â€˜TIL DEATH DO US PART
â€œTo love and honor until death do us partâ€ is a phrase often used in marriage ceremonies. On my wedding day, October 17, 1981, death was not on my mind. If I had been asked about it, I would have said that I expected to outlive my new husband. As he is seven years older and takes high blood pressure medication, I figured it was a pretty safe bet that I would outlive him. I had no health concerns, and while my father had heart disease, I took after my motherâ€™s side of the family. My maternal GramÂ had a long life, and my mother had no known illnesses.
Fast forward to September, 2007 when our daughter worked as a neurosurgery nurse and our son was starting his junior year in college. I was immersed in my career at a public university and part-time work as a group fitness instructor for the YMCA.Â I went for my yearly mammogram a bit late that year. The technician performing the scan asked for repeat pictures.Â Due to extensive micro-calcifications, I was sent for a stereotactic biopsy and breast MRI. I was told that I had extensive Lobular Carcinoma in Situ, LCIS , in my left breast and it needed to be removed. I found a specialist in breast surgery, and traveled south to have a MRI guided biopsy. Atypical Lobular Hyperplasia was added to my diagnosis.
Due to a family history of breast cancer (both my mother and one of my sisters had ER+ breast cancer since my wedding), I chose a bilateral mastectomy with immediate TRAN flap reconstruction (skin sparing surgery using tissue from my abdominal region to construct new breasts). I recovered with flying colors and was happy with my reconstructed â€œgirlsâ€ as well as my newly flat stomach. I exercised my way back to fitness and a year after surgery I was teaching three consecutive fitness classes on Saturday mornings. I had also accepted a temporary teaching position at the university that filled my lunch hour plus a fair amount of work at home. I had beat breast cancer to the punch line! I was told there was a small chance of chest wall disease, but not to worry about it as it was exceedingly rare after a double mastectomy.
Just two months later, I noticed a red crescent near my left arm pit that looked like chafing from my sports bra. As the redness spread over the next few weeks, I scheduled an appointment with my plastic surgeon, thinking that something was wrong with the transplanted tissue. My PCP put me on antibiotics, which did nothing. I had another breast MRI that showed skin thickening. The surgeon wanted me to see a dermatologist, but offered a punch biopsy in the meantime. Two days later he called with the news. I had Inflammatory Breast Cancer and needed to see an oncologist.Â More tests ensued, and on April 25, 2009, I was officially diagnosed with Stage IV, HER2+++ IBC. I had a bone metastasis to L4 on the right.
Our daughter was being married in Los Cabos in just three weeks and our sonsâ€™ graduation was in six weeks. The internet told me that many women die within eighteen months of diagnosis and HER2+++ was an aggressive form of cancer.Â Â Suddenly, â€˜til death do us part became real. I was an emotional wreck, in shock, angry and depressed.Â I would awaken at 2:00 in tears, convinced I would never see future grandchildren, our sonsâ€™ wedding or any other important family event.
Instead, I am alive nearly four years later. The journey has not been easy. Chemotherapy every three weeks has taken a toll on my body. I have digestive issues, moderate to severe fatigue, neuropathy in my toes, fingers and lips, and short term memory issues. I had a second mastectomy, radiation to the left chest, and stereotactic radiation to the L4 area. IBC then spread to my right chest with the addition of bumpy skin metastasesâ€™.Â I had one more progression to my bones, a right side rib. Still, I consider myself fortunate. I have responded to all my chemotherapies and I can still enjoy life. Grandchild number two will be born soon, and our son is in a stable relationship with a girl we adore.Â My husband is soon to retire, and God willing, we will have a few more years to enjoy our life.Â The FDA recently approved the new targeted combination drug, trastuzumab emtansine (TDM1) and I had my first infusion of it yesterday. â€œDeathâ€ has receded from my immediate consciousness, and I have several trips planned for the rest of 2013.Â I have learned that no one is guaranteed tomorrow, and I intend to enjoy my life.