Thursday, 30 June 2011

D Day (Pathology results)

Did I say I was the most nervous on my surgery day - well I think I was lying!  Today was by far worse... woke up early, couldn't eat breakfast and couldn't find out the results quick enough.  My appt was at 12 noon and I was just hoping the morning would fly by.

We arrived at the hospital (after battling a storm outside - rain and wind!).  We waited for what seemed a week before Dr Willsher called my name.  Again, we walked in with a list of questions but saved them until Dr Willsher gave us the pathology report.  Unfortunately the news wasn't great.  He explained that there were in fact 3 cancers (not 4) which I thought was a good start however it went downhill from there.  The largest cancer (which we were told was 2cm) was actually 4cm - double in size.  In addition, the other 2 cancers they found were 2.1cm and 0.9cm.  Again, much larger than first thought!  I was really upset to hear this news but it got worse.  He then went on to say that they found some trace of cancer in the lymph nodes they took.  I was absolutely devastated - I couldn't believe it :(  This is the news I was dreading.  The news didn't get much better when he said that he had no choice but to take me back in to have more surgery.  It honestly felt like I had taken a massive step backwards.

I cried all the way home.  It's not what I was hoping or expecting.  I now had to prepare myself emotionally and physically to go back for more surgery the following Wednesday (only 14 days after my first lot of surgery).  I tried to keep up my physio as I knew this would be important especially as I was now having to have more surgery.

Following the latest news I again received many messages, flowers, gifts and home cooked meals - I can't thank all of my family and friends enough for being there for me and my family during this incredibly difficult journey.  We made the most of the next few days and enjoyed some family time.  

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Day of Surgery (1st surgery)

I don't think I have ever been so nervous or anxious in my life - the day of surgery!

After saying a very emotional goodbye to my girls (and Mum who was taking care of them for us) we made our way to the hospital.  We arrived at The Mount at 8.15am and was 'checked in'.  We waited to be escorted up to my room (in an uncanny kind of way it reminded me of being at work!).  Unfortunately there was some miscommunication between reception and the ward clerk and we waited in the foyer for a good 40 minutes.  I then received a call on my mobile from Nuclear Medicine (next building) asking why I hadn't made my 9.00am appointment.  I knew nothing of this appointment and became very upset.  This wasn't how it was all to pan out - I thought someone at the hospital would be there holding my hand the whole time (so to speak!).  Ryan was amazing and the situation was quickly rectified although I was on edge from that moment on.

We were quickly taken to Nuclear Medicine where they injected a die into my right breast to find which lymph nodes the cancers were draining to as my Dr advised he would be removing these lymph nodes (known as a Sentinel node biopsy) during surgery.  Wasn't exactly comfortable but it had to be done.

We were then taken up to my room - big disappointment!  The hospital was full on my day of arrival and had to share a room with the most inconsiderate woman I have ever met.  She spoke loudly, complained often, had her TV up super loud, had her crap spread across the entire 'shared' bathroom and was the biggest pain in the you know where!  I couldn't believe my luck.  Thankfully the nurses were lovely and I quickly settled in - first job at hand, change into the gown, put on my attractive TED stockings and fill out my meal selections for later that day.  To kill some time I flicked through some magazines although don't remember anything I read - my mind was elsewhere.

At approximately 11.00am they came and took me to theatre.  My heart was racing!  I can't describe how I felt - kind of like an out of body experience.  Ryan was with me the entire time and was allowed into the pre-op area.  It wasn't long before the tears started.  I still couldn't believe this was all happening to me.  The nurses were just wonderful and very caring.  They made sure I was warm, had enough tissues, talked me through the process and we had the opportunity to ask any questions.  I remember asking them  something but I don't know what it was - all a blur now!  Dr Willsher (my surgeon) came to see me and told me that all will be OK and he will look after me.  I appreciated this but couldn't stop crying.  As they wheeled me around to theatre, Ryan had to say goodbye - one of the hardest things I had to do.  I knew now that I was on my own to fight this.  To help take my mind off things the nurses were chatting to me and the next thing I knew I was talking about work and then I fell asleep.

