Monday, January 30, 2012

Home Sweet Home

There’s nothing like spending 3 nights and 4 days in a hospital that make you appreciate the comforts of home… not being woken up all night by strange nurses for vital signs, and having your very own blankets, towels, homemade food, and family all at your side. Having my sister and niece here has been an extra special treat – they even took Stella to the Dallas Aquarium yesterday – she definitely needed the outing and they had so much fun too! I'm not sure what I would have done without them here. I got to rest and nap so much that I almost felt normal again. Well, til the pain meds wore off – good thing they sent me home with plenty of those.

We are learning how to empty my drains (I feel like Angelina Jolie with vials of blood around my neck) and change my bandages every day. I’m hoping I will get the drains out at the plastic surgeon when I go to my follow-up appointment this Friday – fingers crossed! I am a little less sore every day, although this is definitely the most pain I've ever been in since childbirth. And not nearly as fun. But as I've always said, one step at a time I'm knocking this out, and I'll do whatever I've got to do to fight through this - and it seems to be working!!!
Stella has been enjoying her time with Uncle Ryan, and definitely with Da-eee back home again. Things are slowly getting back to normal. I have to say, I have never felt so loved in my life – just this week, the wedge pillows (thanks Tracey B!), the flowers (thanks Dad/Nancy, Kym/Nelly/Meredith, my MOPS group, Roger/Marc/Junie, Jennifer/John/Pat, and Tiffany!), dinners (thanks Kelsey and Annie!), breakfasts (thanks Mary!), sweets (thanks Becky and Vanessa!), super thoughtful gifts (thanks Ting! and Wednesday playgroup!), help with Stella (thanks everyone!!), and friends who are STILL keeping Chopper (thanks Ben & Kim!) have been amazing. They have cheered me up so much. I know I'm forgetting some people but I am absolutely overwhelmed with all the support. I can’t wait to pay it forward when I am all recovered and can help others who go through difficult times like I have. And Ben and my Mom - no one has helped me out like you have - I will be eternally grateful for all you've done throughout this process. Love you all!

Friday, January 27, 2012

All Clear!!!

I realize this is my second update today - but I just received the BEST news possible and there's no way I couldn't share it. My breast cancer surgeon's partner, Dr. G., just came by my hospital room to tell me she just got my pathology results back from my mastectomy on Wednesday. There was not ONE cancer cell in ANY of the tissue they removed during surgery - which means that Dr. B. got it ALL when he removed the original lump in December!!! They still believe it was the right decision for me to have done the bilateral mastectomy, because of the gene I carry and the risk of recurrence, but this is the best news we could have possibly hoped for!!! Hallelujah!!

I have no photos or illustrations to demonstrate my excitement - but I'm sure you understand. I will still have to undergo chemo, in case any straggler cells escaped into my bloodstream - it will be the best prevention of it ever coming back - but for now I am just absolutely thrilled. I will have to stay at the hospital through tomorrow because of a low grade fever I've had today - but that is the least of my concerns. Hope everyone has a fantastic weekend!!!

Recovering…Another Step Forward

I am making progress and moving towards going home from the hospital! I have gotten both IVs removed, so pain meds and antibiotics are strictly pills now. I got to have my catheter taken out, got a sponge bath, put on my own pj’s, stand up and walk to the bathroom – and sit in a chair! Who knew that could be so exciting? :) I also got to see Stella – my mom and the babysitter brought her up to my hospital room yesterday for a visit. Yippee!! It was totally the highlight of my day. Today I got to take a real shower, and put on my own real clothes. The surgeon said I may be able to go home tonight or tomorrow.

So my thought for the day is this (it’s not about getting mammograms this time) – it’s to make sure to live life to the fullest, because you never know what’s in store ahead. Hug and kiss your children every day, and tell your family and friends you love them. Even if we all lived to be 100, life is short and precious and should never be taken for granted. Appreciate the loved ones in your life, and let them know every day. Schnookems, you are my world and I couldn't have made this through this nightmare without you, and Stella, even though you won't remember this, you are the one and only other love of my life. Mom, Martin, and Ryan, thanks for always being there for me, and Dad, for all your support. Tracey and Caitlin, I can't wait to see you tomorrow. Blaire, Angele, Tiffany, Mandy, and Ashley - thank you so much for your visits, and EVERYONE thanks for your messages, notes, calls, and texts, you all mean the world to me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bye Bye BC!

