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Big day today.
First, the happy news. Our beautiful baby girl turns two today. I’ll post some pictures from our celebrations later.
Now, the unhappy news. Just finished with Dr. Byrne, the oncologist. The biological and genetic tests showed a borderline intermediate/high risk of recurrence. With no further treatment, there is a 29 percent chance of recurrence. Hormone therapy alone will only knock that down to 19 percent. So chemotherapy it is. The good news is that hormone therapy plus chemo will reduce recurrence likelihood to about 6 percent, a number we like much better.
We’ll begin in a few weeks after full recovery from the surgery. The hormone treatment, Tamoxifin, will need to be done for the next five years. There will be four chemo treatments (probably TC), spaced three weeks apart, over the next 12 weeks.
Most of you probably know the side effects: severe fatigue, manageable nausea, and hair loss are the obvious ones. Not good, but a hell of a lot better than a 1 in 5 chance of this coming back.
God bless my wife for catching this super-early. We’d be in big trouble if she hadn’t.
We talked to the surgical nurse, who said the lump is probably just some tissue or clotting blood or something similar. In other words, not unexpected and probably nothing to worry about. We’re going to leave it be, see what happens to it for now, and have the surgeon check it out during next Tuesday’s post-op visit.
We’re doing well and have used the last few days to to a lot of research online into treatment options for an invasive, level 1, grade 3, estrogen positive diagnosis.
What we’ve learned, after hearing from countless others with similar diagnoses, is pretty clear. Grade 3 is nasty. There are two camps — those that chose to do chemotherapy and are happy they did, and those that chose not to and regretted it.
So we’re preparing to be given a choice next week and making the one best informed by those others who came before us.
That means this morning, we’re going wig shopping. And looking into donating to locks of love (inspired by our wonderful 10 year old niece Nina). And having a long talk about how we prepare the kids for this one without having them go off the deep end.
As we’ve learned, just keep plowing forward one step at a time.
Well, the results are in. Somewhat mixed.
Here is the good news. The surgeon was able to remove the whole tumor and get good, clean margins. In lay terms, that means there is no cancer left at the cellular level within her breast tissue, which in turn means he doesn’t have to go in for more. So we’re done with surgery until reconstruction in another 6-9 months or so.
More good news. The tumor was small (about 1.5 centimeters around), which places the cancer as stage one (of four). That means we caught it early.
But, there’s some bad news too. The cancer is Grade 3 (the higher the grade, the faster the cancer cells are growing and the more different they look from normal cells), which means it is very aggressive. So we may have to treat it somewhat aggressively to prevent recurrence. But all those decisions will be made in the next two weeks as we get more tests back on the DNA of the tumor, meet with the battery of doctors and talk it all over.
We also received back our genetic test results. Good news here as well. Claudette is negative for the BRCA gene, which would make her (and our daughters) genetically pre-disposed to get breast cancer or other female cancers. But as we’ve seen, it can still happen.
April 14, 2010– PET/CT scan results normal, does not show signs of any suspicious areas. Whew! This is a scan of the body, eyebrows down, to detect any other tumors. Surgery Monday and then on the road to recovery.
Evan and I want to thank everyone for all their support, prayers and help over the last three weeks. Our world has been turned upside down and your love and support has given us the strength to face whatever comes next. For those family and friends that live far away and haven’t heard yet, we received some unsettling news recently. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 24th and will be having surgery on the 19th of April and starting my treatment regimen a month afterward.
Here’s a time line of what happened:
Jan 22, 2010- mammogram done- results negative but stated I have dense fibrous tissue
March 15, 2010- I found a pea size, hard, immobile, non-tender lump while doing a self breast exam after showering.
March 16, 2010- went to doctor and he ordered an ultrasound for 3/17/10. Dr. Abbot also contacted a surgeon and made an appt just in case I would need one. Said we could cancel if this turns out to be nothing. This surgeon takes weeks to get in to see.
March 17, 2010- ultrasound shows it’s a tumor and needs to be biopsied
March 20, 2010- ultrasound-guided biopsy done, six samples sent to pathology
March 24, 2010- biopsy results come back and they are positive for breast cancer. Dr. Abbot has an appt made for me to see surgeon next day. (I have a great primary physician- really looks out for his patients).
