Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Diagnosis

Throughout the past few years, I have had two minor surgeries to remove several lumps from my breasts. They were all fibroadenomas, which are harmless and somewhat common for women in their early twenties. In February 2009, near the beginning of my pregnancy, I had a regular gyn checkup and there were no lumps; everything checked out normal. I was told that during pregnancy, my breasts may become large, tender, and more lumpy, as they were preparing milk production for nursing the baby. In June, I noticed the difference in my breasts, including a small lump. I figured that it was just preparation for nursing, or possibly another fibroadenoma that I would have to have removed again, once the baby was born. (I didn’t want to put the baby at risk using general anesthesia to have it removed while I was still pregnant.) When my baby was born, I nursed for a short amount of time, but noticed that the small lump had now turned into a larger lump. I decided that I just wanted it taken out, like all of the other fibroadenomas, just to be on the safe side. I just don’t like anything in my body that isn’t supposed to be there, harmless or not.

It took a while to get an appointment with the surgeon, because I first needed a note from my obgyn, then an ultrasound, and then there was a problem with my insurance covering the surgeon that I had always used before. I was finally able to set up an appointment with a different surgeon in November. The surgeon recommended that I wait a few more months and see if it shrinks, because it could be a lactating adenoma from the pregnancy. But I didn’t want to wait. I insisted on having it removed immediately. The surgeon finally agreed to do the surgery, but telling me that he was 99.9% sure that it was either a lactating adenoma or a fibroadenoma. Because, after all, breast cancer is “so rare” in someone my age. hmm.. really? After the lumpectomy surgery, I got THE phone call that changed everything. It was malignant: breast cancer. I would have to go see an oncologist to have more tests done and to talk about treatment options.

Those days are just a blur in my mind now, as I was in total shock for a while and then had nonstop panic attacks. I couldn’t have got through those early days without the support of my mom and my husband. I decided that I wanted to use my mom’s oncologist, Dr. R. who is amazingly intelligent, and warm and loving towards her patients at the same time. I already knew all of the staff in her office, because of the times that I have taken my mom there for her treatments. I am thankful to have an oncologist that I am already comfortable going to.

Dr. R. explained to me that I have a “triple negative poorly differentiated invasive ductal carcinoma”. Invasive means that the cancer was not contained, but had invaded some of the other breast tissue. My PET scan showed that there was no metastasis (spreading) to other organs in my body. This was some of the best news that we could have heard! It puts me at a stage 2. However, the tumor itself is very aggressive, grade 3, which means it grows and spreads very quickly. Usually, the younger that someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, the more aggressive the tumor is. Triple negative is a very aggressive type of breast cancer that does not respond to hormone therapy. This means that the breast cancer did not develop because of an over abundance of estrogen or progesterone. (So it wasn’t the pregnancy hormones that caused it). They don’t know what causes triple negative breast cancer, but a lot of research is currently being done on it to learn more about it. The only treatment so far that has been proven to be effective is chemotherapy.

For my treatment plan, I will be doing 4 months of the TAC chemotherapy regimen. This involves the drugs Taxotere, Adriamycin (the “red devil”), and Cytoxan. They are very intense, powerful drugs with bad side effects, but they are necessary to fight aggressively. Although the cancer tumor is technically out of me, there are still tiny microscopic cells left behind in my body that need to be zapped with the chemo. I am choosing to be as aggressive as possible with fighting this cancer, because I don’t want to just be treated, I want to be cured! For this reason, I am seriously considering a double mastectomy with reconstruction in the future. Once I beat this, I don’t ever want it to come back. In a few weeks, we will probably meet with the surgeons in Georgetown to discuss my options. I know that they won’t operate until at least 4 weeks after my chemotherapy is over. So if I do opt for a surgery, it probably wouldn’t happen until June or July. There is a chance in the future that I might also need radiation, depending on if I have cancer positive lymph nodes or not. (They won’t know this until they operate.) After that, I would need regular shots/medicines and check-ups for 5 years to try to prevent a reoccurrence. I am so determined to beat this and become a survivor… I won’t let cancer take away my wonderful, perfect life with my husband and son. NO WAY!!! I love my life and if this is what I have to do to keep it, then I will!

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