Kattysmith's Story: Navigating an Unexpected Recurrence With Humor
Kattysmith is a member of the Breastcancer.org Community.
I was first diagnosed in 2003 when I was about to turn 51, after a lifetime of glowing good health, no hospitalizations, never the one to get colds or flu. Quite a shocker! What I remember from the initial diagnosis and treatment: Borderline stage I/II, lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy (no spread), radiation, tamoxifen. It was years before I stopped thinking about breast cancer every single day.
Something I discovered about myself that first go-round. I hate — really hate — being perceived as a sick person and treated as an invalid. The "Oh, you poor thing" looks, and arm clutches made my blood boil. I'm a private person, introverted, and felt invaded and on display. It bugged the bejeezus out of me!
I had follow-ups from time to time, whistled past the graveyard, and life went on.
Cut to 2015. Weird fatty deposits like lipomas or cysts suddenly started appearing on my torso, a couple on my left arm, one on my right side near my ribs and one on my upper right arm. I ignored them for awhile, googled, and didn't see any signs that they were cancerous, etc. I tend to blow things off; "Nah, everything is fine." My husband seemed unconcerned, and like me, he thought they were cysts. I felt fine. Then, the one on my upper right arm started growing and growing and growing...it was almost golf ball-sized before I went to my dermatologist. She immediately got an appointment for me the next day with her personal surgeon. By the time I had the surgery, more lumps had appeared, including a fast-growing one on my neck. The surgeon removed the "golf ball," a small one on my left breast (I thought that one was old scar tissue from the 2003 lumpectomy) and the one on my neck. All came back cancerous, stage IV breast cancer. It was in my lymphatic system and one lung. Wow!
I had my first appointment at MD Anderson on October 23, 2015. A few days before my first appointment, I got laid off from my job of 14.5 years. I was the breadwinner of our family. My hubby is self-employed, so mine was the only steady income and source of insurance. We are both 64 and have no savings left at this point. Yikes!
I had AC — good old "Red Devil" — chemo from Nov-Jan and tolerated it very well. Lost my hair, had little fatigue, intermittent constipation (I learned how to forestall this), and a couple of short bouts with mouth sores. All in all, not too shabby. My scan and bloodwork after the rounds were completed showed immense improvement, plus I could palpate some of the remaining lumps; they started melting away after the first infusion.
I have been completely stable on Ibrance and letrozole since February. My tumor markers continue to decline. The mets to my lung have cleared up, although my doctor now says that may have been inflammation. I'm not NED, and I always have low neutrophils, even though I'm on the middle dose of Ibrance, 100mg. I feel good...normal even, except my stamina is not great.
If I didn't know that I have cancer, I wouldn't know that I have cancer. I am very clear-eyed and pragmatic, so I have no illusions about what the future holds. It's not a negative view; I'm just realistic and living life. I am happy, even living under the Sword of Damocles. I have a very sardonic, black sense of humor — so does my hubby — and that sees me through! We have a large critter family of cats and dogs, our beloveds, that keep my busy-busy, entertained, and focused not on myself. You never come first if you have a cat. Or several. My darling son, daughter-in-law, and 22-month-old grandson moved back here from another state, so we could all see each other regularly!!! YAY!!!
I must admit, that although I'm not afraid of death, I am afraid of destitution...for myself and for the aging husband and critters he must care for that I will leave behind. That is my only fear, although we do have family members helping us out and I am bringing in a little income plus SSI.
Onward through the fog!