Actually, when it comes to any major surgery you need to get a second opinion. Two weeks ago, I got a second opinion from a doctor at the University of Tennessee. I got another mammogram done. Another ultrasound was done. I waited a while and then met with another surgical oncologist.
He told me I was an ideal candidate for a lumpectomy. Then he explained exactly why that was so. I asked him the same question I asked the other doctor – what would you do if your mom/sister/daughter was in the same situation. He told me he’d tell them the same thing he told me. That given my age and type of cancer I have, he thinks it’s the best option. After reading more about my cancer in the Susan Love book (My mom and I refer to it as the bible of breast cancer), I feel even more strongly that a lumpectomy is the right choice.
There are risks involved. As my doctor cuts around the margins of the tumor and the precancerous cells, he sends them off to pathology. He told us that the quick test is about 75% accurate If they find more cancer cells in the margins after they’ve done a complete pathology, they’ll have to open me up again and take more out. It still involves pain and probably some disfigurement of my breast.
One of the things I liked best about this new doctor was that he was the one who brought up issues of sexuality & self-image. As my Dad jokes, when it comes to medical issues the first thing a guy thinks of is “Am I still going to be able to have sex?”. There are a lot of doctors who aren’t candid about about how operations or medications will affect a woman sexually. This doctor didn’t talk down to us. He explained everything in complete detail. He answered every single question, and he was honest about what he couldn’t be sure of. I’m glad I got a second opinion because while I’m still scared, I feel better about having to deal with this whole mess now. Disregarding the genetic testing results, I have choices. I have options. I have the tiniest semblance of control.
If I’m able to have a lumpectomy, I’ll need to have seven weeks of radiation. That will not be fun. I also run the risk of having a much more complex type of breast reconstruction if the cancer comes back in the same breast, and I need to have a mastectomy. After thinking and talking with a lot of people, I decided to go with a lumpectomy if I’m able to. I’m willing to roll the dice. As this doctor and other people have said, I can always choose to have more removed; I can’t put anything back.
I understand why some women choose to have their entire breast removed or even both breasts removed. Just knowing that the cancer might reoccur fills them with such anxiety, that they want to do anything that will lessen the risk. If my genetic testing comes back with a really bad gene mutation, I’ll be removing both. But different women make different choices – that’s a good thing. I hope to pay back some of the kindness that’s been shown to me by women who’ve already traveled this journey. When I do that, I’m going to keep the frustrations I’ve felt and lessons I learned very much in mind. Each of our own cancer experiences are different, and I’m learning that it’s best not to generalize. It’s best not to give advice unless asked. It’s best to do more listening than talking.
I am still waiting on the results of my genetic testing. I was told my results would be back in 10-14 days. 14 days would have been last Wednesday. I called Thursday morning to see what was going on. In the nicest way possible, I let the lady who handles all the genetic testing know that I was upset and scared. This is not an inconsequential test. The results of this test determine whether or not I’ll need a bilateral mastectomy. I called back today because the results were certainly going to be in today. I called in to find that the woman who handles all the genetic testing wasn’t working that day, and no one could help us out by giving me the answer.
I can’t even begin to explain how upset I am. My surgery is scheduled on Tuesday. I’d like more than a week to process the idea that both my breasts will have to be removed, both my ovaries will have to be removed, and that I will probably not have biological children because of the fear they might carry these genes.
I feel like one big swirling mess of fear. Genetic tests, surgery, pain, chemo, radiation – all these things swirl around and around in my mind until it seems like a tornado of despair. I go to bed and wake up – still feeling exhausted. It feels like my brain just keeps churning through the night, trying to process something that you can’t begin to sort out until you know all the information. Even then, you don’t have the time to really start processing it before you have surgery. It’s cancer, and it needs to get the hell out of your body.
I know my posts have been kind of heavy lately. Hugh the Cancer Fighting Manatee has not made nearly enough appearances. I am doing a horrible job at making cancer feel bad. I’m hoping the F-5 tornado in my brain will slow down to a F-3 once I know what fork in the road I need to take.
Update: I wrote most of this post on Tuesday. Tuesday night I found out that I didn’t test positive for any cancer gene mutations that they currently know of. Marcus and I cried for 30 minutes after we got the call. My mom cried. Hugh cried. The cats demanded our attention. We drank a toast to having faith. We drank even more. We ate cheese and watched Dodgeball. For a few hours, I felt like a regular person. I even felt a little beige.
Well, as beige as I’m ever going to get.