My Introduction to the Cancer World

As I write this post I am currently receiving chemo. The cancer care team goes beyond just the doctors. There are so many amazing people in this facility that make you forget what’s really going on, even if it’s only for a minute. We were just laughing so hard at something and I just want to thank them for always making sure I smile through this.

After receiving the call from Dr. Rashid about the lymph nodes everything started happening very quickly. On Friday August 25, 2017 I met Dr. Simpson, my oncologist. I never thought at the age of 36 I would have an oncologist or a cancer care team. My aunt came with me for this visit. I had so many questions written down because it was this time with all the information being thrown at me I was beginning to forget things. It was overwhelming to say the least.

Dr. Simpson began explaining my lab results and explained about having two separate cancers. Basically he told me it’s like lightning striking the same place twice. Not unheard of but not common. We discussed my treatment which included starting chemotherapy right away to stop the left breast cancer from growing and spreading more. I would be receiving 6 treatments of a 4 drug cocktail. The cocktail was Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin and Perjeta.

This entire process has taught me to see the positive in all situations. The positive I took away from this appointment was I was encouraged to stay active. Being active during treatment is actually beneficial to healing. I was excited to know I wouldn’t be restricted in the gym. However, I was aware I would not be training like I had been training for the past several years. At this time I was not aware how much lifting would be impacted.

The following week I was in Jersey when Dr. Simpson called to give me the official biopsy results. My left breast and lymph nodes were grade 3 HER2 positive, ER negative and PR negative. The right breast was grade 2 ER positive, PR positive and HER2 negative. The right was not as advanced. The left was aggressive and more advanced. I wouldn’t learn more about the pathology until my surgery in February 2018 and that’s when I will discuss it in details.

The next appointment was Friday September 1, 2017; I didn’t take anyone with me because it was my chemotherapy education class I figured this wouldn’t be bad. I was wrong. This was the first appointment that made me break down. It consisted of reviewing each drug and the numerous side effects. It was basically the worst of the worst. I was now about to start poisoning my body I fought so hard to get healthy, hoping these drugs kill the cancer cells before it kills me. It was the most eye opening part of the cancer world. The one I had the hardest with was the damage is could do to my heart. Due to the risk on the heart I would be getting a heart echo every 3 months to monitor the heart health.

Overall I managed to keep it together until I got into my car. That is when I broke down. I guess I truly hadn’t let myself absorbed all the changes my life was about to take. I remember sending my mother a text saying “I don’t want to do this; it could kill me”.

This post took longer to finish than I expected initially. My next post on my journey will be “Hell Week” when everything officialy begins.

The Day Everything Changed

The following Tuesday August 22, 2017 I had a follow up appointment with Dr. Rashid to discuss the results. All the results were in except the lymph node biopsy. My aunt Judy was with me for support.

As we waited in the exam room Dr. Rashid came in and informed both breast biopsies came back malignant. Malignant means cancer for those that don’t know. She also told me they were different cancers, both breast cancer but different pathologies. Basically it meant I have 2 cancers. My oncologist would later go into detail of this. She gave us a moment and stepped out of the room.

I was in shock, I cried and I was very grateful Judy was with me. I remember her telling me I didn’t cry enough. I couldn’t, I had to figure out the plan and how to not have cancer. I had just turned 36 two months prior, I wasn’t ready to hear you, hey you have cancer. The truth is 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer. Please check yourself, I found my tumor which led me to discover I had another cancer developing in my right breast. That mass I wouldn’t have felt until it was more advanced. I will get into the diagnosis in a later post.

Dr. Rashid came back into the room to see how I was. She assured me that I was going to beat this and thrive on the other side. She went into surgery options, explaining the next step was meeting with my oncologist, who she would refer me to. The first words I said was are you going to cut my pectoral muscle?. Its amazing what goes through your head when you’re told you have cancer. Well that was my first thought. I was straight forward about wanting a double mastectomy also known as a bi-lateral mastectomy. I am stating that because that is how I refer to it today so I don’t want any confusion. She also explained that depending on my oncologist, each proceed differently. Some say chemotherapy first and surgery second or surgery first and then chemotherapy. They will look at the pathology of the biopsy and explain which way they feel is best and why. Her explaining that to me I was prepared for the meeting with my oncologist.