I recall waking in post op some time later and distinctly remember asking if Dr Willsher had to take all of my lymph nodes or just the first level?  It was such a relief to hear that he only took the 4 lymph that the cancer was draining to.  I arrived back in my room at approximately 1.30pm (approx 2 hrs 30 mins later).  Ryan and my sister Lizzy were waiting for me.  I remember feeling very groggy and not quite 'with it' but relieved that the surgery was over.  A short while after being in my room I asked for some strong pain relief and they gave me a shot of pethidine - this did the job :)  Ryan was by my side all afternoon however left early evening to spend some time with the girls and to relieve our parents of babysitting.  I had a horrendous nights sleep as my ob's (blood pressure, pulse and drain) had to be checked every 2 hours.

The following morning Mum and Dad came to visit which was nice.  They were telling me about all of the support they had received from friends and our family back in the UK.  I got teary again!  Dr Willsher came to see me, checked my dressings and explained he was happy with the op :)

Not long after this, the Breast Care Nurse (McGrath Foundation) came to visit and spoke to me about all the things I would need to consider following my op.  All very overwhelming and I think I cried for an hour following our chat.

On a brighter note, Ryan arrived around lunchtime and I was able to give him some good news - they were moving me to my own private room!  Wah Hoo :)  Was so happy! The nurses told me on the quiet that they felt sorry for me having to share with 'that woman'.  I was glad it wasn't just me thinking how horrible she was.  I settled in nicely to my own room and enjoyed having my own space.  Had a much better sleep this night and woke up feeling pretty good on Friday. Dr Willsher came to see me and gave me the all clear to go home.

Hated having to take the drain with me but relieved to be going home and see my girls.  Things would be back to normal for a few days at least.  We didn't do much over the weekend as didn't want to leave the house with the drain :(

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

So many tears :(

I don't think I have cried so much in my life!  My diagnosis consumed my every waking moment for the first few days - it was always the first thing I thought of when waking in the morning and the last thing I thought about when going to bed at night.  We tried to keep things as normal as possible (at home) however it was hard at times.  I would be fine for a good few hours (the girls were a good distraction) and then I would fall apart for a while and have a good cry.

Ryan and I did so much research following the days of my diagnosis.  We spent hours on the internet looking for answers to some of our questions.  The appointment with my surgeon couldn't come quick enough!  My lovely Dr (who initially phoned me with the news) kindly arranged an appointment for me to meet with Dr Peter Willsher at The Mount Hospital on Tuesday 21st June at 10.15am.  I was so thankful she arranged this for me - one less thing to worry about!

I found it extremely difficult for me to talk about my diagnosis and as such ended up telling a few friends via text message - not my ideal way of them finding out but I just couldn't say the words.... I have breast cancer.  I also asked these friends to tell all other mutual friends - this way it would save us having to relive the nightmare each time we told someone.  Slowly the news was getting around and in a way I was relieved as I felt that if it was 'out' I could move on and get on with fighting it!  Within hours I had received many text messages which was so lovely but overwhelming at the same time.  I just kept thinking how lucky we were to have such lovely family and friends in our lives.

As I am sure you can imagine, I didn't get much sleep on the Monday evening.  I tossed and turned all night and was up early but couldn't eat breakfast.  Thankfully my appt was mid morning (didn't have to wait long to get all the answers to my questions).  My lovely Mum came with Ryan and I to the appt - we wanted her there for support and for her medical knowledge.  Mum has always worked in hospitals and knows a lot of the jargon!

