I Have Breast Cancer

I had it. You have it. Breast Cancer sucks.

I looked at my phone wondering why she is calling me. Our kids no longer attend the same school. We are at most casual acquaintances. I answer a little hesitantly. She identifies herself and pauses. Then she continued: I had a mammogram, and I, well I heard that you too, uh….um. I have what you had, I have DCIS in my breast. I have breast cancer.”  Her voice is trembling.  The former social worker in me surfaces. I ask direct questions so that she can regain composure:

When was your mammogram, where did you have it done? When is your next appointment? With whom? Have you met with a surgeon yet?

She answered each question. She took a deep breath.

I said, “I’m so sorry. I am sorry this is happening to you. You must be overwhelmed. It’s strange to hear the words breast cancer.”

She agreed and added, “Why is this happening to me?”

I wonder that too, every day. And yet it is happening. My friend summarized it as: we all got married, we all started having kids, our kids started school, then sports, and now we’re at the age where some of us are getting breast cancer diagnoses.

Can we chalk it up to a developmental milestone?

After my caller went through her series of appointments, I gave a brief version of my summer. My June of being diagnosed and agonizing over treatment options, my July of surgery and recovery, and then August finally ending my summer of 2016. The kids returned to school. Labor Day is here. I am ready for the summer to be over, for my recovery time to be completed, for this ordeal to be ending.

I hope I was supportive. I hope I was educational and helpful. I hope she felt heard.

It’s strange to hear the oncologist say to me: come back in three months for your follow-up. It’s strange to have conversations with people about having breast cancer. It’s strange to experience a thrill over being contacted, being someone who has gone through something and can offer guidance.

She agreed, “It is strange to now be seeing an oncologist.”

My follow up is at the end of October. A ways off. Strange how much can happen in a few months.

 

Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction

Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction

Part III

DCIS diagnosis. Mastectomy and Reconstruction.  To tell or not to tell.  When do we share important information. And how do we know with whom to share? I know of someone in my social circle who openly revealed on Facebook her week by week experiences of chemotherapy. BTW, she is doing great. I asked my hubby, “Why would you do that?” A perfectly natural question coming from someone who does not readily solicit support from others. He answered, “To get support!”recovery from mastectomy and reconstruction

I’m thinking of my uncle, childhood piano teacher, high school classmates, and acquaintances from our kids sports teams as my people on FB. Would I want them all to know of my diagnosis? I’m not that type, I decided. My diagnosis of DCIS is to me like having a concerning mole on your upper arm. The dermatologist says, “I don’t like the look of that. I’m going to recommend removing it and sending the tissue to the lab for analysis. Let’s get you in sooner rather than later.”

My oncology surgeon said to me, “Let’s take care of this over the summer.” Shortly after the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of DCIS in early June, I explored treatment options. I decided on a single mastectomy. My surgeon said, “Just a bump in the road this summer.” The surgeon’s assistant coordinated with the plastic surgeon for immediate reconstruction. She handed me a card: July 1st.

Now to the root of the issue. It’s interesting how little information is easily accessible on the web regarding post-mastectomy recovery. I wanted answers to my questions; I surfed the web, searching. Weeks later I came across this amazing personal story/website:

www.dcismystory.com 

Welcome

As part of my recovery, I feel the need to share my experience:

I checked into the hospital at 8:30A for an 11:30 scheduled surgery time. I went through a few procedures before surgery. I woke up in the afternoon in the recovery area. I was transferred to a private room by late afternoon. I had a soda, then juice, then soup and crackers over the course of 10 hours. I was starving the next morning, I could not wait to order a full blown breakfast meal.

In the hospital the RN staff took my vitals and assisted me in using the bathroom. In the hospital I phoned in my meal orders. In the hospital I pushed buttons to move my bed and to change the channels of the tv. The nurse discussed the drains and caring for them. A physical therapist showed me arm exercises to do ASAP to condition and encourage range of movement. My surgeon visited me and prescribed medications. The plastic surgeon warned me to avoid the raised arms touchdown motion. Yea, no problem the Steelers are not on tv at this time. I felt comfortable having everything and everyone within reach.  I asked if I could stay for lunch. Yes, you can order the hospital lunch and then it’s time to leave. I was a little nervous about returning home. The medical staff was so helpful with assisting, demonstrating, and then asking: Is that clear? The recovery process I was about to experience in my home stretched out ahead – a murky fog.

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Mammogram Results

I had my annual mammogram done mid-May. I started going in for yearly ones in my late 30s; I’ve done the routine many times now. Yes, I know you will call me if there are concerns.

I got the call two days later. The radiologist saw something that was apparently not visible in the  year before– she had compared the films. I was instructed to come in for a more detailed mammogram. I returned later that week. This time the focus was on my right breast – a few specialized images were taken. The technician waved me over to look. In the magnified film of my breast are 5 white dots. Teeny tiny round dots, likes ones a finely sharpened white pencil would make.  A few together and two scattered. My initial reaction was: how did they see those in the one taken during my first appointment?  The radiologist came in and explained the dots are circular in shape, there are only a few, they were not noticed last year and appear to be new, and many women in their aging develop breast calcifications. All of these factors are not red flags. However, she continued, one time she let it go and her patient developed cancerous cells a year later.  Again, I was urged to continue with another more detailed procedure. I agreed to a biopsy for the following Monday.

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