My Breast Cancer Story
I am 52 years old. I am a high school math teacher. I am in my 26th year of teaching. I absolutely love my job and my students. I am typically a private person, but in the midst of the beginning of this story, I felt a pull to start documenting this story that will be in progress for a while. So here we are. You may not care for my humor, I am sometimes crass and distasteful, but that is okay. Here we go.
MY BREAST CANCER STORY
Had a scheduled mammogram today. Was given the order at the beginning of June and was told they would call. Beginning of July I stopped by to schedule because I hadn’t heard from them. They said they had just started scheduling again (COVID-19). They could see me in September, or if I wanted a Saturday, August 8. At that time school had not been delayed yet, so I asked for Saturday.
Got a call first thing this morning. Have to go back for a second mammogram. They scheduled me for Friday.
My mammogram report is finally posted in my health account. I have 2 separate shadows in the left breast.
Second mammogram. Immediately went into another room for ultrasound. Plain as day I could see both shadows. Doctor came in. Wants me to have an MRI and then biopsy. Long conversation with Nurse A. She is great to talk to. She says she will try to expedite everything as much as she can. Left half an hour later. Evening update with husband and 3 adult daughters. Keeping it within that bubble until there is more to tell.
Got a call that there is a cancellation tomorrow. MRI scheduled for 9 am. This is indeed moving fast.
This is nothing like the MRI I had for my shoulder injury. Looks like a massage table with slots for breasts. At least they don’t squeeze like the mammogram. Just holding them in a proper viewing location. 10 minutes in, the contrast starts. I can feel the cool liquid going into my vein. Was concerned that I would react – I have some strange allergies. This went well, no reactions. I am finally released from the vices.
Can view the MRI report. Not only do I have 2 lesions on the left, there is a question mark on the right that can be seen only with contrast.
Biopsy time. Can’t see anything on the right with the ultrasound. Doc says I’ll have a repeat MRI in 6 months to check on it. Doc takes 3 core samples out of each lesion on the left. That little plastic gun is a bit loud, but I couldn’t feel anything – Doc did a good job with numbing. He places titanium markers in my breast to indicate where he removed tissue. Then back to mammogram to take pictures of the markers.
Pretty sore from the biopsy.
Got a call late this afternoon. The formal diagnosis is in – invasive ductal carcinoma. Having seen the reports and viewing the tumors myself on the ultrasound, I have already prepared myself for this moment. Time to start telling the rest of the family.
Have told 3 parents, 2 siblings, 1 sil, aunt, uncle, 2 cousins and their families. This is a lot. Started my convo with sibs and mom with “Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to get through this thing, called life!” Letting my husband tell his side of the family. Now to call my bff. She is also a math teacher who is fortunate enough to be a stay at home mom. I tell her what is going on, then ask if she will be my substitute throughout this process. She says yes without hesitation. Such a Godsend. What would I do without her?
Texted with my step-mom. She said my step-niece was enjoying her new teacher this year. When they were in line, they were told to and shown how to “Walk Like an Egyptian”.
Driving in to work today. First full day of work in the building since we were sent home March 17. Heard both “Walk Like an Egyptian” AND “Let’s Go Crazy”. Someone is listening and hearing me … 🙏🏻 ☺️
Time to tell the boss. I meet with my principal and one of my assistant principals to update them on the situation. Both are very supportive, saying do what you need to do. Focus on yourself. They are also floored when I tell them I have a sub lined up. I’m sure in the back of their minds they were wondering what they would do when I was out? We don’t have any subs who do math. I teach IB Math, AP Calculus, and Geometry. This could have been quite a challenge.
Lovely bruising setting in from the biopsy. Still pretty sore.
