Monday, January 10, 2011

Really, World?

This world is unpredictable.  No one can argue that.  Almost one year ago, I could never have predicted that at the age of 31 I would be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and spend a good chunk of 2010 in various doctors' offices, in the infusion suite, in hospital beds recovering from not one but two surgeries, and even a stint on the radiation table.

But even after all of that happened, still, I couldn't predict what would come next: my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer too.  I'll give you a second to let that sink in.

Are you back?  OK, good.  Yes of course I am totally serious because who in their right mind would joke about a thing like this.

The good news is that thanks to regular mammograms, it was caught super early (stage 1) and her prognosis is very, very good.  The "suspicious tissue" was found on her annual routine mammogram and she was advised to get a sonogram for further testing.  The sonogram results led the docs to advise a biopsy, and that is when she called Dr. Rosenbaum Smith's office.

She got in right away and Dr. RS was even able to arrange for her biopsy to take place that afternoon right after her appointment.  Results came back two days later: cancer.  I was actually walking out of the hospital after my own chemo treatment when I called my Mom to tell her how it went (fine, as always) and that's when she told me.  It was two days before Christmas, which also happens to be my Mom's birthday.

Less than two weeks later, she had an out-patient lumpectomy which went very well.  Her lymph nodes were removed and examined and initial tests showed no signs of cancer (i.e. no signs that it had spread beyond the breast).  Next step: radiation.  She will probably be done with her radiation before I even start mine!

Of course, it came as a shock to our family, but knowing it was caught so early (her spot was 4mm, vs. the 5cm+ mine was) and that she had a tried and tested team behind her made the blow a little easier to take.

Also, Dr. RS does not think that our cases are related at all - she thinks we are just having a crappy year.  Remember, only 7-10% of all cancers are hereditary, which means 90% or more are totally random.  If I had tested positive for one of the known breast cancer genes, then of course it might be hereditary, but I didn't.  Of course, as we've known all along there's a chance that we have some breast cancer gene that hasn't been discovered yet, but there's obviously no way to know that now.

It's funny, but I think that my Mom being diagnosed would have been a lot scarier if I hadn't gone through what I have this past year.  For one, we all know a whole hell of a lot more about breast cancer than we did a year ago, so we all came to it with a base of knowledge.  Secondly, as I said, there was none of the stress about which doctor to call and where she would get treated - we knew exactly who to call.  I've said it before but it bears repeating: I feel so lucky that I have the medical team behind me that I do, and that I'm being treated in a "one stop shop" place so my doctors all communicate with each other and know the latest on my case before I even see them.

In fact, when I saw Dr. Sara a week after my Mom's diagnosis, he already knew.  He was very reassuring and even praised the radiologist who caught it on the mammogram, since he said something that small is easy to miss.  My Mom actually has an appointment with him next week, since she will probalby need to go on a drug post-treatment to help prevent a recurrence (and also to verify the no-chemo recommendation once we get all test results back from her surgery).

Luckily, this news didn't put too much of a damper on the holiday, and we had a great Christmas with 9-month old Claire.  Here's a picture of me, my Mom and Claire on Christmas Day:

Meanwhile, my treatment is going great.  At my last appointment, Dr. Sara said he is really very pleased that three months in (about halfway through chemo), I STILL have no side effects - no neuropathy, no nothing.  He is also very pleased that my blood counts have remained good, so we haven't had to have any breaks in treatment to let my counts return to normal.

Dr. Sara said that he is a big fan of the Navelbine, and that he probably prescribes it more often than his colleagues.  And he can't remember a patient that has tolerated it for as long as I have - with the full dose that I am getting - with no trace of side effects.  Well, I am an overacheiver, what can I say?!

Of course, I know that this doesn't mean that I won't develop side effects as I continue my treatment.  For all I know I could wake up tomorrow with numbness and tingling in my fingers and toes, or my blood test at Wednesday's chemo appt. could show the drug affecting my counts.  But I'm enjoying the no-side-effects while I can!

This week I have chemo as per usual on Wednesday, and then Friday I have a mammogram and appointment with Dr. Rosenbaum Smith.  Mom and I actually have mother-daughter breast surgeon appointments that day.  As my sister said, "It's kind of cute in a sad, cruel twist of fate kind of way."

Friday has another significance:  it's my one-year "cancerversary".  Now, there is some debate as to what a "cancerversary" actually is, with some people saying it's the anniversary of your diagnosis date, while others contend it's the day you complete treatment and/or are declared cancer-free.  I haven't gotten to those last two yet, so for now, it's my diagnosis date.

I've been thinking about it a lot - I guess it's only natural to reflect on the past year as we embark on the next.  Sometimes I feel like it was only yesterday I was sitting in the sonogram room when the radiologist and Dr. Rosenbaum Smith walked in and told me I pretty much definitely had cancer.  Other times I feel like I can't even remember a time before all this happened.  What did I think about back then?  What was the first thing I thought of every morning as I woke up?  I really don't know.  

Because now, even though I think I do a pretty good job of living my normal life in the face of cancer, it doesn't mean that cancer is very far from my thoughts at any one time.  The fact is, my life and my body are irrevocably changed, and though I've never been a big fan of change (I was the dorky kid who cried at the end of the school year), I've been forced to adapt to this "new normal." 

I hope I've learned well, because there is more change in my future once I reach the end of treatment and have to learn to adapt to life post-cancer.  But, I've got a ways to go before that gets here and - say it with me now - one step at a time.


  1. Wow...My prayers and thoughts are with your are a strong woman and will be a great help to your Mom (and Dad). :) HUGS

  2. One step at a day at a time.... I'm here cheering you and Mom on every step of the way.

  3. Have been thinking of you all - especially your mom. The picture is great. I know that all you Easter's will pull through with flying colors.

  4. I can't believe that news, Em. But like you said, it's an advantage to be as well-educated as your entire family is about breast cancer. You get your strength from your Mom and Dad so you know she will be just as successful at beating it. Thinking of you guys...and hope to catch up with you soon! xo