On January 21, 2010, I blogged. The post, Breast Cancer Education. The concept? A contribution to Rethink Breast Cancer’s Booby Wall. The site is an interactive gallery of breasts. The goal? Educate Canadian women on breast health and ask them to commit to TOUCH. LOOK. CHECK.
Little did I know that a short six months later, I would get the diagnosis of a lifetime. On June 23, 2010, I went for a routine ultrasound. Hours later I emerged from Radiology Consultants in tears. A routine ultrasound turned into further investigation by a Radiologist, a mammogram, and a hallway discussion of a young girl with what looked like Breast Cancer.
I was truly a disaster. Although I had a lot of wonderful people in my life at the time, I felt alone. Completely and utterly alone. My life had changed in a matter of hours. What would I do about University? Work? Community work? My life? It took a few good friends to make me realize none of that was important. All I could be concerned about was my health. I kept on telling myself:
“Without health you have nothing.“
… nothing! This has all happened for a reason and I needed to decide how I would handle it… with positivity and a look to the future, or frustration, anger, and resentment to my body. Thankfully I chose the first option. No I wasn’t always positive. Yes I was scared and unsure – but honestly how could you not be?
In less than 24 hours, I was called by my GP and referred to the Breast Health Clinic at Foothills Hospital. I was told that although I was a healthy, young woman, there was a chance this could be Breast Cancer – and we needed to treat the situation seriously. I explained to him what was said at the Radiology clinic (i.e. about them already stating a diagnosis). My GP (and the wonderful soul that he is) said there was no reason to walk off the ledge yet. We would need confirmation from pathology, and at this point I had confirmed tumors in my right breast. Whether they were benign or malignant will remain unknown. [Whether it was protocol for a Radiologist to make a verbal potential diagnosis, let alone without pathology completed will remain... UNKNOWN.] :S
Within a few days, I met with Dr. Rothwell at the Breast Health Clinic at Foothills. We made minimal progress… I had a breast examination completed and was told I needed to have Core Biopsy’s taken of the lumps that were evident. Once the results came back, we could then come up with next steps.
I was booked in for a Core Biopsy of my right breast in no time at all. There were 4 or so suspicious lumps that they wanted to screen for malignancy’s. I will assume that the majority of you have never had a Core Biopsy, let alone of your breast. First the Radiologist will feel you up [ha ha, feel for lumps ;)], then use ultrasound to pinpoint them, inject local anesthetic (i.e. freezing) into the target area, and then they inject a different kind of needle into you to take a sample of tissue from the lump. Dr. Diamond took quite a few samples, 6 or 8? But only had one point of entry (i.e. less scarring). The samples of tissue/cells/etc are then sent to pathology for examination under a microscope. What are they looking for? Cancerous cells.
The procedure went fairly well. Yes the needles hurt and I absolutely detest the sound the hollow “core” needle makes (hard to describe). It was uncomfortable, but at the same time – not the end of the world. I was in and out within an hour. In retrospect, I think that the procedure was harder on my mind than my body. I was laying there thinking, in 10 days, my life could change. What I didn’t realize… was that it already had.
So now we wait… we wait… we wait… we wait. It takes 10-14 business days to get results back from pathology. I caught myself up in my sister’s wedding and stayed as distracted as I could in the days leading up to the phone call. At the end of the day, I thought about the situation and the looming results every waking moment – but at least I had a smile on my face. :S Right? right! Finally I received enthusiastic calls from my both my surgeon and GP’s office. Tumors have come back benign. Rejoice! The date was July 19, 2010.
A few follow-up appointments later, we conclude that the benign tumors need to be removed regardless of the non-cancerous result. If they had stayed in, I would have had to go for frequent ultrasounds to monitor them – and if anything suspicious was found, I would be immediately referred back to stage 1 (the Core Biopsy). Although removal of the tumors has no medical guarantees for the future, at the very least, I would have peace of mind.
