Tuesday, June 22, 2010

May this be my first and last post

I may have cancer. And like the communications professional I am, I have to ask: what's in it for me (WIIFM)? So far, I've experienced third person whiffs of the answer to this question (time off work! an excuse to exercise more! time to get a pedicure!), but the me that is experiencing this crap is no closer to resolution.

How it officially began? After months of an extreme work schedule and barely speaking to my family over the RIM of my BlackBerry, I went on a trip to Vegas with my husband. Our first trip for more than an overnighter in a truly bizarre city. I could relax, feel the hot day on my lily white skin, drink a beer bong while shopping in Victoria's Secret. I could take more than 30 seconds to dry off after a shower, which also meant I could feel something thick and hard in my left breast.

Pete confirmed it was definitely not there before and I vowed to get it checked out when we got back home. I had already determined that it was likely some bizarre side effect from the new birth control pills (Tricyclen lo for the fans out there) I had started taking a few months before. I had also noticed my breast felt larger, almost swollen, but put that down to something premenstrual, or again, the new pills.

Pete and I had been talking a lot about having a third child and that I should get off the pill for good, after a nice 20-year run and a mother who had a bout with breast cancer a few years previous. We had all but signed an official document to agree that this was the next step.

When I returned from Vegas and got to the doctor, she was immediately worried. It's definitely a lump, you're not imagining it. And it's swollen, and it feels a little hot. She wrote up an urgent requisition for me to get a mammogram, an ultrasound and a surgeon's appointment for sometime in the next 10 days.

Whoa. I'm all for getting things checked out, but a surgeon's appt.? Already? So the next 10 days became a game of me hounding my doctor's assistant to hound the breast imaging department at the hospital to get me an appointment before the surgeon's appointment. It was finally booked, but only a few days before I would see the surgeon, who coincidentally, was the same surgeon who performed the lumpectomy on my mother a few years before. "The best!" everyone who knew her said to me. Great. An excellent cutter. Awesome.

Pete came with me on the day of the mammogram/US and the wait wasn't long. I was told to take a little shopping basket, remove my shirt and bra and put on a gown. I sat in a tiny inner waiting room with a pack of old ladies and read my book, barely looking up from the page. There was a lot of talk about "survivors" and "you look wonderful for your age" and "we women have to support each other!" but I wasn't interested in participating. I was still a young babe. And this was all one big mistake.

I had my breasts compressed in a little dark room by a very sweet technician and although it was strange, it wasn't uncomfortable. She obviously saw something, because I was then called into the ultrasound room. I reclined on the table and got my breasts all seductively jellied up and compressed by the US wand. The right was quick, the left was not. A lot of adjusting, measuring, typing, going over the same areas over & over. She obviously saw something because she called in a Urologist to give me a core biopsy and fine needle aspiration (FNA).

I can't say I was prepared to get a biopsy then and there. I thought that was a follow-up procedure in a few days, but then beginning at the point of going to my doctor to get the suspicious lump checked out, I had felt that someone else was writing my story for me.

I was fucking cold on the US table, covered in jelly and a damp towel so I shivered to make it obvious that this was a rather barbaric state to be in. The robotic US technician fetched me a blanket warm from the oven. A young Irish lass with fiery red hair, no older than me, waltzed in and propped my left breast up with such determination, I feared she saw it as a piece of material rather than a living, breathing tittie.

I was numbed (felt a tiny burn) and then the two biopsies began, with some strange clicking instrument that seemed suitable for medieval teasing that would eventually lead to torture. I tried to spy on what she was doing as she dug into my breast, clicked and then emptied the tissue into some beaker, but it all seemed too strange to watch so I concentrated on the pins and needles in my arm that was forever raised and closed my eyes. The final procedure was the FNA and the needle felt like nothing.

When it was over, they said "make an appointment in 5 business days with your GP and tell the surgeon you had two core biopsies and an FNA". So now I'm in charge? The Urologist left the room and the US technician bandaged me up and taped an mini ice pack on my boob.

"Can I get dressed in here?" I asked, still dazed that I had spent the last two hours being poked at without prior warning.

"Um. I guess. No one is scheduled to come after you. We'll make an MRI appointment for you over the next couple of days."

Fab. Thanks for your wonderful bedside manner and stellar EQ training.

I got dressed and left with Pete to grab a burger and buy some glasses. An all around surreal day.

When I got home, the MRI lady called and I was scheduled to come in two days. No other info except for where and what time.

The morning of the MRI was busy and I had only time to scarf down some leftover quiche in the car on the drive over. When I arrived, I had to undress and put on scrubs and then get ready for an IV. An IV? I hadn't had a chance to read up on MRIs, but I wasn't warned about the IV.

"Oh yes, that's why we tell you not to have anything to eat and drink a few hours before the appointment. You could get nauseous."

