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Well, today is August 17, 2009, exactly 7 days after my surgery and 5 months to the day from my original mammogram appointment. I’ll cut right to the chase, no pun intended (get it, surgery…..cut…..ha). My pathology report came back today and everything is good! Now for the details and storytime…..
I had my surgery last Monday. It went good I guess. My parents and Dan went with me. I had another mammogram first, which I didn’t know was part of the plan. It wasn’t just your normal mammogram. I was sitting in a chair instead of standing like you normally are, and thank God because I quickly became nauseous and faint when I learned what this mammogram would entail. Had I known I would have been a human Voo Doo doll that morning, I would have been much more nervous. Anyway, after I was squeezed into the mammogram machine (which for me is bad enough), I received two novacain shots. At this point, I got all flustered and hot and heard the nurse tell the radiologist in the next room something about my reaction, followed by “and we have even done the procedure yet.” Oh great I thought. The took some mammogram pictures and then placed these metal rods (which I guess were like big needles) into opposite ends of the area to be removed, as illustrated on the mammogram screen. These needle rods remained sticking out of me and were left in place so the surgeon would know the marginal area to be removed during surgery. It was pretty uncomfortable but they covered the needles with a cup so I couldn’t see them. Ugh. I asked if they could see anything on the mammogram and the radiologist said there were some calcifications, reminants of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). As a reminder, when I was first diagnosed, I was diagnosed with IDC (invasive ductal carcinoma) and DCIS. They are basically the same thing but one spreads (the invasive one) and one doesn’t. I asked why this wasn’t detected on my MRI and they said the MRI detects tumor masses, not cancer cells (e.g., calcifications) and that the chemo, which kills fast growing cells (e.g., chemo cells, hair cells, etc.) wasn’t designed to kill the DCIS, only the IDC and not to worry – the surgery would get out the DCIS and there isn’t a cause for concern.
My parents and Dan were invited back into the prep room right before my surgery. My mom started crying, which made me start crying. I wasn’t nervous at all about the surgery though, for whatever reason. I woke up from surgery about an hour later with a bad reaction (nausea + vomitting) to the regimen of anesthesia they gave me. I had to stay in the recovery room a couple more hours than planned. There were two stages of recovery (1) recovery room; (2) step down room. Visitors were only allowed in the step down room. After surgery, in the recovery room, I remember a little bit about it. I remember hearing the people beside me complain about how much pain they were in and recognized some people from the prep room. We were each only separated by those little drapes. The guy beside me sat across from me in the prep room and was there to have his arm set with pins. He had broken his arm and got his cast taken off in the prep room. I remember him rating his pain on a scale from 1 to 10 and the nurses telling him that his surgery was the most painful surgery they did at the clinic. I didn’t feel like I was in as much pain as him and my side effects were mostly nausea related at that point.
Dr. Turk, my oncology surgeon (AKA the best in Charlotte), told my parents and Dan about how well I did in surgery, said they think they got everything and that my lymph nodes were small and hard, indicating what appeared to be a good response to the chemo. Dan drove me home after the surgery and my parents returned home. My mom got her things and came to stay the week with us so she could be home with me during the day. It was very nice having her home with me. She was an excellent care taker, and even took care of all our pets. The rest of the week was spent resting, watching TV, reading, laying on the couch and waiting for the pathology results, which were due back today.
My mom came over for lunch. She was very nervous and anxiously awaiting the pathology results like I was. My mom has recently started attending church again and said a silent prayer on her way back to work after lunch. She said all she wanted was a sign, just a little sign. At that point, the song “Brown Eyed Girl” came on the radio. She used to have that song set as her ring tone for when I called. She thought wow, that’s weird, I wonder if that’s my sign. The next song that came on the radio was “Everyting’s Going to be Alright”!! Crazy!!
Dr. Turk called around 5:00 and said the pathology results were in and that everything looked good. They removed all my lymph nodes under my right arm – there were 9 in total. An average person has between 15 and 20. He said there more before but that the chemo had killed some completely. He said they tested the remaining 9 and all were clear of cancer – my lymph nodes no longer had any cancer! Then he said the margins were all clear for the lumpectomy. I think sometimes people confuse the lumpectomy with the lymph node removal so just to clarify, the lumpectomy is the procedure where they took out the area of breast tissue where the tumors had originally been (the area marked by the Voo Doo needles). The main thing they’re looking for on the pathology report is clear margins, or that the outside perimeter of tissue removed is free of cancer, indicating that all the cancer was contained and removed. They also analyze the removed tissue itself. He said there were some reminants of the DCIS (which was expected and shown on the Voo Doo mammogram) and 1/20 of an inch left of the IDC. So basically, I had an almost complete response to the chemo. The little part that had remained was removed during surgery so it wasn’t anything to be worried about. He explained the staging again and said my initial staging, which was IIB was considered clinical staging and my post surgical staging was considered early Stage I. In other words, had I not just gone through all the chemo and had I been another person getting staged for cancer for the first time, I would have been considered early stage I. I asked him what his “prognosis” was and he said he would defer to Dr. Limentani for that but said I had a very good response and expected a great prognosis. I called back to ask if I am now considered “cancer free”. He said that was basically like asking what my prognosis was but in a different way. He said microscopically there could be some cancer cells lingering but from what was visible, I was cancer free. Doctors don’t like to say you’re cancer-free but from what an average person understands the words “cancer free” to be, I’m there……cancer free. 🙂
I’ll be cleared for radiation on Wednesday at my follow up appointment and will start radiation in the next couple weeks. I’ll continue on the Herceptin every three weeks until next April and will start on the five years of Tamoxifen pills after radiation. But the biggest hurdles are over and all the waiting is over. The rest of my treatment is just precautionary to reduce the risk for recurrence. It’s hard to believe everything that’s happened in the past five months. Five months exactly to the day of my initial mammogram, where I first learned I probably had cancer, and I am “cancer-free” (basically). Thanks to all my heros – Dr. Limentani, Dr. Turk, Dr. Oz, my entire family and all my chemomaids! I love you all!
Dan and I have been filling out all our adoption applications and forms and I’ll keep everyone updated on all that as things progress. I’ll also let everyone know when my Dr. Oz and Nancy Brinker interview is supposed to air. That reminds me, I need to email Dr. Oz, my BFF……. There’s still plenty to blog about though. Still lots ahead but the worst is behind me now. Ah, serenity now!! (Seinfeld)