Several people have asked me how it came to pass that I found out that I have breast cancer. The truth is….. I thought I had COVID – HAHAHAHAHAHA. No seriously, I had an inflamed lymph node in my left armpit and told Andy that I wondered if I had COVID as I’ve had slightly inflamed nodes in the past when I’ve had a bad case of the flu. But I didn’t have any flu-like symptoms so made an appointment with GP (“Nothing urgent. There’s no red streaking, no other signs of infection, no flu-like symptoms.” I said to the receptionist, “An appointment in two weeks is fine.”)
My GP palpated the lump in my armpit, immediately got a worried look on her face, and asked if I minded if she did a breast exam. When she asked how long this mass had been in my left breast my answer was “Uhhhh (no really, I said that)….. awhile….? I have lumpy boobs.” The worried look didn’t go away at my joking demeanour and she suggested that I get a mammogram, ultrasound and bloodwork done. The next couple of weeks were a blur – this is how fast my life went from ‘everything is normal’ to what we have now….
- Dec 3 – GP apt
- Dec 4 – bloodwork
- Dec 7 – mammogram, ultrasound and hey while you’re here and we’re pretty sure it’s cancer let’s do a needle biopsy
- Dec 9 – CT scan
- Dec 10 – apt with GP where she said that we were going to move forward assuming it was cancer
- Dec 16 – bone scan confirming no other cancer sites, and biopsy results back confirming malignancy in breast tumour and two lymph nodes
- Dec 17 – apt with surgeon
- Christmas was in here I think….
- Jan 6 – apt with oncologist at BC Cancer in Victoria
- Jan 8 – MRI
- Jan 11 – MUGA (to check my heart function… which is great btw)
- Jan 13 – chemo #1
The uncertainty during this time was hands-down the worst part and to boot, I had decided not to tell my daughter how serious it was until she finished her exams on Dec 18. This was more stressful than anything else, and notably the only time I cried through all of this, but I stand by my decision to do it that way as I was able to tell her what the diagnosis and proposed treatment plan were.
So there’s something that I’ve been trying not to beat myself up about – I hadn’t had a mammogram for five years, and yet it had literally been on my to-do list for at least three years. Seriously, “Make a mammogram apt” was on my to-do list on my phone for THREE YEARS. I know this because I checked it as I was sitting outside my GP’s office right after that first appointment. I have none of the common risk factors, live a really healthy lifestyle and no family history of breast cancer. But, I knew that I had lumpy boobs so didn’t place much stock into the findings in my self-exam, and the dimple I noticed in my breast (right over where I now know the tumour is) several years ago I chalked up to an ill-fitting sports bra.
If we had caught the lump before it spread to my lymph nodes (Stage 1) it likely would have been a ‘simple’ lumpectomy and radiation, likely with no chemotherapy. But because it was in my nodes (Stage 2, possibly 3 once they do the surgery and are able to gather more data), I’m in the midst of aggressive chemotherapy, and potentially facing a full mastectomy along with radiation therapy. My oncologist dismissively commented that maybe they would have found it, maybe not since I have “radiographically dense breast tissue” (aka lumpy boobs). Honestly I think it was just her way to assuage my guilt. I’m working on getting past this and trying not to waste any energy fretting about it but it’s one of those things that rage through my brain in the middle of the night. I haven’t allowed myself to think of the consequences if I hadn’t gone to my GP to have the inflamed lymph node checked.
So my call out to all of my friends, especially those of you in your 40s and above, is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODIES. Go to the doctor regularly. Women – get a mammogram and do the PAP test even though they can be uncomfortable and icky. Everyone – encourage your female partners to take their breast and reproductive health seriously! Men – get over your anal phobias and get your prostate checked! We can’t catch everything proactively, but if we can, we should.
Chemo #6 today and it’s the first one since #1 that I’m apprehensive about. Bought some electric heating pads and my GPO prescribed additional steroids to (hopefully) deal with the inflammation and therefore reduce the pain in my legs and back. It’s taking a lot of emotional energy to maintain a positive mental attitude these days but am (mostly) keeping my chin up with a little help from my friends (insert Beatles song….) who came to do some spring yard work, and spending time with Natasha, Andy and my newly vaccinated sister. And Rory…. my constant sidekick.