The worst weeks of my life had finally come to an end. It had been six weeks since my lumpectomy. Six terrifying weeks, living with many unknowns, in a state of complete disillusionment. But the wait was finally over because today I would meet my medical oncologist for the first time, she would go over my pathology report, and reveal my treatment plan. Going into the appointment I felt ready to face whatever would come my way. After experiencing the darkest days of my life, I had emerged feeling strong and optimistic. I had done a lot of research and decided that the odds were in my favour, I could beat this… unless I had triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), because that was a different story. However, I wasn’t worried about that because I knew that TNBC only makes up 10-20% of breast cancers and that aside from my age, I didn’t really have any risk factors. So, there I was, full of hope, when I was hit with what I had identified as the worst-case scenario. As soon as I heard “Your cancer is triple negative”, I burst into tears. I don’t remember much of the appointment after that.
If you’re going to be told you have breast cancer, you want to be able to say, “They caught it early.” With Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) - an aggressive, difficult to treat type of breast cancer - early detection is especially important.
The day my doctor told me I had breast cancer was the same day I met my surgeon and was scheduled for a partial mastectomy (otherwise known as a lumpectomy), breast-conserving surgery. It’s not surprising. The Canadian Breast Cancer Society attributes breast cancer as being the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian women and the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada, so booking a surgery right away is a priority.
My oldest son is 17. Then 14, and 10- and 6-year-old twins. While I don’t claim to be any kind of parenting expert, I’ve had enough experience now to know a thing or two.
Two days ago, my lower back seized and then, seemingly stuck. Never have I ever had back problems. Yet, here I am frozen with body-gripping spasms. I can’t roll over in bed, stand up straight or even wipe my bum without yelping loudly. Thank God, and I don’t say this lightly, I was able to call a friend (who suffers from chronic back pain), who called her chiropractor, who graciously booked me in at the end of his appointment-packed day.
Recently, after spending eight hours with abdominal pain so intense I was doubled over, I conceded to my sister Liz, who insisted a trip to the hospital was necessary and crawled downstairs, ordered an Uber, pulled a patterned facemask over my nose and mouth and went. Twelve hours, three hits of morphine and one magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of my lower abdominal organs later, the emergency room doctor told me a lesion on the right side of my liver was the culprit. Based on the scans I’d had taken of my major organs prior to my breast cancer surgery, the lesion was new and potentially the result of the original tumor and/or the treatment I’d received post-operation. An ultrasound followed, revealing the lesion’s 5cm length by 5cm depth by 5cm width. A second MRI has been scheduled.
I am a 51-year-old woman from the Loire Valley. I live near Orléans, 120 kilometres south of Paris. I grew up surrounded by women. I am the youngest of five sisters; twenty years separate me from my oldest sister and ten years separate me from the fourth one. Our mother received her breast cancer diagnosis in 1985 and at the time, cancer care was awful. My father died from a cardiac arrest in July 1986, probably caused by grief. My mother was brave and fought as much as she could, but she passed away in May of 1989 when I was 20 years old. Because of her breast cancer diagnosis, my sisters and I have closely monitored our risk of developing breast cancer.
Sex may be something that isn’t frequently discussed by doctors or oncologists or even friends, but the sexual changes and adjustments you go through following a breast cancer diagnosis can be enormous for you and your partner, depending on how big a part it was in your life before diagnosis and treatments.
Before I was diagnosed, I rarely thought about breast cancer. When I did it was once a year, usually in June, as I was planning the line-up of pink-ribbon beauty products I wanted to feature in the upcoming October issue of FASHION, Salon, 29Secrets or whatever other magazine I was working for at the time. Other than that, it just wasn’t on my radar. No disease was really. My inner circle was healthy, well, that is if you didn’t count my mom’s dad dying of liver sclerosis from alcoholism when I was around five or my paternal grandmother passing from Alzheimer’s when I was in my early thirties.
I have been struggling with my body image these last 8 weeks. The funny thing is that it’s not with the two scars I have running across my chest. I have actually adapted well to that change, even with my right scar being lumpy and misshapen. What I have been struggling with is my weight gain thanks to Tamoxifen. Without estrogen, my mid-section is taking on the appearance of a barrel. A barrel made of pudding, with an oatmeal crust! Having always been fit and healthy, I am finding myself disturbed by this body morphing of mine.