Each year, I do what I am suppose to do: I get my pap test, my cholesterol, ears and eyes checked. Every year I get a mammogram. Every year I never worry.
I am at a pinnacle of my life. I received a prestigious award in my job. I have three adult children in college all doing very well. Lynn and I just celebrated 25-years of marriage. I am hiking the PCT and I have never felt healthier or happier in my life.
But, in October, suddenly, a big bus called cancer hit me.
I didn’t feel the lump. This year’s annual mammogram was done digitally for the first time and at a different office than last year. Routinely, comparisons are done year to year. A subtle area presented suspicions. I was called back for a second mammogram of the left breast. An ultrasound was done right afterwards. I like to look at a tech’s face to see if I need to worry. But cancer never entered my head as something that would happen to me. This girl, however, was suddenly being super, super nice. I knew I was in trouble. The biopsy was a week later and the next night came the words from my doctor; “It was positive. You have invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast.”
I had never experienced such anxiety before. I was on a “wine and tears diet” for about three weeks. The emotions ran high and wild. It’s exhausting. Everyone tries to help with the right words but honest to god I thought I was going to deck the next person that told me to be positive or give me the cure for cancer. Or, “this is a journey” for me to learn from and to be grateful.
I was already there. I was grateful. I didn’t need this cancer to teach me a life lesson. I have been a vegetarian for 24-years. My diet is healthy. I am highly engaged with my spirituality. I felt betrayed.
I never play the “Why Me” card because the truth is the only reason it’s me is because I am one in eight. One in eight women who will get breast cancer this year. And that number is expected to grow to one in five in just three short years.
I’ve received some bits of good advice. One was to get a notebook. This is an incredibly busy disease and you need something to keep all your records, questions, results together. I started a college-lined note paper listing all my appointments. That page was two-thirds full by the first month. Mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsy, surgery. Doctors appointments with the surgeon, radiology oncologist, medical oncologist, second opinions, interventional radiologist, cardiologist, chemo class. After all this I need my vision and hearing checked. There were PET scans, cat scans, bone scans, MRI of brain and breast, echo-cardiograms, nuclear medicine marker implant of the tumor, lab tests, BRCA tests.
The other advice I got was how to handle people. People tend to want to tell you their stories, even if they are bad ones. Just bless them and remember it is their story, not yours. Also, breast cancer is an alphabet soup. It’s not so simple to find someone who has exactly what you do. My alphabet soup is IDC, DCIS, LCIS, Stage 1, grade 2, ER +, PR +, HER2 + node negative. There is so much more information about different types of cancer now that makes each treatment different from the next. It’s an amazing algorithm. So my bit of learned advice is not go to the internet to look up treatment and prognosis because it’s very individual. And be weary of sites that claim cures. Many things interfere with treatments. Just my two-cents: stick to well-known sites if you are interested in alternative and complementary therapies. Sloan Kettering and Susan G Koman websites both have pages on interactions and effectiveness on these therapies.
One of my worst cancer days was while at the appointment with the medical oncologist. I was told then that during the lumpectomy, they also found another cancer, DCIS, which stays within the ductal system. They also found LCIS ( Lobular Carcinoma In Situ) which is not removed. It’s not a true cancer, but a marker for recurrence in either breast. There’s no definite borders of LCIS to remove it. My treatment needs to deal with the immediate cancers and then the LCIS later. Hearing what was recommended was just devastating: chemo, radiation, port placement, possibly more surgery, hormone therapy. It was overwhelming.
I am currently going through chemotherapy. I need a total of seventeen treatments given every three weeks. This will take a year. The first six rounds of chemo are of a cocktail of three different drugs: Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin. The Taxotere and Carboplatin carry the worst of the side effects. The remaining rounds will be just the Herceptin. Radiation to come after the first six doses, 37 total rounds, five days a week.
In no small way I am beginning to relate my course of treatment of my breast cancer to the act of hiking the PCT. Seeing it this way, I’m kind of looking at it like this: If we’re not out on the trail hiking our way to the Canadian border, I’ll be here hiking my cancer to kick its fucking ass.
January 1, 2013
Links to the entire series about Patti’s battle with cancer listed below: