February Drama

We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I’m not exactly celebrating for a couple of reasons… the biggest being the nerve-wracking week that I’ve had.

Last Wednesday, I came home from work early because I was too dizzy to function. Best way I can explain it is vertigo – and it all started when I woke up. It was extremely troubling and my oncologist set me up with a general practitioner to see the next week, but by dinnertime I felt much better so I didn’t make the appointment.

The next day I felt fine and the next. But over the weekend I discovered a hard ridge-like area on my right breast and started freaking out all over again that the cancer had returned.

On Monday I was able to see my oncologist and she was not at all concerned, but she let me get an ultrasound for peace of mind. It all looked normal. Phew – one disaster averted.

Then Wednesday night again I had dizzy feelings – not as much vertigo as slight nausea, lightheadedness, coldness, and not feeling “normal”. This morning I woke up still feeling nauseous, which went away quickly, but I felt a lot of pressure in and around my head – migrating from behind my eyes to the back of my neck and, currently above my right ear.

I am totally confused about what is going on in my body, but I know I don’t feel right and I am worried and scared. My immediate thought, thank you breast cancer, is that I have a brain tumor. Such a drastic conclusion for what are probably benign and uncomplicated symptoms, but that’s what having cancer will do to you.

To relieve my fears (best case scenario), I am having an MRI tomorrow.

I should be happy – I’m going to get this checked out, find out it’s nothing to be worried about, and move on with my life. But I’m scared %&*@less and it’s making me feel like a crazy person. I had surgery to remove the cancer, which was stage 1. No lymph node involvement, no signs of spread anywhere. I had aggressive chemo. There is really no reason to believe that I have a tumor in my brain, other than these weird dizzy spells, which could be caused by a myriad of other minor disorders.

My doctor again says she isn’t terribly concerned – my symptoms aren’t consistent with what she’s seen in brain cancer patients. More like a low-grade viral infection. My dad agrees.

But I’m having the MRI anyway, despite the professional advice and my own fears. I keep having these visions (not literally, or I’d be even more concerned about a brain tumor) of sitting at my parent’s house tomorrow as I receive the news that I my MRI showed a brain tumor. It feels like last March all over again, just thinking about how drastically my life is going to change (AGAIN) if that happens. The weather woman on my TV drones on and on about cold fronts and all I can think is, “The whole world will melt away tomorrow if I find out that I have metastatic cancer.”

What is one supposed to do with that news? And how is one supposed to live a life where every “off” feeling leads to the unshakeable dread that cancer has returned or spread?

I guess we take it one day… one test… at a time. My ultrasound was fine. My MRI will most likely be fine. And once those are out of the way, maybe I can stop worrying, at least for the next three months.


Forever On Hold

Breast cancer is overwhelming. There are so many issues I’m thinking about right now:

  • Insurance.Yesterday I spent an agonizing amount of time on the phone with GWU hospital, my insurance company, and my
    This isn't me, but I probably looked like this yesterday.

    oncologist’s office trying to get rid of a $1,000 bill for an MRI that should have been pre-certified. I realize this should be a minor worry in my life right now, especially because we got final path reports and I am THRILLED to have finally confirmed that my cancer was Stage I. But I can’t help feelings of anger that dealing with insurance companies is almost a full-time job and no one can give me straight answers to my questions.

  • Fertility (and insurance). I have decided to go ahead with embryo freezing, along with my boyfriend who I lovingly referred to the other day as my “frozen-baby daddy”. The decision was tough – this is a complicated process that requires a lot of doctor visits, drugs, injections, a minor operation, etc, but the decision feels good because it gives me the best probability of having my own children in the future. I didn’t want to go through chemo, become infertile, look back and say “Why the hell didn’t I freeze my eggs?” Still, the process is already causing me stress and it hasn’t even started. I couldn’t get a straight answer from my insurance company as to whether they cover retrieval and IVF, so I’m applying for financial aid from Sharing Hope for Women program. I also just went off my birth control last month as advised by my radiologist, and I’ve been spotting for the past two days, but as it’s been a bajillion years since I’ve had a period while not on birth control, I have no idea if this is a period or not. Why is it important? Because if it is my period, I gotta get a jump on this egg retrieval process ASAP. TOO FAST, TOO FURIOUS.
  • The skin on my breasts. There are spots on both my breasts that the plastic surgeon “doesn’t like”. I don’t like it either. One very large spot under my nipple on my left breast was turning black and is now a weird brown, and there was a big blister that popped to the right of it. My incision (which is along the bottom fold of my breast) is also iffy. I am terrified of getting necrosis and needing revision surgeries and, if worse comes to worst, losing my expander. On the right side, the problem isn’t as bad but there are some very small areas of imperfection. Come on, skin, pull through!
Does this swirling tornado of crap that comes along with a breast cancer
diagnosis ever die down? It doesn’t help that today is the first day in a long time that I’ve been alone. Both my parents, who have been amazing and taking care of me since my surgery, are working today. My boyfriend is back in DC, also working. And I am all by my lonesome, with my armageddon-worthy thoughts (well… and my JP drains, which feel like my new best buds). 

