Stage 2 Triple Negative Metastatic Invasive Carcinoma Grade 3 (to be exact)
Where does anyone even start with something so big and so wrong? I suppose I’ll start with where I was at, and where things were going.
2022 started off with some serious work on my physical state. I did a lot of physical therapy to cope with hip and leg pain, and was working determinedly towards walking farther and longer without my cane. While I had come to accept that I may always need/want a mobility aid to maintain a maximum level of independence, I also wanted to push myself to get better if I could. Multiple Sclerosis has done a number on me, but things have been relatively calm in that arena, and I felt like it was time to push back against some of those physical limitations.
This year also kicked off an incredible time of growth and support in my creative world of Melted KC online and through social media. My following was growing and I was having more opportunities to work with local companies and support local charities. I was even invited to make chocolates for the celebrities coming to Kansas City for the Big Slick Charity event. This was such an amazing opportunity to support my community and showcase what Kansas City and I have to offer the foodie scene. I was completely stoked and inspired.
On the family front, the kids and spouse were all doing well and we had finally scheduled our first family trip overseas; to Paris. I was busy brushing up on my French skills, making plans for indulging in fabulous food and rich history in one of the most storied cities in the world. Paris is a place I have always wanted to visit. While the anticipation for Paris near the end of the summer had the family near to bursting with anticipation, we still got caught up in the rush and fever of summer with friends, movies, outings, and whatever activities we could fill our calendars with. We knew I would have one week in June set aside for MS treatment that I wouldn’t feel great, but it would be one week, and then summer would resume at full speed.
In walks cancer, and things went sideways. The summer plans for the family had to be adjusted. Friends and family were enlisted to assist with kid things, and our family trip to Paris had to be cancelled.
This is the part where I tell you that having Multiple Sclerosis may have saved my life.
MS treatments are no joke. Patients, like me, have to do all sorts of additional screenings before receiving treatment. I get skin checks, bloodwork, have to be up to date on my pap smears, and a yearly mammogram is required. If not for taking these higher risk medications, I probably wouldn’t be getting yearly mammograms yet. I’m not 45, there’s no history of breast cancer in my family, and I’ve never felt a lump in either of my breasts. And yet, here I am, with breast cancer. Cancer that was detected at a fairly early stage, through a yearly mammogram, required because of my MS treatment protocols.
Many people roll their eyes about mammograms. It’s uncomfortable. No one looks forward to having a body part treated like a piece of meat; manhandled, squashed and tenderized in an uncomfortable machine. It’s ten minutes of discomfort, once a year. Whatever, I can handle it. I have done WAY more uncomfortable things. This year should have been no different from the past few years of mammograms. Except it was.
A few days after my mammogram, the results were posted to the patient portal with notes that I would need to come back for a more detailed screening. I really wasn’t too concerned. It’s just my luck that I would have to do an extra step.
I figured everything was probably fine. After all, there’s no real history of breast cancer in my family.
When I went back for the second screening, I immediately knew that something was amiss. The technician was especially kind and particularly thorough; taking two or three extra images of several perspectives. I’ve been through enough medical tests and procedures to know when the mood shifts with bad news coming. The technician asked me to stay while the radiologist looked at the results, and then the radiologist wanted to see me. The technician stayed with me while I visited with the radiologist, which again, signaled to me this was bad news.
The radiologist showed me a cluster (pattern) of micro calcifications that were detected on the mammogram and could potentially indicate a mass, possibly cancer. He assured me that they were being cautious with the findings. I would need to be referred to a surgeon to do a biopsy on my breast to determine the nature of that suspicious tissue.
Despite the radiologists assurances, I was pretty sure that the experts in the room believed they were looking at cancer, and that’s what I needed to prepare for.
When I met with the surgeon, he was very kind and listed all the possible (benign and boring) things that they might find. He said, “It’s very unlikely this is cancer. For most people, these are just non malignant cysts or dense tissue.” The surgeon encouraged me not to worry over it and the probability that it was cancer wasn’t very high.
Sometimes I think the only thing I can count on with my body, is that it will fall in the “special,” or least likely side of the probability chart.
The biopsy was done using a special breast MRI and surgery table/machine. Basically, I laid on a table face down with my arms out like super man and my breasts dangling through a hole in the table. Science is cool- right? The machine had the ability to squish and image the tissue so the radiologist could get a sample to biopsy.
The results took about a week to come back and the surgeon insisted on giving them in person. As I has suspected, the tissue was cancerous. To make things more complicated, the diagnosis was the most rare and aggressive form of breast cancer; Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). This cancer is more difficult to treat, grows faster, is more likely to return. TNBC is known for metastasizing to other parts of the body more easily than other breast cancers. The cancer cells were graded a 3, which is considered a high grade because the cells grow and move quickly. My spouse and I were prepared for bad news, but this was worse than we thought. The positive take away was that the mass was small and we caught it pretty early. We asked the surgeon which KC oncologist he would send his wife or daughter to, and we immediately started the process of getting appointments.
Once I met with an oncology team, the next step in the diagnosis process was determining if the cancer cells had metastasized to any lymph nodes. To determine that, I had an ultrasound examination to look at the lymph nodes closest to the cancer. One looked strange, and that was tagged for a biopsy. Upon biopsy, it was confirmed that the cancer had metastasized to one lymph node and that determined the stage 2 diagnosis.
Once you are diagnosed with any sort of serious illness or disease, you can just clear you calendar, because a slew of tests and appointments will ensue. Even before treatment could begin I needed a surgery to implant a port device to assist with administering chemotherapy drugs, I also needed clips implanted into the cancer mass as well as the affected lymph node. Another of the tests was a genetic test. I was nervous about the results for this test. I have a daughter, two sisters, and several nieces that I hope will never have to endure a cancer diagnosis and treatment. In this, my family was spared. The genetic testing showed no genetic markers for breast cancer.
With all of that information, the oncologist worked with me and my neurologist to develop a plan of action. It was decided that I would take a break from my MS treatments to do chemotherapy for TNBC first, then surgery, then radiation. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll have beaten cancer by Christmas. *Fingers Crossed.*
My team of specialists are all working together to manage my cancer treatment and multiple sclerosis care. There are so many moving parts and “if this,” “then, that.”
The fear is real. So is the hope.
I have a fantastic team of experts. Science and technology are advancing every moment. I am surrounded by family and friends who are supporting me in more ways than I could ever have the time to even list.
My cup is full……
There’s just a fly in it — who is about to be evicted.