Nobody likes to talk about it but it is out there. The C word. Cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and I thought I would share my experience to help people going through it. Maybe to help them with the steps, or feelings, or advice, or questions.
Sometimes I treat this blog as my diary. Sometimes I think of it as a way to get good information about things I have experienced. Most of my experiences have been quite enjoyable with traveling and eating! But this latest experience has not been so enjoyable but I thought my story could maybe help someone who is in this situation. So here, is my breast cancer story.
First of all, I live in Spain, Mallorca to be exact, so my experience is with Spanish medical professionals. Sometimes things are done differently in other countries, just in case you think it might have the exact same procedure in the USA, for example.
I had a mammogram (one of MANY) in November 2021. I actually hadn’t had one for about two years because of being lazy (not recommended) and COVID (not recommended either). Ha, see no need to always be so serious! And in Mallorca the patient usually picks up the report from the hospital and takes it to the doctor for them to review. Well, I read the results (they were in Spanish) and I thought everything seemed okay, like my past results. So I dragged my feet a bit to getting back to my gynecologist (Dr. Raas – thank you!) to show it to him. Well, when I did finally go back a few months later he told me that they found something with the mammogram and why did I wait so long to get back to him!? Well, I was a bit angry with myself and nervous. I was told to get another mammogram for them to look closer at the suspicious area. I did and when it was finished the nurse told me to wait while she spoke with the doctor. She came out a few minutes later and confirmed that yes, there was something there. But she said it may only be fibroids (non-cancerous growths) but I needed a biopsy next to confirm what this was. This really put my head spinning into nervousness.
Next up. Biopsy. Let me just be straight up about this. It was not fun. I had googled breast biopsy many times just to make sure I knew what was going to happen. I don’t always have an English speaking doctor when I go in, my Spanish isn’t horrible but I needed to make sure what was going to happen during the biopsy.
And I need to back up a little bit. Most patients can get a biopsy in their gynecologist’s office because the gynecologist can see the area with ultrasound. This was not the case for me. My gynecologist could never find my tumor because it was non-palpable, it wasn’t this solid mass. So because of this I had to have my biopsy done with the mammogram machine with the doctor being able to see it with the computer and knowing exactly where the needle needed to go.
So, the biopsy. I sat in a chair next to the mammogram machine where my breast was squished in the machine. Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. The doctor numbed it a bit but definitely not enough. I don’t know if this is normal for Spain but it was painful. A long needle is inserted into the breast to the area they need to take the sample from. Once the needle is in, another “pincher” is inserted to take the sample. This lasted a few minutes. I was stuck in the mammogram machine and trying not to hyperventilate and pass out. The doctor was trying to take my mind off the pain by asking me questions but I could only give short answers. Finally, it was over. I didn’t cry! But damn, not fun.
My breast was very bruised and sore for over a week.
Now it was waiting time for results. Again. Thankfully we had family coming in town for a big birthday celebration and that took my mind off things.
But then the results showed that yes, it was cancer.
Lots of things flooded my brain when it was confirmed. Places I still needed to see, experiences I still wanted to do, friends and family that I don’t see nearly often enough. But I put positive thoughts in my head and told myself that I would beat this and be strong.
Back to the gynecologist to discuss the results. It showed that it was both estrogen positive and progesterone positive (which means the cancer grows in response to those hormones). But we still needed to wait for the HER2 result, which is a growth-promoting protein that’s on the outside of all breast cells.
Now I had been doing some googling to get some answers and maybe more questions to ask my doctor and I saw that a triple positive or a triple negative are the most aggressive type of breast cancers. So I was keeping things crossed that my HER2 result would be negative. And lucky for me it was. So that was one good moment for me during this time.
Next up was a CAT scan, to help see better where the non-palpable tumor was located. Plus more blood tests and finally it was time to schedule the surgery.
So again, my gynecologist can’t see my tumor on an ultrasound machine so I needed a little more help from the nuclear radiation department. I needed the Radioguided occult lesion localization (ROLL), which is a relatively new method to localize and orientate the excision of non-palpable breast lesions.The day of the surgery I had to get nuclear radioactive dye injected into the tumor area. It involved the injection of a small amount of nuclear radiotracer under guidance by ultrasonography which helps the surgeons make sure they are getting all of the cancer removed. After getting the dye injected I had to wait in the hospital for about an hour while massaging my breast to help the dye work its way into the area fully. Then when my nuclear medicine doctor (Dr. Cristina at Juaneda – thank you!) said ok the dye is in the area, I drove to the hospital where the surgery would be done.
