Sequence of a Life Changed: From Finding a Lump to Getting a Diagnosis and Treatment Plan
I discovered a lump in my left breast the morning of Saturday, October 4, 2014. I wasn’t doing a breast self-exam, simply reading in bed next to my husband Josh. My right hand was resting on my chest when I happened to feel something hard beneath my fingers.
That night, we went to our friend Jain’s birthday dinner, and I asked several of the medical professionals at the party to check my breast, part of me worried about the pea-sized object there, but most of me assuming all was fine because… well, because this was me. I was 39 years old and happy and didn’t get things like breast cancer.
Thanks to my friend Jain (one of said medical professionals), I got an appointment at the Baystate Breast & Wellness Center two days later, on Monday, October 6. The nurse practitioner was not concerned (huge sigh of relief) but recommended an ultrasound and mammogram to be safe, which I had that Thursday, October 9th.
Because I wasn’t worried about the results, I went alone. Being 39, this was my first mammogram. In the waiting room, I thought about my sister-in-law who passes out every time she goes for her mammograms. But I was more curious than anxious. And then the woman giving me the mammogram turned out to be one of the first of many medical angels. She couldn’t have been more wonderful, asking me with every turn of my body and press of my breast how I was, telling me over and again how great I was doing. I felt like my breasts and I were in a grand competition and clearly in the lead.
After the mammogram I went into another room for the ultra sound. It was moments after that my world threatened to crack. After reading the ultra sound images, the radiologist came into the room, told me that she was concerned about the findings and recommended a triple biopsy of my left breast.
That was about 11:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. At 4:00 pm that afternoon, I was supposed to embark on a long planned 40th birthday celebration: a Southern road trip with my closest friends, Maggie and Jenae, culminating with a weekend in New Orleans with Josh and more dear friends.
“I’m supposed to go on vacation in a few hours,” I explained to the radiologist. “Is it safe for me to wait ten days for the biopsy?”
“Probably,” was her less-than-reassuring answer.
I’m pretty sure she ultimately told me to go. Or maybe I just wasn’t willing to hear anything else. I do know that when, a couple of hours later, I talked with the nurse practioner who initially told me she wasn’t worried about the lump, she stressed that another ten days would make no difference in life expectancy were I to test positive for cancer. Good thing, because Maggie and I were half way to Brooklyn (and Jenae’s house) by then. And because those ten days on the road were among the best ten days of my life—and definitely the best birthday celebration ever. I needed that, especially considering what came next.
Josh and I flew home from New Orleans on Sunday, October 19, 2014. On Monday, I went for the triple biopsy. On Tuesday, we celebrated my son Harrison’s 9th birthday. On Wednesday, the nurse practitioner called to tell me that the biopsy showed evidence of cancer. She said a lot of other stuff, too, but I went blank after the breast cancer bit.
Two days later, Josh and my mom (who oh-so-miraculously just happened to be visiting from San Francisco, her plane landing several hours after my diagnosis), and I met with a surgeon who explained that two of the biopsy sites revealed Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, the third Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. And she delivered the next blow: there was no way to save my breast. I would need a left mastectomy.
After two plus more weeks of appointments and tests (including a second opinion at Beth Israel in Boston; a BRCA negative result; hormone positive, her-2-neu negative results; and a grade 3 tumor diagnosis), I had a treatment plan: 8 bi-monthly infusions of Adriomycin Cytoxin (AC) + 12 consecutive weeks of Taxol + surgery + potentially 6 weeks of radiation (to be determined after surgery) + 5-10 years of Tamoxifen hormone therapy.
I was 39 years old and starting breast cancer treatment in a few days.