I have breast cancer, and this is my "Journey"

May 19, 2015 - Journal Post #4

In my last posting I mentioned that I was going for an MRI.  Well, on the 5th of May I had the test from Hell.  Let me tell you about it.

My husband and I arrived at the hospital where the MRI was going to be performed.  Since I have a metal rod in my neck, I was somewhat concerned about having the procedure and had asked a couple of different medical people about risks and options.  Both parties said to take an ice pack and keep it on my neck during the procedure.

As I was called to go back to the room where the procedure was going to be done, the first thing the Technologist asked me about was the ice pack and why did I have it.  I explained what I was told, to which she just shook her head, stating, “I wish they would call us.  How long ago did you have the neck surgery?”

I respond, “Almost 10 years.”

She replies, “Anything that is over 1 year will not have a problem in a MRI.  If you put that ice pack on your neck, the machine will heat it to boiling and burn you.” 

Needless to say I believed her and left the ice pack with my husband. 

Back in the room, they insert an IV in my arm.  This is the first time I learned I was going to have an MRI with and without contrast.  (Love the way the keep the patient informed).  I explain I have a multiple drug allergies and am hesitant to have an unknown injected into my arm.  Against my better judgement, I agree.

As we approach the table where I am to lay face down I start to laugh to myself.  There is this moveable device where you place you face so you don’t smother.  Somewhat similar to what is used if you have ever had a massage.  I am sure it is movable to accommodate the person’s body length.  Next there are two holes separated by a padded bar where the “Ladies” will hang in all their glory.  Finally, I am told my arms will be above my head, and in one hand they give me a “panic” button if I am having difficulty. 

As I am getting myself situated, I am thinking to myself, “if men had to go through this, they would find another way to do it.”  Next they give me a set of ear phones and ask what kind of music I would like.  I respond with Native American flute music.  Gee, they actually had it.  Okay, way to go. 

Finally, they roll me into the machine and tell me through the head phones that the machine is loud and that the whole procedure will be about 20 minutes.  Alrighty, here we go.

The music is going and I am trying to meditate, when the first series of, for lack of better words, pictures begin.  I have to laugh.  The damn machine is so loud, you can’t hear the music.  Oh, and the padded bar between the two holes?  It digs into the sternum and then the end of it presses into the stomach.  So much for meditation. 

After about 8 to 10 minutes, the technician comes again through the head phones and says they are going to start the dye through the IV. 

Do you recall the picture with Nicholas Gage, “Ghost Rider”, where he turns into this flaming bike rider?  When the dye hit my arm, it felt as if it was on fire from the fingertips up to my neck. Well, if I could have leaped up off of the table, I would have been the deaf, flame throwing, MRI patient.  

Remember the panic button they gave me to hold in my other hand?  It got a workout.  The tech comes out, holds my hands and tells me it’s going to be okay.  I was thankful for her reassurance, but I knew she wasn’t going to stop the procedure.  So, here I am practicing my breathing techniques, trying to listen to the music I can’t hear, and plotting the destruction of mankind with my new “flaming” arm. 

You ask, “Did you make it?”  Yes, I made it. 

Finally, I am brought out of the hole and told to take my time getting up since the machine messes with your equilibrium.  I ease over to a chair and sit.  As the tech was cleaning up the area, she and I were chatting.  I had the impulse to ask her how they check men for scrotal cancer.  She says that they just lay on their backs to have it done.  I’m thinking, “Not fair, they should have to lay face down, have a designated hole so they let their junk hang down, and then do the “Ghost Rider” routine.

Oh well, up next is the appointment with the doctor to discuss results, which occurred on the 10th of May, one day after my birthday.    Nothing new on the MRI results as compared to the ultra sound and mammogram.  This is good news.  Surgery is scheduled for the 25th.  Sometime after that there will be 6 weeks, 5 days a week, of radiation.  Then I will be on a medication for 5 years. Still we have to have the pathology reports.  I am choosing to be optimist and say we get it all with this surgery.

More after the surgery…

April 27, 2016 - Journal Post #3

I am amazed by the number of women that I know, family and friends, that have had cancer.  One person in particular is my sister-in-law who has been cancer free for 11 years.  She recently sent me a poem that I now have posted in my home office and that I want to share.  It is called "What Cancer Cannot Do".  

