By Michelle Farrell
On October 26, 2015 I had my screening mammogram at Gundersen Boscobel Area Health Care. I had turned 40 September 11th and had made promises to myself that I would keep up my yearly physicals.
This year I was having some nagging nasal symptoms so I was especially interested in getting that reviewed. It was also time for my screening mammogram and I wasn’t worried about anything. I had an initial mammogram in 2007 after mom passed away. That one was clear, so my provider and I decided to just wait until I turned 40 for my next one. I do monthly checks, so what did I really have to worry about?
THE CALL, THE TEAM & THE WAIT
On October 28th, I received the call from my doctor. She told me I needed a repeat mammogram and needed to have an ultrasound and made the appointment for November 3rd. I met the wonderful team that drives Gundersen’s Breast Care department. The care and empathy the staff treated me with was second to none.
The radiologist was cautious and careful to explain procedure and he suggested I have a biopsy that same day. I was glad to have my husband, Wayne drive me so he was able to watch the biopsy.
The radiologist showed Wayne and I the mass and suggested that it looked to be confined. She sent the biopsy off for pathology to determine if it was a benign mass or malignant and told us she would call with the results.
THE DIAGNOSIS BREAST CANCER
At 2pm on November 4th she finally called with the news that I had breast cancer. From the biopsy the doctors could tell the tumor was low grade and estrogen/progesterone positive. Further testing would show the tumor to be HER2 negative. Talk about the wind getting knocked out of your sails. What was I going to do, lots of people count on me as a pharmacist, daughter and friend. Fortunately, I would learn how very many people had my back.
DECISIONS, DADS & HEAVY METAL
On November 9th, Wayne, my daughter Krista and I traveled to learn the options for breast cancer treatment.
We met Dr. Jared Linebarger, my breast care surgeon. He indicated I may be eligible for lumpectomy, but I might also elect for mastectomy. He suggested further tests along with my treatment and ordered an MRI and genetic testing for BRCA. (BRCA1 is a human tumor suppressor gene, specifically a caretaker gene, found in all humans; its protein, also called by the synonym breast cancer type 1 susceptibility protein, is responsible for repairing DNA. )
My wonderful Dad drove me to the MRI as I was a little worried about my ability to sit still for 45 minutes and planned to take some lorazepam. The MRI was rather loud and they let you pick music, I picked the 90s country station…next time it’s heavy metal as there’s no way to hear Vince Gill or Randy Travis’s silky voice over that MRI banging.
GOOD NEWS AND MORE GOOD NEWS
I was very impressed to have an MRI at 10:30 am and the results already by 5pm. Dr. Linebarger told me that the MRI confirmed what they had found on my mammogram–no findings of cancer in the left breast and no sign of cancer in the lymph. The final confirmation for lymph will be surgery. As the week progressed I learned I was HER2 negative and BRCA negative–both very good news.
Next stop would be the plastic surgery consult. This appointment would be to review my case and consider the options for reconstruction. I feel like this should be another journal as some of you might prefer to skip the gory details. Let’s just say my boyfriend, Wayne’s reaction to the whole ordeal made me laugh “this is like the Mall of America; there are so many options I am overwhelmed”. He meant different options of surgery, reconstruction materials, and etc. We met Dr. Lynn Martin and I felt very comfortable with his opinions on my care.
Weighing all the variables both clinically and in my heart…my mom’s early death, my young age at diagnosis, the consult of close friends who have dealt with this cancer, I decided I wanted a bilateral mastectomy. The thought of MRI- guided needle biopsies to watch any further potential cancers in the other breast or if I had a lumpectomy only further swayed my decision.
My surgery went smoothly and I was able to return home the same day.
Looking back on it and thinking about the roller coaster ride of last year brings tears to my eyes. Cancer is an awful thing, but it can be a blessing as well….good things do come from bad. Its taught me a lot. I have learned how very much I am loved. It has taught me about true kindness. It has made me a better pharmacist, daughter, and friend. I love more and deeper, and I have placed a new value on my time.
USING TOOLS AVAILABLE TO ME
I also have learned the importance of taking care of myself and thankfully Suppz Gyms had me on a path of working out thanks to great inspiration in group instructors. Local access to Weight Watchers and Beachbody has helped me with my diet. I know all these helped me heal better! I feel blessed and grateful for everything my community of friends and relatives has done for me. Also, I believe that good things come out of really bad things and that we learn to cope through love.
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EAT HEALTHY, BE FIT AND KEEP FIGHTING!