Two months ago my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a private person so I will not post her personal experience; but I feel I might cover the procedure, giving a non-medical account for anyone about to go through, or with a friend or love one about to experience this traumatic disease.
The cancer was found by comparing routine mammograms; this is why women should conform to a yearly breast exam schedule. Within a week my wife had returned for a second exam, an ultrasound and a needle biopsy. The biopsy result was an invasive lobular cancer, but it had been caught at a very early stage and was quite small.
We met with the surgeon and he explained the procedure for removal of the cancer. The hospital assigned my wife a great support person that has been actively with us throughout this whole time.
We scheduled the surgery and all went well. An area about the size of an egg was removed from my wife’s breast along with four lymph nodes under the arm – this is done to see if the cancer is traveling beyond the breast. The removed tissue and lymph nodes were sent to the lab for diagnosis and came back with the best possible outcome… the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes.
After the surgery we met with our oncologist – a doctor that specializes in the treatment of cancer. She will be the doctor that coordinates treatment and monitors my wife into the future.
A sample of tissue was sent off to California for an oncotype dx test to determine the potential for re-occurrence, and whether the patient would be best treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
You are given the choice of mastectomy- complete or partial; chemotherapy; radiation or no treatment. Viewing the results of the oncotype dx test we decided that radiation therapy would be appropriate – and our oncologist agreed.
Next we met with the radiation oncologist who performs radiation therapy. He reviewed our records and our oncologist recommendations and agrees with our preference of treatment.
This past Thursday we were called back in for the preliminary procedure prior to the actual radiation treatments.
The nearest cancer center in 35 miles away. We arrived before noon and again met with the radiation oncologist and he explained the procedure along with percentages of all the scary possible side effects.
Next we met with two nurses that escorted us to a treatment room with modified cat scan equipment. The nurses were very supportive, they explained the procedure about to take place, reviewed the process and answered our questions. This is not the radiation treatment, but the process necessary to program the machine.
I was shooed out of the room, my wife put on a hospital robe. She was placed on a table with her arms raised where she would pass through a doughnut shaped x-ray. She said the only thing bothering about the procedure was her arms were placed in restrains to prevent her from moving. It only took a few minutes for the doctor to get the information he needed.
The purpose of the procedure is to predetermine the exact focus of the machine that will administer the radiation. The focused is critical so the cancer area and not the heart or lungs receive the radiation dosage. When the exact location was determined a small dot was tattooed on the right and left side and middle of my wife’s chest. This will be used for focusing the radiation machine. This whole process took about twenty minutes, but my wife said it felt much longer.
When the procedure was over and my wife was dressed the nurses led us to the room where she will be actually receiving the radiation treatments. The machine and procedure was explained and all our questions were answered.
I can’t emphasize how supportive, caring and professional the nurses and staff were. They made this scary pre-radiation therapy appointment seem very personal and doable.
My wife will not start the actual treatment for another week as the radiation oncologist will be on vacation this week and we do not want to be passed to a stand-in doctor for the first week of treatment.
The radiation treatment will be five days a week for three weeks and then we will meet back with our primary oncologist and she will direct the rest of the treatment and observation over the next five years.
I will continue to relate our experience for the edification of others that may be facing this scary disease.
We are very fortunate to be living in this era. Twenty years ago the treatment and outcome would have been indeterminable – now cancer is considered a curable condition if detected early enough.
I love my wife above my own life. I am much older then she and I have always expected that at some time I would face a terminal condition – but not her. This has scared the hell out of me.