Actually, make that bye bye BC, bye bye Bs, hello expander implants, and hello pain. But the worst of it is behind me!!

Yesterday was the big surgery day. I was more and more nervous as each hour went by leading up to it, but at the same time ready to get the rest of these cancer cells out of me!! I got everything ready for my mom and the babysitters to take care of Stella for the rest of the week, packed for the hospital, and set my alarm for 4:15 am. Ben drove us through the pouring rain to Presby, we arrived at 5:30, got checked in, and said hi to all the staff and nurses who we've met along this journey. It's strange to feel like such a regular at the hospital! After the nurses took my vitals, confirmed my name/birthdate and procedure (bilateral mastectomy with expander implants for reconstruction), the chaplain said a prayer, the anesthesiologist started my IV, and Ben and I took a pic and gave each other big hugs and kisses, I got my 'margarita' in my IV and was off to the OR. The last thing I remember was looking at all the giant operating room lamps overhead, and all the people in the room bustling to get ready. I felt bad that all my family and friends were going to have to sit in the waiting room worried for the next 4 hours, while I was asleep. But the next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room, with a nurse asking me to take deep breaths into this machine, which hurt so badly. My chest felt like it had been run over by a truck and crushed, so just taking a deep breath was nearly impossible. But - I was told the surgery had gone very well, with no complications, and most likely the cancer is all gone now - hallelujah!! Of course there is the chance that random cells could have slipped past the lymph nodes and traveled somewhere else in my body, which is why I'll be going through chemo, starting in about 2 weeks. But I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to fight this battle now, move forward, and hopefully not ever have to look back! I will also have to go back to the plastic surgeon several times in the upcoming months, so that he can slowly add saline through a valve in my expander implants, and bring me back to normal. That might just be the highlight of this whole process though – ha!
I then got moved to my room in the Perot building, and finally got to see my schnookems, yay! I took 3 naps yesterday - a record for me. I could barely hold my eyes open, and the nurses were having a hard time managing my nausea from all the pain meds, which weren't helping a lot either. With 2 IV's, 1 catheter, 2 drains in my chest, leg massagers to prevent blood clots, and only being able to lie flat on my back, I wasn't very comfortable, although it was just about exactly what I expected. When I finally got to see Ben, things immediately got better! He had written the sweetest note on the message board in my room and didn't complain once when I kept asking for water, pillows, and blankets.

My brother and mom were there too - and flowers started arriving! First from Ben and Kim H., who are keeping our Australian Shepherd this week - as if they hadn't done enough! And they sent flowers in the shape of a dog from Chopper too. :) Thank you to my MOPS group for the beautiful arrangement, and to Kim and Sarah who brought flowers in person. (Sorry the first thing I did was throw up! Nothing personal I promise, ha!)

I miss Stella so much, but I've gotten pictures and videos and even a balloon that says Get Well Mom. I'm so glad Ben got a chance to go home and see her for a bit last night too. She loves her "Da-eee!" Hopefully she's going to be able to come to the hospital to see me today. Even though my chest still hurts immensely, the support I'm getting from all of you, and knowing I'm winning this battle so far gives me the strength to continue fighting.

