For those of you who know me well, you know that I spend a lot of time in my own head...thinking. And those of you who know me well, by the time I've done all my thinking, I'm exhausted and don't feel like talking about it. :) Therefore, I decided to start this blog for two reasons: to keep everyone updated on how I'm doing and also to get a lot of this stuff off my chest.
Let me start by explaining how this journey began for me. It was late-October during breast cancer awareness month and I was sitting in my room watching T.V. before I went to bed. A commercial came on talking about breast cancer awareness, and I thought to myself, "What the heck, I should just check." I was just sitting there so why not. I started feeling my left breast first and right away felt something that felt odd. I went on to feel the right breast as I was always told I should feel the same types of things in both breasts. Well, the hardness I felt in my left breast was not in my right breast. I obsessively started feeling around. Finally, I got up from bed and went to the living room where my boyfriend, Eric, was watching T.V. I had him feel the hardness that I was feeling. He immediately said it didn't feel normal either, and that I should call the doctor. It was so weird. I had just been to my primary doctor, Joni Ghormley, two weeks prior for my annual visit and had a breast exam. At that time my doctor did not feel anything abnormal.
About a week-and-a-half went by before I went back to Dr. Ghormley. I just kind of brushed it aside and thought it was probably normal. That entire week my mom and Eric had asked me if I'd made an appointment to get it looked at. I finally did. I went that day thinking I left work early for no reason and that she would tell me it was just firm tissue or something. Dr. Ghormley felt the hardness I was feeling and too seemed concerned. She wanted me to have a mammogram and ultrasound done right away. She even said if they can't get you in right away to call her back and let her know. I left there feeling a lot of different things: I was in shock that she actually thought it was something to be concerned about, but I was also thinking there is no way this could happen to me.
I called the Valley Breast Center first thing the next morning and was able to get in within the next couple of days. It was Wednesday, November 3rd. I tell you that date because everything happened so quickly after. I went that day to have the mammogram and ultrasound. Everything seemed pretty routine. No one was really acting too concerned until the doctor came in. He started asking me questions like, "Have you had any infections recently?," "Had that area been hurting?" I had not had any infections, nor had the area been hurting. He finally said the dreadful words I'd hear several times. "This mass we see is what cancer looks like." My stomach dropped. That is not at all what I expected to hear that day. He went on to say that it could of course be many other things and a biopsy would need to be done. Needless to say, I left there not feeling as confident as I was hoping, but, I still stayed positive about the situation.
I scheduled the biopsy for the following Monday, November 8th, and that was the appointment where I think I really knew I had breast cancer. I'm not sure what it was about this appointment, but I left there pretty certain of the results. During this visit I was told again that "this is what cancer looks like." I had come to hate those words. I kept this feeling pretty much to myself as I didn't want to send out any negative energy or worry anyone. The next few days were complete agony for me as I anxiously awaited the test results. I suspected I would get the results on Thursday, so I went to work that day thinking I could use the distraction. As you can imagine, I didn't do any work that day. My mind was racing out of control. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and asked my manager, Kathy, who coincidentally, is a breast cancer survivor and the only person at work who knew what was going on, if I could come to her office and talk. I couldn't bare to sit at my desk another moment. I brought my phone with me in case they called while I was with her. No more than 2 minutes later, my phone rang. It was Valley Breast Center. There was a short exchange of hellos and then she went right into my results. "The results came back positive." I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing. I don't really remember anything she said after that. I wrote some stuff down and got off the phone. Kathy immediately grabbed me and held me while I cried...harder than I had ever cried before. Looking back, something in me must have known they were going to call me then and I had to be with her. I sent Eric a text and told him the results and asked him to please come get me. He was there within minutes. Kathy didn't leave my side until he got there. She was so great! That car ride home was kind of a blur. I called my normal doctor to try and get some more information, and while on hold with her I tried to convince myself that I must have heard wrong. I just knew she was going to tell me she didn't know what I was talking about. That didn't happen as she confirmed the terrible news. She gave me the name of the surgeon, Dr. Tori McFall, who would go over all the pathology results. I wasn't able to get in to see Dr. McFall until the following Monday. That night I was with Eric, my parents, my sister and my two best, and longest friends, Jenny and Justine. My first reaction was I wanted to be alone, but they wouldn't let me. Thankfully. This, actually, was exactly what I needed.
That weekend was probably the longest of my life, though I got through it knowing I already had breast cancer. That was the worst of it right?
Monday, November 15th came and I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know much about breast cancer. I just knew it wasn't good and I didn't want it. I did know, however, that there was a positive and negative type of breast cancer and that if I were to have it I'd want the positive. As Dr. McFall was going over everything with me all could think about was if it was positive or negative. She got to that part...I have a triple negative breast cancer (learn more about Triple Negative Breast cancer at http://tnbcfoundation.org/). I think my heart stopped. She informed me that this was a very aggressive breast cancer and my tumor was on the larger side. She instantly asked if had an oncologist in mind. With my days before this appointment, I had spent time researching Seattle-based oncologists and spent time talking to other breast cancer survivors, so I felt I had done my research and knew who I wanted to treat me. In fact, I had already begun making calls. I told her the oncologist I had hoped to see, Dr. Erin Ellis at Swedish Cancer Institute, was booked out four weeks. Dr. McFall jumped up and made a call to Dr. Ellis' office right then and there and was able to get me in on the following Wednesday, November 17th. What a relief! While there, she also told me about, and suggested I take, a test called the BRCA gene test. This would tell me if I am a carrier of the gene that causes breast cancer. Of course I wanted to do this as I immediately thought of my two daughters, Vanessa (6) and Brooke (4) and what this could mean for them and their future, and I went in first thing the next morning to take the test. I subsequently found out a couple weeks later that I was not a carrier of this gene. Phew! That was some great news that was much needed!
The following Wednesday was a busy day for doctor's appointments. I went and had an MRI in the morning, which would tell me if the cancer had spread to the right breast or lymph nodes, and then went and met with Dr. Ellis later in the afternoon. Dr. Ellis talked with me again about the type of breast cancer I had, the chemothreapy treatment she had already planned in advance, and her thoughts on the results it could bring, specifically for me and my type of breast cancer. The chemotherapy plan I would be on would be a six-month plan, and Dr. Ellis said I'd need to start chemotherapy as quickly as possible.
The following week, the week of Thanksgiving, was filled with appointments to get a portacath installed along with a bone scan and CT/petscan. A portacath is a small medical appliance that is installed beneath the skin. A catheter connects the port to a vein under the skin and has a septum through which the chemotherapy drugs could be injected and blood samples, which would soon become a weekly occurence for me, could be drawn many times, usually with less discomfort than the typical "needle stick." I had the bone scan on Monday, the CT/petscan on Tuesday and the portacath installed on Wednesday. These tests were major tests as they would tell me if the cancer had spread, but the portacath instillation was a relatively minor procedure. Dr. Ellis knew that waiting on the test results would cause a lot of anxiety and didn't want me to wait over the long holiday weekend so she had me come back in a few hours after my appointments to go over the results. She gave me the best possible news she could give me. The cancer was contained within my left breast and had only spread to four lymph nodes. Finally, news seemed to get better each time I saw her. The next good news was that I was going to start chemotherapy on Monday, November 29th. I was very anxious to get started and get this nasty cancer out of my body!