Monday, January 31, 2011

How to cure a cold in 3 days

I went to bed last night with a scratchy throat and I woke up this morning with a pounding headache, swollen tonsils, runny nose and a scratchy throat. Great.

I have 3 days to get better. Surgery day is on the 4th day at 6:45 am.

I am sitting in my bed all bundled up and drinking lots of fluids. I am not allowed to take anything 'herbal' according to the hospital people, as that may interfere with the anesthetic. So that leaves what? Drugs?

I am drinking some romanian concoction that my mom made and brought over, 'sure to make me feel better soon' but in the meantime, if anyone has anything that is tried and true, let me know.

The last thing I'd want is to have my surgery postponed because I'm sick.

Friday, January 28, 2011

European vacation

I had my pre admission at the hospital today. I was scheduled to go in at 11 am. I arrived early, and promptly got asked to wait. At 11:40 am I was able to go in and meet with the lady from pre admissions. She may have had too much coffee. This is just an observation.

We went over a whole lot of info, from all the medications I may or may not be taking before surgery to post operation expectations. She talked a mile a minute and I tried to keep up with everything she was saying. I would be doing blood work today, a chest xray and a pregnancy test.

I assured her I wasn't pregnant, and there was no way I could be. Brad can't have any more kids, I told her. She smiled. "Well, you never know dear". Umm, yeah I do. But evidently I wasn't persuasive enough. I still had to pee on a stick. Guess what? I'm not pregnant. What a relief.

It was all going fairly well until she told me that since I'll be doing a lymph node dissection in a week (which is the part of the surgery where they take your lymph nodes out) I was no longer allowed to shave my right armpit.

I thought I misheard her, but she repeated her odd request. Why in the world can I not shave? Because the right armpit is where the lymph node dissection takes place and they don't want to take the chance of me cutting myself by accident and causing an infection for them.



"Think of it as if you were taking a trip to Italy" - she suggested. "They don't shave in Europe".

Hmm, except for I'm not. I'm not signing up for a trip to Italy, I'm going in for a mastectomy. Slightly different level of excitement.

They're taking my boobs. They're taking my ovaries. They're making me grow hair in places I would rather not.

Hello Universe?! Could you make it ANY harder for me to feel feminine?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Surgery date Feb 3rd

First thing - today is my son's 11th birthday. Happy Birthday Braxton. Not sure when you went from being a cute little boy to an annoying tween, but you've successfully transitioned and I'm beaming with pride.

Second thing - Being off on disability allowed me to accompany my daughter's class on a field trip to the planetarium. Today was the very first time I've ever attended any of my kid's field trips. I am usually at work and unable to attend such events. I learned that fourty 8 year olds on a bus equals one large headache. I hope I won't have to stay on disability too long.

My surgery is set for next thursday, Feb 3rd. That is 8 days away.

In some ways it seems so long. I hate walking around knowing that there is a tumor growing inside me. It consumes a little bit of my every thought. It's always in the back of my head.

As I sit at home and watch TV, or walk my dog, I always think to myself "it's just me and my cancer, hanging out for the day" It bothers me. I want it out. Cancer is shitty company. Very selfish. And like a bad houseguest, it just keeps taking over more space.

On the other hand 8 days seems too short. Too short of a time to enjoy my body the way it is now. Too short of a time to accept that it will never look like this again. All this time, I've hated the way I looked in my little red bikini. Now all I wanna do is prance around in it and say "look at me, I got boobs!" I have never paid this much attention to my chest before, but now that I'm gonna have my boobies removed it makes me sad. After all, I got attached to them. They've been with me through a lot.

I feel like I should have a party or something, and say a proper goodbye.

I could make funny invitations that read "Breast Wishes to me!" I wonder if people would show up for that. I'd order one of those theme cakes with 2 cherries on it and we could scare our new neighbours by throwing all my nice bras in a bonfire at night. We'd be the talk of the street. Sigh.

Yup, 8 days is way too short to plan something grandiose like that.

Alas, in a little over a week, at 6:45 am I will show up at the same hospital where my original biopsy got done. Then, the same ladies who poked me the first time, will get to do it again. But this time they will accompany me to the 'nuclear medicine department' (I am not kidding! It exists) and inject radioactive nuclear material in my tumor. Apparently I will not enjoy that part. Really?

Next I wait around for 2 hours until the dye travels to distant parts in my body and then, upon a full body scan I will be released into Brad's custody who will then have the joy of taking me (glowing and all) to another hospital where the actual mastectomy will take place.

