Wait, you have cancer?
How did you find out?
On October 26th I was scratching an itch and felt an unusual lump in my left breast. I thought it best to rule out anything serious by getting a breast exam. The breast exam was inconclusive, so I was ordered to have a mammogram and if necessary, an ultrasound. A few days later, I went in for my mammogram, which quickly escalated over the course of thirty minutes from mammogram, to ultrasound, to core needle biopsy. On November 3rd I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
What stage are you?
Cancer is staged in two ways. There is a clinical stage assigned at diagnosis before treatment and a pathological stage determined after surgery when a complete picture of the cancer can be assessed. Based on the size of my tumor, the degree my cancer cells have differentiated from normal cells, and the fact that it is contained in the breast and hasn't spread to my lymph nodes, I'm a clinical stage 2.
What is your treatment plan?
I am being treated at the University of Minnesota and participating in the I-SPY2 clinical trial that pairs the most advanced cancer medicines with standard chemotherapy. I will have twenty weeks of chemotherapy followed by surgery and breast reconstruction.
Why are you participating in a clinical trial?
I am participating in a clinical trial because I want to contribute to the greater understanding of how to treat and potentially cure cancer. I'm also a breast cancer minority; only five percent of breast cancers are in women under forty so there is not much data on young women with breast cancer and the best approach to treating them. I want to do what I can to help other women my age who may become afflicted with this disease.
Will you lose your hair?
Yes, I will lose the hair on my head, and potentially my eyebrows and eyelashes as well.
Will you need to get a mastectomy?
Yes, due to the size of my tumor I will most likely get a mastectomy. I'm receiving chemotherapy before surgery, which may shrink the tumor some allowing for a more breast conserving surgery.
Do you have that gene Angelina Jolie has?
No, I do not have the BRCA gene mutation. I also tested negative for all 21 known gene mutations that can cause breast cancer. That doesn't mean I don't have an unidentified or unique mutation that increased my risk for getting cancer.
What are you most afraid of?
Honestly, the unknown long term and potentially permanent side effects of chemotherapy. The ones at the top of my list are: permanent cognitive impairment, neuropathy, hearing loss, and early menopause. All or none of these things could happen to me, but the potential of even one of them happening to me is terrifying.
Are you going to die?
Eventually, but most likely not from breast cancer.