And They're Off!

Considering why I started this blog, I am going to recant a bit of what has happened to me as a reminder for me years from now. 

I'm 48 years old.  Very healthy and active.  For 10 years I've had cysts in my breasts and have been very aware of them along way through many self-exams and mammograms, etc.  I've come to not be alarmed by them as they are just a part of me and pose no threat.  I've had a few of them aspirated and sent out for testing with them always returning benign. 

A few months ago, I had noticed a couple of cysts that were quite large in my left breast.  Again, something that's happened to me before, so I didn't jump to call the doctor.  I always do my regularly yearly exam around my birthday (early Dec.) so I knew I would be seeing my doctor soon.  Also, the nipple on my right breast seemed to be a slightly different color and could it have been retracting?  I decided I would mention it to the doctor when I saw him in December but continued to watch them and compare things everyday.

Early in November, I woke up one morning and felt pain.  It happened to be a Wednesday, the day after my dance classes when I do a fall and flip a girl - all kinds of stuff the would tax my muscles.  At first I thought this was it - muscle soreness -just a day and it would subside as usual.  Well, as the day wore on, it seemed to get worse and it wasn't located in the muscle but in the breast. In fact the left one with the large cyst.  This was out of the ordinary because these cysts never 'hurt' me - they are just there.  So I called Dr. Murray, my gynocologist, for an appointment. 

I'm a dancer.  I know my body very well and I knew this was a pretty urgent situation.  I got into the doctor the same day.  He examined me and tried to aspirate the left cyst to ease the pain, but was unable to.  He also checked the right breast, but didn't feel anything unusual, like me.  So because of the alert and the fact that the doctor was unable to aspirate, I was sent for a mammo and ultrasound.  I always get both because I'm clinically listed as having dense breasts and that was my normal course of action during my yearly exams.

Mammogram this time was very painful, but it was business as usual.  I finished and went to the waiting room to wait for the ultrasound, but the technician called me back in because the radiologist wanted to see something more.  So she took some magnified pictures - not of the left breast as I suspected, but the right one!  This, too, was not a fun one, but you do what you have to do.  Suck it up - it's 10 seconds for crying out loud!!! No one should let this stop them from having a Mammo... its these pictures that have saved my life.

Afterward, I went in for the ultrasound.  Normal stuff - yes you have cysts, this one cyst is filled with fluid, blah blah... but again, its the right that they look at closely.  The radiologist comes in and sits with me... Dr. Lewis - not a bad looking guy, btw, but I digress... he tells me of the calcification's he sees in the right breast tissue that can indicate a bigger problem and wants me to have a biopsy right away.

But, it's recital and I can't really think about that right now... no time!   It's on with the show!! Recital this year was one of the most fulfilling I've had in a long time.  The pain was negligible compared to the absolute joy that weekend brought me.  Timing is everything...

I'm given a referral to Hannah Brooks, a breast surgeon.  She has taken the place of Dr. Dianni at the Mid Hudson Medical Group after his retirement- loved that man.  Reminded me alot of my father.  Dr. Brooks takes me in for an appointment the following week - Tuesday 11\16.  She looks at the films of the Mammo, etc. and is very concerned.  In her words, 'expect the worst'.  I get that.  I can tell its a very serious situation. She is able to aspirate the cyst in the left breast which manages to ease my pain and also sends that out for testing.  Dr. Brooks pulls a bunch of strings, orders blood work and an EKG and gets me a biopsy appointment within her schedule on Thanksgiving week.  This doctor and her assistant Marcie are clearly explaining everything to me with literature, a look at my films from January to now, discussions and questions and answers.  They are a powerhouse.

Finally the day comes for the biopsy and I am admittedly a bit nervous that morning - admitted only to me.  I have not told anyone about what's going on except for a few - Bob, Shelly, Angela and Denise.  The rest, I decided, did not need to be alarmed unnecessarily.  At least until there was an actual diagnosis.   In I go - Dr. Brooks and Marcie and Therese, the ultrasound technician.  I've had so many ultrasounds with Therese, I call her my personal technician!  Anyway, they are very efficient and reassuring as I'm given the local for the needle biopsy.  Some tugging, a little pressure and a couple of pinches later, biopsy is done and I get bandaged up for 48 hours with an ace bandage - better than any bra I've ever owned! It's off to the lab with the biopsy but, remember, it's Thanksgiving week now.  A short week for most all of us.  Dr. Brooks is hoping to hear the results by Wednesday.

