Buddy Breast Check; January Edition


It's the 12th of the month...BUDDY BREAST CHECK TIME!! For this month's BBC I am having my very first guest post!!! Lauren over at Dancing Backwards in Pink Heels, has so kindly agreed to share her Breast Cancer story with us.  Enjoy, and don't forget to do your monthly breast exam if you haven't already! 
Now without further ado...Lauren...

"I'm sorry, my dear.  It doesn't look good."

Words you never want to hear from your doctor.

It all started a few weeks earlier.  While I admit I never did routinely scheduled self breast exams, I did regularly poke around in there to check things out.   And there it was one day.  A lump.  I figured it was just something left over from when I was nursing my son or some sort of cyst.  I was only 29.  Though my grandmother had breast cancer in her 40's, she had genetic testing done a few years ago and was BRCA negative.  How could it be anything bad?  I went to my doctor anyway.  He told me it was just a fibroadenoma, which is completely benign and very common in women my age.   He gave me a hug, told me I was fine, and sent me on my way with a referral for a mammogram and ultrasound.  Just to be "110% sure."

I knew something was wrong when the ultrasound tech was being extra nice to me and kept reassuring that the radiologist is a wonderful doctor.  So I can't say I was shocked when he came in and said we needed to do a biopsy.  I just calmly replied, "I can't have cancer.  I have a baby to take care of!" I just laid on that table wondering how this was happening.  Was I really being told that I most likely had cancer?  WHAT?!  Then came those hellish two days of waiting.  And on December 7, 2012, my doctor called with the results.

"I'm sorry, my dear.  It doesn't look good."

The beginning is awful and scary.  I had 12 medical appointments over the next two weeks.  And more waiting for scan and pathology results.  Luckily, these results were all pretty good news (which I found out on our way to a previously planned trip I refused to cancel to take our son to Disney for the first time).  I had a very treatable pathology and my PET scan showed no evidence that the cancer had spread to the rest of my body. Once breast cancer spreads to other areas, it is typically considered incurable. 

I somehow made it through the holidays and my 30th birthday while trying not to worry about whether they were going to cut me open and find the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.  A month after my diagnosis, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.  I could have just had a lumpectomy, but I opted for the mastectomy.  My sentinel lymph nodes were cancerous, so my surgeon took out an additional eighteen.  These all came back clear (thank GOD!), but I am now dealing with lymphedema as a result of having so many removed.  My hand and fingers swell up all the time for no reason because the lymph nodes aren't there to drain lymphatic fluid like they normally would.  So I get to go to physical therapy and wear a highly fashionable compression sleeve and glove in the Florida humidity.

Once I was healed from the surgery, I went through four horrible months of chemotherapy with some major complications.  These included one emergency surgery, three ER trips, and two overnight hospital stays.  I had two infections, one of which was so painful I couldn't pick up my son for over a week, and the other was the the reason I needed emergency surgery to remove one of my implants.  My surgeon wanted to wait until I was done with treatment to replace it, so I had to use a prosthesis for five months.  At one of my weekly check-ups during chemo, my heart rate was beating at more than double the normal rate.  An ER doctor gave me a drug to stop my heart momentarily so that it would hopefully reset itself.  Only it didn't work, and they tried it again.  So I got to experience the horribly painful sensation of my heart being stopped twice.  I also would get random nerve pain attacks that were the most awful pain I have ever experienced in my life (and my epidural failed after 24 hours on pitocin, so I know pain!). 

Once chemo was over, it was on to radiation.  This part wasn't too bad, but I had to go Monday-Friday for over six weeks for a total of 32 treatments.  Then it was on to another reconstructive surgery which involved taking skin and muscle from my back and moving it to my chest to replace the tissue that radiation damaged.  And finally, just a few weeks ago, I had my last reconstructive surgery where the painful, rock-hard "tissue expander" implants were switched out for the regular implants.

And I did all of this while trying to take care of a very active toddler!  During chemo, I would count the minutes until my husband got home, and I could go to sleep.  I cried every Friday because I was so relieved I had made it through the week.  The poor kid has been dragged to more doctor appointments than I can count.  He knows the nurse at my plastic surgeon's office so well that he runs up and hugs her when we walk into the office.  The staff at the radiation clinic would all take turns sitting with him while I went in to get zapped for my 32 treatments.  We had a revolving door of family and friends helping out while I was recovering from all my surgeries.  And for months, my poor baby didn't get to do much else besides sit at home with a sick and exhausted mother.  Meanwhile, my husband was struggling to juggle his stressful job while playing mom and dad at home.  And being bald sucked, too.

So now I'm left to pick up the pieces.  The shitty part about breast cancer is it can come back years and years later, and I'm struggling to manage the fear that I will leave my son without a Mommy.  I am also trying to come to terms with the fact that I don't know if I can have another baby, as chemo can do a number on ovaries.  The drug I will be on for the next ten years causes birth defects.  I won't be able to even try for another one for five years, when it will be safer for me to temporarily stop taking it.  But I'm alive!!!

It's not easy when you get a 60 year old woman's disease at 29.  But thanks to Facebook and the Internet, I found out that I am sadly not alone.  It happens to women in their 20s and 30s more often than you think.  And younger women typically have a more aggressive cancer.  Since we don't get routine mammograms, it is also typically diagnosed at the later stages.  I was stage IIB.  If I hadn't found that lump when I did or if I hadn't gone to see my doctor, I would still be fighting a much harder battle."

Now it's your turn...here's how it works!
1) Post about whatever you like today....BUT just make sure at some point in your post you remind your readers/fellow bloggers that it is Buddy Breast Check time and they need to do their self-exam.  
2)  Grab the button below and link back here to Pamper & Pearls
3) The Link up starts at 8am EST on the 12th of every month, and it's a blog hop so feel free to share!! 
4) Please help me promote the link up!  Use the hash tag #buddybreastcheck on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.  Tag me on IG @pamperspearls and Twitter @pampers_pearls and I’ll re-tweet!
5) And most importantly...remember to do your breast self-exam at some point today if you haven't already.  Need help on "how-to"...go here to the national breast cancer website. 

1) Do your breast self-exam at some point today if you haven't already. Need help on "how-to"...go here to the national breast cancer website. 
2) Remind your friends and loved ones to do their self-exams by sharing this post on your Facebook or Twitter pages using the hashtag#buddybreastcheck.  Tag me on IG @pamperspearls and Twitter @pampers_pearls and I’ll re-tweet!
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