Finally some action, then more waiting

The MRI was painful. Mostly because I had a cracked rib back in high school that left behind painful scar tissue and I was born with a bad hip. You have to lie face down on a somewhat uncomfortable table that has holes where your “sisters” hang through and you hold your arms above your head- for a very long time. When I was done – I could hardly raise myself up. My ribs and back and hips ached so badly I had to sit in my car for a few minutes before I trusted myself to drive home.

So, if you’ve never had an MRI or seen one, I’ll explain a little. It is Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Basically there is a giant circular chamber that they slide you into and while you lay very still, they run a computer program that makes the magnet inside the chamber spin around and around very quickly (and very loudly!), which it uses along with radio frequencies to create highly detailed computer images. That is my most basic explanation and is not the entire explanation. For my fellow scientists, see http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nuclear/mri.html

mcdc7_breast_mri

First you get an IV that sends some contrast agent into your bloodstream.  This then will give greater contrast in the image where there is specific types of tissues, allowing the radiologist who views the computer images to more clearly see the delineations of soft tissues, joints, and especially lesions (they call cancer a “lesion”). Then the entire table slides into a large circular chamber. When they start the computer program- it has a set number of pictures, the depth it will take pictures at, etc. It takes a long time- I had maybe (?) 5 or 6 different programs that ran. Some were only 2 or 3 minutes, a couple were 7 or 8 minutes and one was 12 minutes! It was tortuously loud, even with the required earplugs- some extremely loud clunking, clicks and rotating sounds. It is also impossible to control your breathing if you suffer from minor panic attacks like I do: I can’t breathe! My hip hurts, I can’t lay still here any longer! If I breathe too hard it will mess up the pictures and they’ll have to do it over. Why does my shoulder itch right this second?! Oh my God, aren’t we done yet?!

I was told that it was going to take several thousand pictures of my breasts. Even I had to laugh at that – what heterosexual man wouldn’t want that job?

I also learned that an MRI can catch things that a mammogram can’t, and a mammogram can catch things that an MRI can’t, so both are needed sometimes for a full scan and the best diagnosis. For me, because the cancer is lobular (see below), the cancer is deeper in my breast tissue, closer to my chest wall. It is difficult to squish a “sister” flat enough so close to the chest wall to get the clearest image to determine size and shape. The ultrasound did not show everything that they wanted to see either, therefore the MRI. As I said in an earlier post- is it two lumps or one? What is the specific shape and size?

Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of breast cancer. It starts in a milk duct of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. About 8 of 10 invasive breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinomas. Invasive (or infiltrating) lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Like IDC, it can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. About 1 in 10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC. Invasive lobular carcinoma may be harder to detect by a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma.Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of breast cancer. It starts in a milk duct of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. About 8 of 10 invasive breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinomas.
Invasive (or infiltrating) lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Like IDC, it can spread to other parts of the body. About 1 in 10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC. Invasive lobular carcinoma may be harder to detect by a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma. I have this one.

I went in the next day for my genetics test and they first do pre-counseling to explain what having a mutation in these two genes could mean, what it doesn’t mean, the things I talked about in a previous post. Then they sit down and explain what your insurance does and doesn’t cover.

Turns out my insurance doesn’t allow the “spit in a cup” genetics test, which they could administer right there and then. My insurance required me to first undergo the pre-test counseling, THEN the doctor could submit a request for approval, which generally takes a week. THEN they would call me and I would have to go back in and have a blood draw, because my insurance only covered it if the blood sample was sent to U-M for analysis. Interesting… (I work at MSU, you know…)

So, that was a bit of a let down. I found out that even once the sample is submitted it can take up to a month to get results. Luckily they explained that my expected treatment plan would not wait on those results!

And then – more waiting. The medical oncologist had asked me if I had any new pains, any consistent pain. I had told her no, except for the gas pain in my side, but I wondered. Did I feel more pain than normal? I knew why she was asking- metastasized breast cancer (cancer that spreads outside of your breast) was most likely to go to your bones, brain, liver or lungs. Pieces of the cancer basically break off and then float around in your body and start growing elsewhere. She wanted a clue if maybe the cancer had spread. I believe it is unlikely it would spread far without also showing up in my lymph nodes, but we’d only tested one lymph node. And the cancer can also spread through the bloodstream.

I had pain in lots of joints. Pain I hadn’t had before.I kept excusing that it was probably due to stress overload, lack of sleep, things like that. But the more I tried to excuse it, the more it showed up. My shoulder blade behind my left breast (the one with the cancer) was painful. Almost like I’d pulled something, but I would feel the pain simultaneously on my front side as well. Right in my breast and just below it, where the scar tissue from my rib break was. It was connected, I knew it! The cancer had spread into my chest wall and into my back, I was convinced. This was my 3rd stomach dropping moment since discovering the lump.

