This message was displayed on the Georgia DOT signs on the interstates. It caught my eye, and sort of stuck with me! We can always make plans for how we think things should go; but sometimes those plans are blown to pieces and you are left standing looking at your plan scattered all around you.
I had finished my chemo treatments on May 3rd. I took a little vacation to regroup, and came back with a plan of action. I would have my port removed one month after completing treatment and follow that with reconstructive surgery to exchange the tissue expanders for the actual implants. That was all completed in June. By July I had scheduled the final surgery I knew I had to have done (removal of my ovaries). That surgery was scheduled for September. My plan was that by October any cancer conversations would be past tensed.
I would love to say that my plan came off without a hitch, but I can’t. The last week of August I discovered a lump in my right breast (yes, the same breast where the initial cancer had been found). In addition to the lump under the skin, I had several cyst-like bumps on the outer portion of the skin. I called my oncologist immediately, and was instructed to see my plastic surgeon to ensure it wasn’t an issue with the implants. I was able to get in to see him the next day, and it was determined that it was not my implants. My plastic surgeon called my breast surgeon and got me on her schedule that morning. I left his office and went straight to hers. After 3 ultrasounds, it was determined that the cysts were fluid filled and she believed them to be an infection. She put me on a strong antibiotic for 10 days, but scheduled a biopsy for the following Friday in case they didn’t clear up on the antibiotic. Well, 10 days came and went and there was no change in the cysts or the lump. On September 7th, I had 3 biopsies done. I was trying not to worry about it, but that isn’t so easy. I had a long heart to heart with God about it because my opinion is that He already knows what you’re thinking and feeling, so why not just go on and express it. I told God that I didn’t think I had it in me to do chemo again. I had a peace. Somewhere in the time that I saw the doctors the first time and getting the results of the biopsies, I saw a message on the Georgia DOT sign that I hadn’t seen before or since. It read, “September is preparedness month. Prepare and plan for the unexpected.” Well, I wish I had paid a little more attention to those last six words!
I received a call the evening of September 11th with the results of the biopsies…I had cancer…AGAIN! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! The next morning I went to see my oncologist where the news went from bad to worse. She told me that once cancer manifests itself on the skin, as mine had, it was considered Stage 4 and there would be little chance of beating it. She then told me that if it had spread, which chances were pretty good that it had, it definitely wouldn’t be a beatable cancer. She said that there were exceptions to the rule, and my theory was that nothing about this process for me had been normal so why start now! She then referred me to The Mayo Clinic. They had a clinical trial available for women who were BRCA positive and had recurrent breast cancer. She made me think that this was my only hope of survival. I left that appointment feeling like I had been handed a death sentence, but I was refusing to go down without a fight!!!! I’m NOT a statistic! I WILL be the exception to her logical rules!
One year to the day (September 17th) that I discovered the initial lump, I was seeing an oncologist at The Mayo Clinic. He wanted me to have all the scans done there for him to review, but he offered a little more hope than my oncologist. In addition, he determined a clinical trial would not be the best option for me. I knew this was God saying this wasn’t what He wanted for me when the clinical trial was closed. It took a few days to get the tests scheduled. They split the scans up over Thursday and Friday of that week and I would get all my results on Friday afternoon when I went back to meet with my Mayo Clinic oncologist. I think we were all nervous going into this appointment. We had no idea what we were facing, but our prayer had been that the cancer was contained. Once we were in the room with the doctor, he gave me the best news I had heard this far on the journey…the cancer had not spread beyond this one area. However, it had gone into the chest wall (including the back muscle transplanted last year) and only one lymph node. This was good news because it meant this was beatable! He called my oncologist here in Atlanta and discussed the treatment plan, so I could return home to begin treatments.
While my initial cancer diagnosis was triple negative (meaning not a hormone fed cancer), this cancer is estrogen fed. This opened up some additional treatment options for me, which are all very positive! I have been home for 3 weeks now and have completed my first treatment, and will have my second treatment on Tuesday. Thankfully, the drugs I’m receiving this go round do not make me sick AND I will get to keep the hair that has started coming back! I’m unsure of the number of treatments I’ll receive, which makes this process very interesting…and very difficult for me to plan out my course of action. Clearly, I need to stop trying to prepare and plan!
It doesn’t matter how much we prepare and plan for the unexpected because none of us can ever be fully prepared for it! This was earth shaking for me, but not earth shattering because I know that God is in control and He has a plan. I’m convinced that this isn’t the ending to my story…God has a bigger plan in motion here and all I need to do is trust Him!