I have Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. There. I said it. I hate saying it. Honestly, I hate everything about it. Let me begin by saying that I am not sharing this for sympathy or to start a funding account. I’m sharing it because I feel like I have been hiding a little bit. I have been worried that one of my family members or friends who already know may inadvertently share something that lets the cat out of the bag. And I don’t want to live like that and I don’t want my loved ones to feel that pressure. I don’t want to worry that an otherwise thoughtful post about my situation will “out” me or stress over what pictures will be posted of me since (to me) I don’t look like myself. So, I have decided to open up. I have no idea how often I will be sharing updates. I may never share an update again! I’m just gonna play it how I feel it.
I’ll rewind to the beginning. In August 2018 I started having some pain in my right armpit. I brushed it off for several weeks thinking I just pulled something at the gym; I even talked to one of the trainers about it. But even as I was trying to ignore it, something kept nagging at me. In the back of my mind I knew something wasn’t right. Then I found a lump. And the story of a then acquaintance, now friend kept creeping to the forefront of my mind. She was battling breast cancer and publicly sharing her journey. Because of her, I decided I would go to get a mammogram. That decision changed my life. And hopefully it saved it, too.
On Monday, October 15, 2018 I went to my scheduled mammogram. I was a little freaked out because the unknown is always so scary. It got scarier. Once called back, the technician who was to do the mammogram basically told me she couldn’t do it because, since I had cited that I was having pain and had found a lump, it was considered a diagnostic mammogram and I needed my OBGYN’s approval. At this point, I could either walk out of there and wait until after my yearly appointment in January 2019 to come back, or I could push for the mammogram. I decided to push. It took about a half hour of phone calls and emails between the mammogram facility and my doctor’s office to finally get the go-ahead. I know that seems like a short amount of time. But as I was sitting there in a hospital gown and full of anxiety, it felt like forever. So, proceed to the actual mammogram. Ok, it wasn’t fun. Ladies who’ve had one, you know what I’m talking about. And having implants (I’m really sharing everything here) makes it even more uncomfortable according to the technician. So she kept repositioning me and taking pictures and going to talk to the radiologist and coming back and taking more pictures. This happened several times. Then she tells me that the radiologist wants more images so they are also going to do an ultrasound. Now I’m really freaking out. I go to the next room and meet another technician who does the ultrasound. Of course she can’t tell me anything about what she is looking at. The radiologist finally comes in and tells me he has found “suspicious calcifications” that he is certain means I have DCIS: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Stage 0 Cancer. I have cancer. My world started spinning. I’m sitting in a dark room with a radiologist who just told me I have cancer and an ultrasound technician who is crying with me. I was barely keeping it together. I had to get out of there. First, I called my husband. He rushed home. Then I called my mom. That was one of the two hardest phone calls I have ever had to make. Now what? That same afternoon I got a phone call from the mammogram facility letting me know that they had set up an appointment with a Surgical Oncologist for the following Thursday. The wheels are in motion.
On October 18th I go meet my Surgical Oncologist. She’s obviously very concerned about what she was seeing from my mammogram and ultrasound and even tells me that she thinks I actually don’t just have DCIS but rather Stage I, possibly Stage II breast cancer. At this point I’m an emotional wreck. What?! How is this even possible? This all started as what I thought was a pulled muscle in my armpit. She wants to biopsy my right breast and my lymph nodes in my right armpit. We do that Monday, October 22nd. It was kind of brutal. She gave me some local numbing and used what I can only describe as a needle gun to collect tissue samples. It hurt. It sucked. But the physical pain is no match to the emotional stress. On Thursday, October 25th we got the biopsy results. Confirmed Stage II breast cancer; it’s in my breast and in my lymph nodes. Its ER-/PR- (which means its not hormone-driven and can be difficult to treat) and she describes it as “aggressive”. My world that had been spinning since October 15th is now crashing.
The week of October 28th I met my Medical Oncologist who would be in charge of my treatment and I got an MRI and a CT Scan to see if the cancer had metastasized (spread) to any other parts of my body. On Monday, November 5th I got the results of those scans and there were suspicious spots on my liver that were concerning. On Tuesday, November 6th I went in for surgery to have my chemo port placed and to biopsy my liver. I also found out that my cancer is HER2+. That was actually the first bit of “good” news because that opened up some more treatment options for me. I went under general anesthesia for the port placement surgery and when I was barely awake after that I had local anesthesia for the liver biopsy. That night and the next day was spent in bed with an indescribable migraine. And the emotional turmoil of already being diagnosed as Stage II with the very real possibility of actually being Stage IV put me in a fog. Maybe that’s my brain’s way of coping.
I don’t remember dates at this point. I went for a PET Scan sometime after the port surgery and liver biopsy and met with my Medical Oncologist to get all of the results. My husband, my mom and my father-in-law were there. I found out I have cancer in both breasts, in lymph nodes throughout my body, in my liver and on my spine. It felt like a death sentence. But I can’t die. I’m 33 years old. I have two little boys who are only 4 and 2 years old. I don’t have the words to describe the terror, the shock, the emotion, the anxiety. Its indescribable.
Now, as I sit here on January 1st, 2019, I have made it through 3 of 6 chemo treatments. They have been nothing short of horrendous. The side effects are no joke. I won’t get into too much, but I understand why some people opt not to go through chemotherapy. I’m still scared everyday and have emotional moments. I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. I have no hair, I have lost weight, I’m broken out. Its all from the treatment that is supposed to keep me alive. And now the naïve assumption that I will live until I’m an old, gray woman is gone. Suddenly there are big caution lights reminding me of an expiration date. But I will fight. I have to fight. And I try to remain as strong as I can for my kids. They know Mama is sick. They check on me often when I’m in bed after a treatment. And anytime I cough or sneeze they are by my side asking me if I’m ok. They are a little confused about my hair situation because they see me with and without my wig. And I have had amazing support from my husband, our whole family and all of our friends. I have to keep pushing forward and keep a positive attitude and remain steadfast in the belief that treatment WILL work. And pray.
Like I said before, I don’t know if writing about my journey will be a constant or if I’m a one-and-done. But I already feel better knowing that I no longer have to live with the uncertainty of who knows and who doesn’t. So that’s a positive.
And I’ve got a pretty stellar New Years Resolution. I’m going to not take for granted the time I have and I’m going to fight like hell for a long life. I have cancer. Cancer doesn’t have me.