I love that Ben is staying here at the hospital with me – I know the couch/bed cannot be comfortable! And I love that my mom is at our house with Stella at night – she loves her Mimi and I think that helps keep her in a familiar routine, with her family around. Today is going to be a good day - I was told I might even get to shower! It's the little things that I'm appreciative of now. Still working on taking deep breaths - physically, and figuratively to get through this, but we seem to have my pain manageable now, and I think the worst is behind me. I have so much to live for and I'm determined to do just that. I've said this before and I'll say it again – please be aware of your body and get regular mammograms – if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone! If I can prevent just one person from going through this nightmare, it will be worth telling my story a hundred times (now I know y’all don't want to hear this a hundred times so just go get checked out now!)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Today's update: This morning I had another appointment with the oncologist, Dr. M. She is so great! Today it was all positive news. She went over my lymph node results – and I saw the report with my own eyes – all negative! She reviewed my echocardiogram (also known as just an “echo”), which is the heart test that I took last week. It tested my LVEF (left ventricular ejection fraction), to measure the percentage of blood being pumped out into the body, during each heartbeat. It should be at least 50%, and mine was 65%, meaning I’m all ready for chemo as soon as I recover from tomorrow’s surgery – probably in about 2 ½ weeks. I told her to bring it on as soon as we can get started! She is going to give me a very aggressive schedule of chemo, which is because of how aggressive and fast growing my type of cancer is. The good news is that the more aggressive the cancer is, the better the chemo will work on it. It’s kind of like how in karate, you can take the enemy’s strength and use it against him. We are going to take cancer’s power and turn it right around on itself!

Science lesson of the day: I also met with the department at the hospital who did my genetic testing. They went over the BRCA2 gene that I have in detail, and explained what it meant to me. The BRCA2 gene functions as an “emergency brake” of sorts. It belongs to the tumor suppressor gene family. The proteins made by this gene are essential for repairing damaged DNA. Put simply, your body is making new cells all the time, by duplicating existing cells. If a cell has a flaw in it (i.e. a cell in the breast tissue), the BRCA2 gene comes along and acts as the emergency brake to stop it from duplicating, so that it doesn’t turn into enough cells to form a tumor. But in my body, the BRCA2 gene (which is made up of 84,188 DNA base pairs, the building material of chromosomes) is missing two tiny amino acids at position number 5,578. As a result of these mutations, the protein product of the BRCA2 gene is abnormal and does not function properly – which means cancer tumors can form. Pretty crazy that they can figure that out, just from me spitting in a cup!

What does that mean? In my lifetime, I have up to an 87% chance of getting breast cancer by having this gene – which is why I’m in this position now. And if I didn’t have a bilateral mastectomy, I would also have up to a 64% chance of getting a second primary breast cancer, unrelated to this first one. But now I will only have about a 1% chance – which proves to me that everything I’m about to go through will be worth it. Because of this gene, I also have a 27% chance of getting ovarian cancer in my lifetime, which means I will have to take some preventative steps in that department too, in the next few years. There are also other types of cancer I’m susceptible to, although these two are the most likely.
What’s next: Tomorrow morning is my next surgery. There will be about 7 surgeries total to get me through this – and this is #4 – the biggest one, a bilateral mastectomy and the first phase of reconstruction (expander implants). I am very nervous but excited to get the rest of these bad cells out of me! And I’ll be so glad to have this big step behind us. We have to be at the hospital at 5:30 am for my surgery that starts at 7:15. It will take about 4 hours, with 1-2 hours of recovery, then I have to stay in the hospital for 3 nights, or so they think. We will be negotiating – I think 2 nights will be plenty! If you want to visit, just text Ben or me for the room number – we’ll be in the Perot building at Presby. I know I will miss my baby girl but Ben has promised to bring her up there for a visit or two. A huge thank you to Ben for staying with me at the hospital, and to my mom for being in charge of Stella at the house – along with my brother, and all our other help! I could not get through all this without ALL of you. I feel so blessed for all the meals, flowers, cookies, gifts, cards, e-mails, calls, and texts you all have been sending. I just received a beautiful monogrammed blanket from my friend Tiffany K. to take with me to the hospital. And thank you, Dallas Moms Club, for the bags of goodies for both Stella and me – what a wonderful surprise! And I even got the nicest gift from Nicole, a friend of a friend whom I haven’t even met – a special pillow that wraps around me so that when I come home from the hospital, Stella can climb on her mommy without hurting the incisions or pulling the drains out. It’s amazing how a crisis like this brings out the most generous side of so many people. I am SO grateful.
I will update this blog as soon I am able to after surgery. Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Good news!

Today we got good news! Dr. B. called me and said that of my 4 lymph nodes they biopsied, they ALL came back negative. That means the cancer has not spread! And I don’t have to get bumped to stage 2! And they won’t have to take any more lymph nodes next week during my mastectomy! And I won’t have to get radiation! I am the happiest cancer patient (make that STAGE 1 cancer patient!) you have ever seen right now. :) I am actually looking FORWARD to my big surgery on Wednesday so I can continue the fight and get the rest of these bad cells out of me.

