In the weeks between chemo ending and surgery scheduled (last June), I worried about All The Small Things. How would my clothes look? How many weeks before I could lift my baby? Cuddle my daughters? Would I be in pain? Would I be in A LOT of pain? The thought that I might hear that terrifying word, inoperable, never crossed my mind.
After the 18 weeks of Taxotere and Carboplatin, I had a PET scan. My lymph nodes were clear of cancer, there were merely traces in the breast tissue itself. In a pre-op appointment with the Breast Surgeon, she said I looked "a million times better."
I felt a million times better.
Photos by Roseanna Sales, Picture Perfect by Roseanna
I barely remember arriving for surgery. Modified Radical Double Mastectomy. Because of cancer in the left nodes, the left breast was considered a threat and would be removed. All of my axillary (underarm) lymph nodes would be removed. This is the standard of care for Inflammatory Breast Cancer. It was an "outpatient" procedure. Then I was to be transferred to the main hospital building for one night. We started with tests--vitals. Getting cleaned and changed into a gown. The scratchy no-slip hospital socks. It's all mostly a blur until this moment:
The surgeon was talking me and Jason through the procedure. She was drawing out her incisions with a surgical pen. Explaining how the remaining skin would be brought back together. It was here that she stopped.
"This, right here on the skin...this pink area."
"Ummm...it always looks like that. Jason?"
While we were both certain nothing had visibly changed since my visit with her two weeks prior, today she saw something that raised the flag of alarm. She suspected skin metastasis. If this was the case, she was unwilling to operate. Cancerous skin would be slow to heal at the surgery site. I may not make it radiation in time to control the growth. My options were:
Go home. Schedule a punch biopsy. Based on those results, reschedule surgery or go back into chemo.
Stay. Get the general anesthesia. She takes a large sample and the lab does a rush biopsy. Based on those results, go forward with surgery, or come out of anesthesia and go home. Back into chemo.
We went with option 2.
I will never, never, forget waking up from anesthesia that day, raising tentative hands to feel whether I still had breasts. When I found my body still in tact, I couldn't even decide how to feel. Was I just as relieved to still be me as I was devastated to be heading back into chemo? Later I would have some memory of the surgeon talking to me upon first waking. But even now, I feel like I am trying to remember her face and hear her words from under six feet of water.
The biopsy was positive. I jokingly began referring to my right breast as Franken-Boob, for the number of thick, black sutures representing each sample. I began chemo again. This time, Gemcitabine (Gemzar) in place of Taxotere, continuing with Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta. Four rounds, 12 weeks. The Gemzar was a easier to tolerate than the Taxotere, I began to feel more energetic, have less nausea and diarrhea. I had some trouble with my platelets, but they were never low enough to require a transfusion. I spent more time at home in Moses Lake. My hair started growing back. We celebrated Eli's first birthday.
Celebrating Eli's birthday
Most significantly, during this time, I broke up with my breasts. The uncertainty I felt about my body image was gone. My breasts were trying to kill me. I wanted them GONE.