Author Archives: Jamie

Finally a Timeline…

We met this afternoon with the oncologist. She was very kind and I think it will be a pleasure to get to know her in the coming months and years. We were relieved to hear that the PET scan that I did yesterday showed no evidence of cancer beyond the original tumor. I will have one more biopsy this week, of a lymph node, to help her properly stage the disease. At this point, though, she thinks that it is a stage II, which is good news. While the cells of the tumor are quite nasty, she assured me that young women with this tumor type who are aggressively treated typically do very well. So I’ll spend this coming week in a few remaining procedures and appointments in preparation for chemo.

I can’t imagine anyone looking forward to chemotherapy. Yet finally having a timeline for treatment, having even a vague idea of what to expect is such a relief. Chemo will begin November 1. Every other Thursday until early February I’ll be receiving a chemo treatment. I’ll just have to do one infusion every other week, but can expect each infusion to really wipe me out for roughly a week in the middle of each cycle. My hair will fall out, though she says many women don’t lose their eyebrows or lashes. But if my lashes do fall out, I’m ready. Sally and I just happened to decide a month or so ago that we needed to learn how to put on false eyelashes, and there is a pair ready and waiting in my makeup drawer. So take that, chemo!

I’ll be doing chemo before surgery. While there are no data indicating better survivorship based on whether chemo is administered before or after surgery, there are several reasons to consider doing it first. Chemo is a systemic treatment– it treats the whole body. If there’s no chance that a cancer cell has gotten out of the tumor, a patient wouldn’t likely receive chemo. So on the chance that even one tumor cell has gotten out of the breast, I’d rather not give it a chance to grow while I’m waiting for my surgical incisions to heal. In addition, leaving the tumor in place while I undergo treatment will give my physicians very valuable information. They will be able to watch it using several different methods as I undergo treatment. If it shrinks, they will know that the treatment is effective. If it doesn’t shrink, they will know right away that we should try another treatment course without waiting for a recurrence.

My doctor insisted that I will need to ask for help, and I assured her that I would. I doubt she can imagine how many generous people are eager to help my family through this difficult season, nor how many more are praying for me continuously. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

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A Special Request

I remember the fall of my junior year in college driving home one night after classes, during the middle of the week, even, to donate blood. I have O-negative blood so am considered a universal donor. But I made a three hour drive to donate blood that time, it was for my Aunt Cathy who was in the hospital undergoing very aggressive treatment for breast cancer. In the comments to my last post, my Aunt Cathy, now about 15 years cancer free, asked some questions and suggested I answer them here. As I feel like there’s little to do, or to report, while I await the oncologist appointment on Friday, I decided to take her suggestion.

My surgeon suggested genetic testing, and Aunt Cathy was curious about that, whether it’s standard practice now. This testing looks for specific mutations in two genes that increase a woman’s lifetime chance of breast cancer from around 12% to over 80%, her risk of ovarian cancer is also greatly increased. As such, many women with this mutation are diagnosed very young. Asymptomatic women with a very strong family history are sometimes tested, usually after thorough genetic counseling. For these women, a positive result means at the very least more frequent mammograms and MRIs. Many choose to undergo a prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy and oophorectomy to reduce their cancer risk.

Apparently, many doctors also now suggest this test to very young women diagnosed with breast cancer. A positive result for a woman already diagnosed with breast cancer is still informative. Because the tumors associated with a mutation tend to be more aggressive, it might suggest to an oncologist to take a more aggressive treatment course with chemotherapy. Few women with this mutation choose to keep their breasts, even if they have only a small tumor, and once treatment is over, many choose to have their ovaries removed.

Based on my family history, I don’t expect a positive result. And in the immediate future, a positive result doesn’t make much difference to me. Because of the pathological results from both of my biopsies, I will be receiving the most aggressive treatments regardless. But the genetic testing will be informative; it would help me manage any increased risk for ovarian cancer, and it will give my daughter valuable information for health care in the future.

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My New Blog

While Sally and I talk frequently of the blog we’d like to write, I never imagined this was the kind of blog I’d be starting this fall. What started as a cyst, which the surgeon assured me was nothing, quickly turned into a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. In just over a week since that day, I’ve met with countless doctors and have undergone a battery of tests, yet more appointments and tests await. Still, the information gained from the first biopsy was enough for the surgeon to assure me that chemo was a necessity and surgery would follow. Whether or not radiation will be required will be determined by the surgical findings. I’ll meet with an oncologist on Friday and will hopefully know more about the specific course of chemo and the timeline for all my treatments.

The kids took the news harder than I’d hoped, but seem to be doing better every day. Emma Clare has become very attentive, asking how my appointments for the day have gone and wanting to know what’s coming up and when. If I even begin to look as though I’m in pain or upset, she is quick to see that I’m ok. Turner will just come and cuddle and if I ask what’s wrong, he’ll say, “You know, the cancer.”

I can’t say it quite enough. There has been such a generous outpouring of support. I’ve said it many times in the last week, and I know it’s true. I am not at all worried that we will have a need that remains unmet. We will be well taken care of. For that, and for constant prayers, I remain ever thankful.

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