I got a call from the surgeon to let me know that the test on my lymph nodes came back clear, no cancer. Yahoo! That was good news. In my mind I figured that meant I wouldn’t have to have chemo, just the radiation. I had an upcoming appointment with him for a follow up from the surgery. I also had appointments with both my oncologist and radiologist. I had not yet met them.
I arrived for my appointment with my surgeon. I was handed a gown to change into (dang, I still wished I had bought my own fancy-schmancy gown). The surgeon looked at the incision area and asked if I had any questions. I had developed a sort of hard lump where the tumor had been and it was tender so I asked about that. I was told that the area where the tumor was had filled with blood and it had coagulated, but it would be absorbed back into the body. Ok, that sounded reasonable. Minnie was also still a little swollen and sore. He said that was normal. Everything looked good. I told him I had appointments with my other doctors and wanted to get started with the radiation treatments as soon as I could. He just kind of looked at me and said, “We don’t have all your tests back yet. We can’t determine your treatment course until they all come back”. “But I was told the lymph nodes were clear, what other test are we waiting for?” He advised the *Oncotype test (see below) results were not back yet. Oncotype test? I vaguely remember hearing something about that but was not sure what it was. He told me it helped determine the likelihood of the cancer coming back and that would determine if chemo would be necessary. Wait, what? I might still need chemo? I was sure I was in the clear on that…. I was somewhat dumbfounded. That was not what I expected to hear. My brain went a little fuzzy. I finished my appointment. I walked out to my car, pulled around the building, parked my car and cried. Just sat there and cried. The thought of chemo scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t thrilled about getting radiation, but it seemed like a “lesser poison”. I don’t remember how long I sat there. Eventually I thought about the women at the support group and what they had endured. They made it through and seemed stronger in spite of it. I gathered myself together. What could I do? If I needed chemo, I needed chemo. It wasn’t a definite yet, so I wasn’t going to dwell on it. I backed my car out and drove home. The Oncotype test should be back soon and I had an appointment with my oncologist already scheduled. He is the one who will go over the test results with me and determine if I needed the dreaded chemo. I got a call from the oncologist’s office the day before my appointment. The Oncotype test has not come back yet and they want to reschedule the appointment a week later so he has the results. Another week? That seemed like “forever” away. Ok, I’d go one day at a time and find things to occupy my brain. I had an appointment with my radiologist that same week. Good thing I was still out of work.
The day for my appointment with my radiologist arrived. I got there, filled out paper work and waited. It wasn’t too long and they called me back. I met with the nurse and reviewed some of the basics, meds, allergies, etc. She gave me (I am sure you can guess it), yes, a gown to change into. After I changed the doctor came in. He introduced himself and reviewed my file with me. He went over everything from the biopsy to the surgery, the tests and the cancer itself. He was very thorough. He asked questions and answered questions. He explained some about the radiation and what the duration might be. Of course he couldn’t commit to anything until that dang Oncotype test came back. I asked if they use the **prone radiation therapy (I learned about that from the Breast Cancer Coalition). Prone radiation therapy is a newer method and is said to minimize long term side effects like lung, rib and cardio damage. They did not offer that yet. They used the standard therapy where the woman lies on her back. He advised that my tumor was high in my breast (at 12 o’clock) and not deep so I was at a lesser risk. He wanted to do an examination. All the doctors wanted/needed to do an examination. I understand the need for that, but I honestly think my boobs got “handled” more in those few weeks by different people than a slutty cheerleader at home coming. I warned him that Minnie (my boob) was still pretty swollen and very tender. As he stepped in I said, “I can’t guarantee I won’t kick if you hurt me!” He looked at me, looked down (my leg was between his), looked back at me, smiled and quickly stepped back. He stepped to the side and then back in. He did the exam and agreed that I was still very swollen. He called my surgeon to discuss this. There wasn’t a lot to do about it. It wasn’t infected, just swollen. I was advised to try using cold or ice to help with the swelling. My appointment was done. I had to wait to get anything else scheduled until that test comes back. I liked him. He talked in terms a regular person could understand, he took his time and best of all he had a sense of humor! That is something that was important to me. Humor is how I cope with some things (ok, most things).
Next I had my appointment with my Oncologist. My test had finally come in. I arrived, filled out papers and was called back. Of course I did the whole “change in to the gown” thing again. I waited for the doctor to come in. I was nervous. This was where I found out what my treatments were going to be. The doctor came in, reviewed my file and went over what type of cancer it was, what stage, etc. I asked about the test. He went over that and…Yippee! No chemo. My risk of re-occurrence was on the low end. He went over those factors and advised I would still need to do hormone therapy after the radiation and that would be for 5 years. A little more discussion about that, a physical exam (of course) and my appointment was done. I found him to be more clinical, less personal. He came highly recommended by the Breast Cancer Coalition, so I’d stick it out with him for the time being. I wouldn’t be back to see him until after my radiation treatments were done.
Ok, making progress. Once I get healed up more from the surgery I can get the radiation treatments scheduled. I wasn’t eager for the treatments themselves, just to get them done and behind me. It felt like my life was on “pause” and I wanted to push the “play” button again.
* Oncotype DX is a test done that may predict how likely your breast cancer is to return and if you will benefit from having chemotherapy in addition to hormone therapy. ... This test can be done on early-stage breast cancers (stage I or II) that: Have receptors for estrogen (estrogen-receptor positive).
** Radiation is administered on a specially-designed table with a breast board to help a woman lay comfortably in the prone position, on her stomach with the breast hanging away from the body. The healthy breast is kept close to the body, better isolating the area for treatment.