Imagine running a marathon and about 2/3 of the way to the finish line someone hands you a medal and declares you the victor. That’s the way I feel right about now. I’ve been running for five and a half months. I look about as good as I feel and that’s not pretty. My breasts have been replaced by two very long scars, my hair is a shadow of its former self, and my arm hurts like hell after my surgery. I had been taking Tylenol 2s for pain and Lorazepam to help me sleep and still had a drain attached to my body two weeks post surgery. Because I like to think of myself as an upbeat kind of gal, I did manage to have some very good days following the mastectomy. Mother’s Day was especially fun as I ventured out with my family for the first time to catch a Jays game in Toronto. I threw on my pink wig and a ball cap and successfully hid my drain under my clothes. It was good to be out and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Side note; the Jays won the game.
Mostly, however, I was spending my days indoors “recovering” in front of a tv screen or scanning Facebook and Twitter. I was bored and I had a lot of time to think. I started to obsess about my upcoming appointment with my surgeon. He was going to check my progress and give me the pathology report. That report would tell us how many lymph nodes were removed and how many may have cancer. It would assess whether or not the chemo had effectively destroyed the tumour that had taken over my right breast. I began researching pathology reports and how to read them, what they meant and what questions to ask. The problem is, most mastectomies are done before chemo and mine was done post. The research I was doing reflected that of a pre-chemo patient. I have tried not to worry too much throughout this entire ordeal but it was hard not to worry under the circumstances. I had done 8 rounds of chemo over 16 weeks, and had gone through a surgery that was emotionally difficult and physically uncomfortable. This pathology would tell me what was going on inside. I was certainly aware of what was happening on the outside. My oncologist had forewarned me weeks ago that he would be surprised if the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes. I have friends with breast cancer who have all had at least a few of their nodes contain cancer. It was common. In basic terms, the higher the number, the higher the risk of recurrence. I always want to stay positive but I was bracing for bad news, just in case. I didn’t want to be taken by surprise and fall apart in front of my very calm doctor.
On May 18th, my husband and I walked into the room where we had first learned that I had breast cancer. I was given the usual instructions by his assistant to undress from the waist up and put on the green gown “open at the front”. Incidentally, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been told to do that in the last several months. Soon after, my surgeon and a female med student walked in. He asked me how I was feeling and looked at my scars and gave me a few exercises to help with my arm pain. He was very pleased with how I was healing in general. I wasn’t as pleased, but I may be too subjective. He finally pulls out the report and tells me that he just looked at it before walking in. The surgeon is not responsible for the pathology report. It’s done by a pathologist. I’m told I had a very good one do mine. What happened next, I was not prepared for. Not just good news, but great news. I had a complete response to the chemotherapy. In other words, no cancer at all. 16 lymph nodes had been removed during surgery and they were all clear. There was no more invasive cancer and no obvious signs of a tumour. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know how massive that sucker was to start. I was told that 20 to 30 per cent of patients have this outcome. I was cancer free. The chemotherapy had done what it was supposed to do, and I was essentially cured. I will still likely need some radiation (as insurance) and my Herceptin infusions continue every three weeks to prevent my cancer from recurring but otherwise it’s gone. I burst out crying as soon as he and the student left the room. I was in shock. I just kept saying “Oh my God” over and over again.
So here I am, not quite finished the race, and I have already won. I’m not sure why I’m using a marathon metaphor when I don’t run, but it does paint a nice picture. I am so incredibly grateful to my medical team, my family, my friends and the huge number of people that I have never met who have been pulling for me since I announced that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have had the best cheerleaders anyone could ask for. I know that all of the positivity directed toward me, helped get me to this amazing moment. We beat you cancer. We beat you.