Chemo round I

It was better than I thought.

The worst part was the very beginning, just getting the catheter in. I was always told that I have “beautiful veins” and I was oh so proud of them. Turns out that veins used for blood draw can’t be used for chemo. Who knew?

I was poked by 2 nurses unsuccessfully and one other nurse didn’t even want to try. I was feeling like a problem patient but it was really just in my head – all nurses were really nice about everything. A specialist was called from the hospital, and thank goodness she was able to get it in the first try.

I spent some time worried because the arm was sore. I wasn’t sure if it was sore from the pokes, or if it was the drugs. But the nurses came to check things often and it all seemed to be going fine. I put a movie on the iPad and having some distraction helped.

I had driven to the clinic with my mom, but because of an anti-anxiety medication they gave me, I wasn’t able to drive back. Support Team to the rescue! My wonderful friend Dalila* drove there with my husband to get us. Hubby also had to take a crash course from the nurse – he will need to give me a shot every day for the next 7 days. I’m happy to report that the first one went pretty well.

I have some nausea but so far it’s been manageable with the anti-nausea meds they sent me home with. I was even able to take a 10 minute walk outside this afternoon. But I’m starting to feel some fatigue. I have an acupuncture appointment tomorrow that I really want to make, but Dr Oncologist said I might not feel well enough to go. Days 3 through 8 are supposed to be the worst. I hope they also end up being better than I thought.

 

*Not her real name, but it’s an easy guess if you know her 😉

 

Diagnosis – 33 1/3

I’m starting to get eager to move on and document what’s happening now instead of talking about what happened in the past. So I’ll try to summarize the rest of the diagnosis. It’s a roller coaster ride that could surely read like a thriller, but I don’t have the patience to write that way right now… So I’ll be straightforward and succinct.

About a week after I got the biopsy results, I met with Dr Breast Surgeon. She had some test results with more information about the type of cancer. They were “good” features, meaning it was not a particularly aggressive kind. She ordered an MRI and that showed 2 more areas of concern. Another biopsy was required and turned out I had 2 malignancies, in the same breast.

With these news, a mastectomy of the left breast was necessary. Because it was a bigger surgery and she was going on vacation (it was around Christmas time), I had to switch breast surgeons and be operated by her partner.

Dr Breast Surgeon II was a sweetheart. I had the mastectomy on December 29, 2016.

At first, it seemed like everything went great. During surgery they removed 3 lymph nodes and they all seemed negative for cancer. Dr Breast Surgeon gave me this good news when I woke up from surgery and I felt so relieved.

The big twist was that in the final pathology the lymph nodes turned out to be positive. All 3. That was a huge blow and put me back in deep depression mode.

About 2 weeks later, another test came back that tries to predict the aggressiveness of the cancer. It came back in the lower category which was a relief. Dr Oncologist recommended skipping chemo and going straight to radiation.

I felt very uneasy with this recommendation and decided to get a second opinion. About 2 weeks later I saw Dr Oncologist II, who had very strong arguments why she thought I needed chemo. I felt more comfortable with her approach and decided to make the switch. Because of bad colds, I’m now on antibiotics, hoping to start chemo next week.

 

Diagnosis – Part Deux

The biopsy procedure was much better than I expected. A little numbing shot and I didn’t feel anything after.  The procedure was done by a much nicer radiologist and I was thankful for that. Went home with some ice packs to obsess about the results.

Dr Nice Radiologist said he would call me himself in 2 or 3 days. Though my faith and spirituality have been pretty low the last few years, I made promises of several kinds. Large donations, community service, healthier lifestyle.

I also played the future call in my head countless times. I wondered whether I’d be able to tell what was coming by his tone of voice. I imagined how he would deliver the news: “I have some good news”, or “I’m sorry to have to make this call …”. I imagined a somber tone, or a voice of relief.

The actual, real call was much different. In a neutral tone he went straight to the point: “Unfortunately it is positive as we expected jbrsklwgsm ndvgtm, carcinoma nsmlpms bnrtpdfgvz, the most common type of breast cancer djmqjgbvkl nsfjwmf nxiekap, breast surgeon nbptwxzmldkb nbrtdzlpqws mnbtrwp”.

I don’t remember much about the next few days. I know I was depressed and scared. I wondered how much time I had left. The worst was thinking about my daughter growing up without a mom and my husband raising her alone.

 

Diagnosis – Part I

“Suzana, you’re 40!”, Dr PrimaryCare reminded me during my annual check-up. “You should get a baseline mammogram”. This was not the only test she recommended that day, but it was one of the few I actually got done.

I called to schedule the mammogram and got an appointment a few weeks later. When I checked in for the appointment, they gave me a handout explaining that many women were called back: “If you are called for additional imaging, we hope it won’t cause you undue stress”.

I thought of the handout when I got the call. “There’s an area in your left breast that we want to take a better look at”, the lady on the phone said. The next opening was 10 days later, on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I woke up on the day of the appointment and noticed we didn’t have power in the house. I thought that wasn’t a good sign, but tried to push this crazy thought out of my head. That didn’t mean anything, right? Bad omens are not for real, right? Right?

The new test was not in the same place as the screening. At the new place, all signs read “Breast Health & Cancer Center”. Didn’t seem they were that committed to avoiding undue stress.

This new test hurt like a bitch. My breast was squished so hard, by many tools, in many directions. “The radiologist wants more pictures”. “A few more”. “She now wants an ultrasound”. At this point I was sure the stress was not undue.

By the time the radiologist walked in, I was already in tears.

Even though at that point I knew, hearing the words was still brutal. “There is a mass and it’s suspicious. You need to get a biopsy and I think it will be positive for cancer”. Dr Radiologist sounded almost angry, as if having to give me these news had ruined her perfectly good morning.

“It’s a good thing you got your mammogram. If it sat there for 5 years, it wouldn’t be good”, Dr Radiologist told me in what must have been her attempt at cheering me up. “I just learned I have cancer, forgive me for not seeing the bright side of having this mammogram”, I told her angrily in my head. Though my mouth didn’t utter a word, I really hope my eyes gave her a hint of how insensitive that comment was.

I asked a thousand questions, she answered a few, then gave me cards with contact information for breast surgeons. An assistant scheduled my biopsy for 2 days later and showed me the door. I walked out of the clinic nowhere near ready to start living the rest of my life.