Almost everyone I know has been touched by breast cancer in some way – a family member, friend or co-worker may have the disease. So, with my recent diagnosis, my own journey – which actually began over three years ago – takes a new direction. .
Through this blog, I hope to inform, and hopefully inspire. There are several great blogs from survivors out there, and like those, I’m not limiting my thoughts and topics to my breast cancer surgery and treatment. I plan to share the larger experience, touching on things like:
- Relationships with family and friends
- Keeping my sanity while having severely limited activities
- Facing my own mortality and developing my “bucket list”
Journeys are best shared with friends. So come on along!
It All Started When………….
My maternal Grandmother died of breast cancer in her 70’s. My Mom had breast cancer in her 40’s (she was a 25 year survivor at the time of her death – she did not die of the disease). With that family history, and because I have dense, fibro-cystic breasts, I started having regular mammograms when I was about 30. I credit my gynecologist with his vigilance on this. I’ve always done regular self-exams, but fibro-cystic breasts always feel somewhat “lumpy”, so it was tough for me to detect any changes. Having mammograms isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but I never minded having it done. My philosophy has always been if there’s anything to be found, please find it early.
In November of 2007, I got a “call-back” on my annual mammogram. They wanted to take a few more pictures, just to make sure. During that appointment, the mammographer went to check on the films and have the radiologist take a look. When she returned to the room with the radiologist, my heart skipped a beat. He explained that he saw an area of concern and that a biopsy was in order. I had an excisional biopsy of my left breast a couple of weeks later.
For me, probably the toughest part of the entire BC experience is the waiting. We waited a week for the results of that biopsy and it was one of the longest weeks of our lives. My husband was at least as anxious as I was. Finally, the day came for my follow-up appointment. The result was a mixed bag. I did not have cancer, but I had Lobular Carcinoma In-Situ (LCIS) – a non-invasive, pre-cancerous condition. The surgeon’s office offered to set up an appointment for me with a local oncologist they recommended.
The oncologist explained LCIS to us and prescribed Evista. I was on my way…………..
But Wait – There’s More!............
At my six month check-up, which involved a mammogram, another suspicious spot was found. So my next adventure was a stereotactic biopsy. For those of you that have never experienced this, it’s actually somewhat humorous. You lay face down on a table with your breast sticking through a hole in the table so the radiologist can get at it. Once they’ve done the initial mammogram and have the spot marked, they raise the table up high. I felt like Buick on a garage lift for a tune-up. They insert a needle and extract some tissue from the suspicious area for testing. Then (you guessed it), you wait for the pathology results.
This time, a condition called Atypical Lobular Hyperplasia was diagnosed. Again, this is not invasive cancer, so it wasn’t horrible news, but it wasn’t great news, either. So, it was out with the Evista and in with the Tamoxifen.
The Beat Goes On…….
Since then, I have had three more biopsies. These have identified microcalcifications, fibro-cystic changes, and most recently, Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (DCIS), in the right breast. The LCIS had been in the left breast. With DCIS, there are choices to be made. DCIS is still non-invasive, but carries a much greater risk of becoming invasive, especially if it is Comedo type of high grade, which is what I have, My oncologist wanted me to have a lumpectomy with radiation. I had done enough research (and been through enough biopsies) to know that I at least wanted to explore the option of a mastectomy. I already felt my breasts were being dismantled bit by bit by all the biopsies.
So at this point, I needed to do two things: decide between a mastectomy and lumpectomy, and decide where to have whichever procedure I decided on done.
I have a friend that had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery last year. She had her surgery and treatment through the University of Michigan Hospital and had wonderful things to say about the doctors, staff and facility. I decided to check it out.