I had been looking forward to August 10, 2010 – the day of my surgery consult at Foothills Hospital. It was a quick appointment to discuss anesthetic and removal. I wore my Rethink Breast Cancer – TOUCH. LOOK. CHECK. t-shirt and Dr. Rothwell thought it was mildly inappropriate. ;) They were able to book me in for surgery a short two weeks later.
A lumpectomy was booked for August 24, 2010 at 12:30pm. It’s important to note now that I have no family in Calgary… zero, zilch, nada. But I have always had a fantastic group of friends, a high pain tolerance, and the ability to handle just about anything medically that comes my way. I called upon my girlfriend, Dawn, to act as my momma and support system for the day. She likely should get the “Best Friend Ever Award” as she has plenty on her plate right now with a baby on the way and a little one at home.
There was no wait once we arrived at Foothills Hospital. Every time I have been to the Breast Health clinic, it’s been wildly busy, but for some reason – that day the clinic was at peace. Dr. Rothwell said that the procedure wouldn’t take long (it felt like forever, as my anxiety was through the roof) and I’d be out within the hour. They kept me awake throughout the procedure… I would have done anything for general anesthetic, relaxing medication, laughing gas, or just something to take the edge off. He gave me local anesthetic (i.e. freezing) to dumb the area and then he started with the scalpel. I had the option to watch, but instead I laid there in shock, attempting to mumble at the nurse about school, work, and life. The next thing you know, the lumps were removed and Dr. Rothwell asked me if I wanted to see them. 100% absolutely not. He felt around inside me for additional problem areas and then concluded that he had removed enough. We all shared some laughs and I tried not to freak out as he stitched me up. Steri-strips were put over top of the sutures and then a nice big bandage over the right breast. The masses would be sent for pathology to confirm they were indeed, not cancer.
The nurse walked me through all the “what if’s” including infection, bleeding, and healing. I was told I could shower in a few days, but avoid baths for awhile. As well, the longer the sports bra stayed on the better. I could take two Tylenol an hour after I left the hospital – the freezing would be coming out and I would likely be in intense pain. I was told to take it easy and let my body recover from the trauma. They booked a follow-up appointment in 3 weeks, where Dr. Rothwell would then examine the incision, remove the steri-strips and review the pathology report.
I walked out of the clinic in shock over what I had just been through. Dawn told me my teeth were chattering and asked if I was ok…
Some of you know that I have been around the block when it comes to surgery – and at age 15, I had a spinal fusion with instrumentation to correct my Scoliotic curve. Regardless of the past, being awake during any type of surgery is awful. This was definitely my first and last. I hate to say “never,” but never again do I want to experience a surgeon’s hands poking around inside of me or the immense pressure from tissue being cut out of you. [Ok I'll stop now... :)].
The first day home was terribly painful, so I did nothing, as instructed. Well “Jill’s version of nothing”… ;) talked on the phone, read magazines, blogged, and caught up on social media. I never ended up taking the two Tylenol as instructed, oh such a tough girl I claim to be – and unfortunately the pain got worse and worse. Finally a girlfriend of mine instructed me to take some drugs and ice the chest, which absolutely felt like heaven.
I made it through the first night and considering I am a side sleeper – I actually caught a few hours of shut eye.
I had a follow-up appointment booked with my GP on August 26, 2010 – also the first day I was allowed to shower. I was blessed to have met a locum Doctor at my clinic earlier this summer, a wonderful woman by the name of Dr. Andrea Harmer. She lives in Dubai, but comes to Calgary for the summer to catch up with friends/family and obviously work in Calgary clinics. She has been so supportive on this journey. I would burst into a pile of tears, she would give me a hug, and then describe my strength. Today was the last day I would be seeing Dr. Harmer, and I was actually rather emotional over it. I wasn’t quite over the “bad” of this summer, and I felt like I was losing my cheerleader. She checked out the incision, advised everything looked to be healing, and I wished her luck on her travels back to Dubai.