With all this to look forward to, it's no wonder I can't sleep at night.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Met the surgeon and got pathology results

On monday January 17th I met with my surgeon and she shared the pathology results with us.

When my family doctor told us it was cancer, that is all I knew. Just that it was cancer. (I still have trouble with this sentence. I say 'it is cancer' not ' I have cancer' ...)

But when I met with the surgeon she gave us lots of information.

This is all that I know about my type of cancer. It's called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and it's the most common type of breast cancer. 85% of women who get breast cancer, have this type of cancer. What that means is that many have pioneered before me and paved the way of hope. I have much to be grateful for. This type of cancer receives most of the funding in research, since it's the most prevalent one.

Cancer has grades. Grade 1 to Grade 3. (I'm not talking about stages right now, just grades. That tells you how aggressive it is in one's body. Grade 1 being most mild and Grade 3 being most aggressive.) My cancer is a grade 3. It is apparently 'normal' for it to be this aggressive, because of my 'young age'. In younger women, tumors are generally nastier. The good news is, they can be just as aggressive with chemotherapy these days.

The other thing I know about my cancer is that it's estrogen & progesterone positive. Those are good things. They measure the hormone receptors of the cancer cell (Woah, I really sound like I know what I'm talking about, don't I? Rest assured, it's all new to me too). If they are positive, like they are mine, that means that the cancer is 'being fueled' by my hormones. The good thing about that is that they can do 2 things AFTER I'm done with my chemo treatment to help it. The first thing they will do is perform a hysterectomy on me. That way no more hormones to feed the cancer cells. Take that cancer!

The second thing they will do is place me on 'hormonal therapy' for 5 years. Now, I sound like someone going through menopause when I talk like that, but that is exactly what it'll be. I'll be going through insta- menopause at 35!! Poor Bradley ... He won't know what hit him.

The third thing I know about my cancer is that it's HER2 negative. That is something I don't completely understand, but it seems to be a good thing having your cancer be HER2 negative. Something about this being positive would make this cancer harder to fight.

Lastly, I had a biopsy on one lymph node done, while they did my breast biopsy in the hospital. It came back. It was negative. I jumped for joy. That was good news. Even though it doesn't mean that it has not travelled to my lymph nodes (after all, they only did the biopsy on one single node) it is still promising to hope that maybe, just maybe, it hasn't made it's way down to my lymph nodes.

Which is a good thing. The lymph nodes hang out in stinky armpits. Who'd want to travel there?

Results are in

I knew it from the very first time I touched that round marble-like lump. I really did. Just like I knew before I peed on a stick 11 years ago, that I was pregnant, I knew that sunday that this lump was no friendly lump.

But, still - there was a sliver of hope left.

Until Friday, January 14th, 2011 when I was sitting in my doctor's office (this time I brought re-enforcements - Brad was there and so was Christine... my BFF - I figured if I was gonna have a total breakdown, these two people would be the ones who'll be putting me back together).

She walks in and you can see it in her face. I know. So does Brad. But we wait. I need to hear her say it.

"It's cancer".

Those 2 words changed my life in less than 10 seconds. I looked at her. She was still talking. I could tell because her lips kept moving. But I didn't hear her. I couldn't hear a word she was saying. Those two words kept ringing in my ear. Over and over.

I don't think I even talked to her. Eventually she left. Then I looked at Brad and my friend and I started crying. They came and surrounded me in a massive group hug and helped me cry.

Then, after a while we stopped crying, and made a pact to kick this cancer's ass. The three of us were gonna figure out a way to do it. I wiped my nose and we headed out of the room.

It was exactly 1:40pm. I had to go pick up the children from school in half an hour.

Brad drove home and I don't think we spoke. I felt like a zombie walking through the school.

It was friday afternoon and I knew I had to tell them that night. I quickly whispered it to both of their teachers as I picked my kids up - they were pretty shocked. I don't think they expected me to just blurt it out like that. I didn't really mean to, but I wanted them to be prepared for monday morning when my two kids would be walking back into the school, forever changed.

Biopsy day

It's wednesday finally, January 12th, and I've been waiting for this day. I feel pumped.

Did I mention they were calling for snow? Well they did. And it came. There was a ton of snow on the ground when we woke up on Jan 12th. And when I say 'a ton' I mean 'light dusting' for those of you on the east coast. We are wimps when it comes to the white stuff. It's like kryptonite for Vancouverites.

