It has been a very long day. Popular (outstanding) doctors are busy, which means that patients like me usually wait to see them. Today it was more than an hour in each of the two appointments that I waited to be seen. Waits that can bring a person to tears because of the drama being created in the mind. When you are waiting for test results that will determine the course of your life in the near and distant future, delays can make your imagination wander. Bad news comes before noon and at the end of the day…my appointment was for 10:20 and it is now 11:30…they must be taking longer because my case is complicated…they asked if I had a port because they think I will need one…stop thinking this way…the negativity is clouding my brain…must think positive thoughts and trust my gut that all will be okay.
We sat and waited some more and my mom, who is back in town for a few days, rubbed my back while I tried to calm my inner demons and fight back the urge to let the floodgates open and the tears flow freely. The past few days have been good but the nights, when the “what ifs” creep into my thoughts, have been full of silent tears.
My oncologist entered the room and I have my oncotype DX report read to me.
I have to repeat back to my doctor, “Did you just say, I don’t have to go through chemo?” His answer was a resounding “YES!” He followed this with my breast recurrence score of 16 out of 100. For patients in this group who are like me with node-negative, ER-positive, Stage 1 or 2, the recommended treatment is 5 years of tamoxifen. For patients who had a Recurrence Score of 16, they had an average rate of distant recurrence of 10% during the 10 years following their breast cancer. With this number, chemo does not make sense for me.
The floodgates opened, and tears of relief flowed. I am lucky today and feel like I have dodged a big bullet. The surgery was hard. Tissue expansion is painful – every day. But I have been more afraid of the infusion chemotherapy than anything else. I will begin taking tamoxifen in about a week and see how this treatment goes. Tamoxifen is an anti-estrogen drug and has been used for more than 30 years to treat breast cancer in women and men. It reduces the risk of recurrence of breast cancer attaching itself to another part of the body. Yes, there are side effects that can include blood clots, strokes, uterine cancer and cataracts. The less serious ones include hot flashes, joint pain and leg cramps. I am not worried about taking this and know plenty of women who do so and are free of side effects.
To all of you who have prayed for me and healing: THANK YOU! GOD IS LISTENING!
My mom and I had a quick lunch break and then sat in another waiting room. I received another 50 cc of fluid in each tissue expander and while last week’s didn’t bother too much, today the pressure was again painful. By my counts, I have seven weeks to go before I can schedule the next surgery to switch out the expanders with the real implants. Today, I got to see what the differences are between saline, silicone and the new “gummy bear silicone gel implants” as well as the tissue expander. I now understand why I have the discomfort that I do. The tissue expander looks like a round plastic bag with rigid edges. It is not smooth but has a texture and is slightly opaque. It reminds me of a deflated balloon and as saline is added, the wrinkles fill out a little bit. Tissue expansion is a process much like how a woman’s stomach grows with a pregnancy. Each week, the baby and mother’s stomach grow and change in appearance.
Several of you have asked about the reconstruction process and I will speak to this more in the next blog. For now, if you are curious and want to learn more, I have found a great site that educates about reconstruction after breast cancer. Full disclosure: this site contains before and after torso photos of breast cancer patients. If you are under 18, talk to your parents before viewing the site: http://www.breastreconstruction.org/index.htm It is designed to give patients and those who care about friends or loved ones going through reconstruction from breast cancer some education and advice. I think that you will be amazed by what science and talented plastic surgeons are able to recreate.