Later that night, I ended up in Emergency at Foothills Hospital. Why? A newly developed throbbing pain and blood – new, fresh blood oozing out from beneath the steri-strips. No need to fret, I called HealthLink to see if I should be concerned. [Sidenote: The biggest battle with this whole medical situation has been that medical professionals aren't used to dealing with a young woman in this situation. They'll say "oh you're far too young to be dealing with this." Why yes, yes I am.] HealthLink was immediately concerned and told me to make my way to Emergency. I called upon my girlfriend, Dionne, to spend some quality time with me – potentially, it could be quite the wait.
Incision was still bleeding, so I was instructed to hold my chest for a few hours as we waited to see the on-call Surgeon. Once I showed my breast to medical professional after medical professional, it was confirmed that I did not have a Hematoma nor an infection. They cleaned up the wound, put on new dressings, and advised I should come back if pain levels did not change within 24 hours. They said HealthLink would have naturally been over-concerned due to my age and that I was only 48 hours post-surgery. It’s important to note that I was also unanimously voted “Best Dressed in the ER” – quite the achievement. ;) We were in and out of Emergency in just over three hours. Record time if I do say so myself.
The next few days were better. The on-call Surgeon had advised I could take Tylenol every 6 hours, so I did… I did and I did and I did. Showers were terrible for the first week. The incision doesn’t really like to be wet, and I quite like to be clean – it was a constant battle!
On August 28, 2010, I showed my wounds to someone for the first time – and a stranger nonetheless. This whole experience has made me rather vulnerable, but I truly thought “what do I have to lose.” Do I want to be friends with anyone who does not understand what I’ve been through and respect it? Of course not. He responded just as you hoped someone would; both respectful and thoughtful – and for that I thank him.
A few days later, my incision became angry (see August 30, 2010 picture). I had been sleeping on my side and waking up extremely sore in the morning. Sigh… c’est la vie. The good news, my bruise is officially turning yellow! The wound is healing!
Around the beginning of September I started to process how I had changed and everything that I had learned and accomplished over the past few months. I was sore, every day I could feel the pain radiating through my chest. But at the end of the day, I knew I was making progress.
The incision was getting more and more itchy as the days went on. If I started to think about it, I would go crazy. If I was distracted, it was not a concern.
It’s now been just over two weeks since my final appointment with the surgeon. I met with Dr. Rothwell, the Breast Surgeon, on September 14, 2010. The plan was that he would remove the steri-strips, check the incision for healing, and communicate the pathology results.
I brought him cookies – oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies. Why? He actually special requested them on the day of surgery. I honestly thought it was the least I could do. :)
Erin, the RN, came in the room to ask how the last three weeks had been. I went over all the drama of having to go to the Emergency Room etc, but concluded that I seemed to be healing well, and more importantly — in a way better head space.
It was then time to put on the blue hospital gown for hopefully the last time. Dr. Rothwell came in to check things out. I was a bit of a sticky mess as the steri-strips had been on for so many weeks, but I was given the a-ok to have them removed.
I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to this madness. Dr. Rothwell confirmed the pathology results showed benign tumors. I was advised to keep up the TOUCH. LOOK. CHECK. and bring any suspicious lumps to the attention of my GP.
Routine ultrasounds and mammograms are likely to be a large part of my future.
Another sidenote: I took a picture of “the damage” most days from August 24 to September 14. This blog post is truly a small preview of how many pictures I have. By taking a picture (and reflecting on it afterwards), I could visually show myself that I was making progress. I was healing.
It is now October 1st, which triggers the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Breast Cancer Awareness month began in 1985 and continues to dominate the country as a national campaign.
Did you know…
- In 2010, an estimated 23,200 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,300 women will die of it.
- Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women and the second leading cause of cancer mortality.
- One in nine women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
- Every woman is at risk: Only 5%-10% of all breast cancers happen because of inherited genetic mutations.
