Landing With a Thump

It’s been my flattest week since my diagnosis.

I’ve read my pathology report a couple of times. Know your enemy.

Way back when all of this started there were some problems with the lab that did my initial report, including the fact that they specified the wrong breast! I think part of my was holding on to the possibility that I really didn’t have such an aggressive cancer. I was hoping for a lot of red-faced apologies. “Sorry, Meg, it’s actually a much less serious cancer than we originally suspected.”

Nope.

Cancer gets graded based on how aggressive it is. They look at the microscopic features of the cancer including how similar it is to healthy cells. Less similar means more aggressive. They give three aspects of the cancer a score and then add these up. Grade 1 is the least aggressive and grade 3 is the most aggressive. Like my father before me, mine is a grade 3 cancer.

I was also hoping for a full pathological response. This would mean that the chemotherapy had completely killed all of the cancer cells. It would have greatly improved my survival odds.

Nope.

Part of my problem was riding the wave of optimism generated by my doctors. My oncologist told me she was pretty confident we were going to see a full pathological response and my surgeon, on the day after surgery, also told me things were looking good. While the chemotherapy has certainly killed three tumours, the primary tumour still had islands of active invasive cancer spread throughout the dead tissue. So nearly dead but not quite. On the plus side, the whole of the tumour was removed with clear margins.

I was less than thrilled to learn that one of my lymph nodes also showed signs of having been attacked by the cancer. It’s dead now, but the fact that it was there at all is unsettling. On the positive side, if these cells were evidence of it moving out into my body then the chemotherapy would have attacked it and, hopefully, killed it.

The big shock is the presence of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) under the tumour and extending all the way to the bottom of the incision. This hasn’t come away cleanly.

The trouble with a doctor’s appointment is that you’re time limited. I know my surgeon said something about going all the way to the chest wall but I didn’t hear ‘DCIS’ and so the pathology report was another shock. From my own research I know that DCIS is a pre-cancerous condition and that many people have it for years without it becoming cancer, but mine is still grade 3 and I’ve just had a surgeon cut into it.

I’m reassured that the multidisciplinary team that meet to discuss every patient have concluded that radiation is the best option for me now.

Of course, the whole point of radiation therapy is to ‘mop up’ any remaining cancer cells so it’s just as well I’m booked in for that. Unfortunately it can’t start until my wound heals. Now I have a month of living with the possibility of a grade 3 cancer growing or spreading in the absence of any treatment.

I have no choice. The only other option was more surgery and they’ve decided against that. I’ve left a message for my surgeon to call me so I can be clear about why we’re not doing this. I know she’ll have a good answer. I’d just like to know what it is.

I’m frightened.

I’m disappointed.

When I asked my surgeon what the chances were of this cancer killing me, she said, “Ask me in two and a half years.” In other words, she doesn’t want to speculate but the statistics say that if I can make it to three years after my diagnosis then my chances improve dramatically.

Now that’s what I call a long wait.

Welcome to cancer land.

I spent a week after surgery feeling so well and so positive it was hard to believe I’d had surgery. This week I landed with a thump.

Day by day I’ve been pulling myself back up again. I’m greatly assisted by my wonderful friends and family, particularly my husband. I’m putting together a be-as-well-as-I-can strategy as a way of feeling more in control between now and radiation therapy. Because of my pathology my surgeon has asked that my radiation oncologist include the centre of my chest as well as my left breast. Who would have thought I’d be so keen to get into that great big machine and to expose my body to radiation, but suddenly I’m very, very keen.

Head down and bum up. Keep moving.

Fuck you cancer!

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6 thoughts on “Landing With a Thump

  1. Oh WOW, that is a big one. Thanks for posting all the details, now I understand where your head must be. Yes Fuck! Feeling for you gorgeous lady. Please let me know if there is anything I can do. I LOVE YOU & wish I was there.

  2. Meg, the silence is deafening. The response to this post.

    My silence. My lack of response.

    I read your post earlier today and chose not to respond. I too am having a ‘thump’ day, but not for any reason other than perhaps post surgery blues or perhaps because I’m playing the waiting game for my results. I realise now that my choice not to respond was because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. The same frustration I am having myself with family and friends who have remained silent since my diagnosis. To me, saying nothing is worse. Whilst I don’t hold the magical key, nor the glowing words of wisdom, I cannot remain silent. You have given so much to me and helped me on my journey, I need to try and give something back. One thing that screams loud and clear in your postings is that you are a true fighter, an absolute warrior, Meg. There is no doubt in my mind that you will continue to fight this and get the results you so want to hear.

    I know you know that being frightened is ok. I also know that it is also a positive thing to ride your emotions, good and not so good. Do you also know how brave it is to share the not so positive emotions? You’ve done awesomely, so far Meg. Continue to feel the down times, work through them, regain your strength and then turn them back into positive. Get back on that horse, pick up the spear and continue to scream your warrior cry ‘FUCK YOU CANCER’!

    Amanda x

    • Oh Amanda!
      You are so wonderful to be worrying about me when you’ve just come out of surgery. As you can see from my most recent post, I just needed to ‘float’ for a couple of days. I’m back on top of it all again. Yes, part of what I’m trying to do is to honestly share the whole of the effort to stay positive, including the days when it’s much harder work. I suppose that’s because I think a lot of people misunderstand the whole ‘positive psychology’ thing. They incorrectly think it’s about being happy all of the time, no matter what. It’s a lot more constructive to think of it as a default setting; it’s where I am most of the time but I’m certainly still human, and I still have the normal range of emotions.

      I love that you called me a warrior. My favourite yoga poses are the warrior poses. “The past is behind me, the future is in front of me and what matters is being right here right now.”

      I really hope surgery went well and that you get great results from you’re pathology. You’ve been in my thoughts. ❤

  3. Supportive thoughts from England. I was the one with the Grade 1 lumps, so you must think I am “lucky” – we are in very different places – but I get my “land with a thump” days too. Maybe it comes with the territory once the cancer word has been used. All the best.

    • Hi Elizabeth, it’s so great to hear from you again. It’s funny you should make the comment about grade 1 lumps being ‘lucky’ because I’ve been thinking about a blog along those lines; there’s no such thing as a happy cancer diagnosis and our choices are really to be frightened, more frightened or terrified! There’s not much in it really. I certainly have days where I wish I’d been diagnosed with a less aggressive cancer but this is just a symptom of the ‘bargaining’ stage of grief. If we’re honest, we all wish we hadn’t been diagnosed with any cancer at all.

      How is your treatment going? I know you were having some serious doubt about it last time we were in touch and I hope you’ve found a team you’re happy with.

      Best wishes with your continuing recovery.
      Meg

  4. Thank you, I am doing quite well. I made an excellent physical recovery from my mastectomy and am now just on hormone therapy which is not too bad. So really quite “lucky”. My ongoing issues are with the real possibility that (clearly unlike you) I may have been overdiagnosed and overtreated – and I’ll probably never know. I’m not obsessed with body image, but nevertheless losing a breast feels radical and invasive. So I grapple with issues about lack of informed consent for screening – in the UK at least. A House of Commons Select Committee is about to look at the cancer screening programmes, so they’re getting an essay from me.

    Anyway, all the best to you. I hate words like “brave” in this context. I think we all need to just be who we need to be.

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