I was driving to work on February 2, 2012 when my cell phone rang. It was my doctor and she said “I need you to come in and see me”. I knew immediately that it was bad news. I said as much to her and all she said was “Yes”. After I hung up the phone, I got off the freeway and immediately lost it. I was shaking and crying and had no other thoughts other than I needed to get home. I sent a quick note to my boss letting him know that I had received very bad news and wouldn’t be in. I then called my husband, told him what the doctor had said and asked him to meet me at home. On my way, my boss called me and asked if I was ok. I broke down again and blurted out “No, I just found out that I have breast cancer”. It was the first time I would say those words out loud and I felt that with each word I was losing a part of myself. I have breast cancer. Four words that I never expected to utter. My boss was understandably very shocked and told me to take all the time I needed. The drive home felt like forever.
My husband and I went to the doctor and she gave me the details about what they had found with the needle biopsy. I had an “infiltrating poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma”. Though she could not provide me much more detail than that, she was wonderful…very understanding and compassionate. She said “if it were me or my daughter I would go to a cancer center”. She recommended either UC Davis or UC San Francisco. I chose UCD because of its proximity. She immediately called and set me up in their referral system. However, they said it would be 7 to 10 days before I would hear back.
After meeting with the doctor, I went home and immediately began to research what I had. I had asked the doctor to make a photocopy of the lab results for me and I used that to get at least a basic understanding of what it all meant. I learned that ductal carcinoma means that the cancer started in the milk ducts of my breast. Infiltrating means that they broke through the ductal wall and invaded surrounding tissue. Poorly differentiated cells are the most aggressive of cancer cells and put my tumor aggressiveness rating at Grade 3 (on a scale of 1 to 3) meaning mine was the most aggressive type. It also tested positive for HER2 receptors, estrogen receptors, and progesterone receptors. All this means is that my tumor has an excess of slots for these substances to hang out. The result of this overabundance of slots is that growth of my tumor could be stimulated by the presence of the HER2 growth hormone as well as estrogen and progesterone. It was a lot to take in but I did feel better knowing more about what I had.
I knew that I needed to notify the handful of people that I had told about the biopsy. Between phone calls and messages I managed to cover the folks that had been waiting on results with me. This included my immediate family and a few close friends. I had to make an immediate decision whether or not to tell my kids yet. There was no real decision to make…of course I would tell them right away. We would be going through this journey as a family and they needed to understand what we were facing. Scott did not go back to work that day. We picked them up from school together and my daughter immediately knew that something was going on. The whole way home, she kept asking what was wrong. When we got home, I sat them both down on the couch and explained the situation to them. My son took it in but kept his feelings to himself. My daughter looked at me and asked very calmly “Are you going to die?” What could I say to that? I did not want to say no because who knows what the future holds. So instead, I hugged her tightly and told her that I was going to try really hard not to die.