Sunday, May 1, 2011

The story so far

In the fall of 2010, I made an appointment to get a regular checkup with my gynecologist. A few days before the appointment I noticed a tiny lump in my breast. My mom had a history of benign breast lumps, so I figured that my lump was similarly benign.

My gynecologist did an exam and also noticed the lump. He wavered about whether to get it checked out, because:
  • breast cancer in young women is incredibly rare.
  • the first step toward diagnosis is an ultrasound, and then all suspicious lumps get a biopsy. Of the lumps that make it that far, only 1/20 is cancer. The American Cancer Society has pulled away from supporting breast self exams in part because of the unnecessary biopsies.
  • young women have pretty dense, lumpy boobs.
  • they didn't want to make me nervous.
Just to be cautious, I pushed to get the ultrasound. I didn't think it was cancer, but I figured I was being a good health-conscious lady and it would help me learn what non-cancerous lumps are like.

The doc didn't like what he saw, so I got a breast biopsy.

A week later, my gynecologist called me, totally shocked. "Invasive lobular carcinoma medical word medical word" he said in a rush. I looked it up. Shit.

The initial news looked great - my cancer's really tiny, just 1.6 cm at its longest end. However, later tests found that the little guy had spread himself around. This is a matter of luck, as is so much with cancer. Like people, each carcinoma is unique (but unlike people, they are all assholes). I got the full swath of genetic tests, all negative.

Suddenly I found myself at 29 with later-stage (but non-metastatic) breast cancer, facing surgery, chemo, surgery, surgery, radiation, and probably more surgery if they can find something else to chop out.

As of this moment, I'm done with some of the surgery and all of the chemotherapy. There was still cancer in my breast after the chemotherapy (in a margin that had to be cleaned up - more shitty luck) so I'm headed for more surgery. We're racing to catch the cancer before it goes metastatic.

I'd just finished grad school, and I'd done my first internship. I was about to start a career. I was about to get engaged.

Some of this continues with cancer. Some of it stops.

So, here's what that's like.