October, the month I can’t decide what to hang on my door. Alabama football? Down syndrome awareness? Or a pink ribbon?
Our daughter has Down syndrome. At 10 weeks old, she had heart surgery. She is the one who picked me up off the floor a few years later when we received our son’s diagnosis.
When he was only in the second grade we learned our son has a horse shoe kidney. His kidneys are connected, so he only has one. He also has a kidney disease, IgA nephropathy.
This disease could lead to a transplant. It can affect a donated kidney too. Yeah, it’s a lot.
I knew God was not through with us.
After all that, I knew God was not through with us. I knew it would be my health. On February 1st, 2012, I got the call. It was breast cancer.
Hearing the news, I ran, collapsing on the floor of the water closet in our master bathroom. (Just to give you an idea of how small the space was.) My husband, son (13), and daughters (8 and 7) outside the door.
Symptoms started two years before. It was painful to lie on my left side. I poked around, never able to pinpoint the pain.
At 40, I had my first mammogram. No problems found. During my next checkup, I mentioned the pain.
Nothing showed up on ultrasound. I asked what test would be next. They didn’t offer a breast MRI. I didn’t push for one.
My breast cancer was a thickening, not just a lump.
Two years passed. Now I felt something. The mass was about two fingers wide and two fingers long in my left breast.
I remembered reading an article. There was a form of breast cancer that wasn’t just a lump. Some breast cancer can be a thickening.
They gave me five different medical possibilities of what it could be. A surgical biopsy confirmed. It was lobular carcinoma.
Waiting on Pathology
It took days for the pathology report. The report would tell the type of breast cancer I had. I was also apprehensive to know the stage to see if it was contained or spread throughout my body.
If someone tells me to wait ten days for results, I can wait ten days. They told me a “few” or a “couple”. The specimens were sent to a lab out of state.
Expected to Navigate This Diagnosis on My Own
Overwhelmed, I was expected to find an oncologist and navigate this diagnosis on my own. I found the door labeled “Pathology.” It was tucked away in a back hallway.
The technician, a survivor, was not accustomed to patients showing up at the door. She couldn’t give me results. She confirmed they were back and forwarded them to the surgeon.
Encouraged to go to UAB
Friends that were survivors encouraged me to seek treatment at UAB. I was seen quickly. Many tests were repeated. My breast cancer was triple positive.
No Family History
My oncologist said the cancer began around two years before. I had no family history. The fertility drugs I took to conceive my son may have contributed to my cancer being estrogen and progesterone positive. The Her2 positive antibody was just a bonus.
UAB has a team approach with a surgeon, an oncologist, a radiation oncologist, and a reconstructive plastic surgeon. Every appointment was scheduled for me. They guided us through our new journey.
I Got Angry
One day it hit me. The mother of MY children had breast cancer. This cancer was the source of the pain two years before. If they had offered the next test, a breast MRI, or if I had pushed for one, I could have already been done with this. Then I realized, the battle was now, in God’s timing, while my children were two years older.
Chemo and a Hot Alabama Summer
The anticipation of the unknown is the worst. My oncologist looked for me in the waiting room to tell me of a major side effect of the first drug I took.
Picture a hot Alabama summer. I didn’t want my son to miss out on playing All Stars baseball. Wigs are hot and itchy. Hot flashes were brutal. Then there was the severe diarrhea. Severe.
One classmate offered me refuge in an air conditioned press box. Another let me lie on a concession stand deep freeze to cool off.
No one tells you about the painful mouth sores. Eating can be unbearable. Foul smelling pus filled my swollen fingertips. Laughing I would squeeze and aim my fingers, squirting my kids. Laughter is the best medicine.
I was determined to only do this once.
At Stage 2 A with clear lymph nodes, I wasn’t settling for a single mastectomy. I insisted on a double. The thirty radiation treatments I did were optional but offered a benefit.
Breast Cancer is a Long Journey
Most don’t realize how long breast cancer treatment really is. Long after the attention, generous meals, and childcare have stopped, you’re still in it. From diagnosis to double abdominal tram reconstructive fourteen-hour surgery, was almost two years.
As an extra bonus, my husband severed the tip of his thumb. We had matching slings and took turns being the patient.
That was a Thanksgiving to remember. I went to the school feast two days after my mastectomy. The toothless little girl in feathers is now 15.
Early Detection Saves Lives
Too many women are passive about their health. I kept asking, kept mentioning what I felt, even when it did not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound. If I had not gone through with the surgical biopsy, my cancer could have progressed until it was too late for effective treatment.
I tell people you won’t know for certain what it is until you stick a needle in it or a knife to it. At least insist on a breast MRI. If you feel something, please insist on a timely, in-person appointment.
The first of every month, I post breast self-exam reminders. One in eight women in this country are diagnosed with breast cancer. Early detection saves lives. It saved mine.