If you know Mallorca, I can recommend the hospital PalmaPlanas. All of the appointments needed – CAT scan, mammogram, biopsy, etc have been done there. They were always very professional and kind. So I parked in the parking lot and checked myself into the hospital. My room was a private room with a sofa bed if Felix wanted to spend the night. A sweet younger team of three came to take my blood pressure, ask a few questions and gave me that sexy hospital gown. About an hour later a guy showed up with a hospital bed and wheeled my down to prep for surgery.
I received an IV in my arm and waited with about 15 other people who were in the room either waiting for surgery or had just finished with surgery and the staff were waiting for them to wake up to take back to their room. One guy was full on snoring. Loud as could be. That put a smile on my face while I waited. I was a little nervous and very cold. They kept the room freezing so someone brought me a blanket. And then it was time.
I was wheeled into the surgery room where my Dr. Raas was waiting for me. There were also my nuclear medicine doctor, my doctor’s assistant, the anesthesiologist and a few nurses preparing things. Everyone was very calming. And then the anesthesiologist put me out. During the surgery (which was about 3 hours), they removed the cancer area from my breast and also some lymph nodes from my left armpit. They then sent those to the lab in the hospital to find out if they got everything or needed to cut/take out more. The lab said they couldn’t detect anything around the edges and the lymph nodes were clear. So I was stitched up and woke back up in the recovery room and then wheeled back to my room where Felix was waiting for me. I was so relieved for the surgery to be over.
Soon after Felix left for McDonalds. 🙂 I took a pill that they gave me to help me sleep and I did until 10 pm when they brought me dinner. I hadn’t had anything to eat for about 24 hours and the ham and cheese sandwich with a side of fruit looked like the best thing I’ve had in years. I scarfed it down, sent Felix a message and was back asleep until breakfast was served at 7 am. A nurse came in an hour later to give me more acetaminophen for the pain (in the IV) and then Felix came back at 11 for us to wait for the doctor to give me the ok to go home. Dr. Raas showed up, looked at the stitched up areas, changed the dressing on them and said I could go home if I wanted. I laughed and said does anyone want to stay? He nodded emphatically and I could only think of lonely people who wanted more time to be taken care of.
As soon as we got home I crawled into bed and took a three hour nap. Felix came to check on me since I had been asleep for so long and I slowly got out of bed. I took some more pain medicine (acetaminophin) but the pain was manageable, thank goodness. I was worried about that, I didn’t want to be in lots of pain and I only took pain medicine for about two more days. I needed to wear a sports bra day and night, even when sleeping. It was annoying but I tolerated it. During the day I wore one of Felix’s button down shirts which he would help me into and out of. So thankful that he was there and calming and helpful.
Next was the wait for the in-depth lab report to let us know if everything had been removed. It took about three weeks but when Dr. Raas called and told me that the margins were clear a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Plus a few tears as well. This was all such a stressful time and to hear that I was in the clear was a relief.
Still not done with things though. Now I needed to meet with the oncologist to decide what kind of treatment would be best for me – hormone therapy (HR), radiation and/or chemotherapy. He thought HR and radiation was the way to go. I started tamoxifeno 20 mg which I will be taking for up to seven to ten years. No noticeable side effects.
Finally, radiation was finished last week. After meeting with my radiation oncologist, she said that the 5 day radiation treatment would be best. This is a somewhat new way of doing radiation, instead of the 15 day treatment. I still get the same amount of radiation but in 5 days, not 15 and the results seem to be the same if not better. I had to get my radiation tattoos, four tattoos that ensure the radiation machine does the treatment in exactly the right place, every time. My doctor gave me some cream which I put on after every treatment. My breast was a bit red and tender and near the end I was pretty tired but by the next week I was feeling fine. So thankfully no horrible side effects from that either.
And that’s it. I will continue to meet with my oncologist and get regular mammograms and hopefully thanks to the advancement of science I will live a long cancer free life. If needed I will edit this for future things or write a different blog post.
I want to thank the doctors and staff and especially all of my friends and family for their love, support, messages, flowers. I would not have been as strong as I was without you all by my side.
And please remember to get your checkup! Do that breast self-exam (men too!), get that mammogram, get that colonoscopy. Take care of yourself and stay healthy.
Sending love and light.