October 8, 2003 I had surgery to remove what my doctor told me at the time was very likely a fibroadenoma.
So you don’t have to look that up, it is a benign, or noncancerous, tumor that is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 35. It is a tumor that is well defined and easily moveable to the touch that can enlarge and shrink on its own.
My surgeon gave me the option to remove it or monitor it for six months and see what happens. After discussions with my husband, we decided to have it removed. The doctor was not concerned. Based on his exam and reviewing the mammogram and follow up ultrasound that detected the tumor, it presented itself like hundreds of other fibroadenomas that he had treated over the years.
So on October 8, 2003, when he spoke to my husband after the day surgery procedure to remove the lump, the doctor told my husband and my mother that it looked exactly like he expected it to, but they sent it off to pathology because that was protocol.
We left the hospital and went home believing this had just been a little scary “bump” in the road and now, after a brief recovery, we would resume our ordinary lives.
But on Friday, October 10, 2003, the phone rang. It was around lunchtime and I answered the phone. It was the doctor, and he almost apologized when he said: “you have cancer.” I was 37 years old. And I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The “you’re too young” comments flooded in.
Fast forward to October 2010. I had been having a lot of pain in my hips and lower back throughout the summer. I had been to chiropractors and had been trying to do more core exercises to combat the effects of being 44. I had lots of excuses about why I was in pain, never once did I believe it was cancer-related.
But finally, I found myself in my primary care doctor’s office in October. The pain was more than just overexercising. My PCP sent me for Xrays and, with what I now consider one of the best poker faces ever, told me it could be one of three things. I remember her telling me 3 things but honestly now I can only remember two – 1) I could have a small fracture or 2) it could be cancer.
She said it so nonchalantly. She told me to get some crutches and not put any weight on my left leg and they would be in touch soon. I believe as soon as the door closed behind me, she was on the phone with my oncologist.
Do I remember the next few weeks in exactly the way it went down? No, I do not.
I believe the call came while I was at work. My husband had driven me to work since I was following doctor’s orders and using crutches to get around. I was working part-time for a CPA doing school district audits and I was just working down the street from the family farm.
When I answered the phone it was my oncologists’ office and there were those words again. You have cancer. According to my oncologist, my breast cancer had metastasized to my bones.
I hung up and sat there for a minute. Not believing I was hearing those words again. After catching my breath, I called my husband and he came to get me. I remember him getting out of the car, walking up to me, wrapping his arms around me and telling me “I love you”. My head was spinning, my heart was racing and I couldn’t imagine how I was going to tell my girls (15 and 12 at that time) that mom had cancer again.
The girls were young the first time around, and I went through chemo and radiation like a champ. No real side effects other than losing my hair and maybe a little fatigue, but nothing that kept me from continuing to work full-time at a very demanding job.
This time was different. I couldn’t walk. I was in a considerable amount of pain and they were old enough this time to understand what cancer really means and they were scared. My husband handled it like a champ. He was always better at those kinds of talks than me. He was there with me and with them every step of the way (literally – as soon we were to find out I had no hip joint remaining at all).
So on October 8, 2010, I found myself once again going into another procedure, this time a bone biopsy on my left hip. Although they knew I had cancer, they needed to confirm that it was in fact, breast cancer that had metastasized and if it was the same type of breast cancer. It was.
As of October 8, 2010 I was now one of the 30% whose breast cancer metastasizes. Life would never be the same again. It was time to learn how to live with metastatic breast cancer.
Living with metastatic cancer is hard. I try my best to not let it be the first thing I think about in the morning or the last thing I think about at night. But during Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the “cancerversary” of my diagnosis, I can’t help but think about it every October 8th.