRUISED. Bruised like an Offensive Lineman stomped on my chest, cleats and all.  Black. Blue. Magenta. Green. And the pain, oh the pain....I couldn't even let a seatbelt touch my chest without wincing.  Purse strap? Fuggedaboutit. The next week was a painful blur of sports bras, Arnica gel, the occasional Lortab...and major worries about the results of the biopsy.  Was this cancer? 

The worst thing about waiting was that it was Labor Day weekend.  It was Labor Day weekend, and Michael was out of town.  I was alone and anxious.  Thankfully, friends and neighbors kept me occupied by taking me on walks, out for coffee, fed me dinner, and laughed with me for hours.  I did whatever I could do to stay distracted from the worries.

I also tried to stay off the internet.  I failed miserably at that attempt.

"STEP AWAY FROM THE MEDICAL SITES, KRISTEN."  I was told this over and over.  However, I knew the look on the doctor's face when she told me what she expected the result to be ("I'm not telling you you have cancer.  But it really looks like cancer.")  I needed to prepare myself for bad news, while hoping to be surprised by good news.  Besides, my gut already knew the answer anyway.

I made Michael come home to be with me.  It was getting ugly inside my head, and the quiet house amplified the crazy.  I needed him more than ever.  And bless him, he came home...two weeks before I was supposed to see him again, and two weeks he needed to be in Florida for work... but bless him, he came home.

Tuesday morning, we got the call.  My gut was right.  I had cancer -- or "pre-cancer" -- or stage zero cancer....technically it's Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) Stage 0 with Comedo Necrosis, Grade III.  Grade III means it's high-grade, aggressive growth.  "In Situ" means it hasn't broken out of the milk ducts into the rest of the breast tissue, which is great news.  That's why it is considered "stage zero" and not yet an invasive cancer.  This means I don't need chemotherapy, which is also fantastic news.  But what it does mean is another surgery. Let me tell you what: That's NOT great news. And that pisses me off something righteously.

After all I have been through in my life, here I was with this new slap in the face -- cancer (sort of)...and another chance to go under a knife.  Because, really -- getting hit by a car, breaking my spine, injuring the spinal cord/bladder and almost being paralyzed wasn't enough fun for one lifetime. Nah, let's test those comeback skills again.  So yeah -- my reaction to the news was anger.  Not sadness. Not self-pity.  Not denial.  Just some grade-A Anger.

Over the next week, I simmered down a bit and I took a bit of time to process the information.  I had an MRI, and the MRI showed no signs of a spread to the lymph nodes.  It confirmed the current diagnosis of DCIS-Stage 0, which is, all things considered, good news.  We also got results back showing the cancer was 98% ER-positive and 63% PR-positive, which means it's fueled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone.  This also means that after surgery we can prevent recurrence with a five-year regimen of hormone-blocking drugs like Tamoxifen. All good news.

Except, you know....the SURGERY.

I'll write more on the surgery updates in later posts, but for now I'll say that my option was pretty much limited to mastectomy due to the nature of the areas affected by DCIS. I'll be facing a single mastectomy and reconstruction surgery later this fall.  I've come to terms with that reality, but it doesn't mean I like it.  And if I seem matter-of-fact and calm/collected when I talk about it, it doesn't mean I'm OK with all of this.  And it doesn't mean I don't have my moments in which I break down crying.  But I know this is something I have to face head on or else things can get a lot worse, so a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. light of the first day of "Breast Cancer Awareness Month,"  you are all now aware of my breast cancer diagnosis.  Is that how that's supposed to work?  Or am I just supposed to buy a pink spatula and feel better about all of this?  Because quite frankly, I can't "Think Pink" right now.  I just "Think This Stinks."  But stink or pink, it is what it is..whether I like it or not.


EL Osier said...

You have been and still are one of the bravest, funniest, and awesomest people I've ever had the honor of knowing & even more important being able to call my friend. Know that I think of you often & this situation makes me so mad for you, but as I've prayed for you, all I get in return is an overwhelming sense of calm. And a picture of you sitting on your living room couch eating Stove Top and reading Chemistry lab reports. ;-)

Zac said...

Fuck cancer! Fuck surgery! Fuck it all!

This sucks complete ass. I saw some of your posts on FB and Twitter and wondered what was up. This really isn't fair. However, I'm amazed at how you're handling it with such grace. I don't know that I could do the same.

Good luck with your upcoming battle. Like you said, you've recovered before. It sucks that you have to do it again, but you're good at this.

Oh, and fuck cancer again.

Irene said...

Well you have not lost your sense of humor ..Love your title xoxoxo
SO sorry to hear this. I went through this a few years back but I was lucky it was nothing. It sucks having to go through all this but at least it was found now. I have heard that breast cancer is very aggressive.
Sending prayers, BIG HUGS & tons of love
Irene xoxoxo