(Disclaimer: this post will get sad and cheesy. Deal with it.)
Three words everyone hopes that they never hear. I heard them at 3:45pm on Friday February 3rd, 2017. Standing in the dimly lit break room/kitchen of my work office.
Let me rewind a little, well a lot. When I was 10 years old, and my mother was 42 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and has been cancer free for 20 years now. Ever since I got my period Violeta has been diligent and very serious in her telling me to always remember to do self-breast exams. I made sure familiarize myself with the “girls”, so that if anything should ever feel awry I would certainly know. But, of course I never believed that MY body would betray ME in such a manner. Six or so months ago, mom told me that she had spoken with her doctor at her annual mammogram and they recommended I begin getting yearly mammograms when I turn 32 (since this is 10 years younger than she was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer).
My left breast started to feel a little strange end of November beginning of December. I attributed it to having been on my period. The feeling came and went, and by mid-January I felt a lump that was just not right. The following is a timeline of everything that has happened since.
· January 25th – I scheduled an appointment with my new General Practitioner (luckily, I had just become permanent at my job and my new health insurance just kicked in). The doctor agreed with me and ordered an ultra sound of my left breast and lymph nodes.
· January 31st – Ultrasound/Mammogram. The technician had the radiologist come in to review the images. The ultrasound images were concerning to him, and he put in an order for a bilateral mammogram as well as a biopsy of the lump in the left breast and of the lymph nodes. I had my first ever mammogram that day – for the record not nearly as painful and traumatizing as the “boob squishing” torture my mother had been describing to me for years.
· February 2nd – Biopsy. Based on what the nurse who scheduled the biopsy appointment had told me, I was under the impression they would biopsy me with this instrument that would take a sample from my breast and from my lymph node (one sample each, no big deal). When I laid on the table the doctor told me he was going to take 3-4 samples from my breast and 3-4 samples from my lymph node and insert surgical clips in each area after he has taken the samples. HE TOOK SIX TO EIGHT SAMPLES!! It didn’t feel great, and when the doctor was done I nearly passed out. I guess the adrenalin had left my body all at once. (I had sweat through my gown, and the sheets on the medical table/chair where I was laying.) And then I got to get a mammogram done to make sure the surgical clips the doctor inserted were in place. So, I got my boob and arm pit stabbed at 4 times each, and then they squished the heck out of them – and then I went to work.
· February 3rd – Pathology results. Both biopsies showed cancer cells. My two beautiful and unwavering friends (friends isn’t the right word, they are my family, my sisters, my baby birds – I love them so much) Heather and Tana did not leave my side the entire weekend. I don’t know what I did to deserve such friends, but boy am I ever grateful for them. They have not let me go to any appointment alone, no matter how menial. And I don’t know how I will ever begin to repay them for this never-ending stream of support they have provided for me. I will love them forever.
· February 6th – Met surgeon – Dr. Lin. She reviewed the pathology report with me. Left breast mass – Invasive ductal carcinoma with lobular features; Left axillary lymph node – Metastatic carcinoma to lymph node. She explained that before they could come up with a treatment plan I would need to have a few more tests done. CT of my chest and pelvis, whole body bone scan and a bilateral breast MRI. She also put in orders for me to have a consult with a genetic counselor as well as a fertility consult. She told me I would definitely need to undergo chemo therapy, but for how much and for how long she couldn’t say because she was not an oncologist. Dr. Lin told me that on February 15th the doctors have their conference to discuss course of treatments for their patients and I would be meeting with her and the oncologist to discuss my treatment plan, pending the results of my tests. There was an open appointment to have my CT scan done right away so Heather Tana and I went over to the hospital to get it over with. I drank the NASTIEST “shake” and we waited forever (sorry guys). When they inserted the contrast during the CT scan the tech told me I was going to feel warm, but it actually felt like I was peeing myself. When we left, I called my mom to tell her everything. Then we went to Plan Check for burgers and wine.
· February 10th – Bilateral Breast MRI. Put my boobs in some holes on a table then Tana and I went to Brite Spot for breakfast – I got chilaquiles.
· February 13th – Whole Body Bone Scan. I got injected with a radioactive dye then Heather and I went to Brite Spot for breakfast – I got steak and eggs.
