My 2nd surgery - July 21, 2016

“This is why I remind all those women who are now in a struggle, that are brave, that mourn, and renounce, what we are experiencing is part of being courageous, because the brave one isn’t the one who doesn’t cry but the one who doesn’t stop trying.” Wendy, Breastcancer. org 

I am so grateful to have read these words this morning. I don’t know Wendy’s last name, but I read her story on the BreastCancer. org website and I found her writing very consoling, particularly now, following the wild carnival ride of emotions that transpired last Thursday, July 21st.

On a happy note, I made it, I survived my 2nd surgery! It was a long day, filled with both gut-splitting laughter and unexpected, unrelenting tears.  We arrived at the hospital at 8:30 a.m. I was so tired that morning, I mistakenly put my shirt on inside out. 

Surgery went well, but yet again, there was another surprise waiting in the wings for me. The surprises have been numerous throughout this journey, from Day one. I have tried diligently to remind myself there may always be more, but embracing any new skill takes practice, and I still find myself thrown off guard at times by the curve balls and new bits of information that crop up. 

I had been informed I was to have one wire placed in the location of a Lymph node which needed removing, as biopsy results were reported as positive for cancer cells in this Lymph node. This fine, thread-like wire, helps the surgeon to locate the exact area of tissue to be removed. The procedure is called ‘Fine Wire Localization’. It turned out, plans had recently changed (without my knowledge), and they were to place a 2nd wire for a 2nd Lymph node to be removed. A Lymph node, which, when biopsied, apparently did not come back as positive for cancer cells, but did have abnormal cells of some sort, enough so that they wanted it removed to check it out, as a precaution. I said I was surprised to hear of this, and my surgical oncologist expressed her surprise as well, as until recently, she thought there was only one which needed to be taken out. I tried to put this new information in the back of my mind and just get on with the day to keep myself as calm as possible before surgery. 

Why were there tears?  To summarize, I was wheeled into an area of the hospital I had not seen or visited since January 19th, 2016, the day I had been diagnosed. I was taken there for the fine wire procedure, where they used an ultrasound machine for the first wire, and the mammogram for the 2nd. As the nurse escorted me into this area of the hospital, called the ‘Breast Clinic’, I was wheeled past the small room where I had first been told by a doctor that I had breast cancer. Seeing this room again, 6 months later, nearly to the day, I was unexpectedly flooded with emotion. I had not anticipated that I would suddenly be surrounded by memories of the day I was first diagnosed. I saw the set of black chairs where I had sat, when I really began to sense something was wrong after they said they wanted to repeat the mammogram. I saw the same pictures on the walls, the same pictures I had gazed at that day, seeking some sense of calm while I sensed that the core of my world was shifting to an unfathomable new reality. The nurse then stopped, right directly in front of the room where I had my first core-needle biopsy just 20 - 30 minutes after learning I had breast cancer. This was the room they were to use for the fine wire procedure. It was absolutely overwhelming to be there again, flashing back to everything I had been through during the past 6 months… all of the testing, the multiple ultrasounds and biopsies, mammograms, MRI’s, bone scan, CT scan, x-rays, the needles that look more like ice picks than they do needles.. the appointments, discussions, questions, radiation treatments, the fear, fatigue, the sense of relief when I found out I didn’t need to undergo chemo… the fear of not doing chemo.. The learning to accept and find my way in this new reality. What a whirlwind. I broke into tears seeing that room again where it all first began. The tears were just unstoppable. 

In any case, I got myself in order, the wires were placed and I was wheeled back to the surgical day-care area. It was a relief to be back there. My Dad was there, waiting to make me smile and laugh again. As I mentioned, despite the tears, there was an equal amount of hysterical laughter that day, the jokes were as mad and as wild as ever. My father and I share a similar sense of humor, one that many others don’t understand. I am so glad that we can always laugh, even during the most tremendous times. 

