What are we dealing with?
Ben came with me to my meeting with Kristi and the medical oncologist this morning. We left the kids at home in quarantine and braved the outside world (that's really how it felt) and took ourselves to the hospital. Signs everywhere warning you to wash your hands, not to enter if you're feeling sick, people trying their best to stand far away from each other. That was the first time I'd been out since the previous Friday afternoon, and my anxiety was definitely elevated and I was overstimulated with everything around me.
Kristi is wonderful. She's kind and assuring, and gave us all kinds of great information and I believe she will be an advocate for me to get the best care I can possibly get. She is also going through breast cancer herself and recently had a lumpectomy and is about to begin her own radiation treatment. So most of what she described sounded like a surgery & radiation treatment plan--a few months. Not great news of course, but not too terrible either, and definitely treatable and beatable.
She administered the BRCA gene mutation blood test as soon as we got there, but unfortunately we won't have results from that for a few weeks.
Then (after an eery parking lot waiting room and coronavirus temperature and questionnairre screening before we were allowed into the building) we met with the medical oncologist in the Cancer Center, who talked more specifically about MY tumor and situation. While he too, was very kind and gave us detailed information that was almost all brand new to us...he seemed much more concerned about my situation than anyone had up to this point.
He used words like "I worry" and "I'm concerned" in regard to my age (young), the tumor size (2.5cm) and the growth grade of the tumor (grade 3).
He also dropped the chemo bomb. Which I was not expecting. And which immediately sent my body into a fearful panicky feeling.
He said because of those factors, he wanted to kill the seed, not just pull the weed (he had a long lawn care analogy to go with his recommendation that resonated perfectly with Ben). Surgery could remove the tumor (weed), but if the seed (cancer cells) were out there where you couldn't see them and you didn't kill them, you'd end up with more cancer in other places later on. Particularly if the BRCA genetic test came back positive, and particularly because I am only 40, which leaves a lot more time left in my life for recurrence.
He didn't care whether I chose a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. That was up to me. But he wanted to kill the cancer cells with chemo -- probably before surgery ever happened. The surgery & radiation treatment plan I'd been expecting went from 2-3 months to the better part of a year, plus all the chemo side-effects no one wants to experience.
Then he started talking lymph nodes. I have an axillary lymph node under my left arm that feels like a little pea-sized knob. It's been there as long as I can remember. But since he could feel it, he wanted to have it biopsied to see if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. Until he had that information, he said he couldn't stage the cancer. And lymph node involvement would mean a more difficult surgery, higher risk of lymphedema (which I learned more about later and is frankly more scary to me than chemo--because it's permanent and would affect my dominant arm).
After that, we were essentially sent on our way with an appointment for an MRI & a lymph node biopsy & a meeting with a surgeon for within the next week and a half.
And now, I have a new reading companion, the Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook (which is VERY informative and a must-have if you are ever diagnosed) and a very long journey ahead of me that I wasn't expecting at all.