I’d always considered myself a fairly healthy person. Food wise, I’m borderline compulsive. Organic, local, ethically raised, Mason jars and microwave-free, are just a few of the common words in my house. I’d make a sick Brookylinite hipster, if I wasn’t from Toronto.
Professionally, I advocate through recipe development ethical food styling and even have volunteered in a position to promote local food and agro-tourism. I preserve the harvest in fall, keep my own bees, dabbled in chicken husbandry. I’ve even tapped for sap in March, collecting our own yearly supply of maple syrup.
All that aside, I was shocked when that lump I’d found turned out to indeed be breast cancer. Since I’d just turned 40, it was one hell of a birthday gift. A shock to say the least. There is no history of cancer in my family. None. I know I do not carry the BRCA I or II gene. I also, or so my 23&me test I’d had two years before showed, I had a lower chance than average of ever developing cancer.
Starting out on that cancer train, they’ve got you. I’m assuming I was like others when they get diagnosed and fell into a category:
The Silent Type.
The Rule Follower.
No matter, they’ve got you. They’ve got you with the one thing so big; fear.
Fear of life itself.
You’ll make bargains, promises you can’t keep, regret every bad decision and doughnut you’ve ever eaten just to make it not true.
The day I was diagnosed with cancer, in the same room I was given the news, within moments, my future was illustrated out in front of me.
Only two tracks ahead; Lumpectomy or Mastectomy.
With a mastectomy, a surgeon skillfully, yet unattractively, will remove all breast tissue in the effected breast, often along with your nipple and several lymph nodes. It’s a pretty serious operation, with a tough and painful recovery. For some, this might be where the ride ends, I was told. You could opt for the double mastectomy, just to be on the ultra-safe side. It’s the “Angelina Effect”. It’s what the surgeons have been calling a phenomenon where women are following the lead of actress Angelina Jolie and removing both breasts pre-emptively. This route was thankfully explained as over-kill. However, after any mastectomy, if there is any sign of spreading within the lymph nodes, women will go through many rounds of chemotherapy and be put on a endocrine treatment, like Tamoxifen. Tamoxifen, in layman’s terms, is a pharmaceutical therapy which blocks hormonal receptors. It comes with it’s own slue of risks and benefits, mostly being, it’ll help you not to get a breast cancer reoccurrence but it could put you at risk for getting another cancer.
My other option was drawn out with more pitstops and side turns.
Of course at this point, I was still just staring blankly thinking, “So, this is how I’m going to die”, while wondering how this happened in the first place. My only other choice now, and what was recommended, was a lumpectomy.
This, is when a tumour can be easily located and safely removed along with a rim of healthy breast tissue around it and several lymph nodes. This rim would hopefully be forever known as a “clean margin”. Since if margins aren’t clean, meaning they have a trace of cancerous cells, another surgery is scheduled where the removal of more tissue, if you still have it, is performed. Otherwise, it’s back to option A. If successful, it’s on to test the tumour, decide a path for chemotherapy, hormonal therapy (read Tamoxefin) and then it’s off to radiation.
Having always enjoyed my breasts, I’d never truly appreciated their girth until now, as they were big enough to spare a lumpectomy and fortunately my tumour was over to one side. As a precaution, I was scheduled for an MRI and my upcoming surgery during that same meeting of finding out. Next I was ushered into a nurses room, where I was sadly asked if I had children and given droves of pamphlets on how to tell them “Mommy was sick” and how to cope with losing my hair.
HUH? I thought they just said if I needed chemo.
This nurse quickly assured me, I was younger than most breast cancer patients and they’d be “Throwing me into everything they’ve got”.
I left in a haze and went home to cry.
And figure out how to tell my kids.