September of 2010 started a whirlwind change in my life. From the day that Labor Day weekend that I found the hardness on my right breast which turned out to be stage III breast cancer, everything changed.
Turns out my finding that hardness on my breast saved my life. My cancer did not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound. The type of cancer that I have is called lobular. Only 8% of breast cancer is this type. Most breast cancer occurs in the milk ducts of the breast. Those tumors are formed by cells that divide and form a sphere. For example, the tumor starts as a few cell which divide to form a small spheres, imagine pea. The kind of cancer I have is different than that and much harder to detect. When these cells divide, they divide flat, imagine a piece of paper. It is not until there are enough of those pieces of paper, thick enough to be seen on a mammogram or ultrasound. I was fortunate enough to have doctors that did not follow the standard course of waiting and watching for six months, but instead sent me for a breast MRI.
The MRI showed a 6 cm tumor. It also showed a couple of other suspect spots on that same breast and on the other. Next on the schedule was two separate biopsy days. Each breast had to be biopsied separately because the biopsied had to be under MRI assistance. There is an IV required for contrast and I would've needed too high a dose to do both biopsies on the same day. Luckily the spot on the left breast was benign.
We scheduled surgery to remove the right breast along with a sentinel node biopsy. At the time of the surgery the sentinel node biopsy was positive so I had 25 lymph nodes removed as well as the breast. I had a breast expander put in and over the next several weeks it was filled with saline and had some minor surgery on the left well. By the time of the surgery, the tumor had grown to 9 cm. When I saw the oncologist, he told me that I was very fortunate that the doctors pursued the suspicious hardness that didn't show on the mammogram or the ultrasound because I would have been dead in three months.
Unfortunately one of the consequences of losing the 25 lymph nodes was that I develop lymphedema in my right arm. More specifically the lymphedema is in my right hand, arm, and chest wall. There is way more to the story but that's all you need to know for now. I have to wear compression garments 24 hours a day seven days a week. The lymphedema Dr. will only allow me to knit 15 min. twice a day. I always considered myself a pretty fast knitter but you're not getting much done in 15 min. twice a day. And to be honest, even with the pain medication it is really hard to get those 15 min. in.
Dont worry, I'm strong. Don't forget I was born to knit!!!