Surprise! It’s cancer. Now what?

21 Mar

On February 8th, 2018 I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, classified “no special type.” I came in fully expecting a negative result and was quite shocked. My appointment was originally for 9 in the morning but there had been a mix up in schedule causing all appointments to be delayed by about 3 hours. I was again given a wrist band and seated in the waiting room. This time I brought snacks and water. It was nearly noon by the time I did finally see Dr. Niaz.

On a side note, parking at Credit Valley Hospital, as with parking anywhere in a city is incredibly expensive so be prepared! It cost me $15 for half the day. There are no lots nearby and of course street parking doesn’t exist within reasonable walking distance.

I found it interesting how everyone (after confirming my identity several times each) started their conversation with asking me how I am. It’s a standard question we use to make small talk or be polite. It’s just robotic. I responded each time with I’ll find out soon enough.” I am sitting a waiting results for cancer, like every other person there that day. I’m sure they already have a good idea of how I am.

When Dr. Niaz asked I responded with “You tell me.”

“I don’t have good news.” he replied.

“It is cancer?” I asked.

“It is cancer.” He confirmed.

I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how to describe how I felt other than my brain went fuzzy. I wished I hadn’t come alone.

Somehow I remembered to breath. It was like I’d turned on auto-pilot because the rest of that conversation was like I was having an out-of-body experience. It was me talking, but I felt like I was a spectator.

This has happened to me a few times in crisis situations where I somehow tune out and just automatically handle shit for others, but this time I was handling it for myself, like I was possessing myself. It was very surreal.

Dr. Niaz sat looking at me, waiting for me to absorb the news without pressure and when I spoke next he followed my lead. It’s so strange to say that I was very happy with how the of my having cancer was delivered. No one wants to hear that they have cancer. Since I had to hear it, I am thankful that he read me so well.

“Ok. I was not expecting that. What’s our next step?”

He lay my cards on the table. I had a choice between mastectomy and lumpectomy. Both would have the same success rate.

Now I know what you’ve asked while reading this because everyone had the same question: Why would you remove the whole breast if you could just remove the lump? Why would he even offer it if it’s not necessary? The answer is: Because it’s my choice. Had he not advised me of all my options the question would have been why didn’t he give you all your options? It is something available to me.

Of course I asked the big question: What are my chances of survival?

Over 90%. Over! That was the exact wording. Because I caught this very early my prognosis was incredibly good. There was no pressure to make a decision, but I was ready.

I chose lumpectomy for several reasons. If you’re reading this and are facing similar choices know that there is no one other than yourself who can tell you what is right for you. It’s your journey. Ask a lot of questions and be honest with yourself. Make your decision about you. If there is one thing you are allowed to be selfish about it is your health! On that token, you alone are responsible for your health.

Lumpectomy, while having the same success rate as mastectomy, required less recovery time. It involved a day surgery where I would be able to go home the same day. Mastectomy would require hospital stay. Also, should I choose the latter and wish to have reconstructive surgery (which I would have chosen because I really like having breasts) would result in a longer wait for surgery because they would need to coordinate with a plastic surgeon.

I am a single mother. I do not have a support system. I have people who are supportive, but that is not the same as a support system. There isn’t anyone nearby who can come care for my child for me or look after me. I’m really on my own. So I chose lumpectomy.

I was advised surgery would take place February 23rd and that I would require 2 weeks to recover. I was surprised at how quickly this entire process was. From the time I found my lump to the date of surgery less than one month had passed! Say what you want about the Canadian health system, this is impressive! My surgery will consist of the removal of the tumor and a wedge of tissue around it, as well as a Sentinel Lymph Node Dissection.

3 lymph nodes will be removed and biopsied to determine if the cancer has spread and if chemotherapy is required before the localized radiation.

This was a lot of information to process and Dr. Niaz assured me that I would be given everything in writing as well as access to a Nurse Navigator.

He then examined my breast again to try to feel the lump I felt. He still couldn’t feel it. He told me I had very good hands and should consider joining his team, which lightened the mood.

My Nurse Navigator then came in to go over questions and paperwork with me, confirming the details of my surgery and diagnosis. She handed me a folder with brochures, information and resources and her card.

Then I was on my way home feeling relieved that I’d taken the day off instead of just the morning.

 

 

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