I’m including an illustration so you can see what this means. I know some of you are learning about all of this right along with me, so I thought this would help. Dr. B. took the sentinel (which means “first”) lymph node that was closest to my tumor, along with the 3 others closest to it. There is a whole network of lymph nodes in the breast/armpit area, but the ones he was concerned with were the ones closest to the tumor, because that’s where the cancer cells would have traveled to first, before spreading to other parts of the body. Since they came back clear, that means the ones farther away are clear too, so he doesn’t have to test those. However, I will still need to get chemo, because if one stray cancer cell escaped, it could have traveled through my blood stream, right through the lymph nodes, and ended up somewhere else. So the drugs I receive through chemo will attempt to knock out any stragglers so they won’t come back and haunt me later. But other than any random stray cells, the cancer has not metastasized to the lymph nodes or anywhere else.
My brother told me today that his friend has just scheduled her first mammogram because of my blog. It literally makes me tear up right now to think that someone could avoid all of this, I am SO happy. I know my sister has already scheduled hers too. THANK you all for listening to me. And a friend just told me she made her first donation to Susan G. Komen – you all are amazing! I wish I had acted sooner – I have known for a long time that I had a family history of breast cancer as well as other types of cancer, but I didn’t do anything about it. I wish I had gotten the gene test sooner, so I could have been followed more carefully by doctors. And I wish I had gotten mammograms sooner. But it looks like some good is going to come out of this. And hopefully when you all get your mammograms, you will get GOOD news too!  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Surgery #3

Throughout this process, we’ve had good news and bad news, steps forward and steps back. Today was surgery #3 and it was a little of both. (Surgery #1 was the cyst/tumor removal in December. Surgery #2 was egg retrieval last week. Today was sentinel lymph node biopsy and port placement. #4 will be next Wed – double mastectomy/reconstruction.) This morning my mom arrived just before 8:00 this morning to watch Stelle Belle. Thank you Mimi! She also had her sister (Aunty Lucy) with her. Thank you for the flowers, dinner, and lunch you brought, A.L.! Together they were excited to spend the morning with our baby girl. Ben loaded up the car and drove us to Presby.  I’m still not sure I could ever get through this without him. He is my rock, the love of my life, and the one always there for me. He has been there for me through tears and anger and disbelief as we fight this together. I can only hope he knows how much I appreciate him.

So we got checked in and the people immediately started flowing through our room – the nurses who took my vitals, the chaplain who said a prayer, and two volunteers who gave me a pillow that a church had made for me to put under the seatbelt across my chest in the car. It is very strange to be on the receiving end of these two nice ladies, as I have volunteered in hospitals and through Junior League for so long. It’s humbling and strange to think I’m actually the one on the receiving end of these kind people offering their help. Then the anesthesiologist came in and started my IV, and Dr. B. was next. He asked the nurse to close the door on the way out, so I knew this was going to be serious. He told us he had finally gotten the results of my gene test. He said I am BRCA2 positive. That means I have one of the two genes that cause breast and ovarian cancer. My first thought was how horrible it is that there is now a 50% chance that Stella has gotten this gene from me. Of course we will always have her health monitored closely, but now there is a real chance that she could go through this too. There is also a 50% chance that she has NOT inherited this (thank you Ben!), so until she becomes at risk in her teenage years, and we can get her tested, we will continue to think positive. Knowing I have this gene somehow does help me understand why I have to go through all of this right now, at my age. There have been so many unanswered questions – what caused this? Why did cancer choose me to invade? What could I have done differently to prevent this? And now I know. Although it is horrible, knowing I have the gene definitely solidified that I am doing the right thing to choose a double mastectomy, the most aggressive course of chemo possible, and keep all the treatments moving forward as quickly as humanly possible. It also means that I may have to have a hysterectomy at some point, because of the likelihood I could get ovarian cancer. The challenges keep coming, and I will take them – but I will cross that bridge after I cross this one!