Lazy Sunday

I promised a blow-by-blow of my core biopsies, but I don’t want this post to be a bajillion paragraphs long, so I’m going to post a good video I found on YouTube that describes the process of an MRI-guided core biopsy. Of course, it’s all very clean-looking and calm and bright, making it seem like getting a core-biopsy in an MRI machine is akin to getting ice cream with your family. It’s not. But the process is explained well so you know what to expect.

A recommendation for those of you preparing for this procedure: do NOT pore over internet message boards trying to figure out if it will hurt. It is not terribly painful, and I think the women who complain that it is painful must have had really insensitive radiologists. Which brings me to another recommendation – talk to your radiologist beforehand about your pain tolerance and tell him or her that you want them to test the anesthetic to make sure you don’t feel anything.

My radiologist was WONDERFUL and did this for me. Basically, before they put the needle in, they inject your boob with local anesthesia to numb you. My radiologist injected it, and then spend some time inserting the needle slowly and asking me to tell her if I felt pain. The second I did, she stopped and gave me more and deeper anesthesia. It went on like this until I couldn’t feel anything, and from there the procedure was totally painless. Pressure, yes; sharp pain, no. If you feel sharp pain, the anesthesia is not working or deep enough. Speak up. I have to say that I hardly felt the anesthesia needle at all. Really.

On the same day, I had an ultrasound-guided core biopsy and it was very similar except that I was on my back and not in an MRI machine. The worst part really was the anxiety and the moments when the radiologist tested the anesthesia and it wasn’t quite working. But it was a very brief sharp pain at that point, and immediately when I indicated I felt it, she stopped.

All in all, not as bad as I expected.

And now, I’m waiting for my results, which I’ll hopefully get tomorrow.

Last night, I felt deeply depressed thinking about getting my results. I almost want to convince myself that I have cancer just to lessen the blow if it is actually true. My mind conjures up images of sitting in the doctor’s office, hearing “We found cancerous tissue from your biopsy” and me just breaking down into tears. How can that statement NOT change your life completely? My boyfriend was trying to talk to me last night about some plans we have next weekend, and in my head I was thinking “Plans next weekend? Don’t you realize that if I found out I have cancer on Monday, all future plans are going to be put on pause?” I might have freaking CANCER. This isn’t like finding out if I have a urinary tract infection. This is CANCER. This is serious.

The best I can do at this point is wait. But I am absolutely terrified for tomorrow and as I go through this, I wonder why I don’t just have surgery right now to minimize my risk and my need to ever go through this in the future.

Happy St. Biopsy Day!

I just wrote a huge post on my biopsies today and it was erased for some reason. Dammit. It was good, too! I will try and write another one because today I had both an MRI-guided core biopsy and an ultrasound-guided core biopsy, and of course I want to share the wonderful experience with you all. In the meantime, enjoy this:

Dance a jig, girlie, your biopsies are over... the rainbow!

When it Rains, it Pours.

The results of my ultrasound are in.

I need further screening procedures. Not just in one breast. But in both. And not just needle biopsies. One needle biopsy on the right and an MRI-guided biopsy on the left.

Yes, when it rains, it pours. On my boobs.

I’m actually kind of angry right now. Yesterday, after the ultrasound, I was devastated. I was sent to the little dressing room to put my clothes back on and as I wiped the cold gel from my chest I just started sobbing. When the doctor invited me in to see my images from my mammo, MRI, and now ultrasound and explain the situation, I sobbed. When I walked into the waiting room to tell my boyfriend, I sobbed. Then I went back to work and threw myself into other things so I didn’t have to think about it.

