I started this page in the middle of my treatment journey. I was fortunate to have a friend set-up a private Facebook page where I could invite those closest to me to participate and be involved in the process from the time of diagnosis. Having this small corner of the internet to put all my victories, failures, thoughts and worries was fantastic. I could update everyone at once on what was going on without having to think of messaging everyone separately. I also was unsure how my health would impact my businesses, and I was not ready to share with the world initially. I felt like it would be best to get through some of the initial phases before going all in.
For the rest of those following my public journey, I have you in this weird spot where you are seeing my current experiences – like the thoughts going into surgery, discussing the surgical day, my first week of recovery and my continuous struggle with the various emotions surrounding going flat; but I haven’t had a chance to really go through some of those first days around diagnosis, discovering the lump, and the process there. Let’s catch-up shall we?
I discovered the tumor on November 19, 2019. Through the summer and early fall I had this intuitive feeling that something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it or name it. I didn’t have any symptoms that you might expect (loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue – at least not more than the usual given my kiddos were 5 and 2 at the time). When I felt the lump initially I recoiled and immediately thought to myself that it was a rib. It was hard, didn’t move, and right next to my sternum. I felt it again and compared to the other side; I knew it wasn’t good. For me this brought on a calm acceptance, assuming it would be cancer and hopeful it wouldn’t be. I called my doctor’s office and was able to get an appointment for 45min later. She took a look and sent me immediately for an ultrasound giving me a requisition. On the way home I called my husband to tell him I found a lump and I was going to be going for testing. We both could feel the tension in our throats but decided to hope for the best.
Only specific places are qualified to complete breast ultrasounds, so I did have to wait a week before I could be seen. I took my son with me because it was only supposed to be an ultrasound according to the requisition. The ultrasound tech was wonderful, and she popped out of the room to inquire if she needed more images. When she came back she told me that we were good for that and I was going to have a mammogram as well. Of course D couldn’t come into the mammo room with me, and he absolutely hated leaving me. The ladies were wonderful and took him to play in the waiting room and he miraculously didn’t cry. Multiple view points (even on an angle!) and magnification amounts were used. I was sent off after they were done.
I had a sneaking suspicion that things weren’t going to be good – I had from the beginning – so on my way home I called my doctors office to schedule an appointment for Friday to go through the results. I didn’t have to wait. I got a call from my doctor at work the next morning, telling me that the lump was suspicious and she was referring me to the Breast Health Centre. I choked up. Tears started coming. Head against the wall. Deep breath, stuff that down and back to work for the day. I would have to deal with that later.
In the appointment for the follow-up on Friday I had to take D as well. It was hard to focus and no one likes getting (or giving) bad news… we discussed that the Breast Health Centre would likely be doing a biopsy and then we would go from there. I asked for my ultrasound and mammogram reports.
That weekend was hard. I went through the ultrasound report, looked up some of the things I didn’t know; spiculated mass, posterior acoustical shadowing, thickening of the mantel, BIRAD 5. I was brought to my emotional knees, immediately jumping to shaming myself for not going to the doctor sooner, I should have known better, what if my kids have to grow up without a mom? The spiral got worse as I decided to look into staging information. Given the information that I had it would be 3B – advanced stage cancer. I was crushed. Wondering how could this be? I didn’t have any signs that this was growing except that little voice in the back of my head, something wasn’t right. My chest was slightly more tender if the kids leaned on me on that side, but no where near where the lump was. How am I supposed to protect my kids from this heartache if I can’t even take care of myself?
After doing all the research on the weekend I decided to call the Breast Health Centre to schedule my appointment. I know they had received my referral, but I told the lady on the phone that I was classified a BIRAD 5 and would go on the cancellation list for any earlier spaces as well. Taking control and doing the things is what I am good at and gives me stability. The appointment for biopsy ended up being December 10, four weeks after my initial diagnosis. Nerves were running high, my husband took off work and we found care for both the kids. I’m a logical and scientific individual and was happy to be able to look at the ultrasound screen while the tech was poking around. The radiologist that came in to complete the biopsy was fun and reassuring.
He started with the lymphnode biopsy – that was very tricky and took an extended period of time. I also had microcalcifications in addition to the tumor mass that needed to be biopsied. The freezing worked great and everyone was amazing. The biopsy was followed up with a gentle mammogram, they placed markers in the areas that they biopsied and wanted to see them on imaging. My tumor was so close to the chest wall they had a hard time visualizing it.
On December 13 I had a follow-up with my surgeon, she confirmed that the tumor was cancerous and that we were waiting on lymphnode pathology but she was going to assume it would be positive as well, and I would be referred to the Cancer Centre for chemo first since the tumor is stuck to the chest wall to get the best surgical margins. She was phenomenal and told me at that time that we were “aiming for a cure” which was a big relief. The nurse navigator was super helpful in getting me organized with numbers and time lines for various procedures and appointments.
The next 10 days were a whirl wind. I received an CT and an MRI for staging, was booked with the geneticist, scheduled at the Cancer Centre and went for a cardiac echo to ensure my heart function was good enough to start treatment. I met my oncologist and she gave me my official staging based on the final pathology and imaging: abutted to the chest wall (not invading into the chest wall), grade 3, no lymphnode involvement – I was down graded to a Stage 2a – let me tell you I have never been more excited for a down grade in my entire life! During this discussion my biggest question was, how long do we think this has been festering? No one can give me a clear answer, however, since the cells are a grade 3 it likely wasn’t there for very long. This gave me a sense of intense relief. I didn’t miss it for months on end, it just simply grew quickly.
All of this in 6 weeks time. It was an emotional roller coaster. I had significant and valid fears and anxiety over the process. For me taking control and ensuring that I had appointments as quickly as possible was a good way for me to cope. I had scheduled some administrative time through December to catch-up on paperwork as soon as I discovered my lump, knowing that I would probably be unable to work through treatment. It was a good thing too since our childcare provider ended up in the hospital with a severe gall bladder issue requiring surgery… hence D needing to come to several of my appointments with me. I was grateful that during the time I had at home with the kids through December I was able to hold it together. Having my wonderful dog Gus there made a massive difference. He wasn’t himself but we chalked that up to my cancer diagnosis… more on this later.
If someone is reading this as a friend or a support of an individual that is in the early stages or progressing through treatment; my biggest advice (from this end) is just be there. Listen. You don’t have to fix anything, validating feelings and going through the various emotions with me was truly the best thing my friends and family did for me.