Late on Monday 15 May, after business hours, my oncologist called. I had almost convinced myself that she wouldn’t call until Tuesday because there was nothing going on. And then the phone rang.
The prior Wednesday, the 10th, I had a follow-up stereotactic needle biopsy at Swedish Breast Center. This came about after my every-six-months breast exam (which started six years ago), which was 3 April. There was a followup exam on the 27th. Then the needle biopsy.
I’d called the office twice Monday, since I had kinda hoped to know on Friday.
Dr. Johnston was characteristically forthright: “It’s cancer; I know you wanted to know,” she said.
She had not read the full pathology report, but her next words were: “I’m sorry; you’ll need to stop your estrogen.” “I already have,” I told her. “I stopped it when I knew we had to do the biopsy.”
I was on Link, our commuter train, headed home from work.
I phoned Mike, who was at a meeting of volunteers who work on the organ at the Paramount, the first he’d attended since he’s gotten sick. “Did you get my text?” “No.” “It’s malignant,” I blurted.
I sent texts/emails to a handful of girlfriends and relatives, two who have had breast cancer (both were ductal, small and contained).
The next day, I set up an MRI for Monday the 22nd. I filed my initial FMLA paperwork. (I’d done this for Mike back in January.) Then I tried to set worry on simmer; Mike and I had dinner with Jack and Shasta that night.
On the 17th, we sent out the note to Mike’s mailing list and family.
Monday 22 May
I left work a little early on Monday so that I would have plenty of time to get back to Lynnwood in time for my 7 pm appointment. I’d been doing the Renton-Lynnwood commute by public transportation for five or six weeks, so I had a pretty good idea of Lynnwood ETA.
It was a gorgeous day, but I grabbed a large scarf when I left the office because the bus A/C often feels too cold to me. This day wasn’t any different. Because I left earlier than normal, I was able to take a different bus north, a less-frequent route much closer to the hospital and the related centers.
Traffic was unusually awful, like this example the next day:
Orange cab Seattle bus lane violation. Light changed and he tried to get out of our lane.
— ⚡️Kathy E Gill (@kegill) May 24, 2017
But we finally got out of town and on the freeway. The bus driver had told me we were scheduled at the park and ride at 6:15, which was 30 minutes before my check-in. I texted Mike that I would just walk over, that there was no need for him to pick me up.
I noticed, vaguely, that it wasn’t as cold on the bus as it had been. But I was reading and my mind was focused elsewhere.
And then the bus driver was pulling onto the almost-non-existent shoulder off the Express Lanes HOV lane. WHAT? I was close to the front and could hear her talking to dispatch. It seems there was a burning smell, and smoke coming from the back of the bus. Eventually, we got back into traffic and moved a half a mile or so north to a reasonable shoulder. I think it was the A/C system, because by this time it was blowing warm air.
Suddenly, instead of 30 minutes early, it was looking like I might not arrive before 7 pm!
The next scheduled bus rescued us (throwing it further off schedule). Mike picked me up at the park-and-ride. And I got there with 5 minutes to spare! (I’d called them and told them I was on a stranded bus.)
The MRI itself was uneventful.
Tuesday 23 May
My oncologist’s office called. The MRI showed no additional cancer on the left breast. But an inflamed cyst in the right breast meant I needed an ultrasound. Scheduled for the following Tuesday, the 30th.
I googled “inflamed cyst” without much success. Later I discovered it is a complex breast cyst.
Tuesday 30 May
Mike picked me up from work for the 2:45 pm ultrasound. I learned that a cyst doesn’t usually stand out on an MRI because it’s supposed to be filled with clear fluid. Mine, a 7mm cyst, lit up and isn’t clear. The hypothesis is that the cyst contains dead cells.
Both the doctor and ultrasound technician were a little excited because they could see the material inside the cyst moving with the ultrasound wave pulse (new equipment). The doctor was pretty certain that the cyst is benign, but an aspiration/biopsy was the order of the day because of the left breast.
Wednesday 31 May
Mike picked me up from work for the 2.30 pm appointment with my surgeon, Dr. Sinnett. When I went to ER on Halloween 2010 with an unknown-to-me hole in my colon, she was the surgeon on call. She would eventually perform my colon resection in January 2011. And then my two breast biopsies.
That’s when we heard the pathology report:
- Invasive lobular carcinoma
- Estrogen-receptor positive
- Progesterone-receptor positive
- Slow-growing: Ki-67 is 1%
And treatment options:
- Complete mastectomy (which I’ve subsequently learned has about a six week recovery period, without reconstruction)
- Partial/sectional mastectomy plus radiation (33 sessions, 6.5 weeks)
However, nothing definitive until the followup on the right breast, which is Friday 9 June.
We told her about Mike’s brother-in-law, Jesse, who is part of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and that we would be getting a second opinion. That appointment is Friday 16 June, and it will take all afternoon.
So, we wait. And I hot flash. 🙂
3 Replies to “The 2017 story, part 1”
Praying for you to have the strength and patience to go through this, and for your speedy recovery.. With love from Qatar!
Kathy, first let me offer any support I can be, including helping you with transportation, shopping or whatever. I know Mike is there for you, but we don’t live that far away.
Second, I am amazed at your resilience on so many levels Dealing with some aspect of this insidious disease for several years. I know several women who have dealt with this, including an HS friend who had this happen in her 30s and, because support groups for young women weren’t around then, she had to come together with others to start one 30 years ago. More recently, one of our daughter’s mother-in-law dealt with it. In both cases, they had radical mastectomies.
You are a force of nature in your own right, and exceptionally thoughtful person and an independent woman leading the way. Your approach to this will be no different than everything else despite the overwhelming fear tied to veins diagnosed with cancer. You will get through this and you have many friends and acquaintances who will be there for you during this time of personal crisis and in the years ahead.
I’m sorry. Let us know if there’s anything we can do.