Consult with surgeon. Hubby and I like him very much. The biopsy report is not available yet where I can see it. Turns out I actually have 2 cancers. I’m going all out for this! Invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. Each 1-1.5 cm across, about 4 cm apart. The recommendation is a mastectomy. No indication to remove the other breast, even though there is a question mark from the MRI. Wow. So much to digest. Hope I’m hearing everything. I ask if reconstruction can happen at the same time as the mastectomy. He says yes. I am scheduled for October 2 – a great way to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Says to expect calls to have consults with Chemotherapy, Radiation, Genetics. Guess I’ll have to start answering my phone when unknown numbers show up. After surgery and further testing of the tumors, all of my doctors will round table and discuss my treatment plan.
I return to work. We have a virtual faculty meeting. Hard to focus.
You know you are really getting old when you start to lose body parts. Crass and distateful. I warned you.
So many want to help and do something. A good friend/co-worker/former student at work wants to set up a meal train. Okay, sure! We decide on Oct 2 through Oct 18.
Also asked her if she could cover my last 2 classes tomorrow since I have an appointment. She said absolutely – schedule everything in the afternoon and I’ll cover them all. So awesome!
Face to face students – finally! Back in my element!
Consult today with Hematology/Oncology. We like this guy too. He won’t commit to saying yes, you will have chemotherapy, but then says this is what we’ll do. He says 4 treatments 2 weeks apart, then 4-6 weekly treatments. I will have a port. Will my hair fall out? Yes. Eyebrows and eyelashes? Yes. Should have asked about the hair on my legs. Would be nice not to have to shave for a while 😁 Then we talked about hormone therapy. My cancer is HER2– (I’ve heard that mentioned in commercials – about the extent of my knowledge) which is good, but hormone receptor positive, not so good. I will have hormone therapy which will throw me into menopause. Yay. Then when that finally ends in about 5 years, I could come out of menopause. You mean I’d have to do menopause all over again? Cruel and unusual punishment.
The meal train is full. Wow. So much love and support. ❤️
I spend the day telling my students of my situation. And that I will have some random absences with all of the appointments coming up. I also tell them I will not be AWOL absent after the surgery and during treatment. I have a math teacher who will be their sub and I WILL STILL BE HERE. I will be sitting by the phone in case she calls to say “Elise – what exactly is expected in this answer”. Many of these children I’ve only known for 90 minutes. Quite a few I have taught before. Several times I had to look one in his/her wide-eyed masked face and say “It’s okay – everything is going to be okay”.
My students are trying to make me cry today.
One who is a cheerleader asked me for some info. Told him. Asked what was up. He said they wanted to do a tribute to me at the football game Oct 2 and want to record it and send it to me. 😥
Another student confirmed my hospital. Said he lived right near there and if my family or I needed anything while we were there, if they could bring me anything, please let them know 😭
Random thought this morning – I am glad surgery will be on the left since I am right-handed. I will be able to go to the bathroom unassisted and maintain some dignity 😁
Appointment with Genetics today. No history of breast cancer in my immediate family – testing for genetic mutations. A vial of blood is drawn. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. They will test 47 genes. Will have to wait 2-4 weeks.
Back to work, eat a quick lunch. Back out to the radiation oncologist. Since I am having a mastectomy, he doesn’t see any reason at the moment that I will need radiation. WIN! Just took 4-6 weeks off the end of my treatment plan. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
Meet a couple of coworkers for Mexican and margaritas after work. I mention I would like to have a gathering Thursday, October 1 as a last hurrah before my surgery the next day.
The entire wing of my building flooded during 1st period this morning. Thanks Hurricane Sally and construction. We evacuated to the gym and stayed with first period until early dismissal at 12:45 – and school is cancelled tomorrow. What a weird year 2020 is continuing to be.
