My 2014 Breast Cancer Healing Journey
June, 2014: It started so routinely: my annual physical exam and referral for mammogram early in the month. Once again, I went in to the radiology department of my area hospital to have the uncomfortable, but prudent, procedure. I have long agreed that a mammogram is a useful diagnostic tool; when breast cancer is detected early, it is much easier to treat and cure.
Years ago, my very first mammogram had me in tears because it seemed barbaric and painful. That technician was very attentive to my discomfort and did her best to make the experience less stressful. The result that time was a call-back to do it all over again because the views were inadequate. Over the years, I learned to relax, hold my breath on cue and let go of stress. But, on occasion, I'd have a call-back because I moved and the view was blurred.
So, I wasn't worried when I got a call-back this year for another mammogram. I hadn't moved after all; this mammogram was to be magnified views because there was a string of calcifications that had shown up in one of the ducts, and the doctor wanted these checked out. Hmmm... anxiety cropped up, and with the anxiety came a quiet, firm mental message: "All is well."
Then, I got a call with a referral for a needle biopsy of the duct because a pathology report would give us clarity on what was going on. Once again, anxiety flared, with the same quiet, firm message: "All is well." Hmmm... I thought that was very interesting. I value intuition, and this second message had my attention. "Okay, something is going on in me. But, it's going to be fine," I thought.
The needle biopsy went well, and the results would take about two days to come back. They did. I was riding with my husband as we were driving east for our vacation when the phone call came. "Connie, we did find cancer cells in with the calcifications," the doctor said. My brain shorted out for a moment.
"What? You found cancer cells?" I asked.
"Yes, along with the calcifications and some normal cells. You have what is called Stage 0 DCIS: "ductal carcinoma in situ". That means the cancer cells are all contained within a single duct. This is the earliest stage of detectable cancer, and you need to consult a surgeon for a lumpectomy."
To make a long story short ("too late!"), the lumpectomy was performed and the margins were clear. But, in the tissues cut out there was a sample of a different kind of breast cancer (there are 15 kinds of breast cancer of the 100 kinds of cancer possible): lobular invasive carcinoma. It was Stage 1, about the earliest detectable stage for that kind.
"What?!" my brain shouted. "How can this be? Apart from being obese, I'm so healthy!" Once again, the same quiet, firm message came into my mind: "All is well." I calmed down and asked what the next step might be.
The doctor and I needed to know if the second type of cancer has spread through the lymph nodes or if it was contained in the breast tissue. Treatment options differed with each scenario. So, I had a node biopsy which took two lymph nodes from under my left arm. They tested clear for cancer cells. Yay!
I was referred to the West Michigan Cancer Center in Kalamazoo, MI, a thirty-minute drive from home. I had heard good things about that facility and their staff, so I began their chemotherapy and radiation treatment program in September, 2014, and completed it January 29th, 2015. Radiation was delayed due to my father-in-law's funeral in suburban Philadelphia which required a road trip to attend. Plus, the holidays of Christmas and New Year's interrupted the scheduling, too. But, the people at the Center rolled with my needs, and indeed, "All is well" prevailed.
Chemo took my hair, but not my sense of humor. I won't have to shave my legs or underarms for another few months, yet! My nails are almost back to normal. My face is clear and healthy now after having been red, scaly and dry in December.
I write this now on April 6, 2015, and my hair is growing back and getting thick. It's almost a pixie cut, but I will still wear a wig in public for another month or two, I imagine.
My faith, my husband and my family have been my rocks of support through all this, and I am deeply grateful for my many blessings. Compliance with my doctors' programs, regular chiropractic care, daily naps, and my husband's gourmet cooking have me regaining full, vibrant health, and life is very good.
I can happily report that, indeed, "All is well!"
Update: November 2, 2015 -- As the one-year anniversaries are coming up, I continue to give thanks for the wonderful care I've received on this journey. I am learning more ways of nurturing myself, for that is one of the messages contained in this breast cancer challenge. I have had a haircut because my hair, coming in very curly, was wildly unmanageable. What a hoot! Pedicures are now going onto my calendar, too. I have recommitted to living my life, to being of service, to going where I'm guided. Yes, "All is well!"