I remember clearly the day in late November that my mother sat me and my sister down to tell us she had chosen to radically remove both breasts and have reconstructive surgery after many bouts with both Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) in both breasts—a day I thought would live on in my mind as one of the worst in my life. That is, until I had to call my mom and tell her they had found something on my very first mammogram. And worse yet, that I had cancer.
I am the poster child for early detection, based on the history of cancers in my immediate family. My Ob/Gyn wrote me a prescription for a mammogram and said, " Just get it done before your 36 years old. OK???" So, about four months before my 36th birthday, I walked in and got my first ever mammogram. The following morning, I got a call from the radiologist’s office, asking me if I could come back that day. What does one say? Ok. Not thinking much of it, back I went, for additional pictures and a sonogram. I sat alone in the waiting room, tears streaming down my cheeks, not knowing what was to come. The doctor called me in to tell me they found something resembling tiny pin pricks along my ducts, smaller than my pinky fingernail. He was going to send my screens to my Ob/Gyn, Dr. Alan Friedman, with a recommendation for a biopsy. He assured me that based on my age and health, the odds were in my favor.
Enter Dr. Rachel Dultz of Princeton, New Jersey, a wonderful woman, a fantastic doctor and an amazing surgeon! My biopsy was scheduled for the end of February, and on March 2, well after 5pm, Dr. Dultz called me personally. Sigh—you just know what's coming—my world fell apart. I'm 36 years old. How could this be happening?? I was diagnosed with Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIN), a non-invasive very early cancer. My medical oncologist actually said, “If you have to get cancer this is the one to have.” Doctor humor, I suppose.
Again, based on my family history, and the fact that my mother’s diagnosis was well after menopause had begun, my oncologist thought it best to have the BRCA testing, as her recommended treatment would be based on the results. One bright note—I tested negative for the BRCA gene. Granted, genetics regarding cancer change daily, but given the present information and technology available, we were at least clear on that front. At this point, Dr. Dultz scheduled my surgery. My follow-up to the surgery was six weeks of radiation. I did see a medical oncologist and discuss the addition of Tamoxifen in my protocol; however, based on the limited amount of information regarding women of my age and the drug’s success, I opted to not take it.
I found this whole circle of doctors to be very reassuring, enter Dr. Doug Fine of Princeton Radiology—he was a slight man with a wonderful bedside manner. His entire team was very compassionate. They guided me through exactly what would be happening to me every day for the next six weeks, medically, but no one can prepare you for what it feels like to be 37 years old with most of your life ahead of you (thank God) and walk through that door every day and sit in a waiting room with people who were happy to be alive that morning—who were praying for a few more months, perhaps. Nothing can prepare you for recognizing when someone stopped coming and had probably lost their battle. On my last day of treatment, as the machine stopped, they started playing Pomp and Circumstance—you know it, the graduation song… dommmm daa dee dee dommm dummmm…. And they presented me with a diploma. I kissed them all good-by and said forgive me but I hope I never see you again!!! I got in my car and without any warning I sobbed and sobbed …I made it… it was over. Three years later, I am cancer free—three years later this event in my life has shaped everything in my future. Shortly following my last radiation treatment my husband of 10 year and I separated and have since divorced. Having survived cancer, and witnessed what I did day after day in radiation, I realized I was living someone else’s life, and while it might be a road that is not easy I wanted to be happy. I wanted to LIVE…