Source: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2010 produced by Canadian Cancer Society, Statistics Canada, Provincial/Territorial Cancer Registries, Public Health Agency of Canada (www.cancer.ca)
Why, why, why?
From the bottom of my heart, I am an Educator. I have gone through the past few months keeping everything that has happened “a secret.” To my close friends and family that are learning about everything that happened for the first time, I’m sorry. In order to focus on my health, I truly needed space. I no longer believe I should have to keep this “a secret” … I’ve been desperately wanting to have a voice.
As blessed as I am, I feel like I’ve been through a lot in my life. But this situation was different, I felt hopeless, unsure, and uneducated. I googled… beyond belief – but could never find what I was looking for… peace of mind, comfort, and someone who had made it through being misdiagnosed with a smile on their face. Around early August, I decided that I needed to make my journey public. My role on this planet is to educate and to have impact on others lives.
I have learned an immense amount the last three months – likely more than I can put into words. At the end of the day, I’m not here to tell you that breast health battles are the be all and end all, I’m here to share the following:
- Take care of yourself. [I mean it]. If you don’t feel well, your body is trying to tell you something. Listen to your body. Make a relationship with your medical practitioner a priority and keep up-to-date with your health. Are you due for a physical? Then book it – now. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. Be aware of what you’re putting in your body; ensure you’re giving your it the nutrients it needs. Exercise – yoga, cardio, a daily walk – it all helps your heart.
- Let people in. I embody the “I’m an independent woman & I can do this on my own.” Well guess what? You don’t have to. Asking for help doesn’t have to show weakness or desperation; asking for help can show your strength. You don’t have to go through this world alone.
- Accept fear and anxiety. Not everything is in our control. It’s important to remember that anxiety is natural when you’re in an unknown situation. In order to minimize it, ask questions, do your research, stay educated.
- Support your loved ones. [I really mean it]. During this whole process, I lost part of my support system. At the time, it was devastating. This is what I will ask of you… truly treat people as you would like to be treated. Be more than nice, be kind. Give, give give – give more than you take. In times of turmoil, the strength of relationships are proven. No matter the situation, the people that matter will still be there to hold your hand, offer your support, or give you a shoulder to cry on.
- Consider yourself a survivor. Everyone goes through rough patches in life. Whether it be illness, divorce, loss of a family member, loss of a job, financial troubles, or any other tough situation… you are not a victim and you deserve to come out on top. You will make it through, you will learn, you will survive. Be that survivor.
- Appreciate advancements in medicine. The majority of diagnosis’ these days are not the end of the world. Technology and science have come a long way. I can’t say there is a pleasant solution to every medical problem, but your body is a tough machine. Be grateful that we have good health care and competent medical professionals. Educate yourself on treatment or course of action – and move forward. A positive outlook coupled with the availability of medical treatments will surely set you up for success.
Regardless of the diagnosis, this experience has changed me. My appreciation for my health, body, and relationships has changed immensely. I have no intentions to walk away from everything that has happened. Everything that has happened has added to my character and will stay with me forever.
If I think back to the Spring – and how ridiculously busy my life was, I shake my head. Was I focusing on what was most important at the time? No. My health was most important and I was ignoring it. I have grown a lot this year, more than I could have ever imagined. Most importantly, this journey has taught me the importance of mental health and a strong support system.
Thank you for listening to me, reading this blog, and/or supporting me over the past few months. The fact that I can maybe make a difference to one of you out there, makes me smile through my soul. Thank you for reading over 4229 words, yes FOUR THOUSAND PLUS. I have been working on this post since mid-August – it has been my secret life, but more importantly it has been therapeutic… it has helped me to process everything that has happened. These words have come from my soul; I have put hours and hours into choosing the write words to get my message across.
I will conclude with saying that I am not healed. What’s more important is that… I’m healing.
