01 July 2010
For those of you who may not have known about my beginnings with this beast called Cancer, it all began for me in early February.
I had not been feeling well since November, with several tests by general doctors and even a neurologist. No physical reason could be found that would cause me to be so very tired and hinder full use of my right arm. It was all very strange.
In early February I noticed my right breast was inflamed and sore. As women, we are told to do a monthly self-exam, check for lumps, and always have an annual mammogram. We’re also told, “cancer doesn’t hurt.” Well ladies, get ready to throw some of that out the window (the lumps and the hurting part).
I had my mammogram in October – it was clear. But the February problem was about inflammation and soreness in my breast – remember: “cancer doesn’t hurt.” I quickly made myself an appointment with my OB/GYN, Dr. William Harrison. Upon examination, he prescribed a round of antibiotics in the event I was suffering from a breast infection called Mastitis. This was on a Thursday. Dr. Harrison told me that if the infection and soreness had not subsided by Monday to call him back (a smart and aggressive doctor). On Monday, there was no change. Dr. Harrison quickly got me into the St. Vincent Breast Center the following day, on Tuesday, February 16th, where I had a mammogram (all clear), a breast MRI (suspicious area found), and then a needle biopsy.
Every cancer survivor vividly remembers the exact moment when they “got the call.” Mine was the following day - Wednesday, February 17th, 11:00 am.
“You have breast cancer.”
Those who know me well would agree that I have little patience when there are important things to be done. By 1:00 pm, the brilliant Dr. Suzanne Klimberg of the UAMS Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Institute had agreed to be my surgeon (Suzanne and I worked together from 1995 to 1997 to pass the Arkansas Breast Cancer Act). And by 3:00 she had called and summoned me to her office: “Come right away. We have much work to do.”
By 5 pm, the news was grim. With additional digital images, she discovered that I have a very rare and aggressive cancer called Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Unlike most breast cancers, IBC does not present itself as a lump but rather as “sheets of cancer” and cannot be detected in a mammogram. The cancer mass was too large for surgery. Instead, chemo treatments would be required on the front end followed by surgery.
From February 19th-25th, I spent every day at UAMS either having tests, scans or my catheter port placed into my chest for chemotherapy treatment. On February 26th I met my brilliant oncologist, Dr. Issam Makhoul. And here was the diagnosis: Stage IIIB Inflammatory Breast Cancer, the size about 6 inches in diameter (information I have not shared on this blog until now), several lymph nodes also infected by the disease, 5-year survival rate of 25%, at best 40%. This was certainly not a good diagnosis.
After eight rounds of chemotherapy (Adriamycin and Taxol) and a host of other medical bumps and bruises along the way, yesterday's news could not have been any better. Here is what I know.
· I had an MRI at 9:45 am Wednesday.
· At 2:09 pm the radiologist called – Dr. Robert Fincher, a good name that I will never forget. Since when does the radiologist call you with a report? I’ve NEVER talked to a radiologist as they are usually like “the man behind the green curtain.” In Dr. Fincher’s words, “I wanted to call and tell you that I’ve seldom seen such an incredible response to chemotherapy treatment as yours.”
· The radiology report says this: There is no residual enhancing mass on the right breast following the chemotherapy treatment. There has been complete resolution of the tumor at this time. The pathologic lymph nodes seen in the right axilla on the 02/24/2010 examination are no longer present.
In English: The MRI shows no cancer cells.
Dr. Makhoul then called at 2:45 pm. He was almost as giddy as me. He said that eradication of the cancer is nothing short of a miracle. To go from a 6” mass and cancer in the lymph nodes to N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease) is very shocking. He immediately gives me an A+ for the MRI results, and much hope for the future. He says we couldn’t have had better results.
While MRI scans are not always 100% accurate, they’re pretty darn close. However, that also means that I’m still scheduled for a Double-M on July 19the. As Dr. Makhoul said, my breast tissue is obviously susceptible to cancer and will require removal and a pathology analysis. In addition, the surgery increases my chances for full recovery. But more good news – if my tissue specimens come back cancer-free, Dr. Makhoul is going to make me “The Queen.” I would rather enjoy being the Queen, I tell him. He closes our call by telling me that we’ve made a fabulous team, both of us doing great at our assigned jobs.
There are times in life when there is no explanation for why something happens. This is one of those times. This miracle certainly required a brilliant and talented medical team, one that I have been blessed to have. But I will never disregard the spiritual aspects of this battle – the family and friends who kept my spirits high, the many prayers and much love, the colleagues who lessoned my burden and gave me time to heal, and the purposeful way of life with attention to my physical and mental health. Maybe more can be explained one day. For now, I’m simply in awe.
While the battle is not over and there is more to be done, this is the best news I could have had. It certainly makes the future challenges easier to overcome. In the meantime, I am grateful and hopeful like I’ve never been in my entire life. As Allyson said by phone from St. Louis, “Mom, this is the greatest day of our lives.” She might be right.
Not all breast cancers come in lumps.
Modern medicine can be amazing.
The love of God, family and friends is extraordinarily powerful.
Life is good, especially if you want it to be.
You CAN kick cancer’s butt!
Posted by Stacy Sells at 3:27 AM