I cut my hair today because I start chemotherapy soon.
This has been a place where I've shared stories from our overwhelmingly happy life. Mindful of these blessings but with a heavy heart, I need to share how our story is unfolding in a most unexpected way.
On February 22, I found out I have breast cancer. My journey to diagnosis took several months and seems to have been complicated by the fact I was still nursing. For a while, the doctors I saw thought my symptoms were related to blocked milk ducts and a possible lactation-related infection. A vigilant surgical oncology nurse practitioner pushed for more aggressive imaging and a radiologist finally said I should have a biopsy to rule out cancer. Unfortunately, it was cancer.
Because my breast had been symptomatic for several months, I was very afraid that the cancer had spread. We already knew it had spread to a biopsied lymph node under my arm. On Wednesday, we were relieved to find out it has not spread beyond that. Matt and I met with a team of specialists at UNC Cancer Hospital to discuss a treatment plan, and we received (relatively) good news.
Here is what we know right now:
- A PET/CT scan showed no spreading of the cancer beyond what we knew from the pathology report.
- The type of cancer I have is invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which is the most common type. About 80% of all breast cancers are IDC.
- The cancer is estrogen- and progesterone-receptor-positive, which makes it in the words of my medical oncologist "very treatable." As we understand it there are very good drugs for treating this kind.
- At least one of my lymph nodes is positive for cancer.
- I will start with chemotherapy, most likely as soon as March 11. I will receive 8 treatments over a 16-week stretch, with a week off between each treatment. There are several reasons why I will have chemo before surgery: (1) because of the lymph node involvement, I would have to have chemo after surgery anyway; (2) chemo buys us time for my breasts to "normalize" post-breastfeeding, which in turn allows my doctors to "see" the cancer in my breast better; (3) chemo may shrink the cancer and (4) chemo also provides time for my genetic testing to come back.
- Surgery will follow chemotherapy. Ideally, by the time I finish chemo the doctors can better assess the size of the cancer to make their recommendation of lumpectomy versus mastectomy. The results of genetic testing might also affect my surgical options.
- After surgery I will have radiation therapy, which aims to kill any cancer cells remaining after surgery.
We have been deeply touched by the immediate and overwhelming way in which people have reached out to us. We know we are not facing this alone. We feel very loved.
Our kids are happy and necessary distractions. Life just goes on for them, and we're making every effort to keep their lives as normal as possible. At nearly seven, Tobin knows that something is going on. We've been talking to him about it as we can. Right now he knows I have a sickness called "cancer" and I have doctors who are working hard to help me get better. We've introduced the idea of chemotherapy and how it might make me extra tired, nauseated and change my hair. He seems only mildly interested in it for now but we've encouraged him to ask questions if he has them. Twenty-month-old Lauren has handled abrupt weaning from nursing very well--better than me in fact. It was especially helpful to have Matt, Ashley and my parents around for support and distraction. And three-year-old Evan is very excited to be hosting so many of his favorite out-of-town people. We know things can and will change for them, but we are grateful for how things are right now.
We will likely keep you updated right here at this blog, where we always have. I like the idea of sharing this story alongside our happier ones because together they make up our life. I wake up each morning wishing things were different, but if this is what we have to face I'm glad we're in it together and, for the time being, we know what we can do about it.
Before today, I hadn't cut my hair in over a year. It's as long as it's been in ten years. When my hair stylist asked if I was ready for her to cut off my nearly foot-long ponytails, I said, "Yes." It occurred to me that cutting my hair off was one of the least scary things I've done in the last month. (In case you were wondering or planning a dramatic hair-chopping yourself, I want you to know I'm sending my hair to Locks of Love. Pantene Beautiful Lengths accepts donations of 8 inches if you don't have the 10-inch minimum for Locks of Love. Also, my salon cuts hair for donations free of charge; yours might too.)
Here's hoping I'm writing happier stories here soon enough.