Weekly Happy: Bursts of Sunlight

Potomac

There are many positives to living in Washington, DC, and the excellent metro system is one. Today I was taking the Yellow Line from where I live in Columbia Heights to King Street in Alexandria, Virginia. I rarely ride the Yellow line out of the District, so I was pleasantly reminded about the above-ground bridge over the Potomac River. For a brief minute, you are out of the dark underground tunnel and able to see the beautiful sights of the DC waterfront. Today, this bridge crossing was particularly smile-inducing, because of the sun, blue sky, and crowds of people out and about enjoying the last of the cherry blossoms and the trails hugging the river. Of course, just as you’ve become hypnotized by the Washington and Jefferson monuments and warmed by the sun, you drift back underground, but it makes that brief moment all-the-more magical.

Someone was asking in the Young Survival Coalition Facebook group if anyone had advice to get her through treatment, and one thing I might offer would be to enjoy the small moments when you feel happy. They might be few and far between, but they do happen and it is worth your time to bask in them before they disappear. One such moment, for me, was the week after my first chemotherapy infusion. I had just left my follow-up doctor appointment and was walking through a warm, May day in DC, amazed at how good I felt despite all that was going on. In that moment, I felt strong enough to get through the whole ordeal, and I still remember that happy feeling to this day.

Oh, I guess I should also mention that, since my last post, I hit my two-years-cancer-free mark. It was April 5, 2011, when the tumor was cut out of my right breast. Yay!?!

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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.

When it Pours, it Monsoons

The results from my biopsies are in. They have been in for a while, actually, but the last time I tried to share my results on WordPress, I got an error message. Figures. Apparently WordPress does not want me to share the following with the world, but I am doing it anyway:

I have cancer.

My biopsy returned news of malignancy in my right breast, and the ultrasound shows a tumor around 2cm in size. The cancer is also invasive, meaning it has broken from the duct where it started. Invasive ductal carcinoma. Has a night ring to it, no? The radiologist started one of her sentences with “Your cancer…”. My cancer. What the hell?

This was not supposed to happen. I am only 25 years old. I was supposed to learn I had some fat lobules or whatever it was that people my age have. Not breast cancer. But I couldn’t be that lucky.

I found this out on Monday the 21st of March, and in the week and a half since I’ve known, I’ve basically gone through all of the stages of grief. I have been angry at my body for betraying me in this way. I have been terrified and pondering my own mortality. I have been depressed, feeling like I have nothing to look forward to in life anymore. I have felt guilty, like there was more I could have done to prevent this, and that I’m letting down my family who already had to deal with my mother’s breast cancer, which ended up with her dying when I was merely 3 years old.

Today, I’m actually feeling okay. My decisions have been made and my course is planned – as much as it can be for now. I will have a double mastectomy and reconstruction with implants. Between the mastectomy and implants, while I am being expanded, I will go through chemo. It is weird to type this like it’s no big deal, and I would love to share my thought processes, but I’m not trying to write a novel here.

What I can say is that my mind is made up and I am at peace with it. I honestly hardly even entertained the idea of a lumpectomy or unilateral mastectomy. I just knew in my heart that this is what I wanted – I. Do. Not. Ever. Want. To. Have. Cancer. Again. It’s that simple. With this gene my chances of a second cancer are nearly 65%. To that statistic I say, “Screw you.” It just makes sense for me to prevent this from ever happening again.

When I first got the results that I was BRCA 1+ positive, I thought mastectomy was crazy and drastic. But I am no longer a previvor. I am now a cancer patient, and if all goes well, I will be a cancer survivor. I’d like to keep it that way for a long time.

I guess this means a lot for my blog – it’s no longer just about wearing my BRCA genes, it’s now also about being a 25-year-old with breast cancer. Whoop-dee-doo.