My gathering in 2 weeks is now a Boob Voyage party. 😂😂😂
Using the app to do this today – hope it works properly 🤞🏻
Had to relocate today due to the flooding last Thursday – ended up by chance in my very first classroom. Someone’s grand plan? Will be there again tomorrow. Enjoyed reminiscing a little between classes. ☺️
Feeling a little anxious about Wednesday’s appointments. Follow up with the surgeon, then pre-op. Next Friday is creeping ever closer. I’m a planner. Hoping the plan hasn’t changed. Also hoping I have an early surgery so I’m not starving all day waiting for my time. Selfish thoughts 😁
Met with the surgeon a second time Wednesday. My first question – do you still recommend mastectomy over lumpectomy. He said I could do a lumpectomy, but with the 2 tumors side by side, 4 cm apart, the result would be far from aesthetically pleasing. I would be required to have radiation. There would be a 20% chance of needing further surgery to remove more, and a mastectomy still a likelihood. Too high of a percent for me. I’m sticking with the mastectomy. Conversation turned to the genetics testing. If the results of specific genes come back as mutated, a double mastectomy could be recommended. Heavy, heavy conversation. I greatly appreciate the doctor entertaining every single one of my questions in great detail, to the extent that I was late to my pre-op appointment and I’m sure he to his next patient.
The next morning I received a phone call that lifted so much weight. The genetics report was back and I have zero mutations! Right breast caught a reprieve! Back to the original plan, although shifted slightly. Surgery is pushed to Monday, October 5. One extra weekend to prep for my absence from my classroom. Next stop, plastic surgery consult Monday.
Still on track to have surgery Monday. Will not have reconstruction yet – plastic surgeon wants to wait until all treatment is complete and I am healed. Not quite what I wanted to hear, but I suppose I get that. Hubby asked if I was going to “supplement” with Jell-O shots and snack during the day 😂😂😂 Don’t think so! Next stop – Boob Voyage Party Friday! Come join if you like – Los Cabos on Walton Way starting 3:45-ish!
Got some feedback that sometimes my posts aren’t viewable, so placing everything on this main page.
(10/02/2020 posted on Facebook
What an incredible day! My last day of officially being at work for a bit as I’m scheduled for my breast cancer surgery Monday (y’all that really know me know I’ll still be working – but I’ll take most of Monday off ). Started with an awesome door covering, faculty/staff and students did a pink out today showing support, random acts of kindness from students past and present, then my Boob Voyage which was over and beyond anything I could have expected – wanted just a gathering but became such a grand show of love and support, and then the ARC Cheerleaders cheering me on. Y’all said it best – SURVIVAL!! )
Had to go to nuclear medicine immediately prior to surgery so they could track where my lymph nodes were to remove the sentinel nodes. I had been forewarned that the shots they would give me would be quite painful, but thankfully it wasn’t at all. Doc said I could expect to have blue pee. Was disappointed that it didn’t happen yesterday as he said; however, it is definitely a blue hue today. So interesting.
Stayed one night in the hospital. I’m told that I had the only working tv on the floor. Score 1 for me! Got home right after lunch yesterday. Was feeling pretty good. Napped most of the day and slept well during the night. This morning I awoke to feeling like a truck had been parked on top of me. Doesn’t hurt to cough, laugh or any of that, just incredibly sore. Grossness ahead – think about at Thanksgiving, putting your hand between turkey breast and the skin to butter, season, however you treat your turkey. That’s about what happened to me, only no seasoning. I am bound very tightly with a giant ace bandage. I’m held together with glue and big sheets of sticky paper (don’t know what it’s called). I’m supposed to peel off the sticky paper this evening and then get wrapped back up in the ace bandage. I’m not feeling like a truck parked on me anymore, maybe just a small VW bug. Drainage is already slowing down, but due to the holiday weekend coming up, I’ll probably have to keep the drain until Tuesday or Wednesday. Was prescribed oxycodone every 6 hours. Started stretching it to 9 hours today. No ill effects yet …
The meal train has begun. So nice not to have to think about feeding ourselves. I’m not a high maintenance patient, but it’s one less thing to worry about.
Apologies for not updating sooner. Have actually felt like working!
