I have been meaning to put my breast cancer journey down on paper for a long time. My Dad even gave me a journal to record events in as they were happening. I didn’t do it though. I certainly wish I had now, but back then it was all so overwhelming that the last thing I wanted to to do was write it down. I was never a diary keeper as a kid, or a journal writer really either. I do wish I had this information to look back on, now that I’m on the other side.
It was five years ago this past September. I woke up one morning with blood on my PJs. I looked everywhere for a scratch for the blood to have come from but found nothing. The next morning the same thing happened, and again, I search for some kind of wound. Nothing. Then the next morning the blood spot was located directly on my right breast. Hm, could it be my boob that’s bleeding? At the time I had no idea that this was a symptom of breast cancer. I called my doctor and he gave me a prescription for a mammogram. That was when I started to freak out.
I went into the breast center at the hospital and checked in. They told me I’d leave knowing the results. Great, I thought. She told me to get changed, wait in the waiting area and the tech would come out and get me. It was a beautiful facility—wooden lockers lined the walls and a dozen comfy upholstered chairs to wait in. I noticed the sequence as I got settled; the nurse would bring a patient in the room and after a bit of time they would come out and the nurse would instruct her to wait for a few minutes for her results. After a a few minutes someone would come out and hand her paperwork and usher her back to the lockers. Pretty efficient, I thought. It was my turn, the tech came out and called my name. This was my first mammogram so I had just a vague idea of what to expect. Well, it’s just as unpleasant as I’d thought, no wonder people have to be urged to get them done (well worth it though, obviously). The nurse was so nice, we laughed at how uncomfortable this was and how she’d do her best to get it over with quickly. And she did, she was very fast. So, I headed back out to the comfy chairs to wait for my paperwork and leave, as each one of the 5 or 6 other women before me had done. A bit later the nurse came out and said they were going to do an ultrasound next and it would be just a few minutes.
Wait, what? No one else had an ultrasound! Now I’m freaking out… quietly of course, in my head.
So, I went into another room and they did the ultrasound for what seemed like forever. Then I was escorted back to the waiting area. Hm, what happens now, I wondered. So I waited.
Finally, the nurse came out and asked me to come with her to another little room, and said the doctor would come in to review my results with me in a few minutes.
The doctor? No one else had any mention of doctor reviewing anything with them. Oh boy. This can’t be good.
I guess I don’t have to build up to a big reveal here. The doctor said stuff, but all I could hear was cancer. He didn’t say I had it, and he said he didn’t even want to say the word to me, and he didn’t. The C word was never spoken. What he did say was this, verbatim, “It’s not nothing.” So the biopsy was scheduled for four days from that day.
telling my family
My parents happened to be on vacation that week. All I wanted to do was talk to my mom, but just couldn’t tell her this while they were away. I called my sister and asked if she was free for a visit. She just happened to be alone in her house, which never happens! So I told her. She was great, supportive, down to earth, and kept it in perspective for me.
When my parents got home a couple days later I went to their house. We were sitting around the table and I told the story of my mammogram appointment, and that the biopsy was tomorrow. They of course came with me, along with my boyfriend at the time. We all went out to lunch afterwards.
Oh, the brief mention of the boyfriend was brief intentionally, as he broke up with me that night. Ya. He said, “It looks like you’re going to need some time to figure all this out so I’ll step back.” We had been dating about a year.
After the biopsy, I had an appointment with the oncologist. This was the roughest one of all at this point, simply because we had to wait for soooo long in the waiting area. Seriously, it was almost two and a half hours. Torture, to say the least. Finally I went in alone as my parents continued to wait. I sat on the table while I waited for the doctor to come in. Another seemingly endless wait. Finally, the PA came in and started talking. Honestly, this part is the most blurry in my head. She didn’t realize that I hadn’t yet been informed of my diagnosis, so she was talking about treatment. I imagine she analyzed the look on my face, stopped, and asked if I’d talked to anyone about my diagnosis yet. When I said no, she apologized to be the one to tell me, but I have breast cancer. At that point she asked if I wanted my parents to join me in the room, I nodded, so she went out to get them. I simply remember trying to dilute the situation for them, “it’s going to be fine, but it’s cancer, but it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be fine.”
