I am sitting at my kitchen table as I write, looking out on 12 inches of freshly fallen snow. My favorite part of winter is the coziness factor. Any excuse to change into my soft clothes by 4 p.m. each day is fine by me. It offers me a little peace of mind that I am dealing with cancer this time of year and not during the peak of summer when spending as much time outdoors is my priority. This kind of weather calls me to my couch with a blanket, cup of tea and a few lit candles. Perfect recovery weather.
Last week I underwent a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This is a procedure to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the breast into surrounding lymph nodes. It is more commonly done at the time of the mastectomy, but because I am also looking at reconstruction, my plastic surgeon recommended this be done first to determine if radiation will be needed.
The morning started off with things moving right along. The first part of this process involves injecting a tracer material into the breast. This helps the surgeon determine which lymph nodes are closest to the tumor. Later, during the actual lymph node removal, the doctor removed three in all, reporting to Bryan that they appeared to be normal, however biopsy results wouldn’t be back for 3-5 days.
Which is why I was surprised to hear back from her on Friday. Dr. Sachtleben reported that two of my lymph nodes were clear, however, one did in fact have cancer in it. She reported that it is a small amount and that no other lymph nodes will need to be removed but it does mean she will be referring me to the radiology oncologist after surgery. My biopsy results will also be sent on to determine if chemo will be needed. We should have that information prior to surgery.
I had fully expected her to say I was going to avoid radiation (which in hindsight is ridiculous because I am quickly learning cancer takes you for its own ride, not the other way around) so needless to say I felt pretty discouraged by that news as a long road to recovery just got a bit longer. Radiation also brings increased risks when it comes to reconstruction but I am trying not to borrow trouble there.
In the coming weeks, I will meet with my plastic surgeon, oncologist, physical therapist and genetic counselor. (Really I've built my own little entourage and in some circles that's a real sign of having "arrived".) It looks like surgery will take place just before Christmas.
There are so many emotions that come with having breast cancer and on any given day I can experience any and all of them. I think I am most surprised by how weary I feel. I have never been one to shy away from a challenge. In fact I often go looking for them by way of a marathon. I think of myself as someone who has a lot of grit and I know deep down that quality will serve me well in the weeks and months ahead, but there is something about this experience that is challenging me in all new ways. Maybe it’s that I am used to pushing through, leaning into discomfort and now I find that I want to do just the opposite. Crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head often feels pretty inviting. But as my dad reminded me the day we learned of my cancer, he didn't raise any sissies, which was his way of saying, "You've got this, kid." And I do.