Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It all started in the shower...

There I was, a few days after Christmas, standing in the shower. Nothing unusual, soaping up. That's when I noticed a small painless lump on the side of my left breast. Curious, worried, confused, I decided to wait a few days to see if it went away. One week later, I saw my doctor. She very confidently told me that it was probably a cyst, nothing to worry about. She gave me a requisition for a mammogram and sent me home feeling very relieved and reassured. She was so sure that it wasn't cancer, that she actually said 'It's not like it's cancer'. I was 27 years old and healthy after all, and there was no family history of cancer at all on either side of my family.

A month later, I went for my very first mammogram. There was definitely something there, but again, it couldn't be cancer. Wait and see. A week later, the hospital called me and said that the radiologist would like to have an ultrasound of the lump. At that appointment, my lump was renamed 'a mass'. A mass? A mass of what? Isn't 'mass' used to refer to tumors? Up I go to see the surgeon. The surgeon took a look and decided that it was nothing to be concerned about, let's schedule a little procedure to remove it. No rush, 'it's not like it's cancer'. Let's do a biopsy to rule out cancer while we wait for the surgery.

The biopsy attempt was a miserable failure, the radiologist wasn't able to get a sample because of excessive bleeding.... ew and ow. A month later, I arrived for my surgery, the 'mass' had grown so much, that it could be seen through a tank top and my breast had started to change color to a yucky brownish-yellow hue. The surgeon took one look and turned me away, saying that it was clearly not a little procedure anymore. I was referred to another surgeon in another hospital the next day. But not before one last attempt at a biopsy. The mass was now 20 cm wide and it gave up a sample. The radiologist sent the sample to this new surgeon and wrote STAT on the cover sheet. 'STAT' scared me a little, didn't they say 'STAT' on ER while pushing a trauma victim down the hall?

The first words the new surgeon said to me after five minutes of complete silence while she read my file, and examined me were 'I don't think I can save the breast'.

What? Are you saying that I have cancer?
So... what now?
A mastectomy as soon as possible. Then chemotherapy and radiation.

The very first thought that went through my mind was:

'My kids won't remember me'.

William was 3 and Thomas was 6 months old. I cried for 48 hours straight.

That was April 2nd, 2007. It seems like a frigging lifetime ago.

10 days later, I had a modified radical mastectomy. My left DD was now a flat space of skin with 33 staples in the shape of a smile on it. How flipping ironic. My family were exceptionally supportive, my mom, my aunt, my sister, my in-laws and my husband were all completely dedicated to me. It was almost embarrassing.

A month later I started chemo, and to sum up my chemo experience in one word: Exhausting. It was 4 months of feeling run-down. Looking back, I'm glad it was during the summer, because feeling tired and living through a Canadian winter would be depressing as hell. Like most people who go through chemo, I did lose all my hair after about 3 weeks. That day I was at the cottage with my mom and I remember crying on the steps outside while pulling out clumps of hair and seeing it flutter across the yard in the breeze. My super-aunt came over and shaved what was left on my head. I got a wig and moved on. We put my wig on Tom one day, with hilarious results.

Chemo finally ended on August 30th, 2007. Thomas' first birthday. In October, I started radiation. Every day for 5 weeks, sometimes twice a day. Finally, it ended. I was left with 3rd degree burns, but hey, what's another scar, right? I did have a recurrence on the skin of my left shoulder blade. It was removed in September of 2008 in Montreal.

So, with a clean bill of health, I was cleared to start reconstructive surgery. In October of 2009, I had a TRAM, which involves using abdominal fat, tissue, skin and muscle to create a new breast. I never realized how amazing plastic surgery is. As far as I'm concerned, it's an art. I found it the toughest surgery to recover from, but after a few weeks of taking it very easy, I was back up to about 80%. Last month, I had a lift to my opposite breast to try to match it to the new one as much as possible, and it looks great.

So, today I have two perky-ish breasts, one nipple and a collection of scars that would win me a few barroom bets.

Next up is the nipple reconstruction. My plastic surgeon assures me that it's pretty simple. 45 minutes, in and out. Drive-through plastic surgery.

So that's most of the last 3 years. I'm now looking forward to the next 50. My husband and I are taking each day as it comes. Will and Tom know that Mommy had a bobo. My mom watches me a lot more closely than I think and I've not yet gone back to work. That idea petrifies me.

Now that my history is here (for whoever may have stumbled here) I can go forward.