After four months of chemo and one month of recovery, it’s finally time for my breast cancer surgery. You, my readers, have sent me your kind regards and touching notes of support – they have been truly one of the richest blessings of this life-altering cancer journey. Your presence with me as I have walked this path has been a comfort and joy and I want to keep you abreast (yes, pun intended) of where I am in my treatment process.
As you know, I have breast cancer. My life changed in August when I also received the “two-fer” of both the cancer diagnosis and the revelation that I also carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. (Angelina Jolie and I share this; she is, needless to say, someone of whom I am very fond.) Having this gene mutation means that I had an up to 87% lifetime risk of breast cancer. It also means that I have an up to 50% risk of ovarian cancer: a “beast” I will tackle once my breast cancer treatment is over. My family has always known so little of our history, so the BRCA diagnosis was indeed a shock that no one saw coming. Needless to say, August 2013 was life altering at our house and at my office.
The good news is that I caught my breast cancer very early through a self-exam (so please everyone do them). The more difficult news is that the cancer is an aggressive type called “high-grade triple negative” and my doctors found another small tumor of the same type in my other breast. This is the kind of breast cancer that BRCA gene carriers usually have. Again, more good news is that this fast growing type of breast cancer often responds well to chemotherapy, so my doctors threw the roughest chemo at me for four months and my healthy body survived it. I am thankful.
The next difficult step however is a bilateral mastectomy with bilateral lymph node testing. That is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, January 7th, first thing in the morning. Both the surgery and the resulting pathology reports are frightening. The recovery will be slow and the pathology reports will determine both my long-term and short-term fate. (Angelina was very wise in my opinion to have her double mastectomy before cancer developed in her breasts. I am the proof, so you go girl.) I have prepared myself physically and mentally for both the surgery and the resultant pathology reports. I will meet whatever I must with tenacity. That said, right now I vacillate from my “game on, let’s get this over with” face to tears. Ultimately I am surrendered and will take each moment as it comes, trying to steady my nerves while leaving space for grief and apprehension.
I am grateful to have had the month of December to recover from chemo, to spend time with my family, and to prepare myself for surgery. As many of you know, I finished chemo on December 4th. During this past month, I have regained a little bit more of my old vitality and mental clarity each day. Though I’m still far from the pre-chemo me, I can see that bit by bit I’m improving and that there is hope. The body is truly a miracle of resilience and I’m looking forward to saying that again in a month or so as I heal well from this next step in my treatment process.
Until I’m back online, I’ll publish some posts that I’ve written in advance to keep things moving while I’m recuperating. Angela will also publish her “Find It Again Friday” series, where she highlights some of our most popular and helpful blog posts so that you can find them again from our library of over 400 original articles on skin care and skin health. (Wouldn’t we all love a really good search box for website blogs – I sure would!)
Wishing you all blessings and happiness in the New Year.
Cynthia Bailey MD, Board Certified Dermatologist