Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cancer Q&A

I've had a lot of questions recently about the details of my cancer, so I thought I would do a quick post to keep everyone up to date. This post could be very boring or very interesting depending on your personality type.

What? When? How? SERIOUSLY?
Yeah I know. I'm there too some days. I found a lump when I was pregnant with Cora. My OB and I both kind of shrugged it off as hormones or a clogged milk duct since I've been pregnant and/or breastfeeding for the past 5 years straight. She said to get it checked after Cora was delivered. At my 6 week visit after Cora was born, the lump was still there so she wrote me an order to get a mammogram. I told her that wasn't necessary because I wasn't going to go. She wrote it anyway and handed it to me. I rolled my eyes and stuffed it in the bottom of my purse for approximately 4 months. At the end of February, when Cora was 6 months old, I finally went and had an ultrasound and mammogram. Mark, several friends, and my grandmother, who is a breast cancer survivor, encouraged me to go. So I did, just for peace of mind. The radiologist recommended that I follow up with a breast surgeon for a biopsy. On March 2, I met with the breast surgeon, who recommended a biopsy that same day. She biopsied two different areas. On March 9, Mark came with me for the results of the biopsy, and we found out both areas she biopsied were breast cancer. March 10, I met my oncologist. March 11, I had an MRI. March 13, I had my port placed. March 17, I had my first chemo treatment. It's been a blur. 

What kind of cancer is it? Is it triple-negative?
My breast cancer is the kind that initially starts in the milk ducts, but it then spread into the skin, which is why they classified it as stage 3. My cancer is NOT triple-negative, which is a good thing. I am HER2 positive and ER (estrogen receptor) positive. HER2 positive cancers tend to be very aggressive, and just a few short years ago being HER2 positive was a bad thing. Now HER2 positive cancers are still aggressive, but they have created very good chemotherapy drugs that specifically target those cancers. Estrogen receptor positive means that my cancer is fed by estrogen. 

What is your treatment plan?
There were a few very scary days where we did not know the treatment plan because we didn't know the above information about my receptors. Those were dark days. I cried a lot. I'm a planner by nature, and so having an actual treatment plan was crucial for my mental ability to handle this diagnosis. Once my oncologist called me with the receptor news I felt like we had a better handle on things and I knew what to expect. My oncologist is at Atlanta Cancer Care with Northside Hospital. She is brilliant and I am in good hands. The plan is to treat me with chemotherapy first, in order to shrink the tumor as small as possible. After chemo, I will have a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I will probably have radiation after surgery as well. We also will talk about removing my ovaries since my cancer is fed by estrogen, and this increases the chances of ovarian cancer for me in the future.

What is your chemotherapy regimen?
I am on four different chemotherapy drugs, and I have infusions once every 3 weeks. Everyone keeps saying the regimen of drugs I am on is a very difficult regimen. That's good of course, because its aggressive. But bad because, well, its aggressive. I will have 6 total treatments of chemotherapy, except for one drug, Herceptin (which is because I am HER2 positive) I have to get every 3 weeks for an entire year. I'm told Herceptin alone doesn't carry side effects so once I'm receiving only Herceptin I shouldn't have any of the typical chemo problems. I am so thankful that I have 3 weeks to recover in between each treatment.

Will you lose your hair?

What have your imaging reports said?
The initial biopsy reported breast cancer in two different areas in my left breast. I had an MRI two days later, and along with my left breast, a small area lit up on my right breast, and in a lymph node on my left side as well. However, my PET scan reported no lymph nodes and the rest of my body as all clear other than the left breast. (PRAISE GOD!)

How are you feeling?
TIRED. The fatigue is comparable only to pregnancy, but worse. And I've only had one chemo session so I expect the fatigue to get much worse. The few days immediately following chemo I felt very foggy and just kind of drugged. Then I was fine for a few days, and then this past week I was very sick. Now I'm feeling much better and just a little tired again. I'm hoping to feel like this for a full week before I have treatment again. As I have told a lot of people though, I did not have fun pregnancies. Nausea/Vomiting from about 1.5 minutes after I take the pregnancy test all the way up to delivery. And a lot of the chemotherapy side effects are very similar to pregnancy ones. So I can handle that. I'm used to it, and throwing up is no big thang for me. Yeah it sucks, but its something I know how to deal with. So maybe the Lord has been preparing me for this all along.

Yes, I have breast cancer, and some days I still can't believe it. And yes, it's a big deal and I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life. My health will probably always be affected by it. But you guys, it could be so much worse. We found it. I'm getting treated for it. I have amazing doctors. It's not 20 years ago. I have a huge support team.

Speaking of which, last night Landmark's baseball team, the high school Mark and I both graduated from, had Beat Cancer Night in honor of us and I got to throw out the first pitch. Landmark is so much more than a school, and the people from there are like family.

I am just so overwhelmed and grateful for all the support. I do NOT enjoy being the center of attention, so I just pretended like everyone was there for a Landmark reunion and not for me or for cancer. It's still just surreal sometimes, that this is all happening, and that people could surround me like this in support. I'm certainly not worthy of it, but our Heavenly Father is, and only He could gather an army like this.

I have felt His hand on me since day 1, lovingly giving me things that only He could give. This Landmark family is one of those things. Only a good, good Father would create friendships able to withstand time and distance in order to be reunited for such a time as this.

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32

This was a good night. Just a few hours before this we received the news that my PET scan was clear of additional cancer in my body. What seemed like the end of the world just a few short weeks ago, now seems like just another mountain to climb that will be a part of my story. What started out as, WHY GOD? Has turned into, THANK YOU GOD. Thank you that it's just breast cancer. I trust Him fully with my heart and my life, so how could I not trust Him with this? He, who gave his one and only Son to die for will he not also... be with me in this? He knows what He is doing, even when we can't see it. We don't deserve an explanation. I'm just humbled to play a small part in His bigger plan. So that's what I'm going to do. Do my best to play my part and point to Him while I'm on stage.


Lynn Trinoskey said...

You and your life story have been introduced to me by my daughter Raven so I do not personally know you. I do hope to meet you someday. You are and will always be in my prayers and close to my heart. I trust God will give you all the strength that you need to come through. God bless you and your beautiful family. Lynn

claire @ a peachtree city life said...

it's gotta be so crazy to have all of this information thrown at you so quickly and try to make sense of it all! i'm glad you have a medical background.

i thought before about your pregnancies and about how they were the perfect practice runs. puking pro ;) slightly different end goals, but nothing you can't handle.

and it's so awesome that it's ONLY breast cancer. stay strong!

Brei said...

Friend of Molly's from college, here. Your story is near my heart and prayers for you and your family. Love the people at Northside. You are a light of hope and perseverance and joy! Carry On, Warrior!

Latricia Rhodes said...

Hey Janna!!! You and your family are in my prayers...God will see you through this trying time...Miss you and love you girl...

Anonymous said...

Friend of your Dad's form Cincinnati. I have all my friends across this country, praying for you and your family. You have been an inspiration to me and I only pray that I could be as faithful and trusting as you are. God Bless!!! Donna

Anonymous said...

I had what you have 22 years ago. I'm am aunt Gerry to niki Trisha and Julie I was stage four with chest wall metastasis. You can do this. I plan to celebrate your 22 years when I am 98