It's not Wednesday, but Tuesday night we get the call.  Bob gets the call because they can't find me.  Its confirmed. Cancer.  Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  Everything changes.

Wednesday, we officially get the news and the pathology report.  At this point, the stage is still difficult to determine, but it is a large grade 3 tumor in the right breast.   Very aggressive and hormonally fed.  They believe it's probably a stage 3 tumor, but more testing is needed before they know positively.  Bob jumps into the picture trying to move all of my preliminary testing into place as quickly as possible.  The sooner we have this all done, the sooner we can start attacking it.  Later that afternoon I get squeezed in for a CT Scan... rolling stone gathers no moss!! 

Thanksgiving weekend is by far the longest weekend of my life.  Look for another page on that emotional topic.

After Thanksgiving, I'm referred to my Oncologist - Dr. Jason Rubin.  Just a comment - saying my Oncologist is just bizarre.  Anyway, we have a meeting with him and his staff.  This is actually the guy I'm going to be spending the next several months with!!  Bob and I walked in and saw a familiar smiling face from behind the desk - Bonnie is Alex's friend Rob's sister - did you get that??  It was so nice to see someone we know.  Dr. Rubin examines me, explains everything to me and Bob and starts to schedule more tests for me before we can actually start Chemotherapy. 

Things are moving so fast at this point, I can barely keep my head on straight.  I am scheduled for Bone scans, blood tests, Muga test, MRI and finally a port-a-cath placement within a week.  In the meantime, I'm encouraged by several people to seek a second opinion from Dr. Angela Keleher up at Vassar's Dyson Cancer Center.  Second opinions help to make these major decisions a little more definable - somebody else believes this to be true too.  You can wrap your head around what the second doctor is saying to you better because you already know so much coming in.  Bob and I decided we wanted to hear what she had to say more than have her hear us do all the talking. 

Dr. Keleher was great.  She examined me and clearly explained in both medical and laymen's terms what she clinically determined just looking at me.  She had copies of all the pathology and assorted lab reports and spent an enormous amount of time explaining that to us too.  She saw less and less evidence of lympatic activity based on the results and reassured me this was not a death sentence.  It was fixable.  She agreed with the treatment plan developed by Brooks and Rubin - 6 treatments of Chemo spaced 3 weeks apart, followed by a mastectomy followed by more Chemo and possibly radiation.  She introduced us to her nurse practicioner Sara and left Bob and I supporting us in all the decisions past, present and future.  No pressure.  Quite a relief.

A few little bumps - Dr. Keleher notices a cyst on my ovary and a lesion on my cervix and something else that alerts her in the left breast.  Off for a 2nd- look ultrasound and a pelvic.  Now, all tests ordered after the initial diagnosis are negative - that's the good news!

Plans in place.  We moved the Cath placement from St. Luke's to Vassar.  Dr. Rubin had me scheduled at the Dyson Center for all my Chemotherapy treatments, it just felt right to also do my port-a-cath there.  No one rushed me to make a decision on surgeons, but everyone had an opinion!  I really didn't need to decide yet, since the plan is for a round of Chemo treatments thru April and then surgery.  But, it was Dr. Keleher who said the most logical thing to me - you don't need to rush!!  Take your time.  A day, a week is not going to make a difference.  I felt so rushed and bombarded with info and tests and doctors, that I was totally overwhelmed by it all.  I didn't want to make an emotional decision, but a practical qualified one.  I took the weekend+ to think about it.  Talking to lots of people and reading, reading, reading.  By the end, the decision was clearer for me.  It's Dr. Keleher and Dr. Rubin....

So, that's how I got up to the point of Chemotherapy... a timeline.