Before I go forward, I thought I’d catch you up over the last two months of my journey thus far.
I want to say a huge thank you to Cary and all the woman at the Williamson Breast Health Center for everything they did to get my initial testings done so quickly!!! Though it threw me into a new world of “cancer” I’m so thankful to these people for getting things done so fast and also with so much care and understanding.
So I have breast cancer. That meant doctors appointments and lots of them! For me, one who doesn’t go to doctors ever this was all new. In 23 days I spent 16 of those at a doctors office. As far as all of my testing, I tried to make it brief just to explain what you go through. Keep in mind, for every test, there were the days of worry waiting on the results. Best thing to do is try to keep busy. These were my first initial appointments:
August 17th: I felt the lump in my right breast.
August 18th: I called and made an appointment for exam.
August 23rd: Had mammogram and ultrasound done. Radiologist asked for a biopsy to be done due to the fact my lump looked abnormal.
August 25th: Had Biopsy of lump in right breast.
August 28th: Breast health Navigator Cari called with biopsy report . She said I had “invasive ductal carcinoma” stage 2, size of mass is 2.1 centimeters. She also said my HER2 test showed Equivocal…meaning it didn’t show whether I was HER2 positive or negative so they had to resend it out for another test known as the “FISH” test, Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization.
August 29th: we met with the nurse navigator Cary and she explained in great detail the kind of cancer I had.
August 30th: Time to get my acid reflux under control. The kind of chemo I was getting could aggravate this condition and that was the last thing I needed. My doctor prescribed some stronger stuff along with an anti anxiety med to help put me more at ease. Let’s be honest, knowing you have cancer causes stress and no sleep and that’s the last thing you need in your life to kick this thing!
August 31: had an MRI with contrast at the hospital. From there I went directly to meet a surgeon to discuss my MRI results…they put a rush on it…and to talk about what type of surgery I would have and if I needed chemo. The surgeon told me my MRI showed the size of my tumor as 2.8 centimeters, not 2.1. MRI’s are much better than ultra sounds. Two people I love dearly met me at this appointment so I wouldn’t be alone. IT’S VERY IMPORTANT to have someone with you at all doctor appointments. The information is overwhelming and you need a friend or someone with you to help ask questions and take notes! The doctor explained that she was still waiting on the results of my HER2 “FISH” test to come back. If it came back negative, I could do a lumpectomy and radiation with no chemo. If it came back positive I would have to have chemo, lumpectomy with radiation. She said my oncologist would explain it all to me. During this meeting the radiologist called regarding my MRI and asked for me to come back to do another ultra sound because she didn’t like what she saw on the MRI. Of course this was worrisome because that meant the cancer may have spread.
Sept 1: Time for my 2nd ultra sound. I met with the same radiologist the one that made me comfortable. You start to develop a comfort level with your caretakers and you learn to trust them. She told me she was being extra thorough with me and I told her please go ahead be as thorough as you’d like! I want to be sure there are no other issues! I was relieved when she said : “Ok, you are all good!” – I don’t remember much after those words, and I just remember a feeling of relief. That’s when it’s good to have someone with you to hear the rest of these moments you tend to fade out on. The thing she said she was happy to report was that my lymph nodes looked good and the swelling was in response to my initial biopsy of my lump.
Sept 6th: Cary, the breast health navigator called with the results of the “FISH” test. I was HER2 positive. Another blow. This was very upsetting. So far every test I’ve taken I really believed they would all come back in a positive way, but so far, every time, I’ve been wrong. It was getting very hard to stay positive.
Sept 8th: Time for a 2nd opinion. I’ve always been told that this is very important and not to worry about hurting another doctors feelings. This is your life! I met with a surgical oncologist who was highly recommended and a leading surgeon in the world of breast cancer. I instantly connected with him. He put me at ease and explained in great detail my options. I had been told by friends who had cancer that when it comes to choosing your doctor, you will have that “I know” feeling. I had that feeling. This was going to be my doctor. He empathized how important it was that I not stress out or worry and how that could have a big impact on my healing going forward. He then told me my treatment would consist of 4 types of chemo. I would have 6 treatments, 21 days apart followed with a lumpectomy and radiation. Following radiation I would stay on one chemo drug called “Herceptin”, specifically targeted for the HER2 cancer cells to finish out the year. In addition to that I would be put on an estrogen blocker for 5-10 years. And then he mentioned another option. A clinical trial and encouraged me to at least take a meeting with the oncologist and find out more information on it. So we made that appointment.