The surgery itself went smoothly. Dr. B. placed the port in my chest so I will be ready for chemo as soon as I recover from the next surgery. Then he used the radioactive dye that was injected yesterday to find the 4 sentinel lymph nodes, and removed them so they could be analyzed. The second piece of bad news (besides the BRCA gene) is that the first lymph node looks highly suspicious. We won’t know until the end of the week for sure, but the possibility exists that the cancer has spread to at least one node, meaning that I would be classified as stage II, and could need radiation on top of everything else. Ugh!! This is so scary to me that it could have spread farther than we thought, and I have been freaked out all day by it, but I will do anything I have to do – bring it on! Cancer has picked the wrong girl to mess with!

I want to make a special acknowledgement to my friend Ashley who came over to keep Stella today for several hours, so that my mom and aunt could come up to the hospital. We appreciated that so much! Not to mention the magazines and snacks she sent for the waiting room and me, and dinner she brought us tonight. She had signed up for the first night on our Care Calendar (tonight) - which brings me to another point - thank you infinitely to Leah and all of my Wednesday playgroup mom friends for setting that up for us - I love you Leah, Mandy, Trammell, Kelsey, Sarah, Mary, Lindsey, Angele, and Claudia! (And Stella loves your boys!) And thank you in advance to everyone who has signed up to help us with meals - I can't tell you how much that takes a load off of Ben and me to not have to worry about dinner at the end of these long days at the hospital.  Last but definitely not least, thank you to my sister Tracey for the beautiful flowers – can’t wait to see you and Caitlin next week! Ben and I are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love, prayers, e-mails, texts, calls, facebook messages, and blog comments – feeling the love from each one of you gives us the strength to fight this even harder! We are trying to get back to each of you as quickly as we can, but please know in the meantime that we read and listen to EVERY message you send and appreciate it so much.

One last note. One by one, I’ve been initiated into several clubs over the last few years. First it was IVF. I thought we were the only ones in the world to go through such a challenging time, then through one friend at a time I learned that there were so many others out there that had been through it too, and that made it easier. Then when my water broke and Stella was born 5 weeks early, she had to go to the NICU for nearly a month, and suddenly I was introduced to countless friends whose children have had to be in the NICU as well. And now I am beginning to meet friends of friends, and cousins of friends, who have “welcomed” me to the breast cancer club. I just want to say I hope this is the LAST club that I EVER get invited to. Don’t get me wrong, sharing experiences during these difficult times helps me so much. And luckily my experience with the first two clubs had happy endings, and Ben and I appreciate and love our daughter more than anything else in the world. (I have a sneaky suspicion that that we would appreciate and love her no matter what though! I’m just sayin….) I just hope and pray that she doesn’t remember anything about her Mommy being in the BC club, and she can grow up innocently, the way she deserves. But the point here is this….I hope I do not have to join any more clubs anytime soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm now slightly radioactive!

Well, that’s how the nurse put it anyway. It’s actually called “sentinel lymph node mapping.” Today I was back in the nuclear medicine department in the Perot building at Presby – the same place I had my MRI, CT scan, and bone scan done a few weeks ago. I was grateful to my dad for taking me to my appointments, while Ben went back to work. Ben sure did do his share last week, going to everything with me. Today my dad also got to see where Stella goes to Mother’s Day Out (at Wilshire Baptist), when we dropped her off and picked her up. He said he had never seen so many babies! :)

So the nurse told me to make myself comfortable on the table while she got the injection ready. (Doesn’t that table look inviting?!) Then she stuck a big needle right into the place where my tumor was, and injected a full syringe of radioactive dye. Yow!!! Then she took some images to make sure the dye went where it’s supposed to. This will allow the surgeon to see which lymph nodes the tumor drained to first. In other words, if and when breast cancer cells begin to escape from a tumor, they travel to the lymph nodes under the arm, and the first lymph node they reach is called the 'sentinel' lymph node. So that’s the one they check during my surgery. Dr. B. will remove it and test it while I’m asleep to see if the cancer has spread. Fingers crossed, to say the least!

