By the end of July, the young woman in genetic counselling called me (you would think I would remember everyone’s names). The results were back for the ovarian and breast cancer genes. It was all negative. I was not at risk for ovarian or breast cancer. Sigh of relief.
Now they would test my blood for other cancer risks. This would take another week or two. But now I was in the clear for a lumpectomy. I shouldn’t say I was a little disappointed about not having the mastectomy, should I? Mastectomies are radical procedures. Women can still get breast cancer after mastectomies. The cancer will just present itself in the chest wall.
I was very happy with the outcome. This would mean that my daughters wouldn’t have to get themselves tested. They were pretty much in the clear. However, I told them that I wanted them to be diligent with their care. I want them to be on top of all of this. I told them again that if I hadn’t had the mammogram, the tumor would not have been discovered until it was much larger. At this point, it was all manageable. Who knows how it could have turned out?
I called my surgeon’s office and let them know to schedule me for a lumpectomy. The surgeon wanted to do it the following week. But, we had scheduled Bill’s surgery for the following week. I told them to schedule my lumpectomy for the week after. I was fairly certain that Bill would be recovered from his knee surgery by then. August 17th.
It was all becoming real. Realer? Not really. I was still in disbelief. I just couldn’t look at myself and think, I have breast cancer. I just wasn’t there.
My next appointment was with the technician for genetic counselling. I was told I was a candidate for genetic counselling due to my father’s sister having ovarian cancer.
It was then explained to me that they can test 9 different genes for an indication of breast or ovarian cancer. I was told that should I test positive, then my daughters would be at risk for breast and/or ovarian cancer. They would need to have mammograms and be tested as well. I was also told that as well as the 9 different genes for breast or ovarian cancer, they could also test approximately 50 other genes for other types of cancer. From what I remember, it was colon cancer and a number of other ones. The technician said that the tests for breast or ovarian cancer would be done first and should I choose to be tested for the other cancers, it could be done later. All of this would be done with a simple blood sample.
The technician spent a fair amount of time explaining the entire procedure to me and asked if I had any questions. I had a few but the procedure sounded simple. The testing would take up to 3 weeks as the sample would be sent to a laboratory in California.
I agreed to the testing. The results of this testing would then help me with my decision on lumpectomy or mastectomy. I also wanted to have more information for my children. This testing would then ease my daughters’ minds. However, I had emphasized with them that I still wanted them to be diligent in their annual physicals and getting the appropriate tests at the appropriate times.
Blood was drawn and more waiting for results. The technician said she would call as soon as the results came in. Waiting. The waiting and the unknown. So difficult.
This is the love of my life. The wonderful man I married on June 24th. Bill is my dream come true.
Last year in July, after many years of suffering, Bill had both knees replaced. I promised to take care of him during his recovery. I was loving, kind, but strict. I made certain he did all the exercises the physical therapist gave him. I took him to all of his appointments. It was a painful recovery but Bill did very well. Unfortunately, he developed scar tissue in both knees.
By January, he was truly not happy. I told him then to see his surgeon. He did and that is when the surgeon told him he had scar tissue. The procedure to scrape out the scar tissue would be done through laparoscopy. An easy enough procedure and would be done on an outpatient procedure. Bill decided to wait.
I wanted the procedure done as soon as possible. His legs kept swelling every day. I would massage them every night to ease the pain and the swelling. Still he waited.
Then I got the news about my breast cancer. Bill was now more determined than ever to hold off on his procedure so that we could focus on my health issues. I was really annoyed. How could someone who could barely manage to get up from a sitting position take care of me? I wanted him to be able to chase me around the house. And catch me. At this point, the only way he would catch me is if I ran into his arms. And with that, he would probably groan in pain.
I pushed and, okay, nagged. He finally decided to go ahead with the procedure. I told him we had to wait for all these other tests to come in before my lumpectomy so we might as well get his knees fixed. His knees were fixed. After the surgery, when he pushed himself out of bed, there were no clicking noises in his knee. It was silent. Oh my goodness! This was awesome. Wonderful. And since his surgery, his legs no longer have swelling issues. He misses the leg massages and I will break down every once in a while to massage them. (I get a thrill out of this myself.)