I have been resting at home and just started to notice my energy level improving in the past couple of days. My right side and arm is still rather sore so all I can do is take it easy and not take on too much too soon (I have a tendency to do that). I will see my surgical oncologist again on Wednesday, so we’ll see what happens from there. 

I am so grateful for all of the thoughtful and caring support I have received throughout all of this.  I feel I have a strong tribe of beautiful, kindhearted people banding around me, helping me heal. I am sincerely grateful for that. Love and Hugs to everyone.

My story

From all the journeys I have found myself on, I never once foresaw the Universe putting me on the path I now stand. If you could look at a physical map of my life, you would see a huge turning point marked on the morning of January 19th, 2016, the morning I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After having my first ever mammogram at the age of 41, followed by ultrasound imaging, the hard mass that was found was immediately concluded to be malignant. Upon hearing the words, “I’m concerned” and “Breast cancer” fall from the doctor’s mouth, a paralyzing fog drifted in and settled over my mind and any memory of what she said beyond those words now eludes me, washed away from the immediate shock and disbelief.

Although she delivered this news with absolute certainty, my mind wandered to the idea she may have been mistaken, that maybe the biopsy results would show otherwise. I waited one week for confirmation from those results.  I had an opportunity to go in sooner but my new reality was entirely unfathomable to me, and I made things worse for myself by waiting longer than necessary to learn what lay ahead. I would like to say I faced those days with strength, courage and optimism, but that wasn’t the case. I was quite terrified. Every day lasted it’s own eternity, pushing through each hour felt just like one of those dreams where you want to run as fast as you can but for some reason can barely move a step forward. A movie reel of different chapters and people in my life played through my mind continuously. My entire life was literally flashing before my eyes. An avalanche of thoughts and memories flooded my mind of everyone I had ever loved, people who had loved me, different experiences, places and moments that have shaped me. Friends and family helped me come to my senses and I finally called to go in and see someone as soon as possible to face the music. I couldn’t face another day of waiting.

It was confirmed. I had breast cancer. Ironically, that turned out to be the first day since the 19th, that I felt a sense of hope. I felt a window open and light spill in as my Surgical Oncologist said the words, “Early stage”.

I had surgery on Wednesday, February 24th, which went very well. Returning home, I was overcome by immense relief and elation knowing that intrusive mass was no longer residing in, and hijacking my body.

Even further good news, is that on March 3rd I was informed it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes or the surrounding tissue. I feel a sense of victory.. or possibly just ‘good fortune’, and feel my scars represent that victory (or good fortune..), but I am also still very much on-guard and cautious and not at all ready to allow myself a complete celebration. The next step in this journey involves further tests as well as either chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments sometime in the near future.

The outpouring of support and love from my friends and family have kept my spirits up and given me the strength needed to face this. So far, I feel I may have been given another chance to live a healthy life, in mind, body and spirit. I love my life, and love all the challenges and struggles that have come with it. Every moment feels like a gift and I am overcome with gratitude for the love of my family, friends and even strangers and people I may have only previously known as acquaintances who have shared their story with me and offered their support and friendship. I also realize how fortunate I am to live in a country that provides good healthcare and I am so grateful to my Surgical Oncologist and all the medical folk who have, and are taking good care of me.

I would like to urge everyone to not ignore any signs your body gives you that you need to get something looked at, no matter what is going on in your life otherwise. I delayed visiting a clinic when I knew I should have gone in immediately. Each one of our lives is so fragile, and should never be gambled with. If you have any suspicious symptoms of any kind, go see a doctor. One just helped save my life. My world has completely changed since January 19th. Please take care of yourself.

P.S. I have received a few messages and emails from people asking what first made me go in for a mammogram. The lump was very close to the surface of my skin, it was hard to miss. This is another reason I am incredibly lucky. Had it been growing in a less detectable or obvious area, I never would have noticed it and never would have gone to a walk-in clinic to have a doctor examine me. I might still be sitting here today with it growing inside me. The thought of that horrifies me. Please go get yourselves checked out. The sooner something like this is caught the better!

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