March 25, 2010- Evan and I meet with Dr. John Moynihan and discuss my results and discuss surgical options. Evan and I had been discussing this already and scheduled a surgery for March 31, 2010–a lumpectomy and then a treatment plan of radiation/chemo based on the lymph node, tumor DNA, and staging. Dr. Moynihan ordered a MRI of the left breast for the next day just to verify there wasn’t cancerous lesions in that breast as well. Evan’s parents came over and watched the kids and took them to dinner so we could absorb all the new info. Surgery was definitely going to happen, chemo a possibility, radiation going to happen following lumpectomy.
March26, 2010- 08:45am MRI done, will receive results that afternoon. I pick Ainsley up from preschool and we take my u/s and mammogram films to Fairfax Hospital Radiology for next week’s lumpectomy. While in hospital parking lot I get a call from Dr. Moynihan’s nurse stating that the surgery is canceled and I need to go back to MRI for a left side biopsy because there are two suspicious lesions and they can’t get a clear enough reading to rule our cancer. This hit us hard. We tried to stay optimistic and light especially around the kids, but we were very worried. I was told to come back Monday for the biopsy.
March 27, 2010- Kentucky lost to West VA in tournament. Seriously, THIS is the weekend they decide to lose? Couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. West VA won by 6, we MISSED 13 freethrows–you do the math…
March 29, 2010- MRI guided biopsy from most suspicious of two areas. Consulted with radiologist Dr. Parochi concerning statistics of recurrence, my MRI, u/s and mammogram films. Six samples taken. Results should be back by end of week. The kids are on spring break this week-poor guys! I tried to make it fun while waiting around for results. Tons of support from neighbors and friends- Thank you. Evan was rock solid and optimistic. Very understanding when I stayed up until midnight every night researching every bit of info I could find. I consulted with all my doctors and other cancer specialists during this time.
March 31, 2010- Results back late afternoon- Negative!!! WHEW!! Consult scheduled with John Moynihan next day. Long night of conversation, googling info, thinking…
April 1, 2010- We meet with Dr. Moynihan and change the surgery to a bilateral mastectomy with tissue expanders to give me every percentage point of odds in my favor to not have a recurrence of cancer.
Evan and I have spent the last week and a half consulting and interviewing plastic surgeons (Evan’s new best friend) and oncologists (my new best friend). We have also put Leighton into all-day daycare and Ainsley into full-time preschool due to all the pre-op appts, upcoming surgery and possible radiation/chemo treatments. They love their classes and are adjusting well. Evan and I are still experiencing separation anxiety.
April 19, 2010- surgery date at Inova Fairfax Hospital. I won’t be able to use my arms for a few days due to the type of surgery and the lymph node removal. I will stay a day or so in the hospital and then need a few weeks to recover. About a month to six weeks later we start chemo/radiation if required. They will know that info 3 days after surgery.
I have found that the diagnosis of breast cancer has “baseball card stats” type of terminology. My stats are : IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) ER+ (>90%) PR+ (90%) HER2 - neg we don’t know staging, lymph node involvement yet. The hormonal receptor ER is + which means my cancer cells thrive especially well on estrogen. This means I’ll be on an anti-estrogen therapy and will need an oophorectomy later in the year. The prognosis seems to be good due to the size of the tumor being small. We still won’t have that info until the operation and they have info regarding the tumor. We are prepared to handle anything.
We are keeping things “light” for the kiddos and have explained that I have a germ in my booby and I’m meeting doctors to figure out the best medicine to get rid of it forever. I will need surgery to cut out the germ lump and will be sore for a while. Of course, the playground chatter started by my seven-year old translated that into “My mommy has bacteria in her private place and needs to see the doctor to get rid of it”. We have since explained FULLY that it is breast cancer to the teachers and other parents from whom we recieved calls. From the mouths of babes…
In all this turmoil we have learned a great deal. First of all, we always knew our friends, family and teachers were amazing, but we have been knocked out by the responses of support and love from everyone. We are touched more than our words can express. It gives us the courage to face whatever obstacles come our way. Second, we all know someone who has battled this disease. We found it to be a ’three-degrees of separation’ relationship. Our neighbors’ mothers, co-workers, pediatrician’s nurse, fellow pre-school mom, cousin, the list goes on and on. I talked to many and their resilience and strength to face their next treatment while continuing to live life to the fullest helps us realize that this is something we can get through. As one survivor stated “there’s no where to go, but through it”.
We’ll keep you all updated. My sister Pat took two weeks off from work to be here with us for the surgery and recovery. She or Evan will be doing the posts while I recover. Take care everyone- and keep getting your mammograms (they find 9 out of 10 lumps) but always do a self breast exam. It’s a team effort. Listen to your gut instincts.