· February 15th – Conference. Dr. Lin came in and told me that the results of my test had shown that the cancer has spread – to my sternum and possibly my liver. She let me know that I would not be meeting the oncologist because he wanted to have more decisive testing to confirm the state of the spread before they decide a course of treatment. As I sat there, I could feel this indiscernible wave consume me. Side blinded in my haze of disbelief, I heard some mention of the words “STAGE 4”. So, I asked and the doctor confirmed – “The cancer has spread outside of the breast, this is Stage 4 … not curable.” Dr. Lin was kind enough to get on the phone with my mom and explain everything to her that she had told me. I also met with the social worker who was assigned to my case. This sweet, sweet woman who I could truly feel only has my best interests at heart sat and spoke to me about all the resources she will be able to provide for me as well as making sure I had a plan in place to seek out the best course of treatment. Especially seeking a second opinion (which was something I already had in mind). The girls and I went to Hache LA for burgers and sangria. The next day I stayed home from work and spent the entire day in bed. On Friday February 17th, I went back to work.
· February 20th – PET/CT whole body scan. While I was having, my scan done Heather went on a legendary quest for quarters so I could wash my sheets that Pickle had desecrated earlier that day. (Pickle is my cat; she knows something is up. She is smart like that.) Heather got a great tweet out of the whole thing, something like “Every time I have to do laundry I go through a quarter life crisis!” Boom, baby.
· February 21st – Liver MRI. My right arm had had enough of all the poking and IVs, I was experiencing some serious discomfort. I had them put the IV in my right arm and then kept showing it to Tana because her squeamish squeals amused me. (Sorry Hamiez.)
· February 22nd – Oncologist consult scheduled for March 24th??? The dummy nurse who helped me schedule the oncologist consultation was supposed to have scheduled it for February 24th, but when I double checked it earlier in the week I saw it was scheduled for March. I called to request this be fixed, but was told that the oncologist whom I’d been assigned was booked until March. Since I had never met him, I agreed to meet with another oncologist if I could be seen ASAP. We scheduled an appointment for February 27th with a Dr. Kwan. The social worker I had mentioned before gave me a call later that day. She was calling to give me a phone number for an oncologist at UCLA that another one of her patients had gone to for a second opinion. We talked about the tests I had done and my upcoming oncologist consult. I told her what had happened with scheduling confusion and my new consult with Dr. Kwan. She told me that was good news, I would like Dr. Kwan and that she works with young high risk patients like myself.
· February 23rd – Ma comes to LA. My mom couldn’t stand staying in Florida any longer. I didn’t want her to have to miss any more work than she needed. But, the fantastic people that she works for in Tallahassee worked out a more than generous plan in order for her to be here with me for as long as I needed her. I can’t even begin to thank you for your generosity and allowing my mother to come be with me with peace of mind.
· February 24th – Routine Pap. Back at the end of January, when I was concerned about the lump in my breast I initially called my health care provider to schedule my routine pap which I was due for. They typically perform breast exams during this visit so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, all the Gynecologists were booked 2-3 months in advance, but there was an opening with a Nurse Mid-wife for February 24th. I went alone, it was just a routine appointment so I told my mom to stay at my place and rest after her flight. This wonderful nurse came into the exam room and took both my hands, sat down with me and said she was so very sorry and asked me how I was doing. She told me she was surprised I came to my appointment, to which I responded “I still gotta get my PAP done!” Dr. Lin had called her the day before, and explained my case. Dr. Lin had sent her my file which she had read entirely already. She then told me what she does, she has her masters in midwifery and delivers babies at the hospital on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But, she has a second masters in Chinese medicine and does acupuncture for fertility and to help chemo patients with pain management. Floored. This amazing Nurse, the way she came into my life, I just had no words. I almost started to cry. At the end of my exam, we talked some more and she gave me a big hug. She told me that she is typically booked one to two months in advance but once I start my treatments to reach out to her and she will accommodate me. She said “I am part of your medical team now, and we are going to take good care of you.” I felt great leaving that office.
Tomorrow I have my oncologist consultation with Dr. Kwan. I’m scared. But I will have my family with me, and all my amazing supporters whom have donated to my mother’s crowdfunding page. I have no words, my entire being is overflowing with love and gratitude for each and every one of you. You will never know how much this all means to me; I have no measure for it. This love, this support, all the prayers and positive thoughts I can feel them making me stronger. (That’s the cheesiest thing I will ever say, but you know what, its true!) I love you all. Thank you for fighting with me. And if you made it this far, thanks for reading everything. I doubt future posts will be this long, I don’t know how frequent they will be. But if any one has any desire to know, they will be here.
Until next time.