In my quest for catharsis, I'm finally picking up where I left off (on the heels of my delayed healing issues). Here's what happened next on my breast cancer journey:
I'm sitting in the lobby of the cancer center, waiting to see Dr. D., my oncologist. I will soon learn four crucial pieces of information:
1) My BRCA test results
2) My Stage
3) My Oncotype Dx score
4) Whether or not I need chemo
Husband is with me. In a moment of tenderness, he asks if I am OK. "I can handle anything Dr. D. has to tell me." Husband is as surprised to hear me say this as I am! In the months since my diagnosis, I have researched, read, lived and breathed breast cancer. I’ve been in touch online with countless women with a similar diagnosis. And it's because of these women that I am able to sit in this waiting room and feel a solid wall of strength supporting me. These ladies have my back. I'm really not afraid. Which is a pretty darn good way to walk into an oncology appointment.
Dr. D. is a man of few words. He looks me straight in the eye and answers every one of my questions.
I am BRCA1 and BRCA2 negative. That means I do not carry the gene mutation responsible for some breast and ovarian cancers. Whew!
2) I am Stage 1B. Because my tumor was 3.2 centimeters, it pushed me from Stage 1A (where the size limit is 2 cm) to Stage 1B. Still, it's great news; I am over the moon! Waiting for that number affected me on such a deep level that I don't even think I was fully aware of it. I just know that in that moment, I feel relief for the first time since I was told I had clear lymph nodes.
3) My Oncotype score is 16. That means I have a 10% risk of distant recurrence — and puts me at the high end of the low-risk group. There are 3 risk groups: low, middle, and high. If my number fell anywhere in the high-risk group, I would be given chemo; if it fell anywhere in the middle group, chemo would definitely be weighed as an option; but because my number fell in the low-risk group (albeit the high end of the low-risk group), studies have shown that chemo may do more harm than good.
I don't need chemo. Given my age (52), low tumor grade (1), low cancer stage (1B), perimenopausal status, and bilateral mastectomy, Dr. D. says that statistically there is no benefit to giving me chemo. WOW.
I had an intuitive feeling about this; I have felt all along that chemo would do my body irreparable harm. Hearing Dr. D. tell me I don’t need chemo is a huge, huge relief. (Not to mention that it validates my intuition.) Husband is visibly relieved.
5) I don't need radiation. Even though I had a double mastectomy, I might still have needed rads had my tumor been closer to the surface of my skin; but it thankfully was not. (Another major plus.)
This is all good news. So why don't I feel better?
Dr. D. hands me a prescription for Tamoxifen, a hormone blocker I'll be taking for five years before switching to a post-menopausal hormone blocker for another five. Then he adds, "See you in six months."
Say WHAT? Don’t I need to be monitored more often than every six months? How will I know if the Tamoxifen is working? Am I supposed to be checking myself? How do I do that? I don't understand! Wasn't I just diagnosed? I need more hand-holding. I'm not ready to let go just yet.
I leave Dr. D.’s office feeling completely untethered. And not in a good way.
It takes me a good long while to process and allow myself to fully feel the power of Dr. D.'s words. I have been suppressing so many fearful and negative emotions since my journey began that when I hear good news, my reaction is still one of denial. Crazy, isn't it?