The tumor was too large to be treated with radiation and removed surgically, so the oncologist recommended a mastectomy. Only the right breast was effected so I had to decide whether or not to have both removed. I did. The surgery was scheduled for the next month… October, breast cancer awareness month.
leading up to the mastectomy
I have the best family and friends in the world. My friends were so great, my parents were amazing. My friends and I went to a winery for the day and we just had a great time, talked about it, didn’t talk about it, just hung out, had a picnic on the grass, drank wine, ate cheese, perfect. The most amazing thing happened next, my parents gave me a puppy!!! Some back story is needed here—I had a Maltese for 17 years and lost her about 5 years prior. It was the hardest thing, this little dog was like my child. I couldn’t even think about getting another dog for years after she passed. I had just started talking about getting another one when I got the diagnosis. I went over to visit my parents one day to find the cutest little Maltese puppy!!!! My heart was so full. They thought she would the perfect little companion to help me through my recovery. It was everything. My parents are my heros.
It may be too much to go into detail with all the surgeries that took place from October 2013 until December 2014. I believe there were seven or eight. First was the bilateral mastectomy and placing the expanders, was back in the hospital 2 weeks later with complications. The PA paid me a visit and relayed how when the lymph nodes were examined and it was determined that the cancer had not spread from the breast tissue, everyone in the OR cheered. How awesome is that? I get goose bumps every time i think about it. I’m so amazed and grateful at how incredible the hospital staff was. It takes such an amazing person to do that work and I am thankful and so appreciative for them.
After enough healing, I was able to begin the weekly fills for the expanders to stretch the skin and accommodate the reconstruction. During those 4 or 5 months I learned about the DIEP Flap reconstruction where they take tissue from elsewhere on your body, in my case the belly, and use it to create the new breasts. After painstaking consideration I ended up opting for this method. That surgery did not go well at all. It was a total of 22 hours. The tissue on the left side was not “taking” and they had to bring me out of anesthesia to have me sign a consent to continue to work on it, which I did and they put me back under. I spent the next 5 days in ICU where some extreme efforts were made to try and save “Lefty”. Another surgery, but most intriguing, leech therapy. That’s right, LEECHES were put on my breast, several at a time. They secrete an enzyme and release protein and peptides that help to prevent tissue death. It was interesting to see how some nurses were all about it and thrilled to be able to participate (it was the first time this treatment was performed at this hospital), and others who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the squirmy little guys. I shared the mindset of the latter camp, lol. Ew.
Ultimately, it didn’t work and the left breast became necrotic and had to be removed. It was unfortunate that this surgery came at the beginning of the summer, aka hot weather and light fabrics. It was difficult to camouflage the one humongous breast sitting along side nothing at all. I didn’t go out much that summer, and luckily I worked from home. Three months later I essentially had to start from scratch. We removed big bertha from the right side and had two expanders put in… starting the expansion process all over again. This time I was just going to have good old implants and call it a day.
My last surgery was December 1, 2014 for the implants, all went well technically, however the girls are not at all presentable. I realize that there needed to be some editing surgeries but at the time I decided to take a break, at least for a year. Then I’d have them revised and finally finish them up with nipple reconstruction. That was 4 years ago. I desperately want them to be competed but just can’t seem to conjure the strength to start that all up again. This year though, for sure.
In the end, I am cancer-free and very thankful. I am so lucky to have the best parents ever, my Mom took care of me from start to finish. I am forever grateful.
Also, a noteworthy mention is that in November of 2014, just a couple weeks before my last surgery, I met a wonderful guy and we are now engaged ❤️
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Thank you for reading and go get a mammogram 💕