What? My Wife has breast cancer???

I wish I would have thought of blogging a couple of months ago, but I don’t really know much about how this works.  We have so many people asking how Patty is doing, I thought I’d give blogging a shot.  Don’t get me wrong, Patty LOVES getting the phone calls, email, cards and flowers, but I just thought if anyone was curious how our “ride” is going, this would be an easy place to get up to speed.   (but again, please don’t stop calling, emailing, sending cards or flowers!) 

To get started, I want you to know what a devastating disease breast cancer is.  Anyone is susceptible to this monster, both women as well as men!  Breast cancer doesn’t care about your race, your age, your religion, your diet, your hair color, your yearly income, your weight or even how much  you exercise.  It even doesn’t matter if you do or don’t have a history of breast cancer in your family… everyone is susceptible to it.  The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States  for the year 2010:

  • About 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women
  • About 54,010 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be found (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 39,840 deaths from breast cancer (women)

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer.  The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is a little less 1 in 8!   The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. Breast cancer death rates have been going down. This is most likely the result of finding the cancer earlier and better treatment. Right now there are more than 2½ million breast cancer survivors in the United States!!!

I apologize for this first post being so long but to get  you up to speed, I need to digress a couple of months…  

 Back in late April of this year, Patty woke up on a Saturday morning and mentioned to me that her left breast was really sore.  She said: “here, feel this…” pointing to an area on her breast.  Never one to turn down an offer to feel her breast, I gladly obliged.  I felt it and there was definitely a hard lump just under her nipple.  She said it was pretty painful.  I told her that she needed the doctor to take a look at it and the fortunate thing was that she already had an appointment scheduled that following week for an unrelated check-up.  That next week came around and she brought up the “lump” with the doctor who scheduled an ultra-sound for either the following week or the week after that.  (see, this is where I wish I would have started doing this a couple of months ago.)  Anyway, she eventually had the ultra-sound.  I remember coming home from work that evening.  She said she had the ultra-sound but was really concerned by the reaction of the tech doing the test.  She said when the test was completed the “tech” came out and had a very concerned, but caring, look on her face.”  Patty told me “I know that look!  I think I have breast cancer!”  I immediately thought that couldn’t be.  She has no history of cancer in her family and Patty is as healthy as they come!  Come-on, she Jazzercises at least 4 times a week walks often.  I was sure that she was overacting but, in the back of my mind I just prayed that she was wrong!  Now here’s the part that really bugs me (but I won’t dwell on it).  The radiology department at the hospital scheduled her for a biopsy of the suspicious “lump” in her breast, but unfortunately it wasn’t scheduled for another 30 days away!!!  That’s crazy!  We tried getting something earlier but were told that the person who conducts the biopsy only works “part-time” and this was the earliest date we could get!  We asked that if they have any cancellations to please let us know.  Well, let me tell you, that 30 days may as well have been 30 years as the days and hours during that time just dragged by.  It was pretty hard to really enjoy anything during that time as this, as we called it, “black cloud”, was hanging over our heads!  Now we’ll go forward 30 days.  Patty went to her biopsy as scheduled.  June 22, 2010 (I’ll never forget that date!) at about 4:45 p.m. the phone rang.  Patty answered the phone.  Even though I could only hear one side of the conversation, I could see by the look on her face that the contents of the conversation was not good.  She hung up, looked at me and said: “I have breast cancer!”  She started crying, which I’ve learned, there will be a lot of tears in the days to come!  Patty told me that was the doctor’s nurse on the phone.  The nurse didn’t have a lot of information other than the “lump” was malignant and it was a Grade III cancer.  I asked what a “Grade III” meant and she said the nurse didn’t say!  Of course we immediately ran to the internet (which I’ll comment about later) to reasearch a Grade III tumor.  The news wasn’t good as it appears that you have “stages” of cancer as well as a “grade” of cancer.  The “grade” relates to the aggressiveness of the tumor going from a grade I to a grade III.  III being the most aggressive.  The next step was to go back to the doctor and have him make sense of all of this news.  An appointment was set for the following week.  In the meanwhile, our 16th wedding anniversary was that Friday, June 25th.  We had made plans a couple of months before to take a drive to Cambria, CA., and go wine tasting in nearby Paso Robles that weekend.  We almost canceled that trip, but I thought it would be a good idea to go and get our minds off of what was going on.  We had moments where we had fun, but overall that darned “black cloud” was always present.

We met with our family doctor.  He was pleasant and took the time to discuss Patty’s diagnosis.  He referred us to a surgeon to discuss our options going forward.  Hard to recall, but I think the appointment with him was the following week.  Anyway, we met with the surgeon who examined Patty.  He told us that a lumpectomy was not an option due to the location of the tumor.  He said he have to remove the breast (mastectomy) and suggested we meet with a reconstruction surgeon to start the reconstructive process at the time of surgery.  He also suggested that Patty have a double mastectomy so the reconstruction surgeon could easily match both breasts!  (sounds pretty crazy!)  Our appointment ended and he ordered a  PET Scan for early the following week.  He also referred us to a local reconstruction surgeon. 