I don't have to explain my panic at imagining a quiche puke fest on the space age massage table and capsule. The IV was as uncomfortable as it always is without being painful. The "massage" table has two large square holes in it so I can lie on my stomach and let my boobies free themselves for adequate scanning. I put on headphones to listen to Vivaldi and heard archaic buzzing all around me so I felt like I was in a loading dock or ferry boarding line.

After a few "free" scans, I felt the liquid pumping into my arm, with a cold jolt in the crook of my arm. Then I tasted something strange - like someone was poking a part of my brain to make me think I was tasting something but really wasn't. No nausea. No quiche disasters. After 20 minutes, it was over. IV out, got dressed, drove back to work with a bandaid on my arm.

The next day was the surgeon's appointment. I knew the results wouldn't be ready, so I wasn't overly stressed. I imagined a conversation about what to expect and perhaps I'd be weighed and asked some questions to prep my anesthetic file.

Dr. R asked if I was related to Irene. Yep. Then she examined me, told me my belly mole may be a third nipple and that I had big boobs for a skinny girl. Yep. Then she escaped momentarily to see if the MRI scans were in.

They were, she said, but not the radiologist's report. She wasn't very good at reading the report on her own but could tell that my breast looked like it had a fair amount of disease in it. She drew a picture of my breast and divided it into quadrants. She showed where there were two lumps by my armpit and then a possible third by my nipple. She said if it's not cancer, it still has to come out.

"If it is cancer, which I think it is, then we'll either do a lumpectomy to remove the lumps near your armpit, as well as take your lymph node out, or we'll do a mastectomy to take the whole breast."

Oh. I started crying immediately. She gave me a kleenex, brought out a package of books and information and flipped through to show me what a post-op lumpectomy looked like (normal) and what a post-op mastectomy looked like (not normal).

Oh. I started crying again. One boob left.

Then she said there was an option to remove the other breast at the same time, as a prophylactic measure, to ensure there was no disease there, either. Then she talked about reconstruction and how they could do it immediately or in a year when all the treatment was over with.

Oh. I wanted boobies. I wanted my boobies.

She asked if I wanted to see an oncologist, even though my results were not yet in. She also told me the surgery would be in two weeks.

Oh again. Brain not really processing much at this point. Pete asked some questions. I was in a daze.

She gave me a number to call if I had questions and said she wanted to see me next week. She patted my back and told me to take my time getting dressed and leaving the room.

I liked Dr. R, but WTF? What happened to weighing me? Asking about my surgical history? Discussing my care card?

"If it is cancer, which I think it is.... There's a fair amount of disease in your breast." That's pretty much what's been rolling around my head for the past four days.

I told my work. I told my parents. I told my brother and sister in law in Victoria. I told my brother and sister-in-law in Edmonton. I've gotten nothing but strength and support from everyone. But still... no results yet. Which brings me to today.

I showered, shaved my pits (they've never been so groomed the past month!), skipped the mascara, and am now writing this post, waiting for Pete to come home so he can drive me to my GP appointment to get my results. They're in. It's been confirmed. It's there waiting for me. To hope for anything would be like holding a scratch and win and hoping for $10,000. It's already been decided. Hope is rather useless.

If the results are negative, I'd go into a state of shock. All signs are so pointing to a positive result, that it's inconceivable it could be something benign.

Then what? Surgery? Boob(s) lobbed off. Chemo. Radiation. Hormone therapy. Infection. Death. Children and husband left to raise themselves alone after a brave two-year battle.

Or I fight like a beyotch and live to 100. Not sure what I'm up for yet, but this is not the end. I will get something out of this experience, even if it's only time to get a pedicure.

Shit, man. I'm only 37. This is not my story. Someone insists on taking the pen, the keyboard from me to write the next chapter and it's just not on. I need to write this myself.

I'll let you know how it goes.


  1. Carissa, you are brave for sharing your story. You and your family are in my deepest daily prayers. Much Love and Blessings to you as you traverse this path.

  2. Hi Carissa, I don't think we've spoken since high school. Susan told me what her dear friend is going through. Reading your this made me feel like you were my dear friend too. Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine the fear you and your husband had each day. I will be thinking of you and waiting for you to finish your story with a happy ending.
    Tracy Altman (Jury)

  3. Thanks for your lovely note, Tracy - I'm determined to have a kick-ass finale to this story and I love that I have a little cheering section to help me make that happen. But then, we Belmont girls are tough like that, no?


  4. Just re-read this. Amazing. Was it only a few months ago I was sitting in the examining room as the doctor handed you the kleenex and I felt the tears well up in my eyes?
    Here we are on Oct 1 with 5 chemo treatments behind us, 3 more to come, looking at a future none could have comprehended BLV (before Las Vegas).
    You're the strongest, loveiest gal ever and always will be.