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.

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