My appointment to discuss the results and finalize treatment was 8 days away – would I make it that long without a full blown anxiety attack? I had to keep “talking myself down from the ledge” – it’s okay, since you stopped running you’ve started walking more, you use different muscles (my back always hurts more when I walk than when I run surprisingly), you aren’t sleeping as well, so your body isn’t restoring itself as well as it should, if it had spread it would very likely show up in your lymph node, etc. Over and over, I had to tell myself this each day. I prayed. A lot! My main prayer was similar to a country music song I like:

“Let me watch my children grow to see what they become
Oh Lord, don’t let that cold wind blow till I’m too old to die young” (Moe Bandy version)

I believe I could be calm at this point in my life, if I was destined for death. I’ve lived a darn good life so far. The thing that would hurt the most would be to think of my children not having a mommy, my husband not having his wife and best friend. I lost Dad to lung cancer when I was 41. I was an adult with kids of my own, and yet the hole that is left when your parent leaves this earth is so incredibly large and painful. I just can’t imagine my children having to go through it before they are adults out on their own.
My beautiful kids at their cousin's wedding in North Carolina.

My beautiful kids at their cousin’s wedding in North Carolina.

So, I did my best to keep calm while I waited. And waited.

Eight days later I was told that my MRI was boring. The cancer looked the same on my breast as they’d originally found it. There was nothing to see in my lymph nodes, and nothing in my chest wall. Still Stage 2! No spread! Funny how my aches and pains went away soon after that news – damn anxiety. Thank God for a boring MRI!

At that point, they scheduled my chemo for the following week. My first treatment is tomorrow morning (Wednesday June 3).  Exactly 5 weeks since I’d first found the lump. Probably quicker than most people get, but it took much longer than I wanted!

Of course, in the meantime, they scheduled a heart test (for a baseline, since chemo can cause long-term heart damage) for last Friday, a blood test to check my blood cell counts and other items of interest, and I got a call from the surgical oncology center- my pre-approval for the genetics test had been received, so I had to give blood twice that day.

And this morning- the last thing before I can start treatment – I had to have a chemo counseling session. They really think of everything. I was given a giant binder FULL of information (as a scientist- I love the reading material- the more the better) and we went through as much information and questions as was needed for me to fully understand both what would happen, and what to do about side effects. I feel much more positive about handling this all.

I’m ready for tomorrow. Bring it on.
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15 thoughts on “Finally some action, then more waiting

  1. Good Luck, Gina, and congrats on the stage 2 diagnosis. It sounds like you caught it in time to rid yourself of the deadly disease before it had time to metastasize. It is a long scary road you are walking, but with the love and support of family and friends, it will be a good walk. Prayers to you and your family.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I Will be thinking of you!! Do they have you scheduled every three weeks for your chemo? For six treatments? I’m so glad you caught it when you did.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this blog Gina. Being a nurse, and your sister I want to be there with you every step, since this isn’t possible I love hearing exactly what is going on. I have had anxiety about all of this as well and this does help alleviate it. We Ballard’s were born strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Positive thoughts for you. You’re an amazing women. This journal should eventually become a book to continue to help educate and inspire other women on a similar journey. Big hugs!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had an MRI last fall. I feel your pain there. It’s hard to breathe normal after someone tells you to breathe normal. My hand swelled up from the contrasting solution. It was an unpleasant experience. I have some fibroadenomas along w/ a family history of cancer, so the doctor wants me to have one every other year :(.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Gina! Been gone most of the evening and just getting to reading your blog. But, have been thinking about you so much today. Tomorrow will be a good one “one down, seven to go” so keep looking at it that way! Can you share what your chemo drug regimen will be? For me, once I had my first of 8 chemos, within two weeks, my hair bagan to “hurt” – sort of like that feeling when you’ve warn a ponytail too long, and when you let it down how your scalp feels a bit sore. My hair was shoulder length, and just touching it would result in hundreds of strands in my fingers. I decided to take Denny’s recommendation and let him shave it off. I cried like a baby, but it was my decision alone. That was empowering and let me have some control back. I hope you know I am here for you so please don’t hesitate to let me know what I can do for you, anytime. Be strong! Hugs …

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you- love you!! Luckily I have had short hair for a while, so although as much as I’d like to think it won’t bother me, I’m sure it will in the end 😦 Thanks for sharing your story- it helps a TON!
    As for my chemo regime- I have 4 treatments- once every 2 weeks- of Adriamycin and Cytoxan, then 4 treatments (also every 2 weeks) of Taxol. So, like you, I’ll have 8 treatments. They told me about 2-3 weeks is when I’ll start losing my hair.
    My friend, Sandy, said to make certain I am “steering the ship” – so that I feel in control- I really like that!

    Like

  8. Pingback: The Power of Positivity | Gina Karasek

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