I mentioned a few weeks ago that I went in for a PET scan to see if the 5 nodules on my lungs, one of which had grown a little over the past year since they’ve been tracking it, were cancer. That PET scan was held on August 25th.
I went in to meet with my wonderful oncologist, Jocelin Huang, on August 31st. She told me that so far, the nodules on my lung hadn’t “lit up” in the PET scan, indicating that most likely the nodules are not (yet) cancer.
However, an itsy bitsy (new favorite way to describe cancer) spot on my right chest, where I had cancer before and the side I had the mastectomy on, did light up in the PET scan. It didn’t light up very much, but it did light up, and that was cause for concern. She ordered an ultrasound guided biopsy so they could test the tissue that lit up. Because it had lit up so little, she was okay with me waiting to do the biopsy until I raced the Twin Cities 10-mile race on October 1st.
The TC 10-mile race got canceled, sadly. Right away, the biopsy was scheduled for Friday, October 6th. My wonderful friend Lynn came with me for the biopsy. Let me tell you, if you’ve never had a biopsy, they freaking HURT. They pushed in a numbing agent and then they pulled out tissue from a few spots using a vice-like needle. Very painful, despite the numbing.
I survived, despite the pain. After all, I am a survivor.
I went to see Dr. Huang in person with my friend Anne on October 11, 2023.
Not good news.
There are three (not just one – which the ultrasound guided biopsy detected) itsy bitsy, meaning all of them are smaller than a dime, hypoechoic nodules on my chest wall. The tissue tested positive for grade 2 ductal carcinoma, strongly ER/PR positive, HER-2 negative. There are subpleural nodules that are indeterminate and could represent metastatic disease.
Cancer lingo translation
What all of this means, for the sake of interpretation of how to understand all the cancer lingo, is that I have cancer AGAIN. And because it’s unclear what’s going on in all that is happening, I now have a diagnosis of recurrent metastatic breast cancer.
This sucks so big time.
Not only will I have type 1 diabetes for the rest of my life, I now will have cancer for the rest of my life.
Two horrible chronic diseases that both require a huge amount of energy and focus.
I’m not usually someone who cries, but crying lots and lots is what has been happening since that fateful diagnosis day of October 11th.
It’s a reminder of how quickly life can and does change. It’s another reminder to enjoy every moment we have. To live as if we could die tomorrow, because it turns out we could.
Granted, I have zero pain related to this third cancer. In fact, the oncologist suggested that my healthy lifestyle: daily meditation, all the home cooked healthy food I eat, the daily exercise – both cardio and weight training, along with the deep and wide network of loving friends I have, all contribute to cancer prevention and management. She strongly encourages me to continue my running, biking, cross-country skiing, weight lifting, swimming as we enter the coming phase of treatment.
My first step in treatment is to get my next COVID booster shot. I have reacted powerfully to each of the vaccinations I’ve gotten, so we want me to be fully recovered from the shot before I start the first-line therapy of letrozole. This is a pill I will take once a day. What this will do in my body is cause my body to decrease the making of the hormone estrogen. And yes, there are a whole bunch of possible horrible side-effects.
Oh, and in the week before I start this new aromatase inhibitor, I’m going to eat a bunch of grapefruit, because eating grapefruit when taking this drug is not allowed.
The best impact is that it will cause the teeny tiny nodules of cancer on my chest wall to shrink, and hopefully, completely disappear.
The next steps in treatment will be revealed as I go along. I will go in for another ultrasound scan of my chest about 4 to 5 weeks after I start the letrozole to see how the cancer nodules are shrinking.
Along the way, I will have regular PET scans to see how everything in my lungs are doing. Plus making sure nothing has spread anywhere else. So far, the rest of my body is doing really well.
Stages of Grief
In my soon to come out book, Extreme Healing: Reclaim Your Life + Learn to Love Your Body, I talk about how those of us who get a diagnosis of a chronic health condition, we go through the stages of grief. We go through the stages – denial & isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – in a hodgepodge mix of ways, rarely linearly and often quickly and abruptly.
I’ve been ricocheting around the stage of grief as I come to terms with this horrific change in my life.
I find that I am swearing – helps me feel a sense of control to swear an extra amount, crying and sobbing, negotiating with God and the Universe, and stomping my feet in profound anger. Needless-to-say, I’m thankfully on a mini-work vacation, as my ability to concentrate is low. I even did an impromptu improv dance on the edge of the Mississippi River, asking the Universe to help me navigate what is ahead.
That’s my update for today. I will be back as I continue to integrate and breathe into how I will navigate and make sense of what is happening.
For sure I plan to still run the three races I’m signed up for in November!! After all, I am an athlete first and a person living with type 1 diabetes and cancer second. And I am an athlete who doesn’t eat grapefruit anymore.
Oh yes, it has not escaped my attention that this third breast cancer diagnosis arrives during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Same as my first breast cancer diagnosis in 2004. Go figure.
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