When Dr Willsher called my name my heart was racing!!!  He sat us down and asked us what we knew so far - maybe he was thinking he had to tell me the dreaded news?!?  We told him as much as we knew.  In a nutshell he explained that I had stage 2, grade 3 breast cancer. There are 4 stages of breast cancer with stage 1 being very early and there are 3 grades of breast cancer with grade 3 being high grade - aggressive.  He went on to say that 4 cancers were found in the one breast.  I was unaware of this - I had only found one lump.  Of course the lump that I felt was the larger of the lumps however they also found 3 smaller lumps during the ultrasound and mammogram.  This was frightening to hear as I knew this couldn't be good.  He advised that I would need surgery (mastectomy was my only option) and that surgery would take place on Wednesday (we had less than 2 days notice!).  He wanted to act fast and although I was in shock hearing the news all over again I was keen to have the surgery as soon as possible - I needed to get rid of this in my body.

Following the appointment I had to have a bone scan and CT scan to ensure it had not spread to any of my organs or to my bones.  I spent most of my day at the Mount Hospital seeing specialist after specialist and when we finally arrived home later that afternoon I was an emotional mess :(  Mum and Dad were there waiting for us and I cried and cried.  I should add here though that the bone scan and CT scan both came back clear which was a relief but it was all so much to take in on one day. 

The following day I packed for the hospital and left lots of notes around the house for Ryan and our parents - so they could help with the girls whilst I was away for a few days.  I hardly slept on Tuesday night!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

I have some bad news ......

How do you tell your loved ones you have cancer?!?  Unfortunately I was faced with this predicament and to this day I still don't how how I got the words out.  Once I had arrived home from doing the school pick up I settled the girls in front of the TV with some afternoon tea.  Once they were happy I picked up my mobile phone (hands shaking) and called Ryan.  His phone rang out.  I frantically tried calling it again and it still rang out.  I was becoming impatient so tried calling his office number but this also went to message bank.  I suppose in a way I started to panic - I really wanted to speak with him but couldn't get hold of him.  Thankfully he phoned back minutes later and I told him through the start of tears 'I have some bad news'.  There was a brief silence where I started to sob and I went on to say 'it is cancer, I have breast cancer'.  Ryan was in shock but was able to respond with 'oh babe, I'm so sorry I am leaving work right now and will be home soon'.  To tell you the truth I don't really remember much more about our conversation - it really is a blur but I remember being extremely upset to the point where I thought I might vomit.

I then picked up the phone to ring my Mum and Dad.  Their home phone went to message bank so I immediately called Mum's mobile.  Similar to my call to Ryan I told her I had bad news and that it was cancer.  I was very emotional and although Mum was in shock she was strong and all I really remember her saying was 'oh Emma, I don't believe it'.  I knew she would want to know the exact medical terminology so I told her that it was malignant breast carcinoma (I specifically remember asking my Dr this as I knew both my Mum and Sister would ask!).  I have a feeling she was telling Dad in the background but again I don't really remember much more about the call.  My next call was to my sister Lizzy.  By this stage I was a mess and she knew the news wasn't good the moment she picked up my call - my voice just gave it away.  She was also crying so between sobbing I was able to tell her as much as I knew which wasn't really too much.  I was relieved I had told the most important people in my life but the whole situation felt quite surreal.  I remember actually pinching myself at one point - I wasn't quite sure if I was just in a bad dream.  I was extremely emotional and what made the situation all the more hard was my gorgeous little girls asking me why I was so upset.  I remember telling them that Mummy is a little bit sick and Jaz always being so curious asked 'where'?  I didn't want to tell them too much so just replied with 'Mummy's sick on the inside'.  Part of me is relieved that they aren't old enough to understand exactly what is going on but the other half deeply saddens me as I know they are aware that something isn't quite right.

Whilst waiting for Ryan to arrive home from work my mind was racing.  I had so many questions that I wanted to ask but I knew the answers would frighten me - first and foremost, what stage and grade was the cancer?  Will I need a lumpectomy or mastectomy?  Will I need chemotherapy or radiation therapy?  Is it anywhere else in my body?  Will it come back later in life?  I can't deny that dying crossed my mind also - how could it not at a time like this especially the thought of it returning down the track.  I know this must seem very negative but I also recall sobbing at the thought of missing out on all the wonderful times that Ryan and I would share in the future if I didn't win the battle (especially a dream of ours to renew our wedding vows on our 10 year wedding anniversary and also for Ryan to take me to New York and experience a horse & carriage ride through Central Park),  building our dream house in the Scarborough area and of course seeing our girls reach the important milestones in their life - such as finishing primary school, graduating from high school, their first boyfriend, their first job, wedding day, having children.  It absolutely ate me up inside to think that there is a chance I wouldn't be around to be by Ryan's side and to be there for my girls through all their ups and downs.  Ryan is a wonderful husband and Dad and I know that he would do anything and everything for our girls but it pains me to think he would have to do it all on his own, should the news be of the worst kind.

