Living In Dark Places

I thought I had learned alot this past year about fear, mortality, true love, friendship, family - and especially cancer.  Turns out, there is always something more that you can learn and experience - I just wish I didn't have to.

When we talk about cancer, most of the time we use phrases like "You'll beat this!". We call ourself "cancer survivors", or urge our friends to fight, fight, fight! The next few minutes you spend on my blog will hopefully make you rethink this mentality. 

About a month ago, I found a very small lump under my right armpit - next to the area I had the mastectomy. I am not a very lumpy person, so I thought this was a bit odd and had a biopsy done on the spot right away (learned my lesson from last time! No waiting around!).

I got a call about a week later from my surgeon, who told me it was a recurrence of my cancer. I'm not sure there is anything more shocking you can tell a person they have cancer the first time, but I'll tell you this: telling someone they have cancer for the second time? Meltdown mode.

My surgeon was quick to assure me that even though it was closer to my armpit it was still considered a local reoccurrence, meaning it was still in the breast tissue and was not confirmed to have spread anywhere else. She set me up with CT scan and a bone scan in the meantime though, just to be sure.

The anxiety of waiting for test results is all consuming. Knowing that these results will completely determine your entire life is crippling. I had my tests two weeks ago -  on Thursday, and on Friday I found out my CT scan of my abdomen was clear, but that it looked like I had a fairly bad infection in my lungs.

I called the hospital repeatedly on Monday looking for my bone scan results. Nurses were able to tell me the results were in, but that they weren't able to read them to me over the phone. I got that sinking feeling you get when something is about to go very, very wrong. I never received a call that day, and had to go to bed with the biggest pit in my stomach. I can't even put into words the stress I've felt over these last few weeks.

I received a call the next day from one of my oncologists who had some news for me regarding my scans.

They found cancer in the bones of my right arm: around my elbow and by my right shoulder. Due to this, it was determined that the cancer is also in my lungs: it was not an infection but a recurrence.

I have Stage 4 breast cancer.

I didn't cry on the phone at that time. I don't think I believed it. I went home from work, and told Jeff my news. If I had to determine the most heartbreaking moment of my life, that was it.

There isn't anything you can do to prepare for this. To realize your future as you had previously imagined has completely changed. To know your hopes and dreams for a career will not come to light. Coming to terms that I will likely never have my own children. I may never buy a house, meet my sister's babies, grow old with the love of my life.

I met with my chemotherapy oncologist on Thursday. Arguably it was the second hardest, and  heartbreaking, day of my life. It was the first time I had someone tell me to my face that based on the scans, I was living with Stage 4 breast cancer (For some back story, once a cancer spreads from it's original location - for me, the breast- throughout the rest of the body, it is still considered breast cancer. For me, my breast cancer has metastasized to my lungs and my bones).

My biopsy determined my tumor markers had not changed at all - I am still triple positive (ER, PR, HER2 +). My cancer is still digging all the hormones. The only scary part is that this cancer developed while I was on some pretty strong drugs: Herceptin and Tamoxifen.

My oncologist came up with a treatment plan for me, and I will be starting chemotherapy again on March 15th. I will be on a two week on/one week off treatment plan, where I will be receiving Taxol, Pertuzumab (Perjeta), and Herceptin. These are all new drugs for me, and due to the Taxol, I will lose my hair again about three weeks after my start date.

Symptoms wise, it shouldn't be as intensive as my first round. I will not be getting any Lupron injections (which was what put my body into temporary menopause), and I will not need the Neulasta shot (injection in my stomach after chemo). That means I automatically skip the achey body and hot flashes which is good! I may have flu-like symptoms but we'll just have to see how all of that goes.

The aim of this chemotherapy will be to manage the cancer. There isn't anyway to "beat" Stage 4 cancer. There is no cure. It is something that will need to be treated for the rest of my life.

The hopes are that I respond extremely well to the chemotherapy drugs, and possibly it will shrink the cancer and eliminate it to a point where it can't be seen on the scans any further. That is the ideal for Stage 4 - pretty much a dream. Until then, keeping it managed and from spreading any further is the real intent.

I asked my oncologist not to talk to me about statistics and life expectancies because I just have no interest. I still plan on living a very full life, and I can't imagine having that sort of knowledge would do anything very positive for my mindset. When you look at average life expectancies, it doesn't take into account that there are many developments that have come out in the last few years for those with Stage 4, especially HER2+.

In the meantime, it really puts life into perspective. I had originally decided my wedding would be Summer/Fall 2017. All of a sudden Jeff and I felt very strongly - why wait? It became less about the perfect venue, the most stunning decor, and more about getting to be his wife as soon as possible. We set a date in only 5 months.

The day after we found out, we adopted a dog (Maverick) from the SPCA. He is perfect, and also something we had always discussed wanting to do but just never went for it. The time was never right. It seems like finally, the time is now.

Before my treatments start, I have a surgery to remove my tissue expander and put in an implant. This will remove all of the metal from my body so I can finally go for an MRI - which will determine more about the cancer in my bones.

I plan on doing all of my healing from this surgery in Mexico - Jeff, myself and some friends plan on leaving around March 4th. Again, the post cancer trip I never took in October... all of a sudden, the time is now.

It has proven to be really difficult to not let myself live in the dark places. The places of gloom and doom, the "why me", the mourning, grieving for the life I had always imagined. I lived there for a few days and it was very miserable. I didn't eat, or sleep, or do much of... anything. I decided I couldn't live there, in those dark places. My biggest wish is that my family and close friends can do the same.

My new diagnosis has made me question my blog and my writing. The peace I felt from writing has disappeared. My blog can't be that beacon of positivity anymore. It will likely be sad sometimes. I don't know what is "too much" to share. Some of the corners of my mind have very dark, anxious and lonely thoughts. I feel as if I can't half-share what the experience is like; It has to be all or nothing. Unfortunately, I don't know if I'm prepared to share that part of me, and I'm not sure my family and friends are ready to read it. Maybe it is something that we will all grow into with time.

So for now, there's the update. It's out in the open.

If you've messaged me recently and I haven't answered, I'm so sorry. I couldn't talk about it yet. I wasn't ready.

I think enough time has passed though.

Thank you for all of your continued support.



(Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Mexico was fabulous, and my first treatment is this Tuesday at 8AM!) 

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