Nonetheless, we drove to the hospital which was 45 minutes away from our house, and gave ourselves ample time to get there. "Ample" means '2 hours'
in Michelle language.

We got there at 7 am. The breast imaging department didn't even open til 8am. So we sat beside it and waited. Staff arrived at 7:30 am and they were kind enough to let us in. Since we were already there, they began checking me in right away, which I thought was awfully kind of them.

I was laying on a table in a very cold room within about 10 minutes. Only my hospital gown on, and they open at the front, so really no shelter from the cold. I can't say enough about these lovely ladies that worked there. Fantastic. Really really great.

I had the mammogram - I got a kick out of that. I always thought my boobs were somewhat deflated after having kids. Apparently I didn't know what deflated boobs really looked like, until I got the mammogram done. Now I know. I must say, my boobs are no longer self described as deflated. I stood corrected.

Then we moved on to the ultrasound. That is always my favorite part. I've had ultrasounds before, on different parts of my body, and it's always so interesting. They squirt the gel on you - which they must secretly store in their mini bar fridge at the back, just for kicks - then they start looking at the screen of shadows. Because, let's face it, that's all that it is. A screen of shadows. Some grey, some charcoal, some black and some are white. It's like looking at one of those funky art things where you gotta unfocus your eyes, so you can see the picture. (Remember those?)

Well, anyway, the technician obviously has more experience at the unscrambling part because it seemed to make sense to her. She was measuring shadows left right and centre. Then, as I think I'm done she mentions that since I'm there so early, I could do my biopsy right there and then.

I gulp. Then I break down into tears again. Biopsy. I have come to hate that word. It means nothing good. It means that whatever shadow they are looking at, is an unfriendly shadow. They need to examine it further. I ask if they can call
Brad in. They are infinitely kind, so they do.

The doctor explains the procedure to me - which involves poking me with a long sharp needle - and then turns to Brad. "If you faint, I'll get to you after I'm done with her" - she tells him. Good enough then. I thought it was nice of her to acknowledge him.

Back to the long needle. First, I get to have a first long needle to freeze my boob in preparation for the second long needle that will perform the 'core biopsy'. That means the first needle will appear more unfriendly than the second one, since it will sting going in, but then, it freezes me enough so that I don't feel the second actual unfriendly needle that has a special grip at the bottom, and will then proceed to take 'bites' out of my lump.

All goes well. I squeeze Brad's hand. I don't even cry. I don't think. I'd have to check that one with Brad. My recollection says I was brave. We'll go with that. They poke me and then they prod me. She tells me that I'll hear a loud 'click' as the biopsy takes place. In fact, 4 very loud, very distinctive click sounds later, the biopsy is done.

A lot of bleeding later (according to Brad) I was given an 'after care' sheet and sent home. "You may bruise a bit" was the last thing she said to me.

Funny - I would have used a different description. "You may look like your fiance punched you in the boob repeatedly. This bruise will be big and round and more colourful than any other bruise you've seen before. And it will last for 2 weeks" - but that's just me.

Being a pain in the ass has it's up side

Okay, so by now one day has passed. We are now saying hello to Monday, January 10th, 2011. I go to work as usual at 7:45 am even though I have not slept a wink.

I look like I've been punched in both eyes, the swelling is noticeable across the room. I feel even worse. I have to get a hold of myself. I am being ridiculous. I am jumping to conclusions. Don't panic until you have something to panic about. - these sentences are going through my head like an old Bon Jovi refrain that just won't quit.

I make it to 10 am and I break down in tears. At work, the girls are asking what is wrong. So I tell them. I found a lump. First silence. Then the obligatory ' oh, I'm sure it's nothing' follows. I excuse myself and tell them I have to make a phone call. I call my doctor. I am now balling into the phone and the poor receptionist is trying to understand what I am asking for. "An appointment - today! As soon as you can fit me in! I can come right now!!" - I am being so reasonable, I know. But I'm unable to control it. I want to see my doctor. She will make it all better.

So, I get an appointment at 1 pm. Sweet. I get back to work. Things are better. I breathe and almost ate my lunch. But then, panic swept over me again and I left it be.

I'm not even half way into my doctor's examining room, and I've already pulled my shirt off. She tells me that I am welcome to put a gown on. No time for that, I just show her. "Feel this" I say, and hold my breath. Any minute now she's gonna tell me that I'm way too sensitive to my lumpy breasts and that everything will be fine. Any minute now.

