Aimee's Story, Diagnosed at 29
At the age of 29, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 ductal invasive breast cancer. I had no family history of any type of cancer, so I had so much to take in in such a short period of time.
I'll start on January 29, 2001. I was just sitting around chatting with my husband Mel. I had a dull pain high up on my right breast. I instinctly reached up to 'rub out' the pain. That was when I felt 'it.'
'It' got me extremely upset (I suppose that was my body's way of telling me something was wrong). I went upstairs and did a BSE. Definitely feeling something was not right, I asked my husband to feel. He said he couldn't feel anything and that I was probably overreacting. All right, I shut up about it (while my lip quivered and I was about to break out in tears). At that exact moment the phone rang. It was my Mom. The tears started flowing immediately as I began to describe what had just happened. She advised me to get to see my OB/GYN a.s.a.p.
So that's what I did. I saw my gynecologist two days later on January 31. He asked me where in my menstrual cycle I was. Coincidentally I had just started that day I found the lump. He told me that it might just be swollen breast tissue, and that I should come back in two weeks if it was still there.
Two weeks came and went, and every day I was feeling that foreign object in my boob. I went back to the doc on February 15 knowing that the lump was still present (and to me, felt as though it had grown massively). He knew something was up, so he referred me to a general surgeon. The surgeon wouldn't see me unless I had a mammogram. This was performed on February 20. The next day I got a phone call. It was the technician's office who performed the mammogram. They informed me that I needed to come back for ultrasound as my mammogram results were inconclusive. So away I went. I actually was able to see the screen and saw 'it.' The image was a black smudge on a generally grey screen. I asked the technician if that was 'it', and he said, "that's it."
Please keep in mind that cancer hadn't even come across my mind yet. Oh sure, I told my husband that if it turned out to be cancer (which it couldn't possibly be) that I would remove both of my breasts and everything would be hunky dory. Oh how wrong I was.
I met with the general surgeon on February 23 to go over the tests that were just perfomed. He looked at my file and flat out told me that the edges of the lump were not clear and that was an indication that it needed to be removed. I was scheduled for a lumpectomy which was day surgery under local anesthetic for March 7.
That surgery came and went without complications. One week later, on March 15, I got the results of the pathology. I call that day D-day. For every single appointment I had ever had in my life (excluding ultrasound for my kids, and first heartbeat etc.) I had always gone by myself. Even for the mammogram, ultrasound and initial examination. For some strange reason, my husband told me that he booked the day off work so he could come to this appointment with me. Thank goodness he did. About two minutes before the doctor came in, I got a very strange feeling. I froze and just said, "Oh my God..." - my husband looked up at me and said, "What?" All I could get out was, "He's going to tell me it's cancer..."
Doctor comes in, looks at my file and very bluntly and to the point, says, "Aimee, I'm afraid this was cancer." Instinctly, I started to bawl on my husband's shoulder. I did this for about five whole minutes. Then I got mad. I informed my surgeon that I wanted both breasts removed because there was no way I wanted to go through this experience from hell ever again. He agreed, but informed me he would only do one side at a time, beginning with the side that had the original cancer in it. One week later, on March 22, I had a modified radical mastectomy. 26 lymph nodes were removed at this time, none being affected. Bone scan and CT scan also proved negative.
My appointment with the oncologist was quite delayed. I didn't get in to see her until late May. She informed me I would need an aggressive type of chemotherapy because of my age and type of cancer. I was going to receive 4 cycles of AC. This chemo would definitely make my hair fall out (I had finally grown it to my butt!). No radiation necessary because I had the mastectomy and no lymph nodes were involved. I had a portocath inserted on May 31 to aid in the administration of the chemo drugs. The first treatment was June 1. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was just very tired and had no energy to do anything, even eat - which is what I was best at. Second and third chemos, also not too bad. I found each one to be different in a lot of ways. The energy levels I had, what I was able to eat and drink and how soon I was able to feel 'normal' again. The fourth dose was by far the WORST. This is where I would get nauseated just thinking about the anti-nausea pills I had to take. Sure enough, by early evening I was kissing porcelain. And I felt crappy for a good week.
10 days after I had my last chemo treatment I turned 30 years old. My husband threw me a huge 30th/finished chemo party. It was a good way to feel better. Having finished treatments we began to look into the future.
I decided to remove the other breast as originally planned. My general surgeon made the date for January 31, 2002. I told him also that I would like to have reconstruction of both breast immediately following the simple mastectomy. He told me that was not a problem, and referred me to a plastic surgeon. This doctor was the ONLY doctor who would work in conjunction with my general surgeon to perform the tissue expander insertion.
I had a consultation with this doctor, and immediately didn't like him. Compared to all the other health care professionals I had come into contact with since the breast cancer journey began, he seemed cold and uncaring. To sum it up, he had the bedside manner of a goat. But I digress...he was the ONLY doctor who would work with my general to do the surgery immediately afterward. I was trying to avoid a surgery, and I did. I went ahead with him, even though I felt the bad vibes.
As the tissue expanders were inflated, I was getting more disappointed by the appointment. My left side (which was the non-cancer side) was sitting so high up on my chest (I'm talking almost under my chin), and was an oval shape. Whereas my right side was sitting in exactly the right spot and a nice round shape. I voiced my concerns over and over to the plastics doc, and he just said, "Don't worry, we'll fix everything up when the implants go in". Of course I accepted this, because after all, he is the pro.
Three months after the simple mastectomy I developed cellulitis. My whole left breast turned beet red and was hot to the touch. Apparently there is a lot of pain associated with this infection, but because I don't have much feeling there, I wasn't complaining. I was treated with antibiotics by the emergency room staff. When I went to do a follow up with the plastics doc, he was so pissy with his attitude and didn't take the time to explain this side effect at all. I finally got brave and decided to go see another plastic surgeon (one I had researched) for a second opinion.
This new doctor opened my eyes to options and explanations. I begged him to take me on as a new patient and he reluctantly agreed (only after I was forced to tears). Not many plastic docs want to take on a patient who has already been started. I had what I thought to be my last surgery on December 16. This was to remove the expanders and insert the implants. The surgery was fine, but this time there were complications. When I woke up and the doc came to visit me, he informed me that the left side was overfilled, double the size it should have been. This has caused my chest wall to collapse on the left side and one of my ribs to become indented. This now means the implant isn't sitting where its supposed to be. Apparently the chest wall and rib will correct itself within a year, but in the meantime I now need two more surgeries to correct the position of the implant. I am scheduled for the first surgery on March 31, 2003.
How frustrating is that? Just goes to show you can't trust everyone.
At the time of diagnosis, my husband and I were only married for 5 1/2 years and had two small children. Kyla - age 4 and Jeremy - age 15 months. We have now been married for almost 8 years...Kyla is almost 7 and Jeremy is almost 4. They are my reason to live. I am a fighter not only for myself, but for them. They need me around for many more years. I am a firm believer in 'everything happens for a reason'. I didn't get breast cancer because I am a bad person, or because I did something that someone upstairs didn't like. I got breast cancer to make me a stronger person, to make my children aware, and to take on the fight (and future fights) my life holds.
I currently am a volunteer with The Canadian Cancer Society's Cancer Connection program as well as The Breast Cancer Centre of Hope here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Committing to peer support as a volunteer has been very rewarding. If my experience along the breast cancer journey can help others be more aware of their young bodies, and helps other young women get through diagnosis and treatment, well...it almost makes it worthwhile. I didn't have anyone to talk to and knowing what I know now, I at least can help others.
I live by a famous saying now. Carpe Diem - Seize The Day!