Updated: Feb 19, 2018
There is no other way to say that getting a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down. You can let your mind go completely to opposite ends of the earth with all kinds of scenarios. Death will always take the top spot on the worry chart. People will say, “Cancer is not a death sentence.” They are right, it is NOT a death sentence. I wholeheartedly believe this. What I will say, it definitely makes you put all your priorities in order. Cut the fluff and focus on yourself first. Once it was confirmed that the tumor was breast cancer. I wanted to pinpoint my treatment and get started. The warrior in me was challenged and I was ready.
My FACTS and DIAGNOSIS I have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in my right breast and my lymph nodes in my right axilla and under my pectoral muscle have also been compromised. This type of breast cancer starts in the milk ducks. Of the 180,000 women that are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, this type of breast cancer has the highest percentage. 70% of women who are diagnosed realize something is wrong when they feel it in their lymph nodes. Also, men can get this type of breast cancer. Self check daily, in the shower, get a mammogram if you are past the age of forty, or unless you have family history of breast cancer, this may require that you start as soon as 35. If breast cancer runs in your family like it does mine, genetic testing gives you the opportunity to have a proactive role in your prevention and detection. Check with your health care insurance to see if your testing is covered.
It was on Monday, March 7th that I was told that my IDC was told of my Hormone Receptor Status that included three markers to determine my cancer treatment. I was ESTROGEN and PROGESTERONE POSITIVE. First of the two done. It was the Surgeon (little Note: Oncologist missing from title) at Pink Lotus that gave me my pathology results. The only missing piece from the pathologist was whether or not I was HER2 positive or negative. I would learn later this was a key part deciding my treatment. Pathology of the tumor is a big part of the diagnosis and the treatment protocol. Without it, your in the locker room. A continuation story to my previous entry was that my health insurance was not to kick in till Friday, April 1st. My doctor recommended to be placed on Tamoxifen. A hormone therapy drug and that should help to stop the growth of the tumor or spread beyond the lymph nodes. Well, that key missing piece, knowing if I was HER2 positive would also effect whether Tamoxifen would even work. When you are fighting cancer, you want to make sure that your doctor is an EXPERT in your type of cancer. A month later, the April 1st health insurance activation passed and I have not received a follow up call from her. Very telling. I would later learn that my initial treatment step wasn’t the best option. I will always be thankful for her role in the journey. Hindsight is always 20/20.
ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS In the meantime I was determined to change my LIFESTYLE and create a body that was not a breading ground for cancer. Now I am all for using WESTERN MEDICINE to rid myself of breast cancer. But I am going to couple it with FUNCTIONAL HEALTH MEDICINE to aid in getting my body prepared and keeping it strong and healthy through this very toxic process of treatment. So I have #1- Cut the STRESS #2- Look at my DIET and remove cancer feeders and add foods that fight and prevent cancer #3- Add stress releasers, MEDITATION, YOGA and JOURNALING. #4- I was really good at EXERCISING when I was younger but horrible as an adult. WALKING is my go to way of moving. #5- CONNECTION with my family and friends. All I wanted to do was see the people who have always given me JOY, LAUGHTER and SUPPORT. I was on a mission to stop any growth of cancer. I stopped eating meat, started drinking alkaline water, making green smoothies, eating on time, trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep, taking supplements and vitamins, walking, meditation, yoga, reading, journaling and taking all of the information that was given to me from people I trusted and people who felt they wanted to share the information they knew. I was doing it all. I dropped everything and said, “I am first!” I was slowly getting the word out there. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Telling your truth is very raw. You don’t know how the other will react. But you realize when you take on the survivor mentality that’s ok but not to take it with you. A majority of the time you are immediately showered with love. It’s all you can ask for.
In those four weeks it was my task to get a ONCOLOGIST, a TEAM for at least the first stage of my treatment. Being that I was estrogen positive, CHEMOTHERAPY was the first stage vs SURGERY/ RECONSTRUCTION and RADIATION would be last. I could wrap my head around that. The idea of surgery first was mind blowing. When the doctor started talking about surgery her voice became the peanuts teacher, “wa wa wa wa” was all I could hear. The doctor at Pink Lotus was a surgeon. Note missing the “oncologist” part of the her title. If you don’t know the job description of an Oncologist. Here is the definition, the branch of medicine that deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. This is an important key in the title of your doctor. She gave me her treatment and technically the next step would be to see a medical oncologist. What I have come to learn is that most breast centers, the surgical oncologist is the first appointment. Then the medical oncologist. It was at this time my red flags started to fly. When they go up, be still and listen. If not right there at the doctors office but after you leave. There is NO RUSH. You have time to get more opinions. You must be proactive in searching but you must get another opinion when that red flag goes UP. You must TRUST, have CONFIDENCE in their EXPERIENCE and REALLY LIKE your COACH. The SURGICAL ONCOLOGIST will be the coach through your rookie season, maybe even your career, so you really want to make sure they are the best in the game and that you like them and feel some level of confidence and trust. Your MEDICAL ONCOLOGIST will be the offensive coach. Continuing with the sports metaphor, realizing as I type that if you are a man reading this (again hate to stereotype) and will be playing a role in a loved one’s care or for yourself, speaking in this language is probably helpful. Your RADIOLOGIST ONCOLOGIST is your defensive coach. The PLASTIC SURGEON will be the special teams coach. Hope that helps.
