National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) is an event held every October and organized by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.
Breast cancer technology has come a long way to prevent and cure those affected by the disease. Through technology, breast cancer is no longer considered a death sentence. In recent months this disease hit close to home for me when my wife was diagnose with DCIS (Ductal carcinoma in situ) breast cancer this past July. DCIS is an early stage of breast cancer and sometimes it is hard to detect.
DCIS is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Ductal means that the cancer starts inside the milk ducts, carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissue.
My wife went for her annual mammography and her doctor spotted an abnormality, but the doctor wasn’t sure what it was as they had no previous mammography to compare it to. The doctor suggested that my wife go for a second mammography to see if the abnormality is consistent from the previous examination. After the second mammography, the doctor was still not sure what it was, they recommended that my wife have a biopsy performed.
At this point we were scared and we didn’t know what to expect, but we remained positive and hoped for the best. A couple of days later we arrived at the doctor’s office to get an update. I remember how nervous we were and how helpless we felt. We waited for about 30 minutes before the doctor arrived and that alone was enough stress for a hundred people to deal with. The doctor brought us into the consultation room to discuss details – my hands were sweating and my heart was pumping.
My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer (stage 0) which wasn’t bad, but the doctor recommended surgery to remove a margin inside the breast to test further and to see if the cancer turned invasive. At this point we had to make a decision and the best decision was to go through with the surgery. My wife had to go through the pre-op process up until the day of surgery, and I will say this, the staff at the Cancer Institute at St. Alexius (Hoffman Estates, IL) hospital were very friendly and very caring.
My wife’s surgery went well, but we still weren’t out of the woods as the margin that was removed had to be tested by the pathologists. We had to wait a few days for the results.
On the third day we left for the doctor’s office to get the results from pathology. My wife and I were very scared and could only hope for the best and I prayed that god would help us through this tough time. We sat down with our doctor who also performed the surgery. She gave it to us straight, and the news was not that good, but it could have been worse. The pathology results indicated that the cancer was now invasive as they found cells that had breakouts. A breakout is when the cancer has exited through the cell walls. When cancer becomes invasive it could spread into other areas of the body including the lymph nodes.
We were floored by the results and my wife was in tears because this battle wasn’t over. Our doctor explained what options my wife had, which were; a second surgery to remove more margins and remove Sentinel lymph nodes under her left arm or extensive radiation treatment (not to be confused with Chemotherapy). The doctor clearly stated that no decision was a bad one. We could have opted for radiation instead, but even radiation is not a sure thing and unless we dig deeper, we will never know the extent of the cancer.
After 3 long weeks we finally made our decision to have the second surgery. My wife and I were up against this together and we weren’t going to let it beat us. You always hear about other people having cancer and you never think it can hit this close to home.
The second surgery consisted of two procedures. The first procedure was to remove more margins (tissue) from the left breast and the second procedure was to remove Sentinel lymph nodes (Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy) from under her left arm. Sentinel node biopsy is most commonly associated with staging breast cancer. Lymph nodes are pea-sized structures that filter fluids that circulate through the body. The Sentinel lymph nodes collect foreign materials such as cancer cells, bacteria, and viruses from these fluids. In the breast milk ducts the next path is the Sentinel lymph nodes. Because of the advances in breast cancer technology, doctors can now pinpoint where the Sentinel lymph nodes are located by shooting radioactive die into the breast. The surgeons use a Geiger counter to locate the Sentinel lymph nodes that have radioactivity. This technology was not available 10 years ago and surgeons would have to keep removing lymph nodes. There’s a side effect that comes from removing too many lymph nodes called Lymphedema. A patient may experience swelling of the soft tissues of the arm or hand. The swelling may be accompanied by numbness, discomfort, and sometimes infection.
We scheduled the surgery in hopes that this was the last one we would have to go through. My wife had to go through enough at this point and she amazes me every day on how well she deals with this disease. I love my wife so much that this affected me as if I was the one diagnosed with cancer.
My wife had to go through another pre-op procedure the day before surgery which at this point she could have told the staff exactly what the procedure was verbatim.
The next day we arrived at St. Alexius hospital with our nerves in check and our hopes high. The surgeon asked my wife if she would like pathology to test the Sentinel Lymph Nodes for cancer while she was still in surgery or to send them out for testing. The surgeon had already explained to my wife about the options days prior to the surgery. My wife opted to have pathology check them while she was still in surgery and to avoid another surgery to remove more Sentinel Lymph Nodes. By opting for this process, the surgeon can remove additional Sentinel Lymph Nodes if the ones that were removed were cancerous, they could go in and remove other stages to see how far the cancer has spread.
My wife went into surgery on time that morning and I sat in the waiting room trying to keep myself preoccupied on my laptop. I met another lady in the waiting room whose husband was going in for Prostate surgery due to cancer. She and I were engaged in many conversations to keep our minds preoccupied until the surgeons came out to update us on our spouses. About two hours went by and my wife’s surgeon came out to give me the update.
I don’t think I was ever this scared about anything in my life, including 9/11. The surgeon came right out with it – “We found three Sentinel Lymph Nodes” – My heart sank in my stomach just hearing those words as I thought the following words were going to be “with cancer.” The surgeon finished with – “and no cancer was found from preliminary testing.” I was very relieved to finally hear something good and encouraging. I asked the surgeon what are the chances that pathology will find cancer with further testing. She said there’s always a chance that residual cancer could be found, but based on the preliminary results, It’s a small chance that we find any residual cancer.
Our surgeon said she would call us once the results came back (about two days). Again, my wife and I were still a little worried, but encourage by the preliminary results.
My wife had shut her phone off on Friday which was the day we were expecting a call from our surgeon. On Saturday my wife turned on her phone and there was a message left by our surgeon. My wife called at around 8:30am and left voice mail. The phone rang at around 9:00am and it was our surgeon. My ear was dialed into the phone like a hawk and her exact words – Victoria, we found no residual cancer. Woohoo!!! We were elated!
The next step is preventative radiation treatment which my wife will receive for 6 weeks.
I would also like to thank our two special friends – Susie and Buck, who sat with me during the first surgery and supported us through our ordeal. And to all our friends and family who have sent us well wishes, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) and I hope that you will donate to this great cause to fight this disease.