Stages and Ages

The Biopsy was challenging: the wire localization should have taken 20 minutes, mine took an hour. I almost fainted at one point: the pushing of needles deep into my breast was faint-worthy. Add to that the paddles that squeezed my stabbed breast in place and having to take a deep breath and be still….ergh!  After surgery, my breast suddenly swelled up and became hard. Two hematomas were forming. More than a month later, I still have one hematoma, it is hard and rectangular, this breast is already foreign to me.

Five days after the biopsy, I learned the results.

The surgeon broke the news to me in a cold, clinical manner. “You have stage I breast cancer.” I felt my head spinning. Cancer? Me? The doctor spoke of two different kinds of cancer in my one breast: ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive cancer, the more serious one.  He recommended a mastectomy and reconstruction. I could do radiation and forego the mastectomy in a bid to save the breast, but he did not recommend that. “I wouldn’t wait more than three weeks before taking action.” He relayed the information to Willey, making eye contact with him, as I sat crying, the reality hitting me like a swarm of locusts. His words buzzed relentlessly, surrealistically.

I still had to go back to school for an evening event. I had spoken of the event all day to my 27 third grade students. I couldn’t be a no-show.  I wanted to feel normal so I washed my face and went to work, mingling with former students and their parents, talking to current students and parents and meeting (possible) future students and their parents. Oddly enough, I felt energized as I drove home. The next two weeks were tough. I cried without warning: at work, at home, at the grocery store. Three weeks later, I started to compartmentalize my fear and sadness: I cried only when taking a bath. While soaking, I looked down at my hardened, bruised breast with two scabs: one a smiley face, the other a frown. The entire breast was shiny and wrinkled, covered with a surgical glue in lieu of stitches, numb.

As far as cancer diagnoses goes, I am very, very lucky. At Stage I with microscopic cancer, I have several options and good odds to obliterate the cancer. Years ago, no one would have detected it this early because you can’t feel it at all. The new digital machines at EVDI caught it.

I received two more consultations before weighing my options: breast conservation? One mastectomy and no reconstruction? Bilateral (double) mastectomy and no reconstruction? One mastectomy with reconstruction? Bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction? And if I choose reconstruction, should I wait or do it immediately?  There is a 1% chance with each year that passes that the other breast will develop cancer (therefore, in 25 years, there is a 25% chance I would develop cancer in my right breast). I do not want to go down this road again in the future, if I can help it.  Many decisions to make: which surgeon, which plastic surgeon, whichprocedure to do….Mind boggling, given the fact that just a few weeks ago, my most serious decision was whether to get eyelash extensions or not!

The stages you hear about in cancer usually have to do with the size of the cancerous mass as well as the type. My case is on the serious side because one of my “masses” is the invasive kind. We know what invasive/invading means….and you can surgically remove it, but the chances of it recurring are extremely high. Hence, the recommendation for a mastectomy.At stage one, my cancers measured 4 mm and 5 mm. Stage 4 includes tumors 5 cm. in size.

Maybe if I was 80, I would simply opt for a bilateral mastectomy and be done with it. But, I am *relatively* young (Hey! I heard that!) and a bit vain, so I am opting to have reconstructive surgery, too.

It sounds rather obvious, but this brings the sense of mortality front and center. Don’t we all assume we will live to be at least 80? Faced with the chance that I may live just a few years….I had to reassess my life.

I am grateful I have:

  • a new network of thriving breast cancer survivors;
  • a career I love;
  • a strong, loving husband, two beautiful children;
  • wonderful, thoughtful, generous friends and a dedicated extended family.

Each day counts. I purchase more organic foods now and drink lots of green tea. I’m going to continue with my plan to complete my Principal’s certificate and MA in Education Administration. I see this new diagnosis like a triathlon. I have no desire to do a triathlon, but I know I can do it.

5 thoughts on “Stages and Ages

  1. I apologize for just catching up. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I know you will make the rigth choices, do the correct research, and survive this period in your life. You are smart and strong and I am very glad I know you. The triathlon hinge sounds fun but I think it should be the full IronMan. You can handle it and I’ll work on the running with you.


  2. Caroline – I wish you the best of luck and I wanted you to know we are grateful for you. You and Willey both just have the knack to put a smile on my face when the kids are trying to keep it off there ha. I am glad I have gotten to know you guys both as professionals and also personally. If you eer need me I am definately here for you.


  3. Dear Caroline,

    I’m Anne’s brother (Eddie). I just found out. I will be praying for you and your family.

    With love and prayers,
    Acts 20:24


  4. Wow, Caroline. I’m glad you’re writing about this. You’ll ace your triathalon! (Great picture of you and Willey!)


  5. I’d forgotten the buzzing locusts in my head, but your crisp clear reporting took me back to the chair in my own surgeon’s office on that day almost 22 years ago. The tears, the feeling of being somewhere hovering above my body but not really inhabiting it… I have a chapter in my of-course-not-yet-done book about this passage – will send it to you. Love you.


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