Patty tried scheduling an appointment with the reconstruction surgeon but was told the earliest she could be seen was two weeks away!  We have already spent since the end of April worrying about this “lump” and waited 30 days for the biopsy as this darned “thing” kept growing inside her.  We just wanted that cancer out of Patty so we could fight this sucker and get our life back to normal.  (We’ve since learned that there will NEVER be a “life back to normal” as we used to know it!)  Without dragging this blog on and on, I’ll just say that as a result, we called the general surgeon and requested that he just perform the mastectomy, get the cancer out of her and we’ll deal with the reconstruction at a later time.  The surgeon was very angry and rude to Patty on the phone and literally hung up on her!  Obviously I wanted to go down to his office and perform a little of my own surgery on him, but being the  responsible adult that I am, that unfortunately wasn’t an option. 

Patty and I were both pretty despondent.  Patty was scared to death and I tried to keep my fears away from her, but she knows me all too well!  Then… God stepped into our lives!  Literally!  Patty called me the following day at work and said she had looked around and wanted to change doctors.  She told me that Scripps Torrey Pines had a whole pavilion that dealt with nothing but breast cancer.  We made a few phone calls to our insurance company and the next thing you know… Patty was a patient at Scripps Torrey Pines with an appointment two days off… July 2nd!  (another date I’ll NEVER forget!) 

Patty and I were both very excited about the change in doctors and were really looking forward to her appointments in the next couple of days!  The 4th of July weekend was almost upon us also and we were looking forward to spending the weekend at her sister Kathy’s house in Prescott, Arizona.  Patty’s son, Nate,  his wife and daughter (our granddaughter), her father and sister were also going to be there that weekend.  That Friday morning we packed up the car and decided we’d go to her appointments then blast off to Prescott from there.   The first appointment was with the Radiation Oncologist.  We met with her, a young woman I’d guess in her early to mid 30’s who had just finished her residency.  She thoroughly examined Patty.  She asked what tests the other doctor has ordered and Patty told her about the PET Scan.  Patty also told her that she had the PET Scan on Tuesday of that week however she had not received the results of that test.  The doctor’s nurse said she’d try to track them down.  We went into the oncologist’s office where she wanted to discuss her role in Patty’s treatment.  We spoke for a few moments and the discussion was very optimistic… maybe no chemo or radiation?  Maybe no mastectomy?  She also guessed that Patty was in a Stage I cancer!!!  This was great news!  There was a knock at her office door and it was her nurse.  She asked that she (the doctor) step out of the room for a moment.  Now, Patty said she knew what was about to come, but I was still too optimistic about the discussion with the doctor to pick up on anything.  Then here came the bombshell from left field that knocked me flat… The oncologist came back into the room.  She didn’t have the smile on her face like she did when she left the room!  She held a report in her hand, sat down at her desk, then moved in close to Patty.  She took Patty’s hand and said: “Patty I have the  PET Scan results… It’s not good news!  The cancer has metastasized to your chest wall.  I’m so sorry.  It’s incurable.  We can’t perform surgery!”  Patty really didn’t react, at least on the outside.  Me, on the other hand… you could have knocked me over with a feather!  “Incurable???  What the heck does that mean???”  My mind raced with thoughts that I never imagined ever having!  I just felt sick.  Believe me when I say this, having been in law enforcement for nearly 25 years, I’ve seen pretty much everything, done pretty much everything and experience pretty much everything.  I was not prepared, nor have I ever experienced, the range of emotions that I felt at that moment!!!  The doctor was very empathetic with both of us.  Patty didn’t cry a teardrop, while I did everything I could to fight them back.  Everything was somewhat of a blur for the next couple of hours, but I do recall the doctor telling us that even though the PET Scan showed that the cancer had metastasized, it still had to be proven.  It wasn’t a done deal yet.  (even though in our eyes, it seemed like a done deal!)  We then went to another office and met with the Surgeon’s Nurse Practitioner.  What an amazing woman!!!  She conducted a quick exam but since surgery at this point was out of the question, it was very brief, however, this woman exuded confidence when she spoke to Patty.  Just before we left her office, she took Patty’s hand and looked her straight in the eye and said: “Patty, I’ve been in this business a long time.  I’ve seen tests like this not be true.  They have to prove to me that it spread.  I won’t believe it until they prove it!  I’ve seen this too many times and I’m not convinced!”  She kept looking at Patty in the eye as if saying “You need to believe me!”  She then gave Patty a hug and we left.  We were out in the lobby and I told Patty that we were still going to Prescott to be with the family this weekend.  She agreed.

The six-hour drive to Prescott, Arizona, was a long long long quiet drive.  I couldn’t talk without wanting to break down. ( Now remember, my role in all of this was to be as supportive to Patty as I could (and can) and be strong for her. )  Patty received a couple of phone calls during our drive, one from her Nurse Advocate at Scripps who had just heard the news and another from her daughter, Nicole, who wanted to know how her appointments went.  I don’t know how Patty did it, but she told Nicole the devastating news and was as strong as anyone could be.  Poor Nicole was a wreck, but Patty didn’t shed a tear.  Not one.  If it was me, I know I would not have been able to do it.  She then called her son, Nate, and told him the news.  She also said she wanted to talk about the diagnosis now and not dwell on it over the weekend.

