"How are you feeling?" "Praying for you today!" "I admire your willingness to share your journey with such detail." "Any updates?"
These quotes all came in to me via text, social media and in person over the past seven days, while I've waited for results from the stereotactic core needle biopsy I had at Mayo Clinic's Breast Clinic last Friday (you can read the full story about that visit at this link). When I left my biopsy, the nurse said that my doctor would call me with my results in 3 to 4 business days and that if I hadn't heard by Thursday (yesterday) to call and check in. Yesterday morning, I was pretty nervous because I had a day full of meetings and didn't want to have to leave abruptly to take a phone call from my doctor that might tell me I had breast cancer and end up with me crying in front of coworkers. So on the way to work I said a prayer that I thought might be somewhat trivial but I prayed it anyway: "Lord, this might be trivial, but could you please have the doctor call at a time that's super convenient for my schedule? Amen!"
I made it through all of my meetings yesterday without a call from my doctor and at 3pm, like my nurse recommended, I called Mayo to check in. The front desk let me know they'd push a note to my doctor in the patient portal letting her know I was awaiting results. 5pm rolled around and I still hadn't heard anything so I knew the news would come today.
As soon as I woke up this morning I saw an email in my inbox letting me know that there were "New Results" in my Mayo Clinic Patient Portal. My nurse told me last week to not look at test results without talking to my doctor first but I couldn't help myself. So I read my pathology report:
"FINAL DIAGNOSIS A. Breast, left, stereotactic core biopsy: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), intermediate to high nuclear grade, cribriform and solid type with calcifications and comedonecrosis. Background breast tissue with focal fibroadenomatoid change."
I yelled for my husband and told him that I had breast cancer. He looked at the report and said we should probably wait to know for sure until my doctor called. I hopped in the car and headed to work and hoped and prayed I wouldn't have to answer the phone while driving and lo and behold, as soon as I walked out of the parking ramp at work, my phone rang. It was my doctor. She opened by asking if it was a convenient time to talk. I realized that was God literally answering my prayer for the phone call to come at a convenient time. I smiled and said "Yes! It's perfect!!" She apologized for taking so long to call me back which was nice but I said I totally understand because she is very busy.
"Well, the test results show that it is DCIS," my doctor said. "It's awesome that we caught it so early, because it's contained in the milk duct just like we thought. But it sucks because you're only 30."
I laughed. She's right. I am only 30. That sucks.
"So, I usually ask patients to come back and see me after a biopsy result like this. Some people call DCIS pre-cancer, but I don't use that term. I call it stage zero cancer, and it needs to come out. We can set up an appointment with me and also with a surgeon. I know it's early, but have you thought at all about treatment options? Have you considered a bilateral mastectomy?" she asked.
"Is a bilateral mastectomy one or both sides?" I asked.
"Both." she said.
"Oh. I was thinking of maybe one side because it's only on the left side? Or, is a lumpectomy with radiation still an option?" I said.
"Well, lumpectomy with radiation is a reasonable option, as the affected area is only 1.5 centimeters," my doctor said. "But, given your family history and this diagnosis, I would encourage you to consider a bilateral mastectomy. If you do the lumpectomy there is always a chance the cancer could return on that same side again. And with a single mastectomy there's still a high chance of you getting DCIS on the other side and having to have surgery again. If you're considering a bilateral mastectomy that would take care of all of it. If you're considering it, we can get you a meeting with a surgeon who could carry that out so you can talk over all of your options. They typically book a few weeks out."
That was a lot to process. Of course I wanted to explore all my options so I told my doctor that sounded like a great plan and I'd love to meet with the surgeon who could do the mastectomy or the lumpectomy if possible. She said that sounded great and she'd get to work on scheduling all of that for me.
Within hours of hanging up the phone, my doctor had scheduled a series of appointments for me, three weeks out. I could have probably gone sooner but I'm going to Europe on Sunday to present at a conference and am out for 8 days. So I am going back to meet with my doctor at Mayo on September 25th to talk over everything in person, and I have a day full of meetings with surgeons on September 26th. I unfortunately have to miss a bunch of events at my job for my doctors appointments on September 25th and 26th but my professors have been amazingly understanding, supportive and encouraging. Like one of my colleagues said, "Maybe this is happening to show you what's really important in life." Or like another classmate said, "Go kick cancer's ass."
To recap, I found out this morning that I have DCIS, a "Stage 0" form of breast cancer. I am grateful that I went in for early preventative screening 10 years before my mom's first diagnosis and I'm thankful for the amazing team of doctors that I've met with so far. While everything has gone amazingly well at Mayo Clinic this news has been a shock to say the least and I'm going to be processing a lot of things for a while. In the midst of my anxiety God keeps sending me reminders of His faithfulness--like this morning, when my Jesus Calling by Sarah Young devotional called out my favorite Bible verse, John 15, right after I read my pathology report: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (My right foot tattoo, "Abide," is based on my favorite chapter of the Bible, John 15. It's by the best tattoo artist in Chicago, Allie Sider. Check him out on his website and Instagram at Logan Square Tattoo.) This reminder reminded me of a sermon series I've been listening to by Chuck Swindoll this week about the life of Joseph: "Live at the center of God's will for your life. That's where His provision is. Outside of his will is catastrophe."
So, apparently, the center of God's will for my life right now is living with breast cancer at age 30, during the third year of my Ph.D. program, before I have kids--and trusting Him along the way. I hope these posts--the beginning of my breast cancer screening journey two weeks ago at this link, the second leg of my breast cancer screening journey--my consultation at Mayo Clinic's Breast Clinic last week--at this link, and the third leg of my journey--a stereotactic core needle biopsy--at this link--are encouraging to someone going through a similar trial because I kind of feel like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a furnace (Daniel 3) so it's my hope that your furnace doesn't have to be quite as hot as mine.
Thank you for your prayers :)
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