Meanwhile, I have been home this last week with, of all things, the flu.  My doctor put me on Tamiflu.  Although I believe the Tamiflu helped from getting worse, we were awfully close to the 48 hour window, and it is taking me a bit longer to get over this dang stuff. The goal is to do all the things necessary to get well before the surgery. 

While home, I received a call from the surgeon's office.  The MRI is scheduled on the 5th of May and the appointment to discuss the results with the surgeon is on the 10th of May.  

The MRI will be tricky since a have a metal rod in my neck.  After discussion with those who will be doing the MRI, the plan is to keep ice packs on my neck so the rod won't get hot.  Knew there was a reason why I liked Sophie Tucker - always wanted to be a Red Hot Mama.

Continuation of my journal - "I have Breast Cancer and this is my "Journey" (first post April 16, 2016). 

April 20, 2016 - Journal Post #2

Since I last wrote, many things have gone through my mind.  In particular, I kept thinking about the saying, Life goes on.  Although intellectually I understood it, the reality of it truly hit me with the diagnosis. 

Yes, life does go on.  I still have to wash the dishes, do the laundry, pay the bills, go to work.  The reality of my life has not stopped.  I still have to do those things.  The only factor that has changed is I now have to include with those everyday things the battle that is before me.  I can't put it in a box, and put it up on the shelf, and only bring it down every now and then and think about it.  It has become a very real constant part of my life, and it is up to me to make the decision to either let it overwhelm or to embrace it and put it to good purpose.  I have chosen to write and talk about it, to become a role model and a future support for others.  

The appointment to see the surgeon was to be tomorrow, Thursday.  However, this past Monday morning the surgeon's office called me and asked if I wanted to fill an appointment that became available Tuesday afternoon.  Of course, I said yes.  When I met my husband for lunch later that day, I told him about the change in appointments.  He looked at me and asked, "How can you smile about this?"  I told him, "This is the first step in fighting this disease, and I'm ready to fight." 

Both my husband and I arrived at the surgeon's office at 12:45 on Tuesday.   After filling out the mountain of paperwork that comes with seeing a new doctor, we were called back into the exam room about 30 minutes later.  After going though the normal routine of blood pressure, questions from the nurse, etc., we were left alone and ready to meet the doctor.  

A few minutes later, the door opens, and this wonderful woman comes in and says, "I'm Beth, and you must be Helen."  I liked her immediately.  She tells me the team has met and discussed my case.  I like those words, 'my team'.  They give me courage and reassurance that I am not alone.  I look at my husband and I can see that they have had an impact on him also.  

She takes the time to explain the type of cancer, various options of treatment depending on what is found in the removed tissue, and all possible outcomes.  She is very thorough and answers all of our questions.  All through the explanation, I am made to feel that I am part of the decision making.   

The first step will be an MRI, since there was an area that was not well visualize with the mammogram and ultra sound.  She says she wants to be sure that we get it all when we do the surgery.  Once the results come back, the date for the surgery will be set.  

When my husband and I left the office three hours later, he says to me, "I feel good about this and I like this doctor."  I think he is such a sweetheart, and I love him a little bit more for saying this to me.  I am so lucky to have him.  

We now wait on the insurance to approve the MRI and then the surgery.  I am ready to move forward.   

April 16, 2016 

Hard to believe it has only been 25 days since I found the lump in my breast to the diagnosis of cancer.  Call it a miracle or chance, but it all started with an itch on the upper right side of my chest...

On Saturday, March 19th, as I stand at the kitchen sink washing up some dishes while looking out into the back yard watching the dogs playing their usual game of 'catch me if you can' with one another, I reached up to scratch an itchy spot on the upper right side of the chest.  "Ouch!" I said to myself, "why is that painful, did I bump my chest or scratch myself while sleeping last night."  I head into the bathroom to look in the mirror for a bruise or a cut, and finding none, I begin to press on the area, and under my fingers I find a small painful lump.  

"Hmmm, this may be a cyst or something", I'm thinking.  However, my guarding angel prompts me to call the OB/GYN the first thing on Monday morning.  Later that afternoon, my husband comes back from running errands, and I tell him what I found.  Immediately I see the concern in his eyes and even though I am a retired RN of 20 years, I immediately go into "Nurse Mode", and comfort him with the words that this is probably scar tissue from the breast reduction surgery I had years ago, but that I was having it check out just to be certain.  

