Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Blog

From breastfeeding to being diagnosed with breast cancer and then back to breastfeeding. This is an account of my experiences.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Everyone Has Something

It was early on after my parents' accident and I was going about my day on autopilot:  get kids ready, go to hospital, get kids home, go to karate, dinner, homework...  I was hardly present in the moment. My mind was focused on my parents, getting to the next the next thing, and having this little lump and wondering if it was something worth worrying about.

I had a moment where I felt like I was all alone with my experiences.  No one had ever had all this happen at once, had felt overwhelmed, had all my family members hospitalized.

It wasn't right away, but soon afterwards it occurred to me, probably no one else was in the same place as me.  However, everyone has their thing.  Everyone has something in their life which is hard and overwhelming and feels the most challenging right now. It is different for each person.  But it is hard for them and that is the key. We all know hardships, they are just different.

It might not be them personally, it might be a spouse, parent, child, close relative, or good friend.  No one is alone in their "suffering," some may just choose not to share.  I find it helpful to remember when out in the world.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Radiation Decision

I have some concerns about the long term effects of radiation therapy.  Radiation therapy is the standard of care for someone like me who had a lumpectomy.  But I am 34 years old and I hope to live many, many more years.  I searched and I could not find good information about the potential long term effects.

One thing that is good is that it is my right breast. If it were my left breast, my heart would probably receive some radiation which could lead to problems down the road. In my situation a partial mastectomy followed by radiation would be considered the same treatment as a full mastectomy. 

Early on in my research I discovered that radiation targets active cells.  Lactating breasts are very active and that radiation might actually damage the breast more if I was lactating.

Some people believe with radiation that one is able to “keep their breast.” After being surgically altered and radiated, it’s really quite different than before and not functional in the same way.

In order to help make my decision, I sought the opinions of two radiation oncologists.  Both assured me that radiation would be an acceptable decision for me.  I actually went through the planning session with one of them and had a CAT scan and received my tattoos.  Black Indiana ink is injected just under the skin marking where the CAT scan and later the radiation machine should line up.  The black ink appears as small blue dots.  My radiation oncologist was able to show me where the radiation field would be, which part of my lungs would be hit, which ribs, etc.  

Initially I felt I would just have a mastectomy and be done.  That would give me simple and straightforward surgery with a very short hospital stay.  I could get back to my family and be done.  It's interesting to me that many woman have gut reactions when they are diagnosed to just go ahead and have a double mastectomy.  I never felt that way.  As I started to really consider a mastectomy, I felt I probably would feel better getting some sort of reconstruction.

In order to complete my research, I decided to meet with a couple plastic surgeons.  If I really wanted to compare my options, I should know what my options are.  The first plastic surgeon offered me an implant.  The second offered microsurgery of a flap of my thigh to create a new breast mound.

Part of my thinking brings me to the end result and not the process and what I'd like to be done and I usually come to the surgery. The process does not sound great, but the end result should be a better outcome in terms of cancer for me. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Breast MRI

Initially I was not offered a breast MRI as I was lactating.  The doctors felt that I would likely light up everywhere and the test would not be helpful.  It was not until after weaning and chemotherapy when I experienced my first breast MRI.  

As I was trying to gather as much information as possible regarding my decision to have radiation treatments or a mastectomy, I felt a breast MRI might aid in my decision making process.

I had never had any kind of MRI, but had heard about the small confines of the tube. It's pretty small. For the breast MRI, one lays face down on a flat surface with cutouts for the breasts. After some time, it becomes rather uncomfortable. The head is either to the side or looking down on a cutout. I did head to the side with pillows. Arms are above the head, but hands cannot touch;  a paper towel was laid between them. The room is very cold for the machine so lots of blankets are available too. Earplugs are highly recommended because the machine is so loud, clanking, alarm like sounds, banging. The tech and nurse are in another room accessible by intercom and a special button. When the machine is going, there's no communicating really - it's much too loud. There were series of imaging, five I think. Each one was a few minutes to seven minutes. It's very important to stay still all the time, even between imagining as not to get out of position. After the first two sets the nurse came in and injected contrast dye into my IV for the next sets. At the end they had me wait one more minute to make sure everything looked ok. By that time my neck and back were aching. Finally I got the ok to wiggle and promptly banged my head, elbows and back on the tube forgetting how small it really is. The whole thing is supposed to take about 30 minutes.

I got the results of the MRI the same day in the evening. The left breast looks great and there is one 6mm area of potential concern on the right. It’s hard to know what it is so the Dr recommends an MRI guided biopsy with contrast. This area is likely scar tissue due to my past surgery.  If I go ahead with a mastectomy, I don't see any reason to have a biopsy.  If I will pursue radiation therapy, I would need to address this area of potential concern first.