The “Big Meeting” was scheduled for a week after I’d gotten the biopsy results. They didn’t have any openings left for that week or I’d have been there. I took a colleague from work with me and also had my sister on speaker during the discussions with the docs. In between, I had examinations with each of the doctors on my team.
My surgeon, a USC grad all the way through, rocks. I met her first. Dr. Grumley did an examination, asked what I thought about surgical options and got a general history of how I discovered my cancer. After dressing, we brought my friend back in and got my sister on the phone. We talked through the available options for surgery. I had decided long, long ago, that if I ever got breast cancer, I would have a double mastectomy. I don’t want to go through this again. I don’t want to give it that chance. After watching the videos at cancer.org, I was sold on the double mastectomy using my belly fat as reconstructive material.
For my tumor and cancer type, they don’t recommend a full double mastectomy with reconstruction. First, the tumor is sitting in a place in my breast where it doesn’t really bother other structures of my breast, which means the surgery she recommends would also spare my nipple. Then I learned that they have to leave a little bit of the breast tissue intact or your skin would die. Okay, makes sense. Then, she said that the risk of recurrence between a full and a partial mastectomy/lumpectomy is only 2%. Whaaat? After that was the kick in the gut – a full mastectomy with reconstruction is a 10 hour-ish surgery that requires a minimum 5 days in ICU and up to 6 months recovery time. Damn. I wasn’t all that attached to my nipples and was hoping I’d get new ones. The procedure she’s recommending will still be a few hours in the OR but will be only a 4-6 week recovery time. I know I can manage 4-6 weeks away from work. Thinking about being out for 6 months seems like a lot more than is manageable.
My medical oncologist is another blonde who wears glasses and hails from the Midwest. Her husband graduated from Stillwater High. I already love her. The next big shift of my paradigm came from Dr. O’Malley. Because my cancer’s already out running around naked with no shoes through my lymphatic system, we are starting with 5 months of chemo. I get to lose my hair, my appetite and my immune system, but hopefully not my sense of humor. I told both my surgeon and medical oncologist that I essentially hero-worship MD Anderson, and that I know several people who are still walking this Earth today because of them. After I got home that night, I went to the MD Anderson site to look up how they are treating HER2+ breast cancer. From what I read there, they are using similar chemo compounds successfully to shrink tumors and kill the cancer. Good. She’s on the same page. I’m happy.
My 3rd doc on the team is my radiological oncologist. She’s responsible for ensuring that the radiation gets the bad cells and as few as possible good ones. I kind of see her as my own personal physicist. Virginia Mason has earned Radiation Oncology Accreditation from the American College of Radiology (ACR), which makes me feel a little better, too.
There is one other person on my team I haven’t met yet, and that’s my care coordinating nurse, Chelsea. She’s been on her honeymoon. There’ve been a few mixups on appointments and a few other things that she probably would have caught before they got too out of hand, so I’ve decreed that Chelsea is allowed only this one honeymoon while I’m in treatment at Virginia Mason. Let’s hope that she doesn’t need another one in 9 months to welcome a new addition to her family. I’m not ready to be an auntie again.