Monday, August 31, 2009

I hesitate to start this journal.

When you heard of my diagnosis, the pain in your eyes overshadowed my own. Whether you are my husband or daughter or parent or sister or brother or family member or friend or someone I work with or someone I have sat next to at church or someone I have just met... each of you took a hit to the heart. A staggering hit. This may be a bumpy ride and I feel a huge responsibility to be clear about the purpose of this journal, because you are riding shotgun and I care about you as you care about me. So, I begin...

Today I faced the doctor who didn't want to order the MRI. I realize he had looked at me a few weeks ago and saw a woman who had a chronic back issue due to "lifestyle and improper lifting techniques." He didn't consider that prior to 6 months ago my doctor visits consisted of an annual GYN visit (my last one was December 2008). He didn't consider that I had only filled one pain med prescription and still had most of the pills. I told him these things, but he didn't hear. Today, he listened and ordered test after test after expensive test. After 6 months of having my body tell me that something is wrong and trying to get help- a sense of relief settled over me. I'm not crazy or a hypocondriac. I have cancer.

Clinic Fashion

My Mammogram

Busy day. Blood drawn. Mammogram. Ultrasound. Core needle biopsy of masses in my left breast. CTs of my chest, abdomen, and lumbar spine. I was handed discs of these images to bring to the oncologist in the morning. So, my husband and mother and I huddled around the computer, popped in the discs and played amateur radiologists. Even after surfing the internet for "Reading your own Scan" tips, we finally accepted our limitations. Enough cancer for today. Mark and I headed to the State Fair with Natalie and Larissa, leaving our dog, Amore, with my parents to play with their dogs.

*When cancer is stripped of its fear and doom-
  Cancer... simply is.
  It is nobody's fault I have cancer.
  I am not cancer's victim.*
               -This is not my denial, but my truth.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Background Story

In March 2009, I started having low back pain that wouldn't go away. Over the next 6 months, I went to many doctors who told me that back pain was very common- I had urine cultures, chest Xrays. I was given muscle relaxers and pain meds (which didn't help or made me too sleepy to be a mother, so I didn't take them). Each doctor formed an opinion and here is what I learned:
-I am too fat and my pants are too tight.
-I may have a herniated disc and need physical therapy.
-I shouldn't be carrying around my 4 year old daughter, Larissa.
-I wasn't lifting properly.
-It would probably just go away by itself, even if I did nothing.

For each of these pearls of wisdom, I paid a $20 copay. The pain continued. I just tried to deal with it the best I could, even when I could no longer bend over. Natalie, our 9 year old daughter, helped me around the house. My husband, Mark, wanted me to go back to the doctor, but I would rather spend my money at a garage sale than pay someone to tell me I'm fat. Then, my mom saw me try (unsuccessfully) to pick something up that I had dropped on the floor and she insisted I go to the doctor and request an MRI.

When I asked for the MRI, the doctor was not impressed. He said, "What do you expect to see in there? A tumor?" He claimed 28 years old was too young (not really- my mom is a pediatric oncology nurse). He said I had no family history or risk factors. He suggested I was seeking pain meds and said he would not give me any more. I told him something was wrong and I would not leave until he ordered an MRI. He very reluctantly ordered an MRI to be done when the "schedule permits," so 10 days later I got an MRI of my back.

Two days later, I was driving to work on a Saturday morning, when an on-call doctor found my MRI results on his desk. He asked me to pull over and park my car. He told me my MRI showed "multiple spinal masses" and I would need to follow up on Monday morning with my doctor. Though he had no further information to give me, he was calling because he was concerned that I was in a great deal of pain and needed pain meds.

A song played on the radio-

"She got the call today,
one out of the gray.
And when the smoke cleared
it took her breath away.
She said she didn't believe
it could happen to me.
I guess, we're all one phone call
from our knees."

Monday was a blur. Mark, my mother, and I faced a visibly shaken doctor who ordered a bunch of tests: CT, Mammogram, Ultrasound, needle biospy, labs, along with a referral to an oncologist.

-4 small masses in my left breast (you could kind-of feel one of them, if you knew where to feel and used your imagination)
-One enlarged lymph node under my left arm
-Numerous (basically in EVERY bone) lytic lesions (meaning the cancer eats away at the bone- displacing it and leaving holes)
-T12 (thorasic vertebrae) completely replaced by a mass
-T6, T9, T10 mildly bowed posteriorly
-No clear fractures, no narrowing of the spinal cord

Diagnosis: Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma with lymph node
involvement and mets to my bones
or Stage 4 Breast Cancer

That evening, I went to the Minnesota State Fair with my husband and children and slid down that giant wavy slide. When I got to the bottom, Mark had to help me up.