My Pink Ribbon Story - Part 1

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A story for my children to remind them of how much I love them through this journey.

PART 1: MY PINK RIBBON JOURNEY

 

I am not even sure how to start this story, except with a purpose in mind. To write it down, explain the steps I took, the reasons behind my decisions so that one day my children will understand what their mother went through. I refuse to go on this journey without a purpose. My number one goal will always be MY FAMILY. Everything I have done is for them. I also want to bring awareness to women and ensure I am a source of information and comfort to anyone who must go through this after me.

 

The Discovery

I have no other answer except that there is a guardian angel watching over me. As strange as it sounds there has always been someone watching out for me. I have a few guesses about who it is. A friend who passed away in college, a childhood friend of my husband’s or my best friend’s mother. I not sure who or maybe all. However, I am forever grateful for their guidance and protection in my life.

October rolled around and as it always does – the breast cancer awareness articles, posts and ads started rolling into my feed. I am not a dedicated self-examiner but this year something told me to check. I did a self-exam one morning while the kids were at school. Felt nothing. I was all good. Two weeks later, I was thinking about needing to get to an OBGYN (who I have not seen in 5 years). I was talking to my friends about it while we were working out and decided to go home and do another self-exam 2 weeks after the initial exam. I NEVER DO THIS! As I ran my fingers around my breast, I found a lump. It was right next to my right nipple and was hard like a small M&M under my skin. I knew, just knew, it was not good. The next day I asked my friend for her new OBGYN and made an appointment. I got in within a week and they checked it. The doctor could feel it easily, as I could, and did not like what she felt. She sent me for a Diagnostic Mammogram and Sonogram (if needed).

 

Testing Phase

I called Advent Health and Orlando Health imaging centers, and both were backed up till the end of November or early December for a Diagnostic Mammogram. That was four weeks or more away. Well if you know me, then you know that is not acceptable to me. I am often described as a “go getter” and I think that is saying it mildly.  I found an alternative imaging center SimonMed and made an appointment the next morning. I was not going to wait. I knew this was bad and needed to move.

Mammograms – Ok, so I was very nervous, and I don’t do well in medical situations. I am a big fainter. I was so nervous, I called my poor husband and put my ear buds in. I made him talk to me the entire time or I was going to faint. The first round of the mammogram didn’t go well. The radiologist didn’t like what he/she saw and asked for a second round of images that same day. Bad news… I just knew it was bad news. They immediately asked me to stay and see the ultrasound tech. Great…

Ultrasound – The ultrasound was much easier. It is like what you experience when having a baby. The tech looked at the mass, measured it and ran some sort of circulation test inside it. Then she moved on and found one more area of concern on the right breast and another on the left breast. Bad News. More Bad News. She stated the radiologist wanted a biopsy at a breast specialist office. Great… more bad news :/

Breast Specialist – We were referred to a Breast Surgeon who specialized in breast cancer. Imagine walking into the building… just being in the environment shook me and I don’t get shook often. However, it was all women my age with breast cancer. Not 50 or 60 but 30 or 40 with CANCER. By the time my mother and I were seen by the nurse I introduced my mother as Jessica and me as Cheryl. That was an indicator of how scared I was. And… I was very scared.

I want to preface this next part of the story. I have had a successful 15-year career in Market Research. It was mostly focused on understanding the healthcare environment and patient choice. How ironic that now I was the patient on her cancer journey. Now, in my life, I haven’t always been the smartest person in a room. However, my strength is connecting to people, understanding what people are saying, and reading a room. My breast surgeon, Dr. Saigal, walked into her office like a force (I like strong women so this was a good sign). She was upset about the Mammogram Report and was trying to calm me down. She felt the radiologist wrote a very aggressive report based on my mammogram and ultrasound. Dr. Saigal thought I had read the report – I hadn’t. She said no one could know what this mass was until we biopsied it. She stated it could be a cyst or a tumor. No other options. If it was a tumor it could be benign or cancerous. Either way if it was a tumor it would need to come out. She wanted to feel it herself before listening to this radiologist’s report.

This next moment was when I knew it was cancer. Dr. Saigal asked me to get on the table so she could feel it. Cysts move around under the skin. Tumors do not. Well once she felt it… her entire demeanor changed. She got very serious and stopped talking. She stood up straight and was quiet. Deafening silence. She quickly told me we would do the biopsy TOMORROW. I said no, I know you only do biopsies on Monday and Tuesday (this was a Wednesday). I explained I already had a biopsy scheduled for Monday. She said nope… “I am doing yours TOMORROW”. I read that room and it said... Bad News… Very bad news… She didn’t like what she felt. And she feels these all the time.

