It was Jan 2013. I was 53 years old and had just had my yearly mammogram. These were always followed with an ultrasound as I have “dense breasts” and so they always need more detailed pictures. So as I sat waiting for them to view the films and tell me to get dressed, I was not at all worried. Then they called me back in to the ultrasound room to have another ultrasound – with color. As I watched the screen, I could see color changes and movement. Finally I got dressed and waited to speak to the doctor. We first reviewed the mammogram – which showed calcifications in my right breast that hadn’t been there previously. We then reviewed the ultrasound. The color and movement I had seen indicated a blood supply to this “mass” in my breast – not a good thing. I was sent for a needle biopsy that afternoon, the results of which were inconclusive. So on to an MRI, which then uncovered a second mass deep in my left breast. Both were biopsied and again, the results were inconclusive. My oncologist said look, I am going to act as if this is malignant and we are going to get both of them out of there and biopsy them again. And so I was scheduled for a bilateral lumpectomy and lymph node extraction from both armpits on May 1 2013, 4 months after my original mammogram. I finally received the results we had been waiting for- I had stage 0 DCIS on the right side, and just atypical cells on the left. Both sets of lymph nodes were clear.
My prayers had been answered. Following the surgery I would not need chemotherapy, but would have 7 weeks of daily radiation treatments. All went well until the end of week 4, when suddenly the skin in my armpit started to bubble, eventually turn black, then grey and eventually peel right off. It was now July and hot an muggy in the northeast, and so the sweat would eventually lead to infection. To this day – I do not grow hair or sweat in my right armpit – guess that is a bonus. But once the treatments ended, things cleared up pretty quickly. Having cancer is a life changing event that nobody can prepare you for. It takes over your life. It grows patience and character as you wait through the tests, and surgeries, and doctor appts and medications. And I was early stage, can’t even imagine what my sisters with more advanced stages must endure.
Now, when I hear of someone that has been recently diagnosed, I try to share my experience with them. I try to prepare them for the tests, waiting, uncertainty and fear, and to assure them that no matter what the outcome, they will get through, there are people to support them. My priorities have forever been changed. I try to forgive often, love hard, and when the world gets crazy, head for the people that remind me of what is important, my mom, 2 daughters and 3 beautiful grandkids.