On December 27th, 2011 I found a lump on my right breast. In early January I met with my primary doctor who did not feel cancer, and since I was breastfeeding my youngest—chalked it up to that.
She scheduled an ultrasound which resulted in a letter in my mailbox that said “Congratulations, you do not have cancer”. Phew. But what was it???
I requested a referral to a specialist who did a fine needle aspiration of the mass, and two days later was told the pathologist found atypical cells. Hmmm. The subsequent biopsy and pathology revealed invasive lobular carcinoma.
A local oncologist promptly began to plan and schedule all of the diagnostic tests one needs once delivered this prognosis. A PET-CT scan, mammogram, MRI, blood work, echocardiogram. She also began to discuss chemotherapy options. Sounded good to me, I was ready to begin the battle with cancer, but my intuition was telling me that the tumor needed to be removed.
In the meantime I decided to get a second opinion from an oncologist in Marin County where I was raised. I had been the nanny of Dr. David Gullion in my early twenties when he was developing, along with two partners, the beginning of a “holistic center” for cancer patients. I never imagined I would twenty years later be utilizing the services of that center.
Dr. Gullion took my pathology to the ‘tumor board’ that Tuesday. The group discussed the particulars of my cancer (lobular which means the cells originated in the lobules, estrogen positive, progesterone positive receptors, and a protein known as HER2/nue, negative). It was unanimous, they all believed that chemotherapy would be ineffective at shrinking this type of tumor. He suggested I come to meet their team.
I first met with oncologist Dr. Jennifer Lucas. She was knowledgeable, direct, and informative about the therapy (chemotherapy and likely radiation) that I would need post-surgery, and she walked me down the hall to the surgeon. I must say I was completely floored by the directness of the surgeon, Dr. Leah Kelley who said ”You need a mastectomy immediately and I will beg, borrow and steal from other doctors and move patients around to get you a spot in the OR as soon as possible”. So, my family’s one night stay in Marin turned into a ten day visit with family, during which we borrowed kids clothes, a stroller, a juicer, among other things. At that moment my second opinion doctors became my main doctors. What they were saying resonated with me.
The silver lining? Since my diagnosis I have honed in on what is really important in my life. Mainly, my spiritual and physical health, and my family which includes two small children (ages two and five) and a loving, supportive husband.
ALWAYS trust your instincts and keep pushing for more information if you are not satisfied with a result/diagnoses. Find out more about lobular cancer which tricked my primary doctor and the ultrasound radiologist.
I have completed chemotherapy and radiation therapies and am currently on hormone therapy and will be for ten years. For now I am taking Tamoxifen. I also am participating in a clinical trial which provides a targeted chemotherapy drug, Herceptin, for women with cancer that is HER2/nu negative (it usually is used for HER2 positive cancer). I will be receiving an infusion of Herceptin every three weeks through July 2013. Click here for more information on the clinical trial.