We finally made it to Kathy’s house.  I knew once we walked in, that this was the best place for Patty to be, with family.  Come on, can anyone be more supportive than family?  The weekend was fun and yes, the black cloud was there, but it being 4th of July weekend kept us busy.  Also, when Nate and his family got there, our granddaughter, Mia, kept Grandma Patty really busy.  Patty and Mia have a very special bond.  It’s really fun to see the two of them together.

We did learn that weekend that bedtime for Patty is a very bad time.  Darkness of night is not good.  This is when her fears set in.  She was, and still is, terrified!  Facing death is something that none of us will understand until it’s you facing it.  I can only imagine how it must feel, but I’m sure for Patty it was what I was feeling times 1000!   I felt so bad because I couldn’t fix this one!  All I could do was hold on to her and try to give her as much comfort as I could. 

Well, we made it through the weekend and the next 12 days were filled with more appointments, more blood tests, chest x-rays and a CT Scan.  We met with more incredible doctors all of whom are very experienced in their field!  The final appointment was on Monday, July 12th, with a pulmonary specialist.  A very gentle older man, somewhere in his late 60’s.  He conducted his exam and told us that looking at all the test results it didn’t make any sense that the cancer could have metastasized to her chest wall.  He said “Cancer doesn’t spread that way!”  (by the way, this was the common theme of ALL the doctors who examined Patty)  But, the telling tale would come in the next couple of days as Patty had a CT Scan scheduled the following afternoon.  The doctor asked that Patty call him on Wednesday morning and he’d have  the results of the scan.  She went through the CT Scan procedure as scheduled.

It was Wednesday, July 14th, another day I’ll never forget!  Knowing that the doctor asked patty to call that morning, I got home around 10:30.  Patty was at her Jazzercise class and got home shortly after me.  I asked her to call but she was being a little stubborn and wanted to clean up first.  (ARGH… women!)  It was just after 11 a.m. and I finally convinced Patty to call.  Just before she called, I took her hands and prayed out loud with her that the news be good.  (I’ll talk about the Power or Prayer in another posting)  We were both very nervous about what news we’d get, but Patty reluctantly made the call.  She was on the phone for about a minute then hung up.  She looked at me and said: “The doctor is out of the office this morning and won’t be back until later today.”  WHAT????  He can’t do that!!!  Well, I guess “It is what it is!”  Patty said there was no way she could hang out at home waiting for his call and suggested (no, actually she told me) we go somewhere for lunch.  Next stop Solana Beach!  We talked as we drove.  At one point Patty told me that she prayed that morning that the doctor just call and leave a message on our recorder.  His message would not be one saying: “Patty this is the doctor, I have the results of the CT Scan, please call me.”  Her prayer was that his message would be: “Patty, this is the doctor.  I have great news!  The CT Scan came back negative.  The cancer did not spread!” 

We ended up at a restaurant on the beach.  What a gorgeous place and a gorgeous day.  It was warm and not a cloud in the sky!  We ate lunch and Patty had a couple glasses of wine while I had a couple beers.  I called our house to check messages at least every 15 minutes but nothing!  We finished lunch around 1:15 p.m. and as we were leaving the restaurant, Patty said she couldn’t home just yet.  Not until we learn of her fate.  We walked next door to another beach front restaurant who had a really awesome outside deck.  We sat on the deck with at least another 20 people and ordered another glass of wine and a beer.  I kept checking messages… nothing!  Then I checked messages around 1:45.   Believe it or not… there was a message!  And, it was a message from the doctor!!!  Patty was talking about something unrelated as I tried listening to the message.  I don’t even think she was aware that I was listening to a message.  The message said: ” “Patty, this is the doctor.  I have great news!  The CT Scan came back negative.  The cancer did not spread!  We’re going to treat you for cure!!!”  This was the exact message Patty had prayed for!  I looked at Patty and excitedly said: “Patty, it the doctor, the cancer didn’t spread!  She looked at me with her big blue eyes and as asked: “What???”  I said: “It’s the doctor… the cancer did not spread!”  Patty let out scream that was like no other!  She hugged me tightly and began to cry tears of happiness!  People around us starred wondering what this whacked out woman was doing!  She even stood up and did her “happy dance” all the while crying tears of joy.  At one point she exclaimed: “I only have breast cancer!”  A woman sitting at the table responded “Oh, I’m so sorry.”  I never thought we’d say this, but we responded: “No… don’t be sorry, its onlybreast cancer!  It didn’t spread!  That’s a good thing!”  Another woman actually came to our table and congratulated Patty for only having breast cancer!  Patty then spent the next 30 minutes calling everyone she knew to tell them the good news!  When we left the restaurant Patty bolted out to the beach thanking God for this little, but for us monumental, miracle!  She’s being “treated for cure!!!”