I want to touch on something and I think this is a good place for it. This is more for anyone who finds themselves in my situation. There are several surgical options out there. Lumpectomy, single mastectomy and bi-lateral mastectomy. You decide what is best for you. You listen to your doctors they are there to help you decide. You may even have people in your life saying no this is best or don’t do that. What you decide is you ultimately your decision. I decided a bi-lateral mastectomy was best for me since I had 2 cancers one in each breast and I just wanted them gone. I literally felt betrayed by them, is the best way to describe it. It was a long 6 months with them before I had my surgery.

In case you weren’t paying attention above it was two days later I received the phone call about the lymph node biopsy. I remember because I was driving home from work when I got the call. I pulled over into this business parking lot probably less than a mile from work. Every time I see this parking lot I remember this call. It was Dr. Rashid and she told me the biopsy showed malignant cells were present in my lymph nodes. One of things I have told myself through all of this and I still say it to myself, it could always be worse. It helps me keep things in perspective.

The next post in this section will be meeting my oncologist, my diagnosis and expected treatment.

First of many new doctors

August 17, 2017 I found myself sitting in the waiting room of my breast surgeon’s office. I never thought I would ever have a breast surgeon let alone knew why one would need one.

This appointment I made prior to my mammogram because that was my OBGYN office’s instructions. I really had no idea what this appointment was going to be like. Was there going to be a biopsy? Was it a meet and greet? Do we discuss the mammogram? I really didn’t know what to expect. However, I did not come to this appointment alone. Thankfully, I had my aunt Judy with me.

It began with me meeting Dr. Rashid, who is an amazing human being. She is one of my favorite doctors. This appointment turned to an all day event. She had already received my mammogram results and then did physical exam. She determined I needed a biopsy right away. If she couldn’t get me in the hospital that day for both biopsies, she would perform the one on the left breast in the office.

The mammogram and ultrasound results showed the mass in the left breast and under the left arm would require an ultrasound guided needle biopsy. The right breast would need a mammogram guided biopsy or stereotactic. Now prior to this appointment I had been researching as much information as possible about biopsies and what to expect.

She was able to get me in the hospital to have both procedures done that afternoon. This made me happy because I really wanted answers at this point.

The first procedure was the left breast. They injected some local anesthesia (I was awake but my breast and underarm was numb) They got several good samples from both the mass in the breast and the effect lymph nodes.

The second procedure was why they needed the hospital. I’m going to describe this from someone who has no medical background. I go into this room, mind you I’m already not feeling great from the previous procedure. I’m greeted by the technician thats going to be doing the procedure along with Dr. Rashid. She was another amazing person, she stayed late to perform this procedure. I found this out later when it was all done her daughter was having surgery and she stayed to make sure I got this biopsy done that day. I have met some remarkable people along this journey.

Now back to the procedure itself. In this room was a table with a hole in it. I was instructed to get on the table and the right breast went through the hole. I am not making this up, this is an actual procedure. This was a lot harder than the previous one because once she found the spots using the mammogram machine that was under the table I couldn’t move. Of course it wasn’t a comfortable position that they wanted me to hold for what seemed like forever (I’m being slightly dramatic). She made marks on my skin of areas for Dr.Rashid. After she was set up with the images, Dr. Rashid came in, I was given more local anesthesia and the procedure was done.I want to say while she was doing the biopsy they did take images as we went along but its hard to say because I didn’t have a good view.

On the drive home my aunt asked if I needed her to come to the follow up appointment on Tuesday. I remember being out of it and saying no I should be ok unless they tell me I have cancer then maybe not. She informed me she was coming with. Judy, thank you so much for doing that.

January 3, 2019

This month will be about relearning my body or perhaps I should say learning my new normal. Chemo effects how the muscles recover and I have to learn how quickly they can recover.

I will be using the first couple weeks to discover how many days a week I can do a gym session, how hard I can train and that will determine my training split. On days I can’t do a gym lift my plan will be for an active recovery. Active recoveries will vary but I will always make sure they include squats.

I took an active recovery today. It started with a recovery ride using the peloton app. Then for daily squats today, I did front squats. I kept it simple 3×10 bar only. Now I am guessing I haven’t done front squats in over a year. I will need to start adding those in more if I expect them to improve. I finished with some GHD back extensions(no added weight) and GHD sit ups(no added weight).

I hope everyone worked toward their goals today. Have a fantastic evening. Until next time my friends.

January 1, 2019

Happy 2019!!

