Back in January, I had the feeling that something was wrong. After my second bout of breast cancer in 2007 and the resulting mastectomy, I had several months of feeling pretty well. Then I felt a pain under my right arm and one small lump was discovered. Since I still had my lymph nodes, I knew there could be a problem. But I saw the oncologist three times after we discovered the lump. The first time he told me he thought it was an infection, which caused a lymph node to enlarge. Three months later, he felt no lump. I returned again in January of this year to another report of no lump. But there was something in the back of my mind that did not believe it.
I was taking Arimidex, a drug that keeps estrogen at bay so that breast cancer cells cannot grow. At least that is the theory anyway. I did have some side effects from Arimidex. It caused some joint pain and it also gave me a vastly increasing appetite. I tried to ignore the symptoms that it caused rationalizing that it was helping me. But some days I felt really crappy and the aching made me wonder if it was something other than the Arimidex.
During the last week of January, I hurt my arm during a normal transfer here at the nursing home. Since I’m quadriplegic, I need assistance with most activities of daily living. But my arm was really sore and it was the right arm—the one where the lump was. I thought it happened because the nurse’s aide was tall and I am not and therefore she pulled a little harder. But after three days, I requested an x-ray. The x-ray showed that I had a hairline fracture. I was a bit astounded even though I am 60. Because the only thing I have ever broken was my nose.
My right arm was put in a sling and I was sent to see an orthopedic surgeon. He wanted me to have a CAT scan because he was laid down concerned that my right shoulder could be easily pulled out of place. I had the CAT scan in early February and it showed that there was an old fracture in my shoulder that had not healed properly. But now the orthopedic surgeon was not nearly as concerned about my shoulder. He said it was okay. I asked him what that meant. He said that my arm would be all right. But he said the CAT scan showed several of my lymph nodes under my right arm were enlarged.
I know my face dropped. He assured me that I should not be so concerned that it might just be scar tissue from my mastectomy. But in the back of my mind, I do not think I believed him.
I felt like I had lost confidence in my oncologist. I wondered why I had not requested a CAT scan myself to check out whether the lump had gone away or not. But it is amazing how we tell ourselves things that make us feel better. I reasoned that my oncologist could not possibly made such a mistake. But even so I reasoned that breast cancer is very slow growing. So even a doctor’s mistake would not change the outcome that much.
I called my oncologist and told him that I wanted to have a biopsy of my lymph nodes. I wanted it done by the surgeon who did my mastectomy in 2007. He was closer to me geographically and I also felt that we communicated well. I had the biopsy at the end of February. But I did not hear the results until mid-March. I was a total basket case even before they told me the biopsy was a breast cancer recurrence.
I decided I wanted to get another oncologist who would be closer geographically and who might be more forthcoming with me. But I opted to have a PET/CAT scan done at the faraway oncologist’s clinic. They had to stick me many times to start an IV. The twelfth time was in my foot where they finally got it going. After I drank their dye concoction, they scanned me, which took less than thirty minutes.
A week later, I returned to my faraway oncologist for the results. They saw no cancer anywhere except in my right arm’s lymph nodes. But there was a growth in my lower left abdomen. My oncologist wanted to be assured that I did not have ovarian cancer, so he sent me to a gynecological oncologist. When I saw him the following week, he assured me that he did not think I had ovarian cancer. He felt that if there was anything in my abdomen cancer-wise, it would probably be breast cancer.
I decided not to return to my faraway oncologist. I just did not feel right about the whole thing. He wanted me to have my lymph nodes removed, which I thought should be done. So I had it done as quickly as possible. By the end of April, my lymph nodes were out and nine of them were cancerous.
I decided to see an oncologist geographically closer. I saw him in May he suggested four treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan, followed by twelve treatments of Taxol. I was a little bit scared about getting Adriamycin. My mother had had breast cancer and Adriamycin had caused her to have a severe reaction. So I saw another oncologist who treated me for breast cancer eighteen years before. His practice was farther away so it was more difficult to get there. He felt the Adriamycin and Cytoxan were doable. But he suggested thirty-five radiation treatments and then monthly shots of Faslodex—a drug that inhibits estrogen from allowing breast cancer cells to grow.
By the time I heard this treatment suggestion, I had decided that I wanted more aggressive chemotherapy. I had read many comments on the Internet and my surgeon had also told me how well some of his patients had done on IV chemo. I could not really tell whether the oncologist who treated I breast cancer eighteen years before felt that I was making a good decision. He was, after all, trying to save me from hair loss and all the other related side effects. But I just did not think that what appeared to be the easier way would satisfy me.
I was dealing with breast cancer for the second time in two years. I know that breast cancer is considered a chronic illness for many women. But it will eventually take their lives if it cannot be kept under control.
I started my treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan in June. I finished them at the end of August. I have lost all my hair and am wearing wigs. I have experienced some queasiness and nausea. But I have never actually vomited—at least not yet. I get by with one nausea pill before I go to sleep. The scales say I have gained eleven pounds, which I am sure the steroids could have caused. I think that Neulasta injections after each treatment have helped me battle infection.
I am supposed to begin twelve Taxol treatments in two weeks. One oncologist felt that Taxol was too dangerous because it is neurotoxic and can cause neuropathy. I only have limited use of one arm and he was very concerned about that. But I have decided that I want to try it. I know what it could possibly do. But I do wonder if it might get rid of the breast cancer cells that are floating around in my body. I know I do not have to take it. But right now it seems like something I should try.