Sept. 11: Meeting the new oncologist to talk about the clinical trial. This trial was called TDM-1 and that it was now the standard procedure for the type of cancer I have ..but not in Stage 2 which is what i was.. it was being used for patients with Stage 4. That the trial for stage 2 has been out for almost two years and showed to be working in patients. She explained that it isn’t nearly as toxic for the body as the standard chemo treatment I would receive. That it was a targeted chemo for the HER2 cancer cells. I signed up for the clinical trial.
Sept 12: Met with nutritionalist. It’s very important to eat healthy when taking chemo.
Sept 13: Another 2nd opinion. Now that I felt good about my breast surgeon. I wanted to get another opinion for a different oncologist. She immediately knew that I had been looking at a clinical trial. She advised me against it. She went on to explain that my cancer was being fed by three different “receptors”. Estrogen. Progesterone. HER2. I was “triple positive”. The clinical trial would only target the HER2 not the other cancer cells. She followed up, “traditional chemo” for this kind of diagnosis, works! It’ll kill your cancer, why would you not go this route that is proven? I couldn’t answer that. She then came at me with why have you NOT biopsied your lymph nodes? And why are you not undergoing treatment yet? What are you waiting for? All good questions, I thought. And I thought, this woman would be my oncologist. She was very aggressive and full of knowledge. Plus, this was the location that treated my father for his colon cancer and he was really sick. He’s been cancer free for 10 years now! She explained the treatment plan she would go with. I would have 6 chemo treatments, 1 every 3 weeks that included 4 different kinds of chemo. Because I was Her2 positive, I would need two targeted chemo’s that only targeted that part of the tumor. These chemo’s are called Herceptin and Perjeta. The other two would be the standard chemo’s Carboplatin and Docetaxel. These two kill the other half of the tumor and unfortunately they are also responsible for killing every healthy cell as well. They would be the reason for killing off my hair and all my white blood cells that I need to fight infection. This sounded awful but after speaking with her I knew that I was not going to do the clinical trial and this was going to be my path to healing.
Sept 14th: Today was a sad day. I went to the funeral of a friend and fellow country artist, Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry, who was killed earlier in the week in a helicopter crash. I bring this up because it really hit me hard when I heard the news of his accident that he didn’t get a chance at surviving and I have a chance. His passing really changed my attitude from “why me” to “thank you God for giving me a chance to survive”. It broke my heart to see his wife and his two children going through the pain and suffering of his loss. It was also a reminder to me to live every day to it’s fullest! We all know that tomorrow one’s life could be taken or could be changed drastically and yet we tend to take our lives for granted. Well this was all a wake up call for me. I am thankful for every breath, for every day. Hug your loved ones. Tell them you love them often and don’t take any of this for granted.
Sept 15 “Big Decision Day”
I made the decision on my team of doctors. Everyone has told me that once you get your whole plan together you feel so much better and you then start to focus on your healing. They were right. I felt better and felt more positive. Knowing that most of my tests were behind me now, I could focus on the treatment part instead of worrying about test results. It was also a hard day because I had to tell the other doctors that I wasn’t going with them. I had to say goodbye to the initial team that helped guide me. Those initial days of hand holding, crying and testing was invaluable. But again this was my life and I had to move forward and trust my gut. My oncologist ordered a biopsy of my sentinel lymph nodes from my surgeon.
I don’t think I would have been able to have gotten thru this like I have so far without the love of my caretaker, my family, friends and all of the prayers and positive thoughts from everyone. I woke up one morning crying because I was so thankful for the people who have been here for me and was so sad to think of anyone having to go thru this alone. I pray that no one ever would have to go thru this alone. If you know anyone who is undergoing treatment for cancer, ask if they need a chemo partner…just sit with them while they get their treatment. Offer to bring them dinner or grocery shop for them. Any little thing is a big thing!