Like most people, I’m not a big fan of learning curves. I still remember how hard it was to learn to tell time. Big hand, little hand, half past, quarter to. I didn’t think I would ever figure it out.
Forty some-odd years later here I am with another major learning curve. Now it’s estrogen receptors, Her2/neu, FISH tests, stereotactic doofarkles, and lumpectomythingamabobs. Would that I were like Star Trek’s Data and I would just plug-in and upload this information. But, alas, were I an android I wouldn’t even have to worry about this stuff.
The stereotactic biopsy was quite intriguing. Computer technology and imaging determining coordinates for needle entry and location. Indeed, I would much rather have been watching this process than being a part of it. Long, but virtually painless, afterward I left radiology hoping that this chunk of tissue taken from my body wasn’t fouled in some way, I could barely wrap my head around the fact that all of this was happening.
I visited the surgeon after–he was only one floor away–and he told me that the lymph node aspiration was clean. Ah, more information. And good information, too. Another piece of the puzzle. And the biopsy on the right breast confirmed cancer, but exactly what comprised that tumor would be known in another day or two. Still, two pieces of the puzzle were known and I could do some more research.
What I had learned was that if this squatter is loaded with estrogen receptors one of my options would be a drug called Tamoxifen. It would block the estrogen receptors on the tumor, effectively starving it. I liked the sound of making this thing suffer a painful death. I braced myself for the side effects: blood clots, uterine cancer, cataracts, hurricanes, flash floods, and lightning. Oh, and you have to take it for five years. Nice.
I also learned that ideally the surgeon would like to begin with hormone therapy, shrink the mass, and then do surgery. First, I’d be able to see that the therapy was actually working. Second, with less mass, the breast would undergo less trauma and keep a normal appearance. Then the lumpectomy would be followed by radiation therapy.
Okay, good. More information. More puzzles pieces coming together. I understood that not everything had come in yet from pathology and we were speaking in broad strokes, but that was okay. I needed something so I could do some more research. But it is a steep learning curve.
One of the most valuable sites for me was Beyond the Shock. This comprehensive video series about breast cancer answered so many questions and introduced me to things I had never known. Succinct, smart, and visually appealing, the resource (developed by the National Breast Cancer Foundation) was a goldmine for me. Also very helpful was “MyNBCF.” Here you can participate in discussion forums, live chats, blog, and learn from the community of people going through the journey as well. Even without all of the pieces, I learned a lot here and heartily recommend that you check it out.
Another treasure chest is BreastCancer.org. This site is a source of practical and useful information. I found their “Day-to-Day Matters” and “Lower Your Risk/Think Pink, Eat Green” sections very informative.
Most helpful in all of these sites, and others as well, are the lists you will find for questions to ask your doctor. Use them. Embrace them. Hug them. These information reservoirs are priceless. They help you with the learning curve.
Learning curves blow. But cancer blows more.