But now we could focus better on my health issues, right? No. Wrong.
A word of advice to anyone starting the breast cancer journey – DO NOT look up lumpectomy or mastectomy on the internet. I mean, if you want to cause yourself a heart attack, stroke, panic attacks, shrieking fits of fear or complete and total nausea, then by all means look it up.
That was my mistake. While I was waiting for the results of the genetic testing, I thought I would be smart and look up lumpectomy or mastectomy. Well, you should know by now what kind of pictures would be posted. The most horrific cases are posted, dontcha know?
After being traumatized by the pictures, I managed to convince myself that those pictures were just ridiculous. I was joking with friends about seriously considering a mastectomy because then I could get smaller, perkier boobs. A real bonus for my new husband, right?
Someone must have heard my shrieks of disgust because my nurse navigator called me soon after that. She told me that the pictures posted are the worst cases and were from years ago. Meagan told me that my surgeon was very good at not leaving my breast deformed should I go with the lumpectomy. I would just be left with an incision scar. No misshapen breast. No lopsided anything. No one, except my husband, would see anything different.
Meagan went on to explain that with a mastectomy, a pad would be inserted under the skin after the breasts are removed. The skin would stretch to accommodate the pad and I could choose the size. This procedure would take a few months to complete. I was assured that my surgeon would fully explain either procedure when I made my decision. Meagan also told me that neither procedure was painful, merely uncomfortable.
Panic attack soothed and shrieking fits stopped. Waiting. I am not a very patient person. Perhaps God was, yet again, giving me a life lesson on patience.
I was told that Levine Cancer Institute is doing a study on wire or seed implant for women who have breast cancer. I really didn’t understand what was all going on with this but the surgeon I am seeing said that other institutes have done studies on the benefits of one or the other. However, Levine wanted to do their own study. I agreed to be a part of the study.
I met with the technician in charge of the study. She explained the differences to me. A wire is placed into the area of the breast where the tumor is located. This is done when the tumor is fairly small. The wire helps the surgeon locate the exact location of the tumor so that it is easier to remove. This procedure is done the day of surgery and it is done with a lumpectomy.
The seed is a fairly small tag that is put into the area of the tumor. This procedure is done a few days prior to surgery. Again this is done for a lumpectomy. Both procedures are painless. A numbing agent is injected into the area of the breast which feels more like a bee sting. Then the seed or the wire is implanted.
I told the technician that I was going for genetic counselling and depending on the outcome, I would then make my decision on either lumpectomy or mastectomy. I told her should I go ahead with the lumpectomy, I would agree to the study. She gave me her phone number and wished me well.
This can’t be happening. I am still in disbelief. I really have cancer? Really?
Bill and I met with the surgeon last week. I thought I was ready for it and I thought I was doing fine. However, the closer we got to the door of the office, the more reluctant I was to go in. I actually stopped for a second before entering the doors.
The cancer institute I am going to has a good reputation. Also, the surgeon I am seeing has a breast oncology fellowship. I feel I am in very good hands. The surgeon examined me and couldn’t even feel the tumor. Really good news. My husband, Bill, has a good doctor friend who does breast surgery and has a fellowship in oncology. We have asked him for a second opinion although he has said that the cancer institute I am going to has good people.
I have two options. A lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. I was told to take my time and think about it. Since my father’s sister died of ovarian cancer and we have cancer history on my mother’s side (but we are uncertain what the cancer was), I am going for genetic counselling. That is happening today. I have decided to wait until I get the results of this counselling before I make my decision.
It was also suggested I go on a clinical trial for drug treatments for reoccurrence. Since the percent chance for reoccurrence in lumpectomies and mastectomies are very close, a lumpectomy would seem in order. But it all depends on the genetic counselling.
Well, I am off for my appointments. Through all of this, I will keep riding my beautiful horse, walking Bill’s dogs, take care of our house, keep working on my novels and loving.
By the way, I have just sent my second novel, You Are Mine, to an editor for one more round of editing before self publishing. In the mean time, I can work on my third novel, a supernatural story. I will keep you up to date.