Friday, October 6, 2023

My breast cancer diagnosis was the ”best” bad news I could get

One of my goals for October is to get back to blogging by writing one post per week.

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I figured sharing my personal journey with breast cancer would be a good place to start. It is one of the reasons I haven't blogged in so long. I've supported BCAM for years, doing walks, runs and sponsored posts here on the blog. This year is different. This year I am part of statistics.

My breast cancer diagnosis was the ”best” bad news I could get. In January, I went for my routine mammogram. It wasn't uncommon for me to have follow up imaging because I have dense breasts, so I wasn't surprised when I had to go back for diagnostic mammogram two weeks later.

After that, things moved pretty quickly. They found a cluster that looked "suspicious" and the day after turning 52, I was having a biopsy of my right breast. The biospy was scary. Fortunately, mrC was home and waiting for me. I sat in a chair while the doctor used mammography to find the cluster, use a needle to take a sample and leave a marker. 

We got the results call on Valentine's Day. I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). 

DCIS means that I had cancer cells in my duct but they hadn't left the duct. That was the good news.

At the end of the month, we met my entire breast cancer care team at what they call a Multi D: my nurse navigator (who I had already met during my biopsy) the surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist, along with a social worker and financial coordinator. Before meeting me, the multidisciplinary team got together to discuss my case and treatment options. 

My treatment plan: lumpectomy, followed by radiation and then an estrogen blocker for up to 5 years.

Before my surgery, I had to have a RFID tag inserted so the surgeon would know exactly what tissue to remove. Similar to my biopsy, it was done using the same seated mammography to find the marker left during my biospy. The doctor then placed the RFID tag. After checking, the doctor could not see the tag, so they had to do it again. Even with the delay, this process was much quicker than the biospy, but my body was so stressed that I passed out. My nurse navigator assured me that is is very common because when our body is stressed, our blood sugar drops because it is being used by our "flight or fight" response. 

One of the hardest parts of my journey was keeping the news from the kids. Devan was pregnant with baby Frank and we didn't want to add any stress to her or the other two by making them keep a secret. Baby Frank was born the day after my tag placement.

Two weeks later I had my lumpectomy. 

Recovery was pretty simple for me. Going into it strong and healthy otherwise was a big help. Mostly the swelling of my little boob was uncomfortable and the incision hurt a little, but overall, it was only a few days of discomfort. Again, I was blessed to have mrC home to help me. 

After a couple weeks of recovery I started radiation. 16 days of 5 minutes of beeps and bright lights. As with most of this journey, I was more nervous than I needed to be. On the very first day I met another lady waiting for her treatment. When she learned it was my first day, she quickly offered words of encouragement. It felt like I joined a secret club.

Before starting my treatment, I had no idea what getting radiation entailed. This is the machine that aimed the beams at my breast to stop the growth of any remaining cancer cells left after surgery. I lie on the table and the technicians made sure I was aligned perfectly. When they didn't have to move me, they called it a “perfect landing.” Chris liked that.

Prior to starting radiation, I had a genetic test done. My grandfather had breast cancer, so I wanted to know if we had a gene so I could share that with my sister and cousins. All my tests came back negative!

I received a Radiant Wrap as a gift from the oncology radiation team at the Seacoast Cancer Center. It is much more comfortable than a hospital gown -> literally softer but also, it just felt good knowing my back wasn't exposed when walking down the hall to the radiation room. Mine is a snow leopard print…the leopard symbolizes strength and courage.

During treatment, I had weekly On Treatment Visits (OTV) with the doctor afterwards. I started experiencing some side effects to the radiation treatments about halfway through -> pink skin, some itchiness, mild pain and fatigue (all normal). I’m a morning person, usually up before 6, but every couple of days I was sleeping in and a few times I took afternoon naps. I knew my body was going through the healing process during that time.

My treatment schedule meant changes to our morning routine since I went every day at 8am, but we found ways to make the most of having to leave the house every day. On Fridays we enjoyed stopping for a bite to eat and people watching from the window seats at Cup of Joe followed by a walk around downtown Portsmouth. Walking was pretty much my workout during the month of May.

I didn't expect to, but I cried on the last day of radiation when I rang the bell. It was such a relief to know that I was done with that phase of my journey and one step closer to full recovery. We celebrated by going to lunch with the family and enjoying the beautiful spring weather.

The entire radiation technician team at Wentworth Douglas Cancer Center was so amazing from the very first day. Friendly faces greeted me every step of the way each day.

Once I got my energy back, I jumped back into my FASTer Way workouts. I'm a coach, and also a client. I was able to follow our nutritional strategies all through my treatments. What I missed most was the exercise. It felt good to get moving again beyond just walks.

About a month after finishing the radiation, I met with my medical oncologist again. He prescribed Tamoxifen for me to take for at least 2 years. My cancer cells were estrogen positive, meaning the estrogen in my body feeds the cancer cells. Taking the medicine will reduce the chances of recurrence.

mrC was my rock. He spent a lot of time in waiting rooms over the last couple of months. There is no greater comfort than knowing he is there. I’ve been very lucky that he has been home for nearly every step of this process and I couldn’t be more grateful for his support.

I hate that 1 in 8 women will face some form of breast cancer no matter how healthy and diligent we are. The growing list of ladies I know personally makes me sad. Writing about my journey and sharing it with others helped me turn my emotions into something positive by using it as a way to remind everyone to check your breasts and schedule your mammograms.

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