Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Mastectomy - Breast Cancer Part 2

I did not want to be a girl (try to imagine me stamping my little foot)! I felt that guys had so many advantages. I was really mad at God for creating me in the image of Eve.

As a kid, I wore undershirts just like my Dad, and I loved them. But then I hit 11, puberty reared its ugly head and Mom bought me a bra. I had ‘developed’ early and Mom said it was “high time” I started wearing this unmentionable undergarment.

You should have seen the explosion! I flung that thing into the far recesses of the kitchen, yelled at her, “I am NEVER, EVER going to wear THAT!” and burst into tears. I was definitely on the brink of puberty. My Mom, wisely, put the bra in my clothes drawer and left the subject alone. A few days later I took it out and tried it on. Wow! It looked great! I slept with it on that night and wouldn’t take it off for a week. Thus began my official transformation from a tom-boy into a young woman.

Tomorrow, I will be turning back the clock, in some ways. I am having a radical mastectomy. Wearing bras will never be the same again. I’m over the whole “wanting to be a guy,” thing and I’ve become really attached to these “two breasts, like twin fawns of a gazelle.” (Song of Songs.)

I don’t want my breast chopped off like a cut of beef. I don’t want a massive eight inch scar across my chest. I will do this because I need to but it’s not normal and it’s not a pretty sight.

I am trying to focus on the positives because losing one breast is a far better option than I thought I would have.

After the ultrasound showed “a suspicious lump” I did an Internet search to see what type of breast cancer matched up with my symptoms. This was not a good idea. Whenever I typed in “large tumor,” “bleeding from the nipple,” “tumor growth rate extremely rapid,” “bruising on the breast,” I kept getting Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

This is an aggressive, mostly lethal form of breast cancer that starts at Stage 3 – it has already spread through the body. I read the symptoms for every other type of cancer and they didn’t seem to match mine. I was terrified.

It was late at night and I went walking through the fields of stars that watch over our 40 acres. For the first time I cried, beseeching the Maker of the universe, the One who made me, to undo this wrong.

I went through the stages of death and came to acceptance in a matter of hours. I realized then, what a blessed life I had led. I am only 51 years old, but I have felt God’s favor on my life. With wonderful parents, an idyllic childhood, the best older brother ever (no, mine is better than yours!), friends I have had for decades, and new friendships that have found a deep place in my heart, I began smiling as memories washed over me in waves. Peter’s family has supported me, loved me and is as close to me as my own. I am full to overflowing with love – for others and for my Lord. I realized that I was ready to die.

With that peace and hundreds of people praying for me, I entered the day of x-rays, the bone scan, and abdominal ultrasound. I snuck a peek at the abdominal ultrasound when the technician was turned away and was sure I saw a black spot under my right breast. My heart fell. When I went to x-ray, and they said they wanted to do an extra set that hadn’t been booked, what was I supposed to think?

When my GP phoned with the results of all the tests the next day, I braced myself.
“How do they look?” I asked.
“Well, they look pretty good,” she said. “Your bone scan is clear and so is your abdominal ultrasound.”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe it! “What about the x-rays?”
She shuffled papers around, “Let’s see. Yup, they’re clear too.”
My hands were trembling. “Are you sure? Could you please look over all the tests again?”
She laughingly complied. They were no tumors present in any of the scans.

I hung up and whooped! It totally changed my world. I went from resignation to hope. There was a chance I could survive this.

The next week was my first meeting with our local oncologist. Since we moved to the country, we’re not near a Cancer Centre but this woman was fresh from Toronto and seemed to be sharp. I was hoping for a good meeting.

I had my biopsy the day before and it was tough. Since the tumor is so large the radiologist took eight samples when they usually only take one or two. That meant the tiny hole he repeatedly went into got bigger and wouldn’t stop bleeding...for two hours...and they wouldn’t let me leave the hospital. Lots of pain and lots of bandages.

But that was only a warm up for my meeting with the oncologist. The biopsy results weren’t in yet but that didn’t mean anything to her. The radiologist had found a tiny (2mm) tumor in one of my lymph nodes near my right breast. Nobody thought to tell me about this. She felt it was aggressive cancer and said if the biopsy supported this she recommending drastic treatment. Even though the other scans didn’t show any tumors in other parts of my body, cancer cells could possibly be circulating through the lymph. She would be treating it as if this were the case. Chemotherapy then would be the first course of treatment. She wanted to hit the cancer hard, fast and long (6 months). Surgery or other potential treatments would follow if I survived this. She didn’t seem to care about any other medical or health problems. It didn’t matter that I have CFS. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had MS or Lupus or any number of immune deficiency diseases. They don’t factor in to the treatment at all.

Discouragement. Anger. Fear. Frustration. This news demoralized me. I knew that I would never survive such a treatment plan. The look for doctors who would treat me based on the fact that I had an immune-deficiency disease began.

Then we received the pathology report back. I was so shocked I didn’t think I heard my GP right. Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS). All eight biopsies had come back with this type of non-invasive cancer. I had the worst kind of DCIS mind you, but it still meant the cancer was supposed to be localized.

The next meeting with my oncologist was way better. She took the pathology report at face value and said the best plan now was to operate and then take a look at the whole tumor and some of the lymph nodes. If the cancer hasn’t spread, I have great chances for recovery. If it has, it means a difficult road ahead.

Surgery was scheduled for April 4th. During the four-week wait we had another loss. Our dog of almost 17 years could not hang on any longer. Pokey was a real trooper, even in her last days. She wasn’t eating and could barely stand, but she struggled to her feet so she could go outside every time she needed to throw up or pee or poo. On her last day she somehow made it outside 10 times.

I have felt her loss sharply, at strange times. Pokey was always by my side when I was recovering from a CFS crash. She encouraged me to take short walks with her and was ready to go back when I had had enough. She never complained about pain and was constantly courageous as her body declined. I wish she was here to be with me through this surgery and beyond, but my memories of her valor resonate through my spirit.

Then there are my many friends. They have tirelessly prayed for me, sent me gifts, encouraged me and made me laugh. You will hear all about them soon!

But now it’s off to surgery, into the land of Mordor and closer to Mount Doom. I want to make my mastectomy scar something beautiful. For the first time, I want to adorn my body with some form of art. And I am open to your suggestions...


  1. You are in my thoughts and prayers through this whole process Doris. One thing is for sure, you haven't lost your beautiful way with words! Praying for strength for you and also for your husband, as well as prayers for the hands of the surgeons!

  2. Very emotional words, Doris. I will be praying for you and Peter tomorrow. Take care.

  3. I have no idea what your scar will look like, but I would try to get a tattoo afterwards that changes it into the stem of a rose.

    Loving you and praying lots!
    Tara Holland

  4. Doris, You are a trooper, but you have many (writer) friends praying for you (both those you know and those you don't). I personally know two women who have beaten this kind of cancer, although the treatment is hard.
    Alex Newman

  5. Thanks so much for your prayers, Courtney, Sandy, Tara and all the others. They made a HUGE difference! Alex, I appreciate comments from all the writers I know and those I don't. Thanks for your prayers as well!

  6. Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that attract others, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.

  7. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.