Fast forward to Friday, April 1st. I had already scheduled an appointment with UCLA Revlon Breast Center for Monday, April 4th. But making my appointment experience left me in tears. I hope the previous paragraph breaks it down. I AM A BREAST CANCER ROOKIE! I don’t know the process, the playbook and in these early stages of finding care, when you reach these centers, the person who answers the phone should be the nicest person on earth. They don’t know if your calling for an appointment for an annual mammogram or if you have breast cancer. WARNING- I’m going into a rant. I understand these jobs can be stressful and the type of care you are dealing with is so very sensitive. If you make a recently diagnosed patient cry (who is normally strong as nails) and then hang up on them. Then you need to get your sensitivity chip retooled. Compassion would also be very helpful as a character description. There are three appointment coordinators at UCLA Revlon BC and two of them need to review what healthcare they are providing. They are the gatekeepers to getting care. It is there job to answer appointment questions or to set them up. And have the patience to do their jobs. Otherwise, do another line of work. Ok. Off the rant box.
CEDARS SINAI BREAST CENTER will be where I get my care. I walked in with my bff. Literally off the street. Knowing I had UCLA on Monday, why not stop by Cedars, “see if they can see me today,” we thought. After meeting with Dr. Farin Amersi, my HEAD COACH, I cancelled my appointment with UCLA. If something turns out that needs special attention and UCLA has the doctor with the answer, I will move my care there. But after meeting Dr. Amersi, I am happy to start the next stage in this journey. She confidently went through my diagnosis and my pathology like an expert. She explained very clearly my options LUMPECTOMY vs MASTECTOMY. There is a chance that the tumor could shrink during chemo but I have already made up my mind. A DOUBLE MASTECTOMY is in a strong lead for a choice. I have yet to cross that bridge. I am 43 years old. If I get twenty more years, thirty more years, I do not want to go through this again. Shane and the girls mean so much more. She explained that surgery and reconstruction would happen at the same time. And that because of my HER2 positive result I would also be placed on this new drug recently approved by the FDA but has been in use in Europe for years. She quickly called the medical oncologist and I was to stop taking the tamoxifen.
After realizing what I thought was treatment was not working, your mind can get away from you. That night I had my next big meltdown since this whole journey started. I wanted that PET/CT and MRI BREAST SCAN done tomorrow. ASAP. My new coach. My doctor knew that I needed to be put in the front of the line. She quickly took action. Made an appointment for a LYMPH BIOPSY and GENETIC TESTING for Tuesday, April 5th. And PET/CT and MRI Breast Scan the following day Wednesday, April 5th. The wheels were in motion. The next step was to confirm the stage. The PET/CT and MRI Breast scan answer the three questions: 1) Size of tumor? 2) Has the cancer spread to the lymph nodes? And 3) Has the cancer spread to other organs? The biopsy was the first of four tests. Two very big days in a row. Note-Did I mention meditation? Practicing this will save your life. If you don’t already do it fin your way to clear your mind. It will get you through it life’s rough patches. I promise. The PET/CT and Breast MRI are two tests you want to prepare for mentally. A good friend told me that when she went through her own cancer experience she would repeat to herself, “Thank you for healing me. Thank you for healing me.” She reminded me that mantra before I went into my appointment. I have used it many times over. Something to be said for accepting the situation at hand and being still in the questions and allowing the answers to come to you. No sense in spending 20 to 45 minutes in one of these machines stressed out. Right? The PET came back the same day. It confirmed that the cancer was confined to the breast and lymph nodes only. A huge sigh of relief. Another game win that I will take.
My next big appointment was Monday, April 11th with the Medical Oncologist Dr. Maryliza El Masry. She will lead the charge on the chemotherapy treatment. She is my OFFENSIVE COACH. She has staged me at STAGE 3. I was just as impressed with her knowledge and confidence in her treatment plan as I was with Dr. Amersi. She specializes in breast cancer oncology. I want the best playbook to win the games ahead. I will be working with her and her team once a week, every three weeks for 18 weeks. SIX total chemo treatments. This will take me to the END OF JULY. One treatment this month, two in May, one in June and two in July. If all goes well and my BLOOD CELL COUNT is good, I will be able to stay on the calendar. I will be taking four types of chemotherapy drugs (more on that later). It will be given to me INTRAVENOUSLY via a chemo PORT inserted into my left arm. I also had an ECHO CARDIOGRAM done to confirm my heart is healthy for chemotherapy. The chemotherapy is starting
TOMORROW Wednesday, April 13th. I am READY to get this fight started. I am giving the cancer the respect it deserves but I WILL SURVIVE. I am a #SurvivorFromDayOne has become my MANTRA. This cancer has opened my eyes to what is really important in my life. Being open to sharing this story will help me to get through this. It has already done this for me thus far.
As I head into this first true test of my strength, I feel very confident in my team and the care I am receiving. So many angels and guides are surrounding me. I am so very THANKFUL for the support and all the kinds words. Your blessings, prayers, good vibes, good joo joo, prayer group prayers or your messages public or private have all made my SOUL stronger. Please feel free to keep them coming. My soul feels strong but there will tough days along the way for sure. Reaching into my healing bank will be my saving GRACE.
With Immense Gratitude & Love,