Then there was the interaction with her scheduler. She walked me over and handed the scheduler a paper. She said that Jessica will get a biopsy tomorrow. Her receptionist looked at her confused. Tomorrow? Dr. Saigal restated, yes tomorrow. I knew right there and then that the Doctor was signaling to the scheduler – We can’t wait till Monday. I walked out of that office and knew it was cancer. I just read the room. More bad news. Very bad news.

I went home with my mother. Told Brent to come home for lunch and cried my eyes out. I knew this was bad. Everyone in our inner circle told me not to worry. BUT I knew… I just knew.

Biopsy – This process is archaic. We were able to do it in the doctor’s office which was nice, but wow was that strange. They stick a long needle into your breast to numb it. Then they take a hand cranking machine that clicks and coils into your breast. It tunnels out a piece of tissue where the mass is located. It wasn’t terribly painful as much as it was scary, and the sound was frightening. Really, this was all just overwhelming. Little did I know, it was just the beginning.

 

Results

The tissue testing process takes 1 week. That is a VERY LONG WEEK. They send the biopsied tissue off to a lab and put different colors dyes on the tissue to see if it is cancer under a microscope. Or something like that. I am not exactly sure even now how it all works. The call came one day earlier than expected. I was standing in the kitchen alone when Dr. Saigal stated she was sorry, but it was cancer……………………… cancer????!!

I didn’t cry initially. I told her I thought it would be. She said I had options we could talk about like a lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy. I quickly replied there was only one choice for me, and it was a double mastectomy. No questions asked. I wanted to fully protect myself and my kids. But little did I know what I was saying. Not so easy Jess… What till you find out what that actually means.

I called Brent at work and lost it. He rushed home and we went for a walk to clear my head. I have always been a mover. So, moving helps. The next few days were a blur. I mean I knew now I had cancer but how bad? What did that mean? What was my future? …all unknown.

The next step was to go in to talk over our options with Dr. Saigal.

 

Decisions

Brent and I went to Dr. Saigals office to discuss our options. It is hard for me to recall this meeting. The nerves were officially taking over. I can’t describe it. I was having shortness of breath, anxious energy surging through me, wanting to vomit and my eyes were twitching like a crazy person. She stated my case was kinda cut and dry. I could have the other locations of concern in each breast biopsied to see if they were also cancer OR I could just do the double mastectomy and move on. She explained the double mastectomy was my best option to never have to worry about this again or for there to be a chance the cancer could come back. I knew I just had to make the tough decision to give up my breasts completely. Sounded easy up front. However, when you find out the intricacies of the situation…it…is…not…an…easy…choice. But I made it and we moved forward.

 

Cancer Spread

 MRI - The next step was an MRI to see if the cancer had spread. Yep, they tell you that you have cancer. Then put dye in your body and stick you in a tiny hole for 30 min to see if it spread. That sounds fun right :/ Well if my tone indicates how it went… It didn’t go great. I was a ball of nerves, they told me not to eat or drink and then they could not find my veins. They blew four veins before they could even get the IV in to put in contrast. Awesome… fun times. Then they stuck me in a tiny hole face side down with my boobs in a pocket of sorts and let me stay that way for 30 min while the MRI was conducted. I hated it. Out of all the things thus far, the MRI was the worst. Never doing one again. Hell no!

Another week of waiting to see if my cancer had spread. THAT WAS ANOTHER LONG WEEK. At this point my nerves were fried. My ability to breathe was limited and my eyes were twitching nonstop. I am not a person who cries but I was just a ball of nerves.

The call came on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The MRI didn’t show that the cancer had spread in the tissues. THANK GOD!!!! However, there was a concern in the bones. The MRI showed a spot on my chest plate they didn’t like… Bad news… and panic ensued. Now I needed a full Body Bone Scan. Happy Thanksgiving to me. I THINK NOT!!!

Bone Scan – This was super easy. However, I had built it up terribly in my head. I was afraid it was another MRI, but it wasn’t. They had to do a small shot of dye in the opposite arm from my tumor. Once the dye was absorbed into my bones for about 3 hours, I could go back for the scan. It is an open machine that scanned your body. It really was the easiest part of this entire journey. The wait for this test was 2 days. 2 LONG DAYS TO FIND OUT IF YOU NOW HAVE BONE CANCER! Like, really……?

Well by the second day I was dying to find out if the cancer was in my bones. No call, no text, no info all day. By that night, I had a full mental breakdown. I just felt there was bad news coming. I cried (yes, I actually cried all night) and sat in my bed with my wine bottle (if you know me, that is expected don’t be alarmed) and was inconsolable. The results just weren’t in yet. My doctor was checking but the portal hadn’t updated. I got the news the next day around 10:30 am that the bones were clean. I could breathe again. Thank god!