When Ryan walked through the door, we just hugged and sobbed.  It was such an emotional moment.

Ryan's mum kindly came over and took the girls out for a couple of hours.  We didn't want them seeing us so upset so it was nice that Noeleen could take them out for an early dinner.

Not what I was expecting...

I still remember the moment my home phone rang like it was only a couple of seconds ago.... it was 2.51pm on Thursday 16th June 2011 (the day before Ryan's birthday).  The person on the other end was my fantastic GP and one of the first things she asked was 'is anyone home with you right now'.  Immediately alarm bells went off and I knew I didn't want to hear what was going to come next.  She advised that the news wasn't good and the lump that I had found exactly 4 days earlier was in fact malignant breast carcinoma (breast cancer).  After putting down the phone I calmly picked up my car keys, strapped Baylee in the car and picked up Jaz from school as I would on any given day.  I couldn't ring Ryan, my parents or my sister straight away as I knew I would be a complete and utter mess and I didn't want Jaz to see me distraught at school pick up.  I wanted to remain as calm as I possibly could (given the circumstances) until I got home.

Before I go on, I must take you back 4 days prior.....

On Monday evening (13th June) I was sitting at our dining table writing up a shopping list (I think!?) when I scratched under my right arm and on the side of my right breast.  I felt an unusual lump so continued to check the surrounding area before asking my husband to feel it (much to his delight!! ha ha).  He could also feel the small lump and stressed that I needed to make a call to my Dr first thing in the morning.  Of course I agreed but to tell you the truth I really didn't think much of it following this and I think we watched another episode of The City on the iPad :)

The following morning I phoned the surgery and they were able to get me an appt for later that afternoon (4.15pm).  Perfect!  Did the usual daycare and school drop offs, headed to work and met Ryan at the Dr's later that day.  My wonderful doctor was extremely thorough and agreed that there was a lump and made an appt there and then for me to have mammograms, ultrasounds, FNA (fine needle aspiration) and core biopsy the following day in Cottesloe.  I greatly appreciated her fantastic assistance and as I left she said 'for women of your age, breast lumps are common however breast cancer is uncommon'.  Although I was extremely nervous about the following days tests, I agreed with her and thought if anything it will just be a little cyst / blocked duct.  Later that night I was on the phone to my parents and my sister to let them know what was going on and to also get some family history (I knew my Dad's sister was diagnosed with breast cancer approx 6 years ago).  Both my sister and mum come from hospital / medical backgrounds and they are always so helpful and reassuring.  They were both a little concerned but like me was confident it would be nothing to worry about.

Wednesday came and I was quietly petrified about the scans / tests I was going to be having just after lunch.  I spoke to a couple of my girlfriends (on the quiet) as kind of wanted to tell someone about my findings.  I also decided to advise my boss of my specialists appt (just in case it ended up being something serious).  They were all fantastic :)  I won't go into too much detail about the scans except to say that it was fairly routine although the FNA was bloody painful!!!!  The nurses were really lovely but  wouldn't/couldn't give much away when I asked her if she could shed some light on the lump - it would all come down to the pathology report.

As you can imagine, I didn't get much sleep on Wednesday night.  Went to bed late and was up fairly early.  Tried to keep myself busy all morning.  As the clock ticked over I became more and more anxious and even tried calling my GP (around lunchtime) to see if the results had arrived yet.  They hadn't of course so I made sure they had my mobile number.

Then at 2.51pm, my phone rang...