May 3rd was my last dose of Adriamycin (the “red devil”) chemotherapy and marked the alleged halfway point of my chemo treatments. At that point, my surgeon ordered more imagining to check in on how the chemotherapy was impacting my two cancer spots – the tumor and the calcifications. So, on May 10th, I went in for more imaging with an appointment immediately following with my surgeon, Dr. Nate.
As I walked back into the breast imaging center, I was teleported back to the day I found out I had cancer. What was supposed to be a routine diagnostic mammogram to confirm a cyst, turned into an almost 5-hour experience ending with the words, “this is going to come back as cancer.” That was almost four months ago now, but walking into the office still put a chill down my spine.
Per usual, I was escorted back to an imaging room and handed a sexy 1985 mauve crop-top front-opening breast exam gown to change into. My technician quickly got a couple of images on the mammogram machine. Thankfully, there are titanium markers left in my breast that make it easier for them to see the exact spots where the cancer biopsies were taken – so the mammograms and ultrasounds are much quicker. We then walked down to the ultrasound room and waited for the radiologist to come in and take a look at the tumor (the tumor can’t be seen on a mammogram machine because its so close to my chest wall). She did some measuring, took some more pictures, and confirmed that she still doesn’t see any lymph-node inclusion. She said, “I’ll type up the report and send it to Dr. Nate right now.”
I got dressed and headed down the hall to Dr. Nate’s office. Dr. Nate’s nurse Laurie greeted me after I checked in. She is probably one of my favorite care providers. She is like a bright ray of sunshine. She is kind, compassionate, and laughs at my jokes. She hands me a new breast exam gown – a longer, newer, maroon number – and I make a joke about how much nicer their gowns are. She chuckles and leaves the room so that I can change. I lay back on the table, close my eyes, breathe, and chant, “Trust God. Have Faith. All Joy.”
About 5 minutes later Dr. Nate walks in. I love him. He is warm and personable and you can tell how much he cares about his patients. He begins pulling up my images from before treatment and from today. He says, “We don’t expect to see any changes in the calcifications. They don’t really change with chemo. We’re really looking to see if we have changes in the size of the tumor. Anything other than growth is good.”
Then he said something incredible. “Your tumor has shrunk about 30%. We will stay the course on your chemotherapy treatment. I’ll order more imaging for the end of chemo and we’ve got your surgery scheduled for August.”
I was on cloud nine.
Then Dr. Nate said something I wasn’t expecting. “I do want you to meet with Dr. Graybill, the Radiation Oncologist, just to confirm that she doesn’t think you’ll need radiation after surgery. Some protocols are changing.”
A week later, I was headed to see Dr. Graybill, with a sick sense in my stomach that radiation was in my future. I was hopeful that I wouldn’t have to have it. My tumor wasn’t big enough or advanced enough to immediately qualify me for radiation at diagnosis, so it really wasn’t a part of the conversation…until now.
I was escorted into a meeting room, adjacent to an exam room. Dr. Graybill and her NP entered, asked some questions and then had me put on another sweet breast exam gown for a quick exam. We then went back into the meeting room where Dr. Graybill said:
“I recommend 6 weeks of radiation post-operation.”
My heart just sank.
Dr. Graybill then proceeded, the research on breast cancer is ever evolving and changing constantly. They once believed that radiation was really only for women with large tumors or who did lumpectomies without chemotherapy. Now they are realizing that the patients that actually need the radiation the most are the younger ones, with the most aggressive breast cancer (triple negative) to ensure that there is absolutely no recurrence of the cancer again. In the last 2 months the recommendations have started to change that women under 40 with triple negative breast cancers should have radiation post-op.
I trust my doctors. They are all trained and certified my M.D. Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston. I know they are working with the most cutting-edge information and the best protocols available when it comes to treating cancer. The fact that Dr. Nate knew the protocol changed and referred me to radiation gives me so much confidence in my care.
Dr. Graybill recommends that my radiation be 5 days a week for 6-weeks, 15 minutes a day, post-mastectomy.
Obviously this was not the news that I wanted, but I looked at the doctor and said, “Well, I’d rather not get cancer again. If this gives me the best chance at being cancer free, I want that chance.”
Trust God. Have Faith. All Joy.
Dr. Graybill said, “You have the absolute right attitude about it.”
As I got back into my car to head home, I was upset. I went home and had ice cream for dinner – no shame. I called every girlfriend I could to complain and sulk. Then I reminded myself that I am being walked through is journey for a reason. I have to Trust God. Have Faith, and find the Joy in this journey.
The radiation does push my reconstruction out a bit – and as it turns out – that might be right around Christmas. So hey, new boobs for Christmas? #alljoy.
PS. Another blog coming this week about my new chemo drug, side-effects, and a project that I may be helping with in the Indiana legislature.