Because I did have brain surgery, remember? How could one forget…
After my appointment with my breast surgeon, Rob and I went to lunch to talk about all the options. Each option isn’t great because they all have their risks.
It’s kind of like when I had brain surgery, the options back then were:
1. If it’s an aneurysm it could burst and you’d likely die OR
2. If it’s a tumor it could grow and make surgery harder.
Annnnnnnnd we’re not sure if it’s an aneurysm or tumor, so good luck with your decision!
At my appointment on Saturday, I got my options and they felt just like my brain surgery options.
Lumpectomy and 20ish rounds of radiation. Combined with one of two different medication options. Both are 10 years long. One has a side effect for an increase in uterine cancer and blood clots. I could have my uterus removed if I don’t want to deal with that. I’ve never been pregnant and those words delivered a direct punch to my gut because that means, I never will be. The other pill puts me into menopause but then I’d get a bonus shot every month for 10 years to block catapulting me into menopause.
Due to my family history of breast cancer on both sides, along with other kinds of cancer, a double mastectomy is on the table. No pills, no radiation, unless, the pathology shows the cancer got outside of the ducts and then we could be back to option one or chemo (is this for real?). We won’t know if the cancer got outside the ducts until about seven days after surgery when the pathology comes back. The surgeon said if we take this option she doesn’t believe we’ll revert to option one or that I’ll need chemo, but she’s telling me every possible scenario. It’s great we caught it so early, this is where you want to catch it, but the cancer is grade 3 meaning it’s feisty and likes to spread fast.
Option two sounds harder to recover from up front, recurrence is slightly lower, and the side effects from option one don’t exist. But then there’s potential breast implant illnesses (feel free to google this on your own). My surgeon said those were from a particular kind of implant and they aren’t used anymore.
OR, I could basically have a tummy tuck, and take my little stomach pooch from the massive guacamole, margarita and Mexican fiesta I’ve been having for many years, and reconstruct the girls this way. But my surgeon, she’s so kind, she said I don’t have much to work with in my tummy area so she’s not sure if this is a real option for me, and the recovery with this is a lot harder than straight reconstructive surgery.
I have stage zero cancer, because it hasn’t left the ducts where most breast cancer starts. On the grading scale, grade one is lazy and lays on the couch, grade two likes to take a walk and grade three likes to run. The pathology means my cancer cells want to go rogue, and quickly.
The fact that I have cancer felt very real after my Saturday appointment. Writing the sentence, “I have cancer,” is hard. Stage zero made me pretty glad, like I had CancerLite, a miniature version of cancer, but that thought was wrong because there’s no such thing. Learning about the grades, the options, the length of medication required, the side effects and recovery times made me cry a lot. These are hard decisions and time is critically of the essence. Since this is grade three, a surgery of some sort will likely happen within a month.
The weekend was filled with a lot of researching, talking, crying and weighing the options. But clarity came on Monday.
On Monday I got my blood taken for genetic testing of 34 genes and markers (including BRCA 1 & 2) those results should come in a couple of weeks. The reason to test so many genes is because genetic testing has become a foundational tool to help determine the best course of action and there is an association for certain genes with secondary cancers.
Over the weekend I prayed that the right option would be very clear and I discussed with Rob that I was terrified of making the wrong choice. To be honest, I was leaning toward option two, but my meeting with the medical oncologist and radiation oncologist on Monday really solidified the course of action.
The oncologist said not to wait on genetic testing for an answer, to do a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as soon as possible. He said since this was caught so early and isn’t invasive yet and combined with my age, he would actually be more concerned with the long term effects of radiation, which I didn’t even think about. Radiation not only affects the area you’re targeting, it will also affect everything in the field of range too. Radiation is also linked to other forms of cancers that won’t appear for 20-30 years, so not only would I experience the short term affects of radiation, but long term effects too. There are certainly so many reasons to use radiation including being in a later stage of cancer, having a more aggressive kind of cancer or being older, all are excellent reasons. But for me, it doesn’t appear to be the right answer. He encouraged me to be done with this in 2019 so that in 2020 I can also heal emotionally and mentally.
Monday provided the clarity I was praying for and a solid course of action to follow. I am very thankful to have caught this so early and hopefully only one surgery will be necessary. But, I know that with cancer things can change quickly and I’ve been told to be prepared for that.
Thank you to the squad of people who have sent messages, texts and who have called, there are SO many of you!! You guys are AWESOME. I am continually asked how can I help? Here’s how: if you’re friends with my husband, check on him. Remember to always check on your “strong” friend. He’s that friend, so please check on him. And thank you to the guys who already have. Our friends are so awesome and I couldn’t ask for a better bunch.
Keep the mood light but also keep it real. Shortly into our marriage I remember moving my sister in law from her extended stay into her new loft downtown. Our family went to the storage unit and there was just so much to move. I kept the mood light, I made up cheers (it’s moving day, it’s moving day…we’re moving out of the extended stay!) complete with moves and high kicks. I wanted to keep everyone’s spirits up as they were lifting heavy boxes. Rob and I joked, that if I’d keep the mood light, he’d kept the workload light. It’s been something funny we’ve said to each other for 15 years now. Cancer is obviously serious, but please don’t be afraid to talk to me or Rob, act like you normally would. But also, I can’t be a champion of vulnerability and expect everyone to only keep things light and fluffy and not be real. If you want to cry, that’s OK. I don’t expect everyone to show how strong they are so I don’t cry too. And maybe that’s a lot to ask, keeping it real when it needs to be and keeping it light when it feels right. But that’s how everyone can help.
Work – Obviously I’m going to talk about work. I can work. I am working. Did you see my shirt in the picture above? I have a great team who has my back. They had it during my brain surgery and they’ll have it during this. Plus, I know that real estate contract like the back of my hand and I can negotiate in my sleep…I mean c’mon, it’s not brain surgery guys. I want you to be confident in using me and continuing to refer business to me.
I feel like I have to address work for a few old reasons and one new reason. When Reagan had her crisis, some people didn’t want to “bother me” with business, some people said I straight up wasn’t capable to handle my new complicated home life and my career. The Mighty featured it on their site and you can read about that here. But I’ve proven time and again that I can handle my life, be vulnerable about it on this blog and social media, and sell real estate full time to support my family. It’s because of my previous experience that I kept my brain surgery to myself until after it was over. But that’s not how we’re supposed to do this life! We’re supposed to be there for one another and we really shouldn’t judge what someone is capable of. I’m here to tell you, I guess for the third time, that I am capable of going through hard things, including breast cancer, and doing my job effectively.
As my friend Rachel put it, I’m a special needs mom, I’ve had brain surgery, I’m beating breast cancer and have sold about $100 million in real estate. What’s your super power?