Tricia's Blog Part 1 - At First You Cry...
Life moved quickly and blissfully for four beautiful years, a span of time when I met and married my husband Lee, to buying a new house, having a career and busy travel schedule, to the birth of our daughter, Grace, in June 2010. It was the happiest time of my life.
I knew that my breasts would change after I finished breastfeeding Grace at 5 months, however I soon discovered some unwelcome changes including a hard, pebble-sized lump in my left breast just before Grace's first birthday. It just didn't feel right. I called my doctor's office and made an appointment in two weeks time after I'd retued from a business trip in Miami. During that period, I spent so much time messing with the spot that I left a large green bruise the size of my thumb and I could no longer find the spot. When I got home, I cancelled my doctor's appointment, thinking I was being paranoid, and promptly put the lump out of my head.
We celebrated Gracie's first birthday in June with a big family party and then settled into summer. My younger sister was getting married in July and we had planned to leave for Greece the day after the wedding. I have to admit, we were more excited about our trip than the wedding. Now that Grace was one, it was like we had a little extra time for each other and were looking forward to making the most of our vacation. While we were making plans for our trip one night, Lee mentioned the spot in my left breast and asked if I'd ever seen the doctor.
"I canceled the appointment," I said. "I couldn't find the lump anymore."
"Oh. Because I think I feel something," he replied.
The second the words were out of his mouth, I knew he was right and that I had felt it too-I just didn't want to. And, it wasn't just a little nugget anymore; it felt BIG, like the size of a golf ball! I made an appointment the next day.
|The beach wedding in Jamaica|
From my OB/GYN's office, where they confirmed the lump, I went through a whirlwind of mammograms, biopsies and tests that confirmed the tumor was not benign. The doctor showed me a photo and told me the tumor had blood flowing into it and I immediately had a sinking feeling.
The next two weeks I waited and did the best I could to put it out of my mind. In the back of my head, I knew what I was going to hear, but I kept going through the daily motions. Work was busy and I was actively involved in a lot of projects that I was enjoying so I focused on work and continued to make plans for our vacation.
On June 29th, while walking down the hallway at work on my way to a meeting, my cell phone rang. When the nurse on the other end of the phone told me that the cells were cancerous, I fell to my knees sobbing. A friend ran to my side and asked what was wrong. I told her, "I have breast cancer." I couldn't believe the words that I was saying or the fact that I would forever remember this friend's face, this hallway at work and this moment in time that would change my life forever.
The next few days were a fog. I had so many questions and an overwhelming sense of disbelief. I thought, "I'm only 36!" We had been planning on trying for our second baby in the fall and we had an amazing vacation planned and were leaving in 3 weeks. I didn't know the impact of my diagnosis or how bad the cancer was, and felt helpless with the lack of information. Luckily my OB/GYN was associated with Beth Israel Deaconess, the Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, which is one of the best in the country. He was able to quickly set up a meeting with a breast surgeon, where I would begin to get some answers.
|Tricia and Lee welcome Grace to their family
||Celebrating Grace's first birthday
At our first meeting with the breast surgeon, we were off and running. We had appointments set up for MRI's, CT Scans, body scans, and an appointment with an oncologist. As I spoke with the breast surgeon, she asked if I had a history of breast cancer in my family. Pre-menopausal breast cancer, like mine, was generally aggressive, and oftentimes genetic. In the back of my mind, I recalled that two of my older cousins had had breast cancer at a young age, and that my grandmother's sisters had died of the disease. I vaguely remembered a conversation with my mother about genetic testing. At the time, I was in my twenties and didn't think anything of it. I immediately made an appointment with a genetic counselor. In addition to genetic testing, the surgeon recommended that I meet with a fertility specialist.
Fertility specialist? I got pregnant easily the first time, and was looking forward to adding to our family. I assumed that I would not be able to breastfeed as I did with Grace, but hadn't considered that I might face fertility issues. I've since found out that chemotherapy leaves you with a 50/50 chance of being infertile afterward. If I wanted some insurance that I would be able to have another pregnancy, the doctor recommended that I harvest my eggs.
With so many questions and so few answers, our trip to Greece was in question. After meeting with the genetic counselor and reviewing my family history, it was predicted that my chance to have a mutation in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene was 66%. Having this genetic mutation would mean that I would be 60% more likely to develop cancer in my other breast, as well as a chance of developing ovarian cancer later in life. If I tested positive for this mutation, I would be facing a double mastectomy.
The doctor recommended removing my ovaries by the age of 40, due to the higher risk of developing uterine cancer. Additionally, my daughter would have a 50/50 chance of having the mutation if I tested positive. I left the office with a heavy heart, feeling an intense sense of guilt that I may have passed this illness along to my baby girl.