Monday comes around and I called my doctor and got an appointment for that Wednesday in the late afternoon.  

As I am sitting in the doctor's office, I'm thinking that I may be overreacting, since the area is not painful anymore and the "lump" is hard to find.  Anyway, I get back to the exam room and explain to the doctor what if found.  She has me lay down on the table and starts to explore the area with her fingers and after a minute or two she finds a very small lump.  She doesn't seem to be overly concerned, but recommends an ultra sound just to be sure.  The earliest appointment the doctor's office can get for me is April 5th at 9:20 AM. And so, I wait.  

On the morning of April 5th, I head over to the Woman's Center for the ultra sound.  I am taken back to the area where they do mammograms and ask why I am have a mammogram when I was here for an ultra sound.  It is explained to me they want to compare last May's mammogram to what is going on now.  It is at this point I find out that my GYN doctor has left the practice moving out of state, and that now another doctor in the practice will be providing my care.  I was upset, thinking they could have done me the courtesy of letting me know.  Stress level just increased.  

Finally, the mammogram is completed and I am led back to where they will do the ultra sound.  The technician and nurse are great.  It takes awhile, but the lump is finally located.  The radiologist comes in and also takes a look at the ultra sound screen.  He too is telling me that he thinks it is scar tissue, but it is just different enough that he is suggesting I have a biopsy.  

You know, eyes are really wonderful books when you learn to observe what they are telling you, and the radiologists eyes were telling me about his concern at what he was seeing.  

The biopsy is scheduled for a week later for early in the morning on the 12th of April.  Again, the radiologist is there and he does the biopsy.  Again, he reassures me, but my nurse spidy sense is telling me something else.  I am told the results of the biopsy would be back on Thursday, April 14th.  I make a 1:30 appointment for that day.  When I leave the Women's Center, I decide to go home rather than back to work.  I need the time for myself.  

Later that night as my husband and I were discussing over dinner what was going on, I can tell his concern and that he is expecting the worse.  I didn't tell him I felt the same, but encourage him to be positive until we heard otherwise.  

April 14th - that is probably a date that will be etched in my memory forever.  When I arrive at the Women's Center,  I am led in to one of the secluded waiting rooms by a nurse, that I would later learned that she was one of the oncology nurses.   After a few minutes, the nurse and the doctor come in to the room.  The doctor introduces himself.  Again, as I look into his eyes, I know that this is not going to be good news.  He tells me, "I am afraid that I have bad news for you...".  

Funny, now that I look back on the whole scene, the thing I remember most was his distress. Well, at that moment I decided I was going to fight.  I told the doctor that I was on the 120 year plan, and that this was just a bump in the road on this journey.  I may be 70, but as far as I was concerned I had another 50 good years to live and I intended to do just that.  I remember Amy, the nurse, smiling at me and giving me a thumbs up.   When the doctor leaves the room, Amy and I discussed what kind of cancer it is - invasive ductal carcinoma.  The next step is to see a surgeon, have the lump and some lymph nodes removed to determine what stage the cancer is in so they can plan the treatment.  

When I left the Center, and as I was sitting in my car, I called my friend and doctor, Colleen.  I let her know what was going on and gave her the names of the surgeon I felt I wanted to do the surgery.  She concurred with my choice.  Next, I called my husband at work and let him know.  I could hear him crying and it broke my heart.  I assured him I was fine and that I was taking the rest of the afternoon off from work.  

The next few hours where hard - I had phone calls to make to my daughters, some family and friends, and the people at work.  When my husband came home about 2 hours later, we just held on to each other and cried.  I am so lucky to have him, I know that he is my rock.  Later, we sat out on the back porch and just enjoyed the late afternoon and talked about everything.  

The pluses about this - 
  • I know that it is not a death sentence, but will be a challenging journey.  
  • I know that I have a wonderful family, friends, and a team of medical people that will help and support me on this journey.
  • I know that I want to share this journey with others, to help them and give them courage be they someone who is diagnosed with any cancer or have a family member who has cancer.  
I see the surgeon on the Thursday, the 21st, and will write more after that conversation.  Let the journey begin! 

NOTE:  You may have noticed the picture at the top.  For whatever reason, that picture and the words give me courage, and I have adopted it as my own. 

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