One Long Week, Take 1

Once I got the news about my breast cancer I wanted to hurry up and speak with a doctor about what to do next. Maybe there was some kind of mistake. Maybe it was someone else's cancer and they called me accidentally. Maybe it was all just a bad dream...

Because I am insured through Kaiser, I was given my appointment date and time when I first received the diagnosis from the radiology nurse.  My MRI would happen immediately the next day but my appointment with the general surgeon would have to wait a week.  A week!?!

At least he MRI happened right away. It was an interesting experience-- my first, but probably not my last. This MRI was the first step in determining the exact location of my cancer and whether it had spread.  Lying on that table face down for an hour wasn't too bad for me. Having to lie perfectly still wasn't as bad as I thought, either. I've never had trouble sleeping but that first night after my diagnosis I don't think I slept a wink. So when it came time for me to lie perfectly still for the MRI I think I fell fast asleep. I really tried to focus on positive, happy thoughts. It seemed to go by quickly although I was there for a couple of hours. I don't know what I expected, but I wasn't given any diagnostic information at the MRI appointment. My general surgeon would go over everything with me at my appointment a week later.

{One thing I would recommend to other women going in for a breast MRI is to not wear any makeup. Although I don't wear much, lying face down with my face smushed into the hard pillow for an hour smeared my mascara down my face and was a pain to clean up in the little changing room. No big deal-- just an FYI.}

Oh, the crazy mind games that I played as I waited that week for my first appointment. Was the cancer big or small? Was it fast- or slow-growing? What stage was I? Would I need surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? Was I going to die? All this was running through my mind constantly as I still had to function "normally" at work and home. Very stressful.

My appointment finally arrived and my husband and I met with the first surgeon, Dr. D. He was very kind and patient with our questions and concerns. He spelled out my cancer diagnosis and what we knew so far-- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma-- and drew diagrams to explain what was happening inside my body. The MRI showed no other "hot spots" in either of my breasts, which was wonderful news. There was no way of knowing whether the cancer had spread at that point, but Dr. D was confident that it was limited to my right breast only and hadn't spread to other parts of my body. Chemo was most likely not necessary. How badly I wanted to believe him!

We discussed all of the different options I had for dealing with my cancer. In the week between my diagnosis and appointment I had spent countless hours searching the internet for information on breast cancer and treatments. I hadn't realized that electing to have a lumpectomy required that I get radiation treatment and a daily dose of Tamoxifen for five years. Then there were the options of a mastectomy of my right breast only, or the bilateral/double mastectomy of both breasts. Both required major surgery with recovery time, reconstruction, and time off work. I learned that people with larger tumors than mine have elected the lumpectomy, while others with Stage 0 cancers went for the double mastectomy option. I had no idea that I would have so much personal choice in deciding my treatment plan and surgical plan. In some ways this was liberating and in others it was paralyzing. What was best for me in my situation? What would give me the best chance for long-term survival? What option would preserve my lifestyle and allow me to do all the things I love to do? And yes, it definitely occurred to me-- how can I preserve the aesthetic that is important to me?