It’s been five weeks since my surgery and I have so much to report since my last “healthish” blog post that it’s kind of overwhelming. In those five weeks, I received the most awesome cancer news ever, my 15-month-old daughter broke her leg, Angelina Jolie shone her spotlight on mastectomies, and I’ve had to get used to the idea that I’m going back on chemo… as in, like tomorrow.
First, let’s get to the great news out of cancerland. A week after my surgery, my breast surgeon and oncologist called with the pathology report from my mastectomy. After you get a mastectomy, pathologists study the removed breast and lymph node tissue to see if there are any cancer cells hanging out. Most of the time there are cancer cells. But sometimes, when a patient has had chemotherapy BEFORE their surgery like I did, there aren’t any cancer cells to be found. This event is called a “pathological complete response” or pCR in cancer lingo.
When my oncologist called with my pathology results she told me I was one of those patients who had a pCR, which she described as “the Holy Grail” of treatment.
Friends, it is hard to explain the enormity of my feelings after I heard this. I told my husband and we were in ecstatic disbelief with tears in our eyes. Attaining pCR–being free of cancer when I was pretty fricking full of cancer–was like a call to dream fully again. Up until that point, I was afraid to think too far into the future. I didn’t let myself imagine life more than a few years out and my daydreams stopped at age 50, no matter what. The pCR news gave me hope that I will be with my family for decades.
Unfortunately, pCR is not a be-all, end-all victory. I still have to do the second round of chemo and month of radiation that my oncology dream-team put together when I was first diagnosed. This will ensure that my increased chances of long-term survival remain increased.
The amazing news was a welcome respite during that early phase of surgery recovery. Now that I am five weeks out, I can see that my healing has actually been pretty fantastic, all things considered. I have mobility on my mastectomy side and my core feels totally fine, and I attribute both of these things to the yoga I pursued with vigor prior to surgery.
My recovery period also ended up being a recovery period for my sweet little 15-month-old girl. My husband, being the awesome dad that he is, took her to a playground. He did what any reasonable father would do, and put Baby G on his lap to go down the slide. As they went down, Baby G’s rubber-soled shoe got caught on the side of the plastic slide, causing her to break both her tibia and fibula. She was in a full-on cast for a couple of weeks but is now cast-free. Since the incident, stories have poured in from friends about almost identical injuries thanks to lap-rides and sneakers catching on slides.
In fact, an April 2012 New York Times column addressed exactly this issue. Excerpt: “A study at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., found that nearly 14 percent of pediatric leg fractures over an 11-month period involved toddlers riding down the slide with a parent.”
Moral of the story: do not put your kid on your lap and go down a slide.
Moving on…I was going to write a whole post about Angelina Jolie but I didn’t have time, I guess. So I’ll just start by saying that her situation is quite different than mine. When I was first diagnosed, the doctors thought FOR SURE that I, like Angelina, had one of the breast cancer genes because I was so young and young gals hardly ever get breast cancer unless they have a bad gene.
Turns out, no bad genes for me. Just bad luck. Bad luck from bad environmental factors, presumably. I will write another post about how messed up it is to have cancer and have no idea why you have cancer, but since it’s getting late, I’ll skip it for now.
I’ll just end my Angelina Jolie section by saying that unlike her, the absence of the breast cancer gene gave me the luxury to keep one of my breasts. When you have a breast cancer gene, it’s likely you’ll get cancer in both breasts. When you don’t have a gene, cancer in the second breast isn’t likely to happen.
I can’t imagine the pain, sadness, and confusion that BRCA1 and BRCA2 carriers face when deciding whether to do a preventative surgery that alters their bodies in such a major way. Sure, boobs can be reconstructed and they can look real good. But there are many, many risks and complications that accompany breast reconstruction. Most importantly, reconstructed boobs can not give milk and do not have sensation like their predecessors. They are two big (albeit good-looking) lumps that serve psychology instead of natural biology and all of its joys.
Tomorrow I start another round of chemo. It’s the AC regimen. To avoid typing details, let’s just imagine the first round of chemo that I sailed through as Little League…now, picture the AC regimen as the major leagues. It’s a huge step up in physical commitment, stamina, and psychology.
What I’m saying is don’t be surprised if you get a whiny blog post in a few days. Apologies in advance.