Gotta keep on keepin' on.......

Cancer again...that's 3 times in 2 years. This time it’s not breast cancer, but a new one called squamous cell carcinoma. New cancer, same old fighting spirit! My blog is still named for one of many songs that kept me going the first time around. Driving home from an upsetting appointment, I turned on the radio just as this line from Steve Miller Band's Jet Airliner was playing: "I've got to keep on keepin' on"....so I did just that. And I'll do it again.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

How I Found My Cancer

Guys, this may fall under the category of "more than I need to know about Katie's breasts". You might want to skip this posting.

OK, you're still reading. That's your choice. If you decide to read on, you can't say I didn't warn you!

How I found the cancer: I never actually found a lump in my breast. My breasts are fibrous anyway, like a lot of women, and so they have lots of lumps that don't mean anything. I had 2 previous mammograms, 1 in 1997 (I was 32 years old) and 1 in 2000 (35 years). I insisted on them, because my breasts hurt and were lumpy and it bothered me. Those mammograms showed nothing suspicious, just dense, fibrous breasts.

I've been pregnant or nursing almost non-stop since then. No one wants to do a mammogram on a nursing mom (think of how messy that would be!), and when you're pregnant your breasts change so much anyway. It's hard to tell what's a lump and what's normal.

So I never had another mammogram after 2000. Why bother? I hadn't turned 40 yet, I had no family history of breast or ovarian cancer, I don't fall into any high-risk category, AND I nursed all my children for a full year (nursing is supposed to be a preventative thing). When I did turn 40 in April 2005, my annual checkup with my OB/GYN was scheduled for that summer. And by that appointment, I was pregnant with Jesse. So my OB and I decided to postpone my mammogram until after he was born and I had stopped nursing. Again, no family history, no high risk, it didn't seem necessary.

Fortunately for me, my armpit was bothering me in August. It was sore, and after a few days I finally discovered the lump. I thought it might be a lymph node, but I was hoping it was related to nursing Jesse. Maybe I had a clogged milk duct or something. Wishful thinking!

From there everything was urgent: I went to my doctor about the armpit, he immediately sent me to get a mammogram, and the radiologist immediately sent me to the general surgeon. The surgeon immediately did a biopsy, strongly suggested that I think about weaning the baby, and in a few days the biopsy came back positive for cancer.

I learned about my diagnosis on Sept 5th, the first day of school. I brought Emma to the bus stop that morning, John and I took Leah to her Junior Kindergarten class at her preschool, and then we drove on (with Frances and Jesse) to the surgeon's office.

DIAGNOSIS: Stage 2 invasive lobular cancer, possibly lymph node positive (but they won't know until surgery about the lymph node). Stage 2 is early, but it sounds scary just the same! The cancerous cells are in a lumpy mass that was already in my left breast. The whole mass is not cancerous, it's part of my lumpy breast, but hidden within it are those bad cells. I can feel the mass. It's always been there. I just can't feel the cancer within it.

So really, if it hadn't been for that swollen lymph node, I would still be nursing baby Jesse, maybe wondering why the left breast didn't produce as much milk as the right, but still happily nursing him until he turned 1 year in April 2007. Then after that, whenever I saw my OB/GYN for my annual checkup (probably summer 2007), I would have had a mammogram and they would have found the cancer. Think about how much worse off I'd be THEN! That is so much scarier than what I'm facing now, don't you think?

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