Part 2: Just Breathe
I haven’t written in a while as quite a bit has happened since I started journaling.
I went to see my surgeon on that Thursday, who explained the different types of cancers to me and the specific treatments for each kind. I didn’t even know about different kinds of cancers until now. The Dr in China told me you have cancer but go back to South Africa have a lumpectomy and you will be 95% fine.
I was also told that since my tumour is grade 3, I would need a more aggressive form of treatment, and that chemo is often used for 6 months to shrink the tumour before it is removed as it is a less invasive surgical procedure. I was amazed at how my lovely female Breast Surgeon Dr Dedekind told me all this unpleasant news with a smile on her face and was so reassuring. “Don't worry, we caught it early and you are going to be fine”. I still didn’t know what kind it was and was really hoping for more answers that day.
The waiting is the hardest and worst part, the diagnosis takes forever! The biopsies, the tests, the scans, knowing the cancer is there and there and knowing you are not doing anything to treat it yet, is a terribly helpless feeling.
I needed to empower myself in some way, so I went to a friend of my moms who is a spiritual guide and she put me on to the work of Dr Joe Dispenza. I did his “Blessings of the Energy Centres meditation” every day. I envisioned myself healed and in perfect health. It helped ease the anxiety and I was sleeping for the first time in a long time without sleeping pills. Meditating helped change my perspective and I felt it was lifting my vibration.
A week went by waiting for test results as to what kind of Cancer cells it was, It felt like an eternity! Was it *ER POSITIVE (oestrogen receptor-positive), Her2 or Triple negative? The test came back that it wasn’t Triple Negative and that the hormone receptor test was inconclusive. They had to do another ‘Fish test’ to determine the hormone receptors of the cells. I meditated every day, imagining the Dr telling me It was Her2 negative and Oestrogen Receptor positive. Feeling absolutely elated with joy at these words. As I sat there awaiting my fate I prayed for a miracle. My prayers were answered as she told me it was Her2 Negative and Oestrogen receptor-positive! This meant less aggressive treatment, a lumpectomy and taking oral chemo, a pill called Tamoxifen and no Chemo and hair loss!
I let out a sigh of relief and hugged my mother.
However, I wasn’t in the clear just yet. I had to do a genetic test and those results had not come through yet. This test would determine whether or not I had the BRCA GENE.
I knew about Tay-Sachs Disease as a half ashkenazi Jewish gal, but didn't even know about the BRCA gene until I watched an episode of my light n fluffy Girly show's "The Bold Type" 5 months ago. Never in a million years did it even occur to me to check If I had the BRCA gene. My mother and grandmother didn't have breast cancer, so I thought that meant, no family history.
The BRCA gene is very prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews and is “The Breast Cancer Gene” you have an 80% higher risk of getting breast cancer in your lifetime as opposed to the average person having a 5% chance. It is estimated that one in forty Ashkenazi Jewish women has a BRCA gene mutation. The I was tested is my age, I'm relatively young to be diagnosed. I also have a family history on my mother's Ashkenazi side, even though slightly removed. My grandfather’s sister and his brother's daughter had it. His brother's daughter was a marathon runner, fit as a fiddle and had breast cancer and a double mastectomy at age 45.
I sat with the genetic counsellor and as she told me I had the BRCA2 gene I went into “freeze mode” again. "Ok, what now? What needs to be done? When can I meet with the plastic surgeon?"
I knew that by being BRCA Positive just like Angelina Jolie I would have to have a double mastectomy.
At the beginning of this journey I thought that was the scariest part and now it was a reality. All I wanted to know was if I could have a skin sparing mastectomy and keep my nipples.
I am in the process of freezing my eggs at the moment. I intended to do it last year as I am 35, career orientated and I don't want to have children right now. It had to be done to safeguard my fertility as an aggressive form of treatment such as chemotherapy could bring on early menopause. Being 35 and single, my mother was finally at ease. Being a Jewish Mother, every guy I started seeing, she would say, “he would be a good sperm donor" she was obsessed, borderline nuts! She came with me to the fertility specialist at The Cape Fertility Clinic who assured her that frozen eggs do not need to be fertilised with sperm to create an embryo to have an effect, their success rate is just as good on their own.
The next day I sat in my plastic surgeon’s office. He started describing the procedure and that I would likely lose my right nipple as it was on the side where the tumour was. I just burst into tears. I was really positive and optimistic until this point but reality hit, this was actually happening, my beautiful breasts were going. My mother reminded me that this invasion needs to come out and I’ll just get a fabulous pair of new breasts and be cancer-free. We walked out of the plastic surgeon's office and saw a paraplegic man missing a leg and I thought, it could be worse.
The whole drive back I tried to keep it together, sniffling in my tears and trying to hide them from my mother. I feared she would feel worse if she saw me cry and it would spike her anxiety even more. I tried so hard to hide them, But I just couldn't any longer, I burst into tears, heaving uncontrollably, the kind of crying I hadn't indulged in for over a year. I tried once again in my inner dialogue to remind myself 'they are just breasts, you have 4 perfectly working limbs, you have so much to be grateful for, thank goodness they caught it early, I chose life! " and all of that!
But it didn’t take away the shock, the fear, mourning the loss of one of my best physical attributes. Part of my femininity and that I wouldn’t be able to feel any sensation there again.
On Wednesday 22 Jan I went in for my egg retrieval procedure. the whole process really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. My moods were normal and doing the injections every day was super easy, it's just like an EpiPen. The only uncomfortable thing was, I was so bloated and distended before and after the procedure that I felt 9 months pregnant but it was 2 weeks of my life and not such a big deal. My procedure was a huge success, they managed to retrieve 19 eggs. Next week On Wed the 29 Jan (in 10 days time) I’m scheduled to have my skin sparing double Mastectomy.
Information on different kinds of Breast Cancers
Triple-negative breast cancer is cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein.
These results mean the growth of the cancer is not fueled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, or by the HER2 protein. So, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapy medicines or medicines that target HER2 protein receptors. Still, other medicines are used to successfully treat triple-negative breast cancer.About 10-20% of breast cancers are triple-negative breast cancers
Triple–negative breast cancer is more aggressive than other forms. It’s more likely to have spread beyond your breast at the time it’s found, and there’s a higher chance it will come back within the first 3 years after treatment. It’s also more likely to be fatal within the first 5 years.
HER2–positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells. In about 1 of every 5 breast cancers, the cancer cells have a gene mutation that makes an excess of the HER2 protein.
Estrogen-Receptor positive. Breast cancers with receptors for the hormone estrogen are called estrogen-receptor positive or ER positive breast cancer. About 70% of breast cancers are ER positive. They respond well to treatment with hormonal therapies. An oral chemo which has minimal side effects called “Tamoxifen” which helps stop cancer from coming back by blocking hormone receptors, preventing hormones from binding to them. It’s sometimes taken for up to 5 years after initial treatment for breast cancer.