I am 1 in 8: My Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The American Cancer Society states that about 1 in 8 (12%) of women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. I am 1 in 8. I was diagnosed on March 14, 2013, which now makes me a breast cancer survivor. Survivor! For the rest of my life, I will self-identify as a breast cancer survivor (among many other things). And I am all right with that.

Before I start sharing my journey, let’s lay down some expectations about my blog. My intent is not for Chubs Lived Here to become a blog wholly about cancer, much like I am not wholly defined by cancer. I plan to write about my cancer and how it effects me, and I’ll also continue to write about my life in general just as I have for more than a year now. Although not every post will be about cancer, I deeply hope that the information I share will somehow help or comfort someone who is diagnosed, or someone holding the hand of a loved one who is diagnosed, and will encourage every woman out there to truly and completely take care of herself. We absolutely deserve to care for ourselves.

My story is ironic, because I am a self-confessed (and self-diagnosed – ha!) borderline hypochondriac. Historically, I have not walked, but ran to the doctor for any and every little thing. Seriously. Ken is shaking his head yes. Yet I felt this lump in my left breast for at least a year and never mentioned it to my doctor. Never made an appointment outside of my regular check-ups, and brushed it off when my doctor asked me about it. My last mammogram – which I thought was about 18 months ago but was actually 3 years ago – caused me to have severe cramps in my breast for a week or two. I assumed the muscle had been torn away from my chest. The first time I felt the lump, it was already quite large. Think big plump grape. I further assumed this lump was a mass of repairing muscle as a result of the damaging mammogram. I was in denial.

Fast forward to March 2, about two months ago, when I finally strolled in for my “annual” screening mammogram. Before I was hoisted into the machine [I kid – if you’ve ever laid eyes on me you know there is no hoisting to be done with my chest] the technician asked me about the dimpling on my left breast. I told her my theory about the damaging mammogram and repairing muscle. She looked at me like I had two heads. She asked more questions, looked more sideways at me, and proceeded with the mammogram. I was nervous.

Three days later I got the call to come back for a diagnostic mammogram and possible ultrasound due to a suspicious mass. I was very nervous. I had the diagnostic mammogram on March 7, and waited for the radiologist on staff to review it. Ultrasound was indicated. The ultrasound was done by a technician and the radiologist was present for the later part of it. After I dressed, I was taken to the radiologist’s office where he showed me my mass on a large screen and explained that it looked very suspicious, and that I needed a biopsy. I was already mentally preparing for the news that I had cancer. I had a pit in my stomach.

The core biopsy was done on March 12. While I waited for the technician to call my name, I asked the receptionist for a copy of my ultrasound report from the week prior. She hesitated, but by law is obligated to give me my own medical information, and so she printed the report and handed it to me. There in the waiting room, I scanned to the last line of the report and read “BIRADS Category 5 Mammogram and Breast Ultrasound Highly Suggestive for Malignancy.” Malignancy was the red flag; later at home Google confirmed the rest. I was scared.

I went to the core biopsy appointment alone, thinking it was a much simpler, less invasive procedure than it actually was. In hindsight, I wish I had listened to Ken and let him come with me. It would have been comforting. But it was done, and afterward I had a late lunch/early dinner at Torero’s – a local Mexican restaurant that understands the pleasure one can get from oodles and oodles of melty cheese on anything you order. Anything. I felt in my gut that I had cancer, I was scared, and I wanted to treat myself to something. Torero’s was what I saw first. Thank Gawd I didn’t drive past a car dealership, because now I was impulse shopping to mask my fear.

Two days later the radiologist called me with the news, and that set the ball rolling. Since then I have had an MRI with contrast dye, a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection under general anesthesia, a post-surgical bone scan and CT scan with contrast, and a treatment planning CT scan to prep me for radiation. Can you guess how many medical appointments that’s been since March 2? A lot. But I’m not complaining, because all of these folks and their various and sundry tests and treatments are going to save my life. And I’m all right with that too. Now I am hopeful.

In addition to the surgery, radiation for 6 weeks, and 5 to 10 years of medication that will follow, I’m making some life changes as well. My diet is all natural, good fat, high-protein, high-fiber, low-sugar (the diet we were all supposed to be following our entire lives), and I plan to start an exercise program soon. It took longer than I expected for the incision sites to heal enough for good range of motion in my left arm, but I feel pretty close to pre-surgical status now and am ready to start working out. Attitude is huge, and I’m incredibly focused on staying positive. I know I can beat this and will accept nothing less. I have the resolve, the will, and just the right sense of humor to not only survive this, but to be better off for it. Everything in life is a learning experience, and I’m sitting in the front row for this one. Now I am strong.

I hoped to keep this first note about my diagnosis brief, but there is so much information, volumes, and I haven’t even touched on a fraction of it. My prognosis is good. I am stage IIB. In Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, Fifth Edition published in 2010, the survival rate for IIB at 5 years is 83.4%; however, as I’m checking and rechecking my information, I see that both cancer.org and komen.org put IIB at a 74% survival rate at 5 years. That’s a bit disheartening. Both of those sites are referencing 2001 and 2002 statistics, so I choose the 83.4% from the Breast Book. Advances are continually made in the treatment of breast cancer, and there is a lot of room for me in that 83.4%. Now I am a survivor.