Everything changes in a moment.
It’s cliché but true.
For my sister Jenny and I that moment came about two and a half weeks ago when we learned the lump she’d found in her breast a week earlier was indeed cancerous.
It’s never a good sign when the doctor calls on a Saturday to give you biopsy results. Her surgeon was going out of town for a week but wanted to give her the news himself and explain to her exactly what the next steps would be. Things moved very quickly from that point on. Tests were scheduled and taken throughout the following week. Results were favorable. The liver and bone scans were negative; thankfully the cancer hadn’t spread. The ultrasound showed the lump to be small, perhaps a centimeter, and the doctor kept using the word “subtle” to describe it. Jenny was lucky to catch it early; all indications were that this was Stage One cancer.
Jenny and her surgeon agreed that a lumpectomy would be the way to proceed. If at all possible, the goal was to retain as much of the breast as possible, while ensuring a clean removal of the tumor. A spot that appeared on the ultrasound was suspicious, so an additional biopsy was taken. Should it have come back positive as well, a mastectomy would have been the only option. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
All in all, we were encouraged by our pre-op meeting with the doctor and most importantly Jenny‘s test results. The doctor took a good long time with us and we felt very positive about the care she’s getting from him.
He explained that during the procedure, the sentinel lymph node would be removed and tested to determine if the cancer had spread there. If so, there would be no telling how many lymph nodes had been affected, and they would all have to be removed from that side. If not, the rest of the lymph nodes would be left in tact. We were hopeful of the latter.
Last Thursday, the lump was removed in a three-hour procedure that went relatively well. On the positive side, more of the breast was saved than hoped for. On the other hand, the sentinel node had tested positive. All the lymph nodes on her right side were removed, guaranteeing that she would have chemotherapy as well as the prescribed radiation treatment in her future. Her cancer was officially classified as Stage Two.
While the outcome of Jenny‘s surgery was not as positive as we’d hoped, we’re still very optimistic about her recovery. We’ll meet with the surgeon on Thursday to get the results of the pathology tests from the tumor and the nodes. Friday morning, we meet with the oncologist to discuss the particulars of the chemotherapy (to begin in about 3-4 weeks, once she’s healed from the surgery) followed by radiation. This should remove all traces, if any, of the cancer.
Through it all–and we realize we’re just at the starting line here–the care and compassion Jenny’s received from family, friends, doctors, and hospital staff has been an incredibly positive experience. She (and I) continue to be positive and upbeat about the situation, her treatment, and the outcome. It’s one day at a time with an eye to future and always, always with laughter.
For Jenny and I, this kind of life-changing moment is not a new experience. When I was sixteen and Jenny was twelve, my mother suffered a brain aneurysm. She was literally there one moment and gone the next. Twelve years ago, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He put up quite a fight and lasted longer than anyone thought he would before he succumbed eight months later.
Through it all, Dad had an incredible resiliency of spirit and his sense of humor never dimmed. Jen and I think back on that a lot and keep him as our shining example of positivity.