Guest Post | My Mother’s Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Last year when Mikaelia told me that her mother, Angella, had been diagnosed with breast cancer my heart dropped. Someone else? Again? When will the awful disease cease to inflict injury and pain upon people? Rant, rant, rant! I hate cancer. I suspect that Mikaelia had a similar reaction but it certainly didn’t slow her down. Soon she was taking action to support her mother, planning to take time off school and go back to Jamaica to be there physically and emotionally. She was able to do that…the rest of her story is below. There’s no doubt in my mind that these are strong women, and I wish them well. You may follow Mikaelia’s tweets @ChocLitLuvJoi.
Some time in May 2010 my mommy said she felt a pain in her breast. In my head all kinds of alarms and panic sounds went off. Out loud calmly I said, “Ok, when you going to the doctor?” She said she had a checkup scheduled. That was fine with me. No one else, I mean no one, had any type of cancer as far back as I knew. The check up yielded a small barely noticeable lump, a biopsy was scheduled for May 13; I flew home May 12. Naturally, the machine wasn’t working so after waiting 4 hours we went home test-less. I returned to the states May 21, worried. My mommy’s breast was tender and had to be shielded if my niece was jumping about.
Some time in June 2010 after some mental stress and trying to act unfazed by all of this the results were due. On June 22 I bawled myself to sleep fearing the worst. On June 23 the results came back: cancer in the right breast. I fire away a million questions and suggestions: “What size? What stage? What you going to do? I think you should cut your hair, blah blah blah…” and “I’m coming home!”
Mommy: No. You have to stay and finish school… blah blah blah.” I flew home Tuesday, June 29. From this point forward, I take over everything; I’m in mommy mode.
Friday July 2 – doctor’s appointment
I’m there with a black & pink breast cancer notebook that I got for mommy to record everything. I’m asking about her eating habits, what may need to change, what could have prevented this, gimme a break down of everything please. This doctor’s appointment that was supposed to take an hour took maybe 3. Her doctor refers to me as the General ever since then. His responses:
- Her tumor was in the right breast and less than 2 centimeters.
- She is stage 1. (Me: Excellent!)
- She will need to have a mastectomy.
- He doesn’t do reconstructive surgeries until a year after the site has healed.
- Reconstructive surgeries are not covered by insurance.
- She may need chemo and, or radiation treatment.
- There are 2 types of cancer: estrogen-receptor-positive-cancer (ER positive) and HER2-positive-cancer. ER positive cancer feeds off of estrogen, (i.e. anything containing soy is a problem. Your ovaries producing estrogen could be a problem. Problems, problems, problems.). HER2 positive is the faster growing of the 2.
- Don’t change your eating habits. Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Everyone will have advice about natural remedies; take it with a grain of salt. (Me: Huh!!???)
- Surgery is scheduled for Monday, July 5, check in Sunday, July 4. (Mommy: What!!?? But I need to go to Observer Food Awards!; Me: “Don’t listen to her, we’ll be there.”)
Sunday rolls around and she puts on the most beautiful dress for her journey to the hospital. Friends come by and pray. We packed up dinner leftovers so she could eat more that night. We all load into 2 cars, she insists on driving. It was time.
Monday July 5, I head to the hospital with board games in tow to keep her company before surgery. She’s in good spirits. We do her topless photo shoot. People visit, laughing, praying, and chatting. Surgery is scheduled for 3 PM so she’s given meds around 2 to get her good & groggy. Three PM comes and goes…no anesthesiologist. (Me: -_-) Around 4 PM the anesthesiologist arrives so they wheel mommy away. I didn’t cry but I drove home silently.
We return to the hospital after 7 PM, she’s groggy but OK.
Thursday July 8 – check out time
Sooo, Andrews Memorial Hospital is a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital. They only serve vegan food, which means a lot of soy products. (Me: Hmmmm, uhmmm, why are we still potentially feeding her cancer?).
My mom defecates like clockwork every morning. Since checking into the hospital, she hasn’t had a single bowel movement. That morning she was so constipated and confined to the bathroom (that had no emergency call button), she called my cell (while I’m at home 45 minutes away in Hellshire Heights) asking me to call the hospital to send someone to her room to help her. Someone got to her after my 4th call. (Me: -_-) Over the next 3 hours they gave her laxatives that do not work. Her sister left work and went to the hospital, and had to internally, forcibly manipulate her bowels for her. Use your imagination. Constipation is a result of little fiber in the food. They served white rice and some soy based “protein” daily.
We visit the doctor every week after that waiting for the results of the receptor test to determine the type of cancer. Delay, delay, and more delays.
Monday July 26 – results are in
Doctor: I have some good news and not necessarily bad news. The hospital did not put enough solution in the bucket to preserve the tissue in the breast. That tissue is what is used for the receptor test. As a result we don’t know if you are HER2 or ER positive. As a result, since your tumor was so small and you’re allergic to so many things and your lymph nodes showed no signs of cancer you won’t need chemo or radiotherapy because we don’t want to risk giving you something that could harm you. (Me -_-) We will just have checkups and scans monthly, then every 3months, then every 6months, then every year for the next 5years.