(1) Breast Cancer Awareness Events
I had intentions to announce the details for an event that I will be holding in October today. Unfortunately I am slightly behind – and about 24 hours shy for confirmation of the venue. Tentatively please hold the evening of Thursday, October 21, 2010, as I will be hosting “Pretty in Pink: A Breast Cancer Awareness Benefit.”
It will be a night of education, laughter, fun – and an opportunity to celebrate good health.
An organization that I completely stand behind is Rethink Breast Cancer. They are “a charity helping young people who are concerned about and affected by breast cancer through innovative breast cancer education, research and support programs. Rethink is a national volunteer-driven registered charity with a bold, enterprising and entrepreneurial approach.”
Proceeds from my event will be donated to Rethink Breast Cancer. Event details will be finalized in the next few days, please stay tuned.
In addition, Rethink is holding their 3rd Annual Rethink Romp on Thursday, November 4, 2010.
Last year I was a volunteer at the event and this year I’m hoping to be an attendee. Rethink Romp is a fabulous event and a ridiculously good time. It’s an opportunity to gather with both men and women in an informal setting – enjoying company, good eats, great drinks, and having some fun too! This years theme of “Superheroes” is bound to spice things up too!
How can you help?
- Attend – Donate your time and money by purchasing a ticket to attend this event. To learn more about the event or buy tickets, visit: http://www.rethinkromp.com/
- Volunteer – Donate your time by spending a few hours the night of the event checking in attendees, working the coat check, or handing out swag bags. To learn more about volunteering with Rethink, click here.
- Promote – Spread the word. Google the event and share on social networking channels or through word of mouth.
Throughout this whole process, I was very blessed to have had thorough health care, efficient procedures, and quick wait times. To think that I have gone through all of the above in less than three months is beyond my comprehension. In my eyes, I utilized a lot of resources (whether it be services, programs, or medical care and attention) that could have been consumed by a patient with an advanced stage of Breast Cancer. I feel like this is my opportunity to pay it forward.
I have set a goal to raise $2000 for Rethink Breast Cancer.
I will be contributing a percentage of ticket sales from “Pretty in Pink: A Breast Cancer Awareness Benefit” directly to the fundraising goal. I am hoping the rest of the goal will come by donation.
Tax receipts are automatically generated for donations of $20 or more. Manual tax receipts can be issued for amounts less than $20 when making an online donation.
The opportunity to donate will also be made available the night of my event.
My girls… Haley, Lily, Madi, and Melissa.
My friends… Aaron, Amy M., Bethany, Brandy, Casey, Dionne, Duane, Hasan, Jane, Jeff, Jen B., Jenn D., Joan, Joel, Kait, Karen, Kim, Kymme, Larissa, Laura, Leo, Lindsey, Mandy, Mike, Nicole, Pete, Sarah, Stephanie K., Stephanie P., Shawn, and Trina.
My Mom and my acting momma’s… D & D.
You all mean the world to me and will always hold a special place in my heart. Thanks for being there, I couldn’t have made it through this without you.
The medical team… Dr. Bjorn Larsen, Dr. Andrea Harmer, Dr. David Woodley, Dr. Stephen Valentine, Dr. Robert Diamond, and Dr. Bruce Rothwell.
Thank you for your expertise, humor, and your commitment to my health. An extra thank you for timely appointments and minimal scarring. :)
Lastly massive love to Southcentre Radiology Consultants and Foothills Hospital – Breast Health Clinic.
Really? Do you need more?
Check out these resources:
- Breast Cancer Now What?
- Calgary Breast Health Program
- Canadian Breast Cancer Network
- Rethink Breast Cancer
The Providence St. Vincent Medical Centre in Orgeon, USA, created the following video to promote Breast Cancer awareness in late 2009. To date it has had over 11 million views.
Yes, this is an uplifting video that demonstrates awareness, but it also shows strength, laughter, and a huge network of people that believe in each other. Isn’t that what’s important? ❤