The other part of my surgery tomorrow will be placing the port in my chest for chemo. That will make it easier to get my treatments without having to get an IV every time. So this means I will be one more surgery and two incisions closer to beating this! As for any glowing body parts….I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe I should try to find a black light?!
I also met with my plastic surgeon for my final pre-op appointment. We are all set for reconstruction next week, immediately following the double mastectomy. It should be about a four-hour surgery all together. And I picked up some final paperwork from Dr. B., for his part of the surgery next week. So the total for today was 3 more doctor’s appointments – check!  
Going to try to get a good night’s sleep so I can fight this battle some more in surgery tomorrow! Night night!

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16, 2012

I’ve been putting off writing this blog because I thought somehow, if I put my experience in writing, it’s going to be more real. I know in my head that’s not true – this is already real, but it’s easy to wish it were just a bad dream. I feel like I have overcome multiple challenges in my life – but never did I expect to have to overcome this one, especially at 35. I was diagnosed on December 27, 2011 with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast Cancer. This is the story of what I’ve been through so far – and how I’m going to beat it! Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me if you'd rather. Or just follow our journey. Ben and I are so grateful for all the support we are getting right now, it means so much to us.

October 26, 2011. It was a normal night at the Parkey house. I put Stella to bed and went to plop down on the couch for a little down time at the end of the day. Ben was grabbing a drink with a friend, and the house was quiet. As I walked into the den, somehow my hand brushed my chest – it was just in passing, without any thought. I realized that I just brushed something that hadn’t been there before. A tiny lump under the surface of the skin, like a hard pea. That had definitely never been there before. My mind immediately jumped to the worst case scenario, but then I tried to tell myself that that’s crazy, I am way too young for that and this was probably nothing. Nevertheless, I called Ben, scared, and he came home right away. The next morning I called my ob/gyn and she got me in that afternoon.

October 27, 2011. My appointment was at 1:30. I anxiously arrived and put on the gown as I was told. Dr. H. came into the room and did the exam. She said she did feel a lump, but it was probably nothing. Women have benign cysts all the time. It could be a clogged milk duct from the year before, or any number of other things, but “don’t lose any sleep over this.” Then she ordered a mammogram, which was scheduled for 5 days later.

Needless to say, I lost lots of sleep that night. The first of many sleepless nights.

November 1, 2011. My first mammogram ever. You’re not supposed to go until you are 40, but here I was for my first one at 35, and to top it off, I was there for a REASON. I had FOUND something. I felt like THAT patient, the one who you never want to be. I looked around the waiting room at all the other women, envious that they were probably there just for a routine mammogram, and not for a REASON. Ugh – I could not wait to get in there and get this over with so that they could tell me it’s nothing and I could go home.

So finally it was my turn. A nice nurse took me back and told me it would be a “little pressure.” I had heard it was going to be awful, but really it wasn’t that bad. I was much more nervous about the results. The nurse left the room, and came back saying I should follow her to another waiting room. I was then called for a sonogram. Here they did an exam (just like when you are pregnant, but on your breast) and confirmed that there was a “complex cyst.” It looked like it was mostly filled with fluid (good) but that there were a few flecks of solid tissue in there (bad) – which were suspicious. I was told that it looked like a complex cyst, and I should create an appointment for a cyst aspiration the following week. They were going to stick a needle in my boob and drain this! Yikes! But somehow that seemed less scary than not draining it – so I made my appointment.

November 8, 2011. I took Stella to her usual Tuesday Mother’s Day Out school, then arrived at Presby Dallas at 10:30 for my cyst aspiration. I had the nicest nurse and the most professional doctor. He numbed me and inserted a needle into the cyst to drain it. He said it seemed a little tough on the edges. When he managed to drain the fluid, it was tinged red with blood. Because it was supposed to just be straw colored, it was deemed suspicious (once again) and sent to the lab. Six days later I got a call saying that the cells were “atypical.” Apparently cells are either “normal” or “atypical.” There are no other options. Atypical means that the cells COULD be PRE-CANCEROUS. That’s what they told me. But it also means they could be cancerous. I didn’t realize that at the time. But maybe it’s better that I didn’t! I was given the name of the surgeon that my ob recommends – they had told her the news already. They said Dr. B. is outstanding, and he will take great care of me. The only problem was that I couldn’t get in to see him for a month! That’s a lot of waiting when you think you might have pre-cancerous cells! I just wanted to get these bad cells out of my body. But I didn’t want to risk going to someone sub-par either, so I did what anyone would do – called and bugged the receptionist over and over until she got me in – 2 weeks and 2 days later. That was a little more like it. :) Thank goodness for Ben during this wait – I would have driven myself crazy. He always reassured me that it would be ok, and that we’d get through this together.