But she doesn't. Instead, she spends a very very long time on this one spot. I don't like it one bit. She finally talks to me. I am to be sent for a mammogram and an ultrasound and a biopsy. Again. Two doctors, same result. I nod, in concurrence.

I leave the appointment feeling somewhat in a daze. Surely they are just doing this as a precautionary measure. If she were really worried, she'd have said so.

I ask the receptionist to fax my referral as I wait for her to do it. She tells me that she'll do it later, with 'all the other referrals'. I tell her I'd feel much better watching her do it. She sighs, then goes and does it. Then I ask for the referral. I am told most people don't take them, they just leave them there, in their file. I insist on getting the referral nonetheless, and ask for the medical imaging number to the hospital that she just faxed my information to.

In my car, I dial the number. No, I don't have hands free and I am in no frame of mind to be driving AND talking on the phone at the same time, but I do it anyway. No cops around, bonus!

I ask the booking clerk if they got my referral that was just sent. She tells me that they normally check it at the end of the day. I ask ever so kindly for her to please check now, while I'm on the phone. Endless waiting. She comes back on the line, yes, she has it! Great. But they don't do breast imaging at this particular hospital. Not great.

I ask her which other hospital does. She gives me the name of it and I ask for the number too. I grab my lipstick and proceed to write it down on a napkin. Still not handsfree. Still standard transmission. Still no cops! Sweet.

I call the other hospital and ask them if they do breast imaging there, which they do. I tell them the story how I got referred for a mammogram, and ultrasound, but I happen to have been referred to a hospital that no longer does them. I ask if I can send my referral directly to her fax. She says no, usually the doctor's office does that for the patient. I beg. I tell her that I'll be back in my office, by the fax machine in exactly 5 minutes and that really, it shouldn't matter who sends in the referral, since the doctor already signed it. I cry, for good measure, and she reluctantly agrees that it actually makes no difference who sends it in.

I take down her fax number and park my car - somewhat closer to the van next to me than I'd like - and run back into the office. I look frazzled. I head for the fax machine and send off the referral. Then I say hello to the ladies in the office. I apologize for having taken longer at my appointment than originally planned.

I wait about 5 minutes and I call the booking clerk again. "Did you get it?" I am breathless for some reason. She goes to check, and tells me it's in her hand. Victory! I need to book something right away. She tells me they are booking for June.

June?! As in the month of June? As in the month that comes SIX MONTHS after the month we are in? Yup - that June. I tell her that I will need a moment to breathe into a paper bag. She laughs, but I can tell she feels for me. I try and compose myself. "You honestly have nothing before June?" She tells me that she will check her cancellation list. She comes back on the line.
"I have a cancellation on wednesday, Jan 12th at 8 am". "I'll take it" - I scream into the phone. She laughs, and I hang up.

My appointment is now 2 days away. I will be fine. Breathe Michelle, breathe.

It starts with a lump

On sunday morning - January 9, 2011 we woke up to the sound of girls laughing downstairs. My daughter - who just celebrated her 9th birthday the day before - had a sleepover.

What had been a terrific birthday celebration the night before, ended in sheer terror at 9 am the next morning. As we were laying in bed, I accidently brushed my right breast and time stood still for me.

I froze as I felt it. It felt like a small hard marble. It was definitely a lump. The solid scary kind. I started crying in bed and turned to Brad who was still puzzled. I was out of my mind with fear. I kept crying and pointing to my lump. Brad felt it too, but was trying to be reassuring at this point. I could not be consoled. I kept saying 'oh my god, oh my god' over and over again.

Within 5 minutes I was dressed and out the door. I must have time travelled to the nearest care clinic because it seemed like one moment later I am lying on a cold hard table and the doctor is examining me. I keep telling myself that I am being paranoid and it's nothing, but the tears won't stop. The doctor stops, and hands me a tissue. He continues, with what seems an endless examination.

"Definitely a lump" he tells me at the end. "How old are you?" - I answered dutifully in between sobs. "Any history of breast cancer in your family?" I think back to 6 months ago when I asked another doctor to send me for a mammogram, but was turned down due to my young age, my lack of family history. That won't be happening this time. So I lie. "Yes."

He begins to fill out a requisite for a mammogram and ultrasound. He hands it over to me and wishes me luck.

I must have time travelled back home, because the next thing I remember is sobbing in Brad's arms again.