Much like my initial Facebook post, I don’t know how to even start this. But just like that post, I’ll just say it.
I have breast cancer.
It’s gotten oddly easier to say over the last week since I got the news, while sitting at Cracker Barrel of all places. I suppose I should back up a little bit.
I was supposed to have a mammogram all the way back a year ago, because they’d see something a little suspicious on my initial scan. An ultrasound came back 98% sure it was fine, so I was sent on my way with the recommendation of a quick follow-up.
Well, lets just say the system broke on me (and, frankly, a whole lot of other people here) and it took until July this year to even see a doctor who would send the request for a mammogram. The mammogram was followed by a biopsy which was followed with the phone call of, “We have your results. They found cancer.”
I just remember feeling numb. So numb. I barely remember writing down the phone number to Tennessee Oncology and the names of the doctors the sweet nurse practitioner on the other end of the line was giving me. But I know my husband was holding my hand, and my parents were right across the table from me. I wasn’t alone from the moment I got the news.
The days that followed were… tough. I was told not to Dr Google, and I generally didn’t. I did look up some of the terms in the pathology report from the biopsy once I got a copy of it. I needed to know what was going on inside my body and start understanding what it all meant.
Knowledge is power, of course. School House Rock told me so.
I started reading support groups. And support came FLOODING in from all over. I started hearing, “I beat breast cancer, so can you.” or, “My mom had that and has been fine for x-number of years.” Every single success story bolstered my confidence.
Nonetheless, reading support groups started to slowly prove to be as bad of an idea as Dr Googling. It was all too much, too fast. Before long I’d convinced myself it had already spread to my bones, and I was going to learn I was Stage 4. I’d waited too long. I should have fought harder to get in sooner. It was all my fault.
I had to claw my way out of that. I had to let that go. What was in the past was in the past. What mattered now was today.
I saw a meme one day that said, “Well, well, well. If its not the bridge I knew I’d have to cross some day.” And I felt that really hard one night.
Because I’m going to share something that might sound really weird. Or it might not. I don’t know.
I clearly remember as if it were yesterday and not almost 25 years ago, sitting at the end of a business class in high school. I think there was five or six of us just chit chatting. Most of the girls ones I wasn’t close to, but if I saw them today would hug them as old friends. And the topic of breast cancer came up and one said, “Statistically, at least one of us sitting here will probably have it in our lives.” And it hit me REALLY hard, and its a memory that’s been seared in my brain.
And when they built the new medial facility 10 minutes from my house with a large sign “Carpenter Cancer Center,” I remember thinking, “I hope I never have to go there.”
This week, I went there. I walked in one step in front of the other, starting down the path I’m going to have to go down over the course of… i don’t know how long. Life? I’m sure even after I reach no evidence of disease (BECAUSE I WILL) I’ll have regular scans and appointments for years to come.
How am I now? I’m confident. I’m hopeful. I’m not just okay or fine. I’m good. And I mean it.
THIS IS GOING TO REALLY REALLY SUCK.
But I will go through the fire and be stronger on the other side.
It’s funny how things change. I’ve noticed I don’t drive quite as fast as I did two weeks ago. My patience levels have grown. I’ve learned how massive my support system is and how much just a, “Hey, I’m thinking about you” text really means. And my belief in God and power of prayer is off the charts. In a time when I could easy ask, “Why me God? What did I do to deserve this?” I instead feel closer to Him than I probably have at any other time in my life.
I’ve been asked at various times over the last year how I am always so happy and confident. I usually shrug and go, “What’s the point of being down? There’s always reason to smile!” But in truth, I give all the credit to my faith. I give all the credit to the Holy Spirit.
So what’s next?
Well. I am taking this one step at a time. I am not going to fret over chemotherapy before I get there. Before I know exactly what kind I’m going to be given, how long, etc. I’m not going to fret over if I can just get a lumpectomy or if I need a full mastectomy. I’m not going to obsess over losing my hair. And I’m certainly NOT going to consider “how long I have to live.”
Because tomorrow is not even promised to me. I could leave this coffee shop and be killed in an accident. And I might just see 91 years of age like my grandpa did. I. Don’t. Know. And I’m going to live every day like its my last, but also with the belief I have many more days ahead.
I’m also not going to read other’s experiences and think my experience will be the same. Everyone’s cancer is different. Everyone’s treatment is different. Everyone’s reaction to said treatment is different. I will ask for tips and tricks to get through it easier. I firmly believe we can learn from those who have gone through it all before us. And we SHOULD learn from them. But I also know that I am me, and I will do my very best to give myself grace every single step of the way.
Now, for anyone who is curious. The current 4-1-1 of my cancer…
I never have felt a lump. This was 100% found thanks to my mammogram showing microcalcifications. Specifically in a line, which I read somewhere is something like a 60% chance it means cancer.
I have a combination of DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) which is considered “Stage 0” — SOME physicians consider it “precancer.” In fact my doctor said if that was all they’d found I’d simply be facing surgery to cut it out — and Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The biopsy estimates it to be around 2 mm in diameter. That the size of the tip of a crayon. My oncologist kept saying, “It’s so small.”
Now, I totally understand that estimate is going to change with more information. It is probably larger than that. But no matter what, it’s not large enough to feel. And trust me. I TRIED to feel it.
So the tentative plan pending an MRI (and probably some other tests eventually) is that I will have surgery to remove the cancer and follow that with chemotherapy. However, if the MRI finds anything else or that its larger, it would go chemotherapy first, then surgery, then probably more chemotherapy. However, my doctor sounded very confident we could skip straight to surgery.
For anyone who knows what this all means: it is Estrogen, Progesterone and HER2 positive. I actually laughed internally, Finally too positive for my own good.
See, the first two being positive are actually good. Because they’re much easier to treat. But I was really hoping it was HER2-, because that is less aggressive and easier to treat. Frankly, I could possibly even skipped chemo if has been such. But given the nature of HER2+ cancer, I’ll have to have chemotherapy. My oncologist is optimistic it’ll be a minimal amount… whatever that means.
My next step at this moment is an MRI to get a better look at things. Hopefully that gives us a better look at the size, placement, etc. Then hopefully its straight to surgery. But. One step at a time. MRI in a week and a half.
Between now and then, I’m going to live my life to the fullest. Continue to work. Continue to smile. And face this head-on with the goal of this time next year it being in my rear-view mirror.
To anyone who might stumble upon this because they are now facing the same battle I am: DO NOT compare yourself to me. Do not compare yourself to anyone. This is YOUR fight. Don’t forget, though, to let others fight it with you. Lean on the people around you. Let them love you. Let them help you. Let them support you. Let them being a blessing to you.
And pray. Pray without ceasing.