Living with the Lump…But Only for Now

8 04 2011

This "Hop to a Cure Frog," a gift from my niece Danielle, reminds me that every day, were that much closer to finding a cure. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

Last time is so different from this time.

The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer was in March 2006. I was a Stage 1; the lump was the size of a blueberry and extensive testing, including a Sentinel Node biopsy, showed that, thank God, the lump was contained to my left breast.

I had a protocol of treatment that felt intuitive. It was through a lumpectomy on March 3, 2006 and the subsequent biopsy results that the margins around my tumor were declared “clear.”

Still, because I am BRCA 1 positive and the likelihood of a new primary was statistically quite high, I opted for a double mastectomy on April 14, 2006. Then, as “insurance” against the possibility that there was a rogue cell or two lying in wait someplace in my body, I opted for the recommended four doses of chemotherapy.

I began my protocol of Adriamycin and Cytoxan on May 31, 2006. I was done by July 28, 2006. I knew I would be. My schedule was pre-set – every third Tuesday, four chemotherapy treatments total. I could count the days, cross them off on the calendar, feel myself getting closer and closer to the end of treatment and the beginning of my new, cancer-free life. But best of all, I knew that the cancer was gone from my body and that all of the additional treatments I was undergoing were “just to make sure.”

This time around is so counter-intuitive. I’m not saying that the treatment approach I’m doing is anything but what it should be. It definitely IS as it should be and I am grateful to have it. The protocol just feels odd and takes some getting used to.

Because I was diagnosed as a Stage 4 this past January, with metastasis in my breast lymph nodes and both my lungs, chemotherapy comes first, surgery later. I understand the logic. First we treat and get rid of the metastatic breast cancer in my nodes and lungs, because that’s where the true danger lies — in its ability to continue to grow or even spread. Then we go for the lump in my breast.

This approach, I’ve learned, is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy – chemotherapy that is given before surgery to help shrink the tumor(s) before removal. Once we’re “down to the last tumor,” – which will likely and hopefully be the one in my left breast that started this whole thing – the surgeon will go in, remove my left breast implant, and get rid of that lump. Then, I’ll go through a series of radiation treatments to make sure we got every last cell.

That’s when the lump in my left breast will be gone for sure. And I’m so looking forward to that day. Because even though I understand the course of my treatment, it is psychologically difficult to walk around with a lump in your breast every day, knowing full well that this hard tumor the size of a shooter marble is cancer.

I feel it. I know it’s there. I want it gone.

All things in their time.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





There’s Still Cause for Celebration

3 03 2011

Fireworks are one of my favorite sights in all the world. Photograph Courtesy of Smashing Magazine.

Today would have marked my five-year, cancer-free anniversary.

What that means is that five years ago today was the last time that any cancer was found in my body, not the last time I underwent treatment.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 3, 2006 following a lumpectomy to remove what the doctors suspected was breast cancer. Indeed it was, though thankfully, only a Stage 1, the size of a blueberry, completely contained, no lymph node involvement.

Chance of being cured at that moment in time? 98 to 99 percent – particularly if I underwent a double mastectomy, four rounds of “just in case” chemotherapy, and an oophorectomy. Which I did. And it worked.

At least until the defective BRCA 1 gene I carry refired in the smallest bit of leftover, healthy, microscopic breast tissue, causing the tumor that wedged itself between my left breast implant and my reconstructed, “fake” nipple. That’s what grew into the grape-sized tumor that I detected on January 9, 2011, quite by accident.

Don, Theo and I had been out back, ice-skating on the lake. We came in when our ears were burning from the cold, our skate blades dull. I flopped on our couch and pulled up a blanket to warm myself. And that’s when it happened.

I brushed my forearm over my left breast as I was pulling that blanket up and over my chest when I felt it. A weird, marble-hard sensation through the sweatshirt I was wearing. I reached down under my sweatshirt and felt it again. Then I called Don over. He felt it. “Was this there before?” I asked him.

“No,” he said.

And just like that, we were thrust into this latest diagnosis, Stage 4 breast cancer. Just like that, our world was turned upside-down. Again.

Don and I, along with all of our friends and family, had been ticking off the days, weeks, months, years to that five-year, cancer-free date that would have been today. It wasn’t to be.

But that doesn’t mean today is not cause for celebration. I may not be cancer-free, but I am still here. I am still a Survivor! And a five-year Survivor at that!

Tonight, I will celebrate with the members of my girls’ group, the Six Pack, at Famous Dave’s BBQ. If you happen to be at Famous Dave’s tonight, look for me.

You’ll know me when you see me. I streaked my blonde hair Breast Cancer Pink — actually, fuschia — this morning.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson








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