November 30, 2011. Dr. B’s nurses were so nice. And so was he. Although it was very strange to be sitting in a Breast Cancer Surgeon’s office, with pink ribbons everywhere, when I was just there to talk about my benign cyst. But he was the best – so he looked at my pathology report from the cyst aspiration, and even went and called the pathologist who wrote the report. He came back saying these suspicious cells were dividing very fast, and he recommended that I have this lump removed. That meant surgery! But I was surprised at how ok I was with it. I just wanted these bad cells OUT of my body.

December 15, 2011. Surgery #1. But at the time I thought it was surgery # THE END OF THIS MESS. My mom arrived in Dallas at 7 am to watch Stella, and Ben and I were off to the hospital. Good ol’ Perot building at Presby – again. We had been there so many times – throughout IVF, pregnancy, sonograms, Stella’s birth, and Stella’s stay in the NICU. But this was new. The worst part of the day was when the nurse couldn’t get my IV started and blew a vein. But if that was the worst thing to happen, that was ok, I thought. The surgery went without a hitch and I went home a few hours later, one lump lighter, with a tiny scar. Some of my wonderful friends brought dinner and flowers over, and I was on the road to recovery – or so I thought! Dr. B. had told me that we would get the pathology report back soon, but not to worry because “they send everything to the lab around here – you get your fingernails clipped and they send it to the lab!” He took very small margins (~2 mm) when he excised the tumor because he fully expected it to be benign. 

December 27, 2011. I had called multiple times to see where my pathology results were. They kept telling me that the lab was backed up from the holidays. But I got the call on December 27. It was first thing in the morning and it was Dr. B. himself. I knew that was not good. Surgeons only call if it’s bad news – if it’s nothing, you get the nurse. He just came out and said it: “Allison, you have breast cancer. It’s stage I. You need to cancel whatever you have going on today and come into my office – you are going to need more surgery, and a treatment plan.” My jaw dropped, I hugged Stella, who was sitting in bed with me innocently drinking her sippy cup of milk, and I called Ben, in complete tears. He was driving to the airport for a quick guy trip to Vegas – but he immediately turned around. He actually came home so fast that he got a speeding ticket. You know what the cop said when Ben told him he had just found out his wife has breast cancer? “Sign here.” JERK! That still makes me want to call the news….

So that afternoon, my wonderful mom cancelled her plans and came over to Dallas to watch Stella so Ben could go with me to see Dr. B. I can’t even start to explain how helpful my mom has been throughout this process! We talked everything over with the nurse while we waited for Dr. B. to get out of surgery, then Dr. B. came in and answered all of our questions. He laid out some options – I could have a lumpectomy with radiation, or a full mastectomy (he recommended a double mastectomy if I were going to go that route), but either way he said there is a 95% chance I would need chemotherapy. Whaaat? I thought I was just stage I? But he said my cells were very fast growing (grade 3) – an aggressive form of cancer – and we needed to do everything we could to stop them.

Then another bomb was dropped. Dr. B. asked the nurse if she had discussed pregnancy and fertility with me. Not yet. Apparently once you go through chemo, your ovaries shut down and you go into menopause. So if we ever wanted to have another child, we had to make an appointment with the fertility doctor – and fast. Good thing we had jumped through that hoop before! I can’t imagine how overwhelming that would be to have to learn about the process of multiple shots a day, doctor appointments every other day, sonograms and bloodwork, and egg retrieval, on top of finding out you have cancer. So I called Dr. C. (our fertility doctor) and got right in. Here we go…..

