Recovering from the lump removal was longer than I expected. The doctor told me I would be sore the day of the surgery and the following day, after that I should start feeling much better. What a freakin liar. I hurt! My entire breast was swollen about 5 times it's normal size, while turning a stunning shade of red and purple. But, all in all, I was dealing with the pain better than I normally would have, because I had the knowledge that the lump removed was nothing. Finally that mess was over. I recover quickly with only a scar to remind me of everything I just went through.
Don't we all know by now this actually turned out to be something? That phone call will be forever ingrained into my mind: "Mrs. Strickland, this is Donna at St Luke's Breast Center
and (pause) I'm sorry (pause) we found some cancer cells in your biopsy." She went on talking, but I didn't hear another word. I repeated back to her the word 'cancer'. It was all I could do to keep hold of the phone, but she kept talking. I told her to stop, please, give me a second to process that. Tom was sitting across the room from me and I saw his face turn white and his head drop down to his chest. It was the middle of the day on weekday and I was so thankful to God that Tom was there. I explained to the woman that I couldn't think and didn't understand anything she was saying. I handed the phone over to Tom and walked out of the room.
When I left the room, I started crying. Then I started processing exactly what I heard: "some" cancer cells. That didn't sound so bad. Kinda like: "good job cleaning the entire house, but I found 'some' dirt on the floor, take another 5 minutes to clean that up." Some? How bad could that be? They told me the spot was about 7 mm and in that they found "some" cancer cells. What are we talking here? 4 or 5 cancer cells total? The more I thought about it, the calmer I got. Just a few days ago I got skin cancer blasted off my arm. "Some" cancer cells on my skin. Fine! It's cancer, but it's NOTHING cancer. Pffft. I'm going to be ok.
Monday, January 19, 2009. That's the day I will never forget. Back to the breast center. There was a nonstop flow of women coming in and out of my little patient room. It seemed like they were all talking at once. They filled an entire canvas bag of books and papers about breast cancer awareness, support groups, how to cope, when to cry, what to eat, books for my children to read, etc, etc, etc. Slow down, people! I don't have breast cancer. I have a blip of some sort. Five cancer cells maybe. Come on! That's not breast cancer. Is it? Women die from breast cancer. There is absolutely no way I have that.
The surgeon came in at some point to explain what she extracted during the surgery. She said the tumor was a little under 2 cm big. Tumor? Did she just say tumor?
Ok, it was a tumor. They knew going into surgery something was there, but not what it was exactly. Fine, it's a tumor. The room is full of noise and talking . So many people around me, but all I can do is process one word at a time. I have a tumor. NO! I HAD a tumor. She removed the tumor that was almost 2 cm large.
WAIT! How big? I asked her why they told me it was tiny tiny tiny, but wasn't wasn't wasn't wasn't. She explained that when she extracted it from me, it didn't look like a tumor. It was a jagged and odd looking mass. (I'm sure her tumors are stupid looking too, but I would never call them names as she just did mine.)
I think I held it together, for the most part while I was there. Most of it was a blur. I felt pretty detached from everything everyone was talking about because what they were talking about, I did not have. The surgeon told me she removed my tumor. If she needed to go back in and root around in that area to insure she got everything...ok by me! And then we'll be done, right?
Did I just hear the word radiation? They are talking about chemotherapy now. NO! I don't have breast cancer. "SOME" cancer cells. That's what she said. Who get chemo and radiation when they only have "some" cancer cells? I don't have breast cancer! I have something like skin cancer, but inside my body. They removed them. I promise to stay out of the sun and eat less red meat and whatever else it takes. This is crazy. Stop talking to me like I have breast cancer. I'm only 39 years old!
When I asked the surgeon if she was sure, she didn't answer, she hugged me. Oh God. How dare she hug me? I suddenly got very angry with this woman. I asked her why she told me when I was in recovery that the tumor looked like nothing? I was raising my voice now. I told her that surgeons are supposed to be able to tell when it's cancer! My voice getting even louder as I reminded her that she said it wasn't! I was screaming when I asked: Why didn't she warn me!?
They really are saying I have this. I broke down completely right then. What they were saying hit me between the eyes; they were seriously saying I have a disease that kills thousands of women each year. My surgeon seemed to be able to read my mind and told me exactly what I wanted to hear: Sheri, you're not going to die from this. I'm not? Saa weet! Those were the words I wanted to hear and it calmed me down.
Now it was the time to go over my pathology report. Everything thing sounded A-ok to me.
Most common type of breast cancer (check!)!
Most studied (check!)!
Caught early (check!)!
Aggressive level 2 (chee.. whaaa?)
Not a huge deal, she explains! Three is as high as it goes and I'm smack dab in the middle. Sooooo.. (check??)
Tested negative for Her2, estrogen and progesterone hormones *no clue what any of that means, but negative sounds like a good thing to me* (check!)
Hold on there, Little Buckaroo. Uncheck that please. Cancer needs one or all of those to feed it, to make it grow - that way all the doctors have to do is give the woman a hormone blocker and TA DA. I had cancer that is being fed and is growing by some unknown force. Because they don't know what's making this grow, they can't give any type of hormone blocking medicine.
My cancer is called triple negative. It is aggressive and rare. While it has been discovered that chemotherapy works wonders to rid your body of this. Sadly, it has an extremely high chance of showing up somewhere else in your body years later.
This is the point where I've been asked to decide what to do. Do I want them to go back in, check the lymph nodes and do another sweep around the area where the tumor was? Do I want one breast removed? Do I want them both removed?
What I want is what is best for my children and family: to stay alive. I will do whatever it takes. I'm just not sure what it is right now.