Updated: Jun 1, 2019
There are very few times in my life when I am truly shocked, stunned and simply at a loss but the day and weeks after my diagnosis I certainly felt all of these emotions. I remember driving back to work after my appointment and my sweet daughter called me on the phone. I so badly wanted to keep this tragic news a secret from this wonderful newly minted adult who would leave for college in less than two weeks. Sierra has a wonderful step-father but sadly her father passed away when she was 9 so losing her last remaining biological parent was not an option. When I told my husband what the radiologist reported he cried and he cried for a span of several days. I think we all did. This seemed very unfair as we had made it! We had raised a functional beautiful child who was headed to college and we would have an empty nest. This would be a time of figuring out who we were or at least who we would be now and maybe making a few changes in our lives. Careful what you wish for because wow did we get changes! I am still not sure why I drove back to work that day other than I knew that I had several colleagues that loved me and I didn't really want attention but I had to have their support. The Principal of my school is an amazing human and leader and of course she grabbed me, closed her office door and let me cry. I remember apologizing profusely about the situation which of course I look back on this now and can only laugh hysterically. Clearly, I had not been arrested for drunk driving and made it in the papers (one of her worst nightmare for any of her teachers) I had breast cancer and apparently not just a little. If we thought we were in the hurricane at that time we hadn't seen nothing yet! We were only in one of the lighter bands that had sadly come on shore. In the weeks to come I had a biopsy, an MRI, a bone scan, and I met my surgeon and oncologist. Sadly, you know it isn't great news when the system moves this quickly. During all of this I was still determined that I was going to continue my life as normal, so I popped in and out of school attempting to meet my 7th graders and get them excited about learning Civics. I also continued my apology tour and apologized at least 100 times to my new Assistant Principal and of course my teaching team including the other 7th grade Civics teachers. Again, as I look back I must have thought I had a paper cut or perhaps a slight case of the flu. I kind of love that place that your brain hides the worst truths from you until it thinks you can handle a situation. When I first met my oncologist, we did not even have the results of the biopsy but he was awesome and truly took the time I needed to answer all of my questions. He laid out the facts as he knew them, that yes I had breast cancer and yes I would need chemotherapy and surgery. I remember him writing down three types of breast cancer and telling me to hope that the biopsy came back as Estrogen/Progesterone Positive HER- as this was the most treatable form. Basically, if I had to have breast cancer I should start praying for this type. So, not that I wanted to root for my tumor but there I was hoping for this ER+, PR+, HER- combo. My prayer was answered with the diagnosis of stage 2B estrogen/progesterone positive grade 3 breast cancer which had traveled into two of my lymph nodes. The left breast had a 5cm tumor which put me right on the cusp of having stage 3 cancer. The grade of the tumor represents the aggressiveness of the tumor and of course from 1-3 mine scored a perfect three! My oncologist did have encouraging news as he stated that aggressive grade cancer cells love to gobble up chemotherapy, so that was it we started neoadjuvant chemo the next week. I also decided with my family to take a leave of absence from school. Suddenly, I wasn't a full time mom, I wasn't a teacher and I was a full time patient:(
*Just to clarify, Neoadjuvant chemotherapy simply means before surgery. Some people have adjuvant chemotherapy after their lumpectomy or mastectomy. We did not have time for that as it had spread to the nodes and we didn't want to let it get any bigger or spread to any other parts of my body. Come back soon to hear about my special chemotherapy journey...to be continued.