December 29, 2011. Once again, Mimi (my mom) arrives to watch Stella. My instruction lists with her routine on it are starting to get shorter. Not that I ever doubted she could handle it – it just makes me feel better to know I left good instructions in case she actually wants to read them! Hee hee. So this time Ben drove me up to Presby – yep, the good ol’ Perot building – and I had to get an IV for my MRI, CT scan, and bone scan. Dr. B. wants to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread anywhere else. The scans themselves weren’t that bad. The hospital gown, on the other hand, was made for a 500-pound man - it was huge! The worst part was the IV. Every single scan requires a different contrast fluid to be injected. It’s crazy to me that these fluids don’t cancel each other out! And I had to drink two glasses of red juice – another contrast to make my insides light up on these tests. I was so grateful for Ben, once again at my side all day, reassuring me that things were going to be ok. We found out the next day that everything came back clean – hallelujah! A little bit of good news!

January 3, 2012. We started fertility shots. Ben gave them to me every day until egg retrieval, right in my tummy. He is a pro! No matter what comes of all this, we wanted to know that we gave it our best shot at a sibling for Stella. We are forever grateful for our miracle baby girl, don’t get me wrong. But it is very scary knowing you are about to lose your fertility forever. So we wanted to give it our all. Throughout the process of giving shots and going to appointments to watch my follicles (eggs) grow on my ovaries, we squeezed in a few more doctor appointments – we got a second opinion with another breast cancer surgeon, Dr. K., and a nurse navigator at the new Joan Katz Breast Center in Fort Worth, who did a wonderful job explaining everything we were about to go through. I also did a lot of thinking. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that no treatment was going to be acceptable for me unless it fought this awful disease 110%. I have a 1 year old who needs her mommy – for a long, long time! And I have many, many happy years ahead of me to be married to my Ben!
I came to the conclusion that I was going to fight this battle so hard now, and knock out the enemy, cancer. I decided on a double mastectomy (with reconstruction), and a full course of chemo. And nothing less. I’m so grateful that Ben was on the same page too! We had consultations with the two best plastic surgeons, who specialize in reconstruction and work with Dr. B. – Dr. K. and Dr. H. We loved them both and decided to go with the one whose schedule coordinated with Dr. B’s first – and that was Dr. H.

We are now set for a double mastectomy on January 25, with the first stage of reconstruction to be done at the same time. Reconstruction will require multiple follow-up surgeries, but the biggest will be this first one. I'll have to stay in the hospital about 3 days. At least I'm familiar with it now - I even give people directions last time I was there! I think that means I've spent way too much time there.

I also go in for surgery on January 18. Dr. B. will biopsy my sentinel lymph node to see if the cancer has spread. That means just a small incision under my arm pit. I will also have a port placed in my chest for chemo. This will give easier access to my veins for the strong drugs to drip straight in by my heart. I am scared!

We also had a chance to meet with my oncologist, Dr. M. She is amazing! She wants to be super aggressive with my chemo – she definitely picked up on the fact that Ben and I want to knock this out hard! So I am going to have 16 rounds total. The first 4 rounds of chemo will be every two weeks, with two drugs combined. Then I’ll have 12 rounds every week, of a third drug. Breast cancer is not going to stand a chance!!! It will wish it had picked someone else to pick on. Ha!

January 11, 2012. Last but not least, we had egg retrieval. I had 5 eggs, 4 were mature, and 3 fertilized normally. That’s just about as good as can be expected. So we now have 3 frozen embryos that we can try once I clear all this – maybe in a year or two. It’s 3 chances at a sibling for Stella. Even if the doctors don’t allow me to carry the baby, it’s a chance at a biological sibling for her, even if it has to be carried by a surrogate. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now I’m going to try to focus on getting well. It’s strange because I don’t physically feel bad, yet. I know it’s coming. I worry about trying to take care of Stella during all of this, and keeping her life as normal as possible. With the help of Ben, my family, and my friends, I know I will get through this, she will be taken care of, and we will be able to move on with our lives. I am not very good at asking for help but I am learning. Cancer is humbling, and I am more grateful to every single one of my friends and family members than they will ever, ever know.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I go in to have a radioactive dye injected into the place where my tumor was. It will travel to my lymph nodes, so that Dr. B. will be able to see which ones are the first (sentinel) nodes, and he can remove them on Wednesday to be tested. Hoping and praying they come back negative!

To be continued…and I promise no other entries will be this long. Just trying to catch everyone up to date!