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.

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The Number of…

Days since my double mastectomy: 34 (passed the month mark!)

Days since my reconstruction surgery to remove a large area of dead skin on my left breast: 10

Days since my egg retrieval: 4

Embryos my boyfriend and I now have frozen: 4

I almost never thought this day would come. Two weeks ago, on the night before my revision surgery, I could hardly breathe and hardly sleep. Everything was overwhelming me and making me anxious. First off, I was injecting a lot of hormones into my system as part of the in vitro course to prepare for my egg retrieval. On top of that, I had been so happy with my reconstruction results but it was all going to hell in a handbasket because there was a large area of dead skin on my left breast right under my nipple. The area was so large that my plastic surgeon couldn’t even say with any certainty how she would sew me back up after removing it, or that she would even be able to at all – I could have new scars, a vacuum that would require several days in the hospital, or a flap – and I had no idea what I would come out of the surgery looking like.

Well, it wasn’t that terrible. She was able to remove the skin and sew me back up using the same incision made for my mastectomy. Sure, my left breast is now flat making me lopsided and my nipple is way down at the incision line, requiring a couple more revisions to put it in the right place, but I’m banking on the fact that she’s a good surgeon and I’ll have a good final outcome no matter what.

It still really sucks that I have to deal with this complication, though. So many bloggers post pictures of their beautiful new breasts and I guess I just thought, since I’m young and resilient, things would be easy-peasy. Now that the breast cancer is gone from my body, I have my whole life to look forward to and appearances count. I don’t want to live with a deformed chest – but I’m confident that I won’t have to – even if things don’t return to normal until a year from now.

The news that I was able to bank 4 embryos was extremely exciting. Before the retrieval, I felt very disappointed that my ultrasounds only showed 7 big follicles. A young woman like me should have 20+, so what the hell was my problem? My parents said it was stress, and my doctors also pointed to the fact that BRCA1 seems to be linked to early egg depletion. Great. Not only is my biology trying to kill me with breast and ovarian cancer, it’s also trying to prevent me from having my own children.

We hoped that all the follicles would yield eggs; no such luck. Only 4 eggs were retrieved. But the next day my doctor called and gave the good news: 100% fertilization success. Overcoming great odds, all 4 of my eggs had fertilized! That’s 4 chances at a pregnancy if chemo renders me infertile, which I’m hoping it won’t in the first place. Will and I refer to our embryos as our “frids” (frozen kids), and it’s a little strange to think our possible future offspring is waiting for us in some liquid nitrogen column in West Philadelphia.

Whew. Revision surgery is out of the way. Retrieval is out of the way. Healing is going really well (now). What’s next? Moving back to DC, getting back to work, and starting chemo. I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to any of it – lazing around with my parents, who are excellent cooks, has been great and chemo will probably suck, but it’s the next step in the process and it means things are moving along as they finally should.

And it was great to come downstairs for breakfast and see this article about the Philadelphia Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on the front page of the Inquirer.

Annoyed at BRCA and the Job Market

It’s the economy, stupid! Well… now for me… it’s also the mutated genes. I am currently in the middle of a hard decision, and BRCA is NOT helping.

My boyfriend has accepted a transfer to his company’s DC office, but we currently live in Philadelphia. I’m happy for him, and want to follow him, but I’m not sure whether I should quit my job, move with him, and look for a job in DC, or stay here, look for jobs, and not move until I secure employment there. The first option seems most practical to me, as it would be so much easier to look for jobs full-time and actually be in the city where i’ll be networking and interviewing (not to mention we now share an apartment and only have one of everything). But… I’m worried about being out of work for a while. And consequently I am worried about not having affordable health insurance for a while.

I need an MRI. I need a breast doctor. I need a gynecologist. I need peace of mind that if I find a lump in my breast, I can call up a doctor and get an appointment without paying an arm and a leg (or a boob). If I didn’t have BRCA, I wouldn’t really care about going without health insurance for 5 to 6 months. But I don’t have that luxury. I’d be playing with fire, and I don’t want to get burnt.

Le sigh. BRCA cranks up the inconvenience level a little bit in this whole situation. Of course the nearly 10% unemployment rate doesn’t help, either. Anyone want to give me a job in DC?