Today, I’ve come to terms, but I am angry. I know it’s not my fault or the doctor’s fault or anyone’s fault, really (I don’t blame you for giving me these genes, mom, because you gave me so much more that is positive). I just feel so angry that I’m 25 and I have to go through this. I’m angry at the insurance company that’s probably going to charge me an arm and a leg. I’m angry that this is my only option at this point. I’m angry that I decided to do surveillance and I sometimes just want to say, “OFF WITH MY BREASTS!” I’m angry at myself for thinking that. I’m angry that I got tested so young and I’m angry that I’m not being stronger.

I know these feelings of anger, sadness, fear (I hate needles… who doesn’t?) will pass, but for now it’s just how I feel and I’m glad to be able to write about it.

My tests are scheduled for next Thursday, St. Patty’s Day. Erin go-friggin-bragh.

Kathunk, Kathunk, Kathunk, BWEEEEE (or, My MRI Experience)

On Monday I headed into GWU hospital for my first MRI. I was totally nervous, not knowing what to expect, so I want to break down the experience here in case other people are reading this terrified of what lies ahead. I’m going to start the story at getting to the hospital, because I don’t want my blood pressure to rise recounting how difficult it was to make the appointment in the first place.

So I’m in the waiting room and they call me in and tell me to get undressed. Pretty standard – gown open in the front so there’s easy access to my boobs. Then they gave me an IV. This is the first time I’ve ever had an IV and I was not expecting it, so that kind of sucked but, whatever, it was happening. They led me into the room where the MRI machine was. It was not at ALL how I’d imagined. On shows like House and movies, MRI rooms are always pristine and bright and large, but this room was small and dingy.

The woman had my lie down on my stomach and positioned me so that my boobs hung down through two holes. It was freaking cold in the room, but she covered me with an extra sheet so that was nice. She also handed me ear plugs, and hooked up my IV to the contrast fluid pumper machine thingy (excuse my non-clinical verbiage).

You are now being inserted into Battlestar Galactica.

She made sure I was comfortable and positioned correctly, and she gave me a little ball to squeeze in case I had an emergency. Thanks. Then she left the room and it began. The platform I was lying on (I guess it was kind of like a stretcher) moved into the machine and it kind of reminded me of being in an airplane. But MUCH louder. Damn MRI machines are really loud. I felt like I was in the middle of an intergalactic battle at times, with lots of whirring and loud, long screeching noises. I’m glad she gave me the ear plugs but they didn’t do much. My stepmom said they gave her music for her MRI – I kind of wish I had had music too.

No matter. After what felt like 15 minutes of lying there blowing out my ear drums, I heard the woman’s voice come through on a speaker. “Ok, we’re going to start the contrast IV now.”

Wait… it wasn’t going the whole time? Damn. The IV started and I started to feel kind of tingly. My mouth filled with a weird taste – kind of like dentist’s gloves when they’re in your mouth. I half expected my body to turn purple and I was at the ready to squeeze my emergency ball, but after a minute or so I started to feel normal again and I realized I was fine.

Then another 15 minutes and it was over. It definitely was not a bad experience – just new. I think it felt like it went fast because I was so fascinated by it all, and probably because I’m really good at being still (if I do say so myself).

The worst part was today, when I got a call from the hospital saying they found tissue in both my boobs that they want to ultrasound.

SUCK. I know that MRIs have a lot of false positives and that this is probably nothing. My parents told me that. My oncologist said that, too. But I still had a little moment of panic at work today where I thought, “Oh god, this is it. This is when I find out I’m one of those rare women who get breast cancer at 25.” I took a deep breath and went back to work – and now that I’m home I feel better.

Because I’m 25, and that is the age recommended for all of these baseline mammogram and MRI studies, there have been a lot of new experiences for me this year. I have to admit that there have been several times this year, today included, when I thought to myself, “This screening process sucks. Maybe I should just cut my boobs off now and not worry about doing this every year until I’m 35 or they find a cure for cancer, whatever comes first.” I don’t like this waiting – struggling to make appointments, paying for expensive procedures, risking false positives and having what might be unecessary tests – it is all a hassle that I’ll now have to go through year after year.

But then I realize that cutting my boobs off is another hassle that I’m not ready for yet.