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This is My Journey So Far

by Tiffany GrabowskiPatient, Breast CancerAugust 15, 2022View more posts from Tiffany Grabowski

It’s been a long past two and a half years for me. The pandemic hit me hard. I lost my grandfather and grandmother due to COVID, lost my job, and had two minor surgeries on my uterus for fibroids one year apart. Just when I thought it was about to be a good year in 2022, February 23, 2022 is when it all started. I had turned 40 on October 19, 2021 and had my first regular mammogram screening on February 23, 2022. The result came back abnormal, showing calcifications on my left breast, and I was recommended to get another mammogram and, if needed, a breast ultrasound. On March 7, 2022 I went for my second mammogram. The tech showed me the images and asked me to wait in the waiting area before I got dressed so she could see if the radiologist wanted to proceed with an ultrasound. She came back out and said they wanted to do the ultrasound. Following the ultrasound, right away the radiologist came in and suggested that I get a stereotactic breast biopsy done on my left breast, which is where the calcifications look suspicious. A few lymph nodes on the left appear enlarged as well.

On March 11, 2022, I had a breast biopsy procedure at the outpatient surgery center. My anxiety was through the roof.. I asked if I could be put to sleep for this since I always get nauseous with things like this. They said I could not, but they would give me something to calm and relax me before the procedure. Well, they did not give me anything. I was very ******. I felt horrible during the procedure, and I got hot and nauseous. I never want to experience that again.

On March 14, 2022 I started a new job and was excited since I have been unemployed through the pandemic. Later that evening after orientation, I got a pop-up notification on my phone for my health chart that a new result had come in. I was scared but anxious to read it. Mind you, no doctors had called me yet. I opened it, read it, and there it was. Of course the wording was very scientific, but it was clear that it was cancer.

March 15, 2022 the doctor called me in the afternoon, which was the second day of my new job. She told me I had breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma in the left breast about one centimeter from the nipple. She explained it was very curable and treatable at this point since I am catching it this early. I met with her the next day to go over the exact results and explain my options. She said possibly Stage 1, possible lumpectomy. I am ER/PR+, HER2-, and KI67 is high (80%). There would be chemo and radiation. The next step was to order a PET scan and decide if I wanted to get genetic testing done, which I did opt in for.

I got the genetic blood test done, which would detect the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes as well as a few other genes. The genetic testing all came back negative, which was a relief and good to know I did not inherit breast cancer. At the same time, I am still nervous for my 23 year old daughter. It makes me nervous about my son as well because men can get breast cancer too.

An MRI of both breasts was approved, which I had done on April 5, 2022. The results of this changed my whole view on my hope for just a lumpectomy and this breast cancer being simple to get rid of. The MRI clearly showed a 10 centimeter tumor in the left breast. It was huge. It also showed a few enlarged suspicious lymph nodes on the same side. The right breast was in the clear. Now what? Going from what may be stage 1 went to stage 3 with possible lymph node involvement, which meant no more lumpectomy, and I would need a mastectomy and more aggressive treatment.

April 13, 2022 I met with who would be called My Team. At the Breast Clinic I had a surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, nurse navigator, and social worker. The plan was surgery (a mastectomy— I decided to have a double mastectomy) for my own peace of mind of it spreading into my right breast in the future, followed by a very aggressive chemo plan AC-T, following radiation and then lastly, the pills.

April 15, 2022 I met with a plastic surgeon about reconstruction options. I chose implants. She actually recommended direct implants above the muscle during the mastectomy surgery. She was aware I would be getting radiation treatment and said my skin should hold up, but when they got in there to do the implants if something did not look right they would replace them with expanders. I agreed. The PET scan was denied by my insurance, which we waited for for almost a month. Now I had an order to get a CT scan of the abdomen, chest, pelvis, and liver. I would also get a bone scan since I could not get a PET scan. I felt like so much time was passing and I hadn’t even started anything with this facility yet as far as treatment.

In the meantime of me waiting for approvals from insurance, I took it upon myself to seek a second opinion. After researching further about the doctor I had, she may have been qualified, but she was only a general surgeon, and I wanted to deal with someone specifically specializing in breasts, breast cancers, etc. I found one my insurance accepted, and they gave me a consultation on April 25, 2022 while I was waiting for my other appointments. It was a bit of a drive from me but very worth it. The cancer center was awesome, and I felt so welcome and comforted there. I knew this was the place for me.

She had reviewed all my records and mostly agreed with the treatment plan I had. She advised me to go to the last few appointments I had that were approved and scheduled with the old facility. April 26, 2022 I had a bone scan and later that evening had the CT scans done. In between those two appointments I met with the oncologist at the old facility again to go over the treatment plan. I felt uncomfortable because she was telling me different things than we originally discussed on April 13, 2022. Also to mention, she came into the room and asked if I was ready for chemo next week. I thought she was joking. I said, “Uhhh, I’m getting surgery first, that was the plan.” She said, “Hmmmmm, well someone put this in here.” Another reason I am not letting them work on my body.

April 27, 2022 was the last appointment I had scheduled with this old facility, which was for an echocardiogram. The bone scan, CT scans and echo all came back in the clear. Which was a big relief, meaning the cancer had not appeared to spread outside the breast and my heart looked good also. Out with the old, in with the new!

The new cancer center scheduled me for a lymph node biopsy on May 4, 2022. This is something the old facility said I did not need because the doctor said my nodes were cancerous, without even 100% biopsying them and that they would just remove all of them during surgery. As much as I hated stuff like this, I wanted it done because if this meant removing fewer lymph nodes just because, the better.

On May 9, 2022 I was told the node tested was positive. I had already expected this but was trying to stay positive because I knew it could be treated, removed, and cured. I WILL BEAT THIS! I did, however, want to change my plan from surgery first. They gave me an option here to do surgery first or chemo first and said it has the same outcome either way. I decided on chemo first for a few reasons. Number 1: I hear it is the hardest part of this journey. Number 2: It may shrink my 10 centimeter mass and may make it easier to remove during my surgery. And number 3: It kills cancer cells throughout my whole body. If I got surgery first and recovery was 4-6 weeks, I was nervous about it spreading during that time, so I thought, why not kill it now… The doc agreed that was best also.

So May 14, 2022 I am scheduled to get a portacath placed and finally start this journey. I should be on the road of chemo next week. I know I am doing the right thing by getting chemo first. It also gives me more time to think about reconstruction options. I am nervous about this port insertion. Thank god I am getting put to sleep for it. But this is my journey so far… In the future I hope to be able to help people push forward to get checked for breast cancer and help them find resources to do so. I want to be an advocate and supporter. So far I am just in the beginning, but it has changed me in a way…

I have a breast cancer journey page on Instagram: thee.tee.marie_journey

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