But I digress. I should at this point clarify how I got here.
In 2004, after finding something weird in my breast (not a lump but a certain undefined hardness in the breast tissue), I dutifully went off to see my Nurse Practitioner who promptly said she couldn't feel anything, implying that what I was feeling was imaginary. Despite my protestations that I wasn't imagining it I was authoritatively told that with no family history of breast cancer, no apparent risk factors and my relatively young age there was no way I could possibly have breast cancer.
To make me feel better she deigned to indulge me by prescribing a sonogram which once again showed nothing. To be honest I don't even remember mammogram being discussed. I was sent away with the advice that perhaps I could come back in 6-months for a checkup and in the meantime would I like to try breast massage ? Oh My God: here I was hoping for scientific explanations from someone still living in the Age of Aquarius.
Now I can't tell you exactly what drove me except that I knew I needed some definitive answers and I wasn't getting them from Nurse Flower Child. I took it upon myself to go and get a second opinion. I found a lovely husband and wife general medical practice who immediately sensed my concern (despite their not being able to feel anything either) and sent me for a mammogram. This is despite mammogram not being recommended for women under-40, with no risk factors and especially those with small dense breasts (yes that would be me).
As a result of the mammogram and later biopsy in April 2004, at the ripe old age of 34-years old, I was diagnosed with Stage IIIA invasive ductal carcinoma with lobular features, hormone receptor +, HER 2 Neu and BRCA1 positive status. This is a very long-winded way of saying you have a type of Breast Cancer which is caused by bad genetics, is fed by your body's oestrogen, and has spread to your lymph nodes. Not good news.
It was a rough diagnosis to hear and the treatment that followed was even rougher. Won't bore you with the details but think highly toxic chemotherapy, radiation, umpteen surgeries and continuing anti-hormonal treatments. Anyway the moral of this part of my story is that you really have to be your own advocate and push for explanations. Listen to what your body and mind is telling you and exhaust all avenues of medical practice. Don't ignore your sixth sense and certainly don't listen to Nurse Flower Child. Just push and push and push until you get the facts from which you can make your health care decisions in consultation.
In June 2007, the cancer found it's way back into the lymph nodes around my collarbone. Once again, I found it and brought it to my Doctor's attention. Don't know why I was drawn to this particular area of my body but I had developed a fidgety habit of brushing this area with my hand whenever I sat at a desk and of course one day I felt something. Weird I know and although I'm most certainly a religious skeptic I can't help but wonder if there is a higher power at work or whether I am blessed with an exaggerated sense of intuition. In any case, I can't overestimate the value of being constantly aware and vigilant when it comes to your body. A bit of surgery and radiation followed along with a new anti-hormonal treatment which bought relative peace for the last two years.
And so here I am in June 2009 about to enter the ring for the third time. I feel like I should be more upset than I am. But at this point I feel like an old hand at this stuff. I seem unable to be surprised by anything these days and to be honest I have lived with this cancer crap for so long now that this new round is not really a stretch for me emotionally. Of course it will be for everyone around me, but not for me. I will just keep doing what I do and continue to seek out the best treatment options but most importantly I will just keep living my life the best way I know how. Cancer or no cancer. It doesn't matter. Life is there to be participated in, not viewed from the sidelines. The cancer will have to fit into my life. I hope to talk more about how that happens in later postings.