For some of you, this post may be a little dry. However, I wanted to share my experience, process and treatments to give you an idea of what a person with metastatic breast cancer goes through every couple/few weeks. It’s referred to as “scan, treat, repeat” (Source: Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, MBCN.org) .
Waiting for test results can be agony. I had a biopsy on the lump I found under my right arm pit. I didn’t think the lump was anything serious, and then I got the call. My breast surgeon said they had found a malignancy. I remember saying to her, ” I have cancer? ” she replied, “Yes, you have breast cancer.” What happens next after hearing these words? More tests of course. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, many diagnostic tests are performed and then treatments are performed.
In my situation, a mammogram and ultra sound were performed. The mammogram found the original source of cancer in my right breast. The ultra sound confirmed lymph node involvement. Then the treatment began, first with surgery to remove the tumor in my breast and lymph nodes.
The very tiny, yet aggressive tumor was removed as well as 42 cancerous lymph nodes. I’ve been told that was a lot of lymph nodes. I think I should be in the Guinness Book of World records! I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, Stage III, ER/PR +
Cancer staging involves the extent of the cancer in the body. It’s based on whether the cancer is invasive or non-invasive, the size of the tumor, and whether lymph nodes are involved. Staging helps determine treatment options and prognosis. Zero through four are the numbers used in staging. I was diagnosed Stage III because of my lymph node involvement.
After this surgery, I had treatments of chemotherapy and radiation, and my tests consisted of alternating a mammogram and a breast MRI every six months. I went through three years of this routine. How I dreaded the MRI because it’s hard for me to lay still!
When cancer spreads outside of your breast to other organs such as liver, bones, lung, or brain, the process is known as metastasis. Metastatic cancer is also known as Stage IV breast cancer or advanced cancer. Although the cancer has invaded other organs, it is sill considered and treated as breast cancer. Early stage breast cancer can be cured, metastatic can not (Source: Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, MBCN.org).
I’m Stage IV now because my cancer has spread to my liver and bones. I received another six months of chemotherapy, and am currently receiving Zometa for my bones, and Faslodex for my hormone therapy.
My testing now is quite different than what I had been receiving after my first diagnosis! Now I’m in a constant cycle of “scan, treat, repeat”, because Stage IV is metastatic cancer and there is no cure, but it is treatable. The goal is to extend life expectancy and/or maintain quality of life.
The scan process is a long and tiring day. I’m very fortunate to have a great circle of friends. They help by picking up my son from school and taking him to/from his drum lessons, while I’m getting scans or receiving treatments. What a HUGE help and piece of mind that they are so willing to help!!! You know who you are……THANK YOU!
Every two or three months I head into Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston, early in the morning. The first stop is Radiology where I’m given an oral contrast to drink one hour before I get CT scans of my chest and abdomen. I also receive an intravenous contrast during the scans. While drinking the contrast I head over to Nuclear Medicine. There, I’m injected with a radioactive substance called a tracer for my bone scan. Then, it’s back to a Radiology for the CT scans.
After the CT scans are done, I head back to Nuclear Medicine to have the bone scan, followed by a Brain MRI. I’ve found that Ativan is wonderful to take about an hour before the MRI, because it helps me relax. I wish I knew about this when I was getting the breast MRI’s!
As I mentioned previously, these tests are done every two or three months. I meet with my oncologist two days later to discuss results and decide what treatments I will have next. I have to admit those two days before I meet with my doctor are nerve racking.
Again, this entire process can be summarized by; “scan, treat, repeat”