Grace's Journey with Breast Cancer: The Beginning
From time to time, I will update you on my progress in dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I'm trying out this method of keeping in touch and sharing my journey.
In February, while we were in Cuba on our second trip with Grand Circle Foundation, I discovered a lump in my armpit while washing off soap in the shower. This was of concern to me, but I didn't say anything about it at the time. It took me a little while to process the discovery and to decide what to do. Since we were staying at our place in Green Valley, AZ at the time, and not at home, it was more complicated. I finally decided I really needed to have it looked at. This proved to be a very wise decision.
I was not able to get in to see a doctor in a timely manor, so I settled for John, the nurse practitioner. I wanted to be seen by someone as soon as possible. That appointment was March 3, and he was very thorough in examining me and consulting with a doctor in the office. The recommendations, and orders, were for a chest X-Ray and an ultrasound. I got the X-Ray that afternoon, but the ultrasound could not be scheduled until they received the actual CD of my previous mammograms from Portland. Those must have been sent by snail mail because it took a week.
The ultrasound got scheduled for Friday, March 17. The lovely nurse, Lisa, who walked me through everything that day, indicated that because my last mammogram was over six months old, they wanted a new one. I opted for the 3D one even though it "might" cost me more. That was done, and the radiologist read it quickly, then only ordered an ultrasound for the lump in my armpit. After that was done, checked and redone, the person looking at those results ordered the lump to be biopsied. Again, nurse Lisa took over, got insurance permission and arranged for the scheduler to contact me that same day. She was amazing. And yes, the scheduler did contact me and the biopsy was scheduled for the following Wednesday morning, March 22, at St. Mary's Imaging Center in Tucson, next to the hospital.
The biopsy procedure was interesting as it was ultrasound guided, and the needle was "spring loaded" so it shot like an arrow into the little lump with quite a loud clicking sound. I got to watch the whole procedure on the ultrasound screen. It didn't take long, and we were soon headed back to Green Valley with instructions not to lift anything heavier than a milk carton for three days.
As an aside here, Wednesday, March 22 was the day the Multi-Media group I belong to at the Green Valley Camera Club was to set up for a major interview shoot the next day. I was the producer and director on the project, but all the guys, and gal were very helpful and did the heavy lifting for me. This involved furniture, lighting equipment, sound equipment, the green-screen backdrop and three cameras. Three hours later we were ready for the next morning. The Thursday morning interview taping went well, after setup changes, camera and sound checks, and about an hour interviewing three members of the club. Everyone pitched in to put the room back to its original condition before leaving, about 1:00.
During the above described shoot, on March 23, a message came in from John that he would like to see me at 4:00. Paul and I want to that appointment at which time he told me that the initial results of the biopsy came back positive for "invasive carcinoma with lobular features" in ectopic breast tissue. No lymph node tissue was identified. At this point I think we both just sat there for a short time to process this, then began to ask questions.
We were scheduled to leave March 25 for an Expedition Cruise to Baja, California on Lindblad's National Geographic Sea Lion for two weeks. What should we do??? John assured us that the final pathology results would take about 10 days, so by all means GO ON THE TRIP. When we got back to the house I was able to change our flights back to Portland from April 25 to April 12. On Friday, I was able to make appointments with my primary care doctor and with the surgeon I really like when a friend was using her for breast surgery. Those appointments were for the two days after our arrival back in Portland. Then, we closed up the place and left for LA and on to La Paz to join our friends on the cruise in search of marine mammals and a possible chance to pet the grey whales, again. The trip was a great diversion, and just what I needed at that time.
Back in Green Valley I saw John one more time where he reported that the pathology results were in. The lump was: Estrogen Receptor Positive, Progesterone Receptor Negative, HER-2 Negative, and Ki-67 Proliferative index was Borderline (15%). If one has to have breast cancer, this seemed like a good pathology report. but there are still too many unknowns.
We returned to Portland on April 12, and both doctors had received the test results from Arizona, and we started on the next steps to figure out what all needed to be done. The MRI had already been scheduled, so I had that on April 18th. On April 19 I met with the Genetics Counselor at Providence for an assessment of my risk factors due to extensive family history. I qualified for the testing, and some of my blood was sent off for DNA testing for nine different genetic mutations they know can lead to a high risk of breast cancer. Eventually these tests all came back negative, which was a relief, as any would have impacted my treatment.
The results of the MRI weren't so good. It showed two suspicious areas on my right breast. The lump was in my left armpit. Ugh wasn't exactly what I said at that time. In order to do a biopsy of those areas they first had to do an ultrasound to see if they could find them for doing an ultrasound-guided biopsy. Fortunately both areas could be seen, so we proceeded to the ultrasound-guided biopsies on Thursday, April 27.
Again, as a diversion, I left Friday morning for Medford to participate in our state Delta Kappa Gamma convention where I was to do a workshop on iPhone Photography. The trip was a success and my workshop was well attended. While at the Sunday brunch I looked at an email message link to "My Chart" where my doctor had posted the initial pathology report of the two right breast biopsies. They were both positive, and this calls for a bilateral (double) mastectomy. Again, I needed a little time to process this. Actually finding out then was not a bad thing as I could share the new with a few of my friends and supporters before heading home.
Monday morning, May 1, I received a phone call from my surgeon, Dr. Ulloth, while I was in Costco. She shared with me the results and we set a date for the surgery; Wednesday, May 10. I had an appointment already set to see her on Thursday, May 4 for the final discussion, questions, etc. She has me scheduled for the first time slot, so I'm to arrive at the hospital at 5:30 am for the 7:30 surgery. She also has arranged for me to go in the afternoon before for the radioactive dye to be injected into both breasts, so that the lymph nodes will be lit up and can be found during surgery.
All plans are going right along and the pre surgery interview and instructions are done. Not it is a matter of making sure the house is ready, etc. Meanwhile, I have another presentation on iPhone Photography to make to my DKG chapter Monday night.
Grace and Paul Pitzer
We hope you will keep checking back regularly to see what is new. I'm always out and about with some camera and love to stretch my skills and add to my volume of work.
Motto: "Pack light and take lots of pictures."