So, the current prognosis was Stage 1 Breast Cancer… But was it??? Nope… The next step was to see the Oncologist and Plastic Surgeon. Because my surgery was already set – Dec 14th. Dr. Saigal was moving fast! I was set for a surgery in less than ONE MONTH of finding out I had cancer. Let that sink in…

 

The Oncologist

It is strange how much an environment can impact your mental state. An Oncologist’s office is a serious place. Everyone there has cancer and is at various points of their journey. Brent and I walked in not knowing what to expect. I am not going to lie, I did not want to be in that office or even a part of this “cancer club” I was somehow inducted into to.

Our Oncologist was warm and caring. He came in and sat with us for almost an hour explaining what breast cancer is. What drives my cancer and how it will impact my treatment. He explained that I made the best choice I could with the double mastectomy and that I was increasing my chances of survival. Survival.

However, this was a very long journey I had just begun and although I had chosen a “surgical path” he would be deciding my “treatment path”. Now treatment can be any or all or the following: Radiation, Chemotherapy and a Hormone Blocker to stop the hormones that were causing my cancer to spread. He wouldn’t know what treatment I needed until we did the surgery and the Surgeon and Pathologists were able to examine the site, test my lymph nodes and test the tumor. No matter what, I was going to be on this hormone blocker for at least 5 years and be seeing “my oncologist” for 5 to 10 years. As I have stated many times before this… This is going to be a loooooong journey. Not just a surgery and DONE.

The Oncologist explained to me how he approached treatment. He said – “Imagine we are on a football field and I have 100 ‘Jessicas’. All have your exact same cancer. With your surgical choice of a double mastectomy, I can save 80 of you. Adding chemotherapy to your treatment, I can save another 10 of you. Adding radiation, I can save another 5 of you and unfortunately, there are 5 of you I JUST CAN’T SAVE.” No matter what he does, 5 will die……. He told me he didn’t know what group I fell into. The 80, 10, 5 or the fatal 5. He treats everyone the same since he doesn’t know if surgery, chemo or radiation will work for me. So, all 80 get treatment they don’t need BUT he saves 15 extra by doing this. I knew this situation was scary, but this one example really put it into perspective for me. I could fall into any of these groups and although we would try our hardest, my fate was still unknown – even to the doctors that were treating me and choosing my path.

 

Days Coming Up to Surgery

I requested one more meeting with my breast surgeon. I was having cold feet like I knew I would. I needed to start from the beginning with her and ask a million questions to make me feel comfortable with my decision of cutting off both my boobs! She answered each question with ease and conviction. I just felt like this decision was right.

Right – to give me the best chance of survival.

Right – to keep me with my family for the long haul.

Right – to give me piece of mind that this monster would not come back and get me.

The timing was right. It would be December 14th. This gave me 1 week of recovery while the kids were in school just before Christmas break and then 2 weeks of recovery during the holidays.

Everything felt right but for some reason I couldn’t still get my head around what I was about to do…

 

My Analogy for Survival

I learned in marketing that analogies are very helpful in expressing your feelings and summarizing a situation you are facing. Especially when it is a situation you could never comprehend unless you have been through it yourself. I created an analogy to help me wrap my mind around what I was facing and how I would survive this:

The careening cancer bus – I decided that people die in all kind of ways. I was lucky that I could see the monster coming at me. I pictured it as an out of control, Cancer Bus coming at me in slow motion. I knew it was coming. I could see it. Feel the wind impacting me. I just need a plan to survive. So… I simply decided that all I needed to do to survive was…… rip my nipples and my breasts off… throw them at the bus like bombs… and blow that sucker up! That’s it ???? Simple as that!

 

My True North

The other thing my husband reminded me over and over again was… I was making this choice for our family. To picture dancing with my son at his wedding. To envision Brynn graduating medical school and me sitting in the audience cheering her on. To finally be able to see Emry with the child she has always wanted because she is going to be the best nurturing mother anyone has ever been. Or sitting with my handsome husband, overlooking the water, rocking in a chair, as we aged together. If I could keep these future moments in my head, then all of these choices were actually really easy to make. What are nipples and boobs when you could have graduations, weddings, grand-babies and growing old with my family. Really when you boil it down… I pick my family very time!

I was ready to charge forward with the support of my family and friends and leap into the other side of a Double Mastectomy with a smile on my face. And that is just what I did!

 

Now onto Surgery, Survival and Treatment…. (Part 2 is still in the works and will be posted soon).


Submitted: January 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 JessicaKuack. All rights reserved.

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