The day we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. On Sept. 20th, we had an appointment with the surgeon to go over the “autopsy” results. They did the pathology and biopsy on the removed breast tissue and Wednesday, they delivered the results in a neatly typed 8 x 10 envelope.
Honestly, we were hoping for better results. Up until this point, we had no idea whether or not the cancer had invaded my lymph nodes, and we were praying that it hadn’t and that it had been caught in time. We weren’t really prepared for any other news.
So, the reality of how far this cancer had gone really hit us rather hard. We’re still reeling from it.
We are blessed to have an amazing doctor on our side. He has been kind, gentle and very caring throughout all of this. As he delivered the information, he did his best to explain the complicated medical terms to us. He also did his best to avoid scaring the crap out of us. But as wonderful as he is, the reality of what he was saying started to sink in and we realized what a battle we were facing in the coming year.
The news wasn’t great. In fact, I would need to think pretty hard to come up with a scenario that would be more challenging.
Essentially, the cancer had already spread to the lymph nodes prior to the surgery. They discovered this when they removed 17 of the 30 lymph nodes and tested them. Out of the 17 lymph nodes, 5 were invaded by cancer cells, which means that the cancer has traveled to other parts of my body already.
Lymph nodes are glands, and when cancer strikes that area of the body, it’s “out of control,” if you will. It’s in “spreading” mode, is another way to say it.
Bottom line? Pretty aggressive therapy is ABSOLUTELY required to prevent the cancer from spreading. This means chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. The whole freakin’ ball o’ wax.
It was a bit difficult to understand all the medical jargon, and I realized how helpful it would be to have a medical translator along with us when the doctor was going over the test results. When contemplating how I was going to make this entry to my diary, I wondered how I could possibly explain the meaning behind the medical lingo, what it meant to us emotionally as it was read to us, how each line meant something huge for us. As the doctor went through each page (six pages in all), and explained what each item on the list meant, I found myself trying to see past to the next line, terrified that the next line meant I was going to die. I was struggling with my own internal dialogue, trying to simplify it so I could absorb it without losing my sanity.
I looked over at Michel’s face, blinking back the tears that threatened to spill from my eyes. The look on his face immediately stopped my tears. His expression was stoic, fierce, and determined. I’ve never seen a look like that on his face before. I knew he needed me more than ever in that moment. He needed to know, to be certain, that we could do this, and that he wasn’t alone. I gripped his hand in mine and held it tightly, taking comfort from his strength, and giving comfort in turn. He couldn’t look at me in that moment. He was desperately trying to maintain his composure, for my sake. If he looked at me in that moment, he would have burst into tears, and he didn’t want to take any attention away from hearing it all, hearing the harsh reality that was being delivered in an 8 x 10 envelope.
And I wondered how on earth I could possibly explain the results to others. My friends, my family, my children. Oh My God! How can I possibly explain it to my children?
Sure, I could probably just explain it in medical terms, deliver it without emotion, distance myself from the words. But delivering the facts like a doctor explaining it to medical students wouldn’t do it justice. It wouldn’t help anyone understand the deeper meaning behind each fact. And I need to do this right. I need to do this so I can delve into my own emotions and understand and face the reality of what it all means.
So, I’ve decided to translate the medical jargon into real world language. At least, translate it into what each of the pieces of information mean to me and to my family in the coming months.
Here is the doctor’s report, stated in the language of the internal dialogue I had with myself while I was hearing it.
SURGICAL PATHOLOGY REPORT
My breast. The breast that first made its appearance when I was 13 years old, and was with me for 23 years of my life. The breast that betrayed me and let cancer destroy it. MY breast. I once loved that breast, and now it is sitting in a jar and is referred to as The Specimen. (Please tell me this didn’t spread to my lymph nodes)
Multicentric Central Carcinoma
Three little words that mean it’s pretty bad, right. Multicentric means it was all over the place. If it had only been in one or two places, it would have been pretty easy to deal with. But because it was multicentric, it means that it wanted to take over my whole body. That’s bad, isn’t it doc? (Please tell me this didn’t spread to my lymph nodes)
Tumor Dimensions: 7.0 x 5.0 x 3.5 cm
Holy crap! Are you seriously telling me that this lump I felt was that big? How the heck did it grow so fast? When I first felt this in June, it felt like a tiny little pea. And you’re telling me that in less than 3 months, it grew that fast? Does this mean it spread to the rest of my body by now? (Please tell me this didn’t spread to my lymph nodes)
Modified Scarff Bloom Richardson Grade: 3/3 with a Total Score of 8/9
OK, this doesn’t sound good at all. So, let me understand this correctly. You’re saying that out of all the types of breast cancers, mine is the worst it can get? I have to look this up when I get home to see what this really means. (Please tell me this didn’t spread to my lymph nodes)
(update: I did look it up when I got home. It means I have a 50% chance of surviving another 5 years.)
Lymphatic/vascular invasion: Extensive
Oh crap! It spread to my lymph nodes! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! OK, now what? What does this mean? Does this mean I’m going to die? Is that what this means? (Please tell me you can fix me!)
Invasive Tumor Necrosis: Absent
OK, so this means that the cancer didn’t use up its entire supply of oxygen, and that means that there’s hope? Really? OK, it’s a teeny, tiny spot of hope, but it’s hope nonetheless. I don’t care what the statistics are, I’m going to make it dammit! (Please tell me you can fix me!)
- Invasive ductal carcinoma with extensive lymphatic invasion
- Extensive Ductal carcinoma in situ, comedo type
- 5 of 17 lymph nodes positive for malignancy
Recommended Treatment Protocols:
- Chemotherapy (minimum of 8 monthly treatments)
- Hormone therapy (to be determined)
OK, so there it is. The reality of what I’ve got. I have cancer. Harsh reality, but I need to face it so I can get through this.
Hell, with a 50% survival rate, I can look at it either way, right? I could look at it that I have a 50% chance of dying within 5 years, or I could look at it that I have a 50% chance of surviving to a ripe old age.
If I was playing the lottery, I would gladly put down a LOT of money for a 50% chance of winning a few million, right?
So, I’m going to look at this as my own personal lottery. Every time I think positive thoughts, it will be like buying a ticket to increase my chances. Every time I laugh, I’m buying a ticket. Every time I help someone else who’s going through this, I’m buying a ticket. Every time I say something that makes someone else feel good, I’m buying a ticket. Every time I perform a random act of kindness, I’m buying a ticket. Every time I feel a wash of love come over me, I’m buying another ticket.
And I plan to buy a LOT of tickets to this particular lottery.
After all, with a 50/50 chance of winning, those are amazing odds!