Funny story when coming out of anesthesia on 10/5. I don’t remember much of this. Hubby says I kept saying “I’m hot!!” Was kicking covers. “Can I take these off?!” Nurse uncovered my feet and said could take off my socks. “I’m hot!!” Nurse took off compression thingies from my calves that not only were massaging my legs keeping blood flowing to avoid blood clots but were so very warm. “I’m HOT!!” Started flapping the covers to get some air flow as they started to relocate me. Of course I’m still stark naked underneath, except for the wrap around my chest. Hubby was horrified – what if the Colonel is walking down the hall and sees this! He is saying YOU CAN’T DO THAT! He placed his freezing cold hand at the base of my neck. (This I actually remember) It felt so damn good, instant relief. I stopped flailing. How could his hand be so very cold when I was so dreadfully hot? Next thing I remember I was in my hospital room (all by my lonesome thanks to COVID-19) and they brought me dinner. Who can eat? I can’t even keep my eyes open long enough to chew a bite, much less stomach any food this soon after anesthesia. Took me 2 hours of nibbling to eat a tiny bit. Finally gave up. Bedtime.
Today, everything seems to be going okay. Was a little scared on day 5 when my skin color was atrocious. Almost black in color. Was scared necrosis was setting in. Sent a pic to my nurse. She said she didn’t like the way it looked and forwarded to Dr. Dr said come in Wednesday at 9. Thankfully by the time Wednesday rolled around, the upper portion was practically pink. Some small portions below the incision were still dark, but he said nothing to worry about yet. WHAT A RELIEF! Thought my skin was already dying. As far as the surgical drain, I have to be at less than 30 mls of drainage for 2 days in a row. Yesterday I was at an average of 30.8. Had to wait. This morning was at 28. Hoping tomorrow will be another magical number and this drain can be removed.
This meal train has been a Godsend. Nice not to have to worry about food. Only one glitch – woke up to a text 2 mornings later that started “Dammit!” 🙂 But it’s all good. 😊
Work is always at the forefront of my mind, even though many have said “worry about yourself, don’t give school another thought”. Went in today to have a conversation with my AP Calculus class about work ethic and the importance of doing homework (surgical drain and all, tried to camouflage with layers “I’m hot!” and boy was I! 😂 ). Told them they have until Monday to get caught up in our online homework system before grades stick. 4 of the 5 that were present have done some work this evening. A worthwhile visit.
Pathology was not back yet yesterday when I went in for my panic visit. Hopefully will be back when I have good drainage tomorrow and get to have my drain removed. High hopes on all fronts.
No more drain!!! Thrilled to not have this tube coming out of me. My side was starting to get very “angry” and I didn’t think I could take it much longer. Only 20 ml this morning so started calling as soon as the clock struck 9! Left with a goody bag containing a fresh gargantuan ace bandage wrap and multiple sterile bandages. Have to continue wrapping for two more weeks. Unfortunately the pathology report was not back yet. Dr called – all they could say was clear margins (awesome!), but no info on the size of the tumors or official stage or what the lymph node shows (only had to take one out, but said there could have been a second one in the vicinity that got caught up in the event). Asked if I would have to be concerned about lymphedema – he said 3% chance. I would hope that if I’m not seeing signs at day 11 that I won’t see any at all 🤞🏻 Have another appointment Wednesday – hopefully pathology is back by then, otherwise I’ll just be like “Hey y’all! How ya doin’?” Till then!
Felt so great Friday! Got the drain removed, socialized with some work friends after work (their workday, of course). Woke up Saturday and was so incredibly stiff and sore. Oh no, I don’t want to feel like this. Warned my sub that my plan to be at work Monday may not happen. Woke up today feeling some better. But not where I was Friday. Was so looking forward to being at school tomorrow. Decided it is best to take a few more days. And since my official followup is Wednesday at 1:00, going to take 3 days. Now planning to return to work Thursday. Might be better – a part time week before going full time. Ready for the pain to subside – not that it is unbearable, just incredibly annoying. And covers the entire upper left quadrant of my torso. Although moving around in my sleep last night was the most comfortable I’ve been since the surgery. Progress!!
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