Everyone feels a certain kind of way about resolutions. I personally, like to make goals and lists. I love them actually. Its like a challenge I must conquer. I know last year I didn’t set any. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to train, diet or anything that I really enjoyed doing. I couldn’t get into the right mentality for anything. I know I had took a bunch of hits so, I allowed myself to take 2018 off and try to wrap my head around my new normal. It’s a hard thing for me. I was used to being able to do almost everything and now I struggle to do anything. So that was what I used 2018 to do. I gave myself time to mentally heal.

This year I have such a good outlook on everything. I can’t wait for everything I plan on doing. I’m not even going to give spoilers.

So I started my day off right. I got on my spin bike then right into my home gym for my squats. I went to the gym down the street for a great shoulder workout. I didn’t even break my fast till after 1pm when I was heading up to spend the afternoon with family.

I can’t even express how much I missed the gym. The gym is more than just the physical benefits, its a great outlet for me. For example, if I had a bad day, a good lift would make me feel better. Don’t get me wrong I miss being in shape too but that will come back.

I kept trying to train last year but I was just going through the motions. It wasn’t enjoyable and I found it stressing me out. I tried everything, changing gyms, going back to stronglift training, only training at home. Nothing was working to remove this dark cloud so to speak. However, today it has been lifted.

The best part of a new year, it’s the perfect time for a new start. Yes I’m gonna say it. New year, new me!!

I hope you are enjoying the daily posts. I will try to keep consistent with them as much as I can. I will also be doing my cancer journey as well. Those will be in parts. It’s very emotional going back to the beginning but I feel it’s going to be very healing for me.

My first and last Mammogram

My mammogram was the following Monday August 7, 2017. At this time only a few people were aware I was going through this or I would have thought to bring someone with me for support. Later I would be told by many to never go to any appointments by myself. I suggest if you are going through anything like this I would recommend bringing someone.

I arrived at the imaging center in the women’s part of the hospital. I was only 36 so therefore I had never needed a mammogram before. After 40 is when they start recommending women to have one, for those that may not know. I was very much out of my element. It was so cold in there too so that didn’t help things either. Once I was taken back they bring you into this room with individual dressing rooms where there is a robe, you are instructed to undress waist up then put your things in a locker and then you wait with some other women in the chairs outside the dressing rooms. I was the youngest there by at least 30 years. I felt like everyone knew there must be something wrong with me. They didn’t, it was all in my head. After a bit my name was called I followed the technician who would be my mammographer. The first impression of the machine was like its huge and glowing. The first machine I was on, yes I end up on another machine but more on that later, it was intimidating. She explained what was about to happen and made an uncomfortable experience as comfortable as it could be.

For anyone who hasn’t had one of these you have to walk up to the machine and hold on to these handles, place one breast up and she jammed(yes jammed) these clear plastic things around it. Then she went around the corner and activated the machine. I liked this machine best since the colors kinda distracted me from what was happening. After a few images of the left breast she’s like ok lets do the right. I’m like, I’m only here for the left. She explains they need a baseline to compare. Next thing I know we got the right one up there and she take the first image and goes hmm. I’m like wait what?? She says the doctor that reviews these will want more images of the microcalcifications. Given I was still back at the “hmm”. Fast forward more images were taken then I was returned to a chair outside the dressing rooms.

Most of the other ladies had come and gone. I was waiting for my ultrasound of the mass in my left breast. Immediately I was searching on the internet to find the meaning of microcalcifications in the breast. I was a wreck reading everything I possibly could. Honestly what was the possibility of both breasts having something. (insert eye roll) I was interrupted by my mammographer calling me again to get more images of the left breast. This was done on another machine that wasn’t pleasant. And it hurt so much!! Which in my mind was a good sign cause everyone was saying cancer tumors don’t hurt. (insert another eye roll)

Back I found myself in the chair waiting for my ultrasound. I was called into this other room. It was dark there with some pleasant classical music playing. I was instructed to lay on the table and the procedure began. I had never had never had an ultrasound before so this was all new to me. It was not anything like the mammogram. The technician applied some gel for the wand and focused on the mass and my left armpit since I had swelling under there and felt it may be related.

When the ultrasound concluded I was allowed to get dressed but I had to wait to talk to a nurse. I was taken into a smaller room where this very nice nurse explained what was about to happen. There was a number I could call if I needed someone to talk to. Yup going through my head was I have cancer but they can’t say it officially yet. She told me my doctor office would get the information the next morning and they would be contacting me.

I will never forget the call I received when my doctor’s office told me, the left breast was suspect to be malignant. I would now have to wait to meet with the breast surgeon to see where we go from there.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Next part of my cancer journey will be meeting with my breast surgeon.