For me this sounded like: $$$$$$$. My face: ~_^
I said nothing because my mommy looked relieved. I was relieved she didn’t have to do chemo either but this wasn’t a conclusive response. This was a we lost your information and specimen so we can’t treat you because we don’t know how to. We also didn’t question anything because something had been there. Her complexion changed, her face looked younger, and she just looked vibrant after the surgery.
July 27 we were at the Jamaica Observer Food Awards :)
October 2, 2010 I returned to the states. I am now due with my first child in November 2011.
As time has passed, we’re not pleased with the surgery. Mommy is not pleased with the way in which he cut her. Her wound is jagged and uneven and left extra skin or fat in places that cause her discomfort when she wears a bra. She also cannot wear most V-cuts. Her doctor keeps saying, “Oh it takes a while to heal and all the swelling to go down.”
Uhm, it’s been a year+!
Another thing is that the tube they inserted into her throat for the surgery was too big. It got stuck and they had to switch to a child’s tube. To this day she has a guttural cough that sounds like pneumonia. Who’s paying for the visits to specialists to make sure she doesn’t have fluid on her lungs? We are.
Her primary physician has expressed doubts on whether or not she had cancer. He thinks she may have had a non-cancerous mass and are trying to cover it up.
My 2 Cents
If I knew then what we knew now I wouldn’t have been so rushed to do everything. I’ve always known that with cancer, time is of the essence. I wish I encouraged her to get a 2nd opinion.
We don’t know if she had cancer, but we know that she looked healthier after the surgery. Her thumb that had been black and blue and callous-looking for at least 2 months before the surgery was suddenly healed the morning after. We wish she would have had the tumor removed as opposed to the entire breast especially since she was only stage 1. Why? Because she feels a void without her breast that I cannot fill but she’s also uncomfortable because of how botched the surgical job looks.
As a caregiver my role was stressful. For 3 months I went everywhere she went. I didn’t let her drive because she was susceptible to sporadic pain. I had her sit and dictate to me the ingredients for her weekly baking schedule. I cleaned, I grocery and market shopped. I. Did. Everything. And I would again. It is, however, very tiring and very stressful. I had bags under my eyes, and had a few “woe is me” moments on BBM chats. It was fun though. Mommy and I had never been joined at the hip that much before. We watched TV together and I actually woke up at a decent time so she could have breakfast. I’d get upset if she tried to bathe herself. I’d do it again in a heartbeat :). I know now to factor in more self care techniques for myself because cancer also develops from stress. If mommy really did have cancer, that’s where she got it: stress.
Since her cancer diagnosis, I eat completely differently; even more so than she does. I read the ingredients in everything, and second guess the medical community more often than not. It bothers me tremendously how many things doctors do for their convenience or for the speed of things, not to mention the financial gain from certain procedures over others. Mastectomy vs. lumpectomy = more $$ for the mastectomy. During her experience we have met many uninsured people who were, and still are, on waiting lists for over 6months. Some whose tumors have travelled to their necks. I kid you not. Money talks.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and everything includes a lesson. When my loved ones have to suffer as a result though, it hurts. I am grateful for May through October 2011 and the time spent with my family. I worry every day and get mad when mommy misses appointments because I can’t drop everything and go home anymore. I’m becoming a mother, and now have hard and fast responsibilities. I need her to stay healthy. I thank God that whatever mommy had is gone so that she’ll be here to meet her grandson. That was a worry of mine last year. That I’d have children who never got to meet her.
This may not have been the most eloquent article because the thoughts on this are still all over the place in my mind. I tried to give you the facts as opposed to my opinion, because oh do I have one. What I want you to take from this if anything is:
- Where invasive or digestive treatments are concerned, always get a second opinion.
- Drugs and surgery are not the only fixers to situations.
- Most drugs are still on trial, and they’ll throw everyone at you until they get it right. That includes chemo & radiotherapy. It is literally cooking the whole turkey just to make sure the breast is well done.
- Doctors often throw the most costly surgery as an option over the least. They phrase it in an “if we remove your entire breast it’d be better for you, if we just take out the lump cancer can come back” kinda way.
- Preventative care is the best if in your power to do so.
- Eat well. If you find time to Google the latest celebrity gossip, you can find time to Google food that keeps cancer, diabetes, and other ailments at bay.
- Exercise, or even just walk when you can. Or borrow a yoga DVD from the library to do at home.
- Talk to friends who extend their shoulders and ears.
- Listen. Try and listen to the person in the situation, instead of trying to fix their situation with your love. Hear their thoughts and what they want to do.
- Most importantly, stay positive, stay happy, and positive. If not for you, for them.
- Cherish your family and friends before a scare like this ever comes along and take lots of pics.