Monday, May 02, 2011

I'm Back

You may have noticed I parked my blog back in private for a while. No worries if you didn't have access, I was on a blogging hiatus and I wasn't sure I would come back to it so I just stashed it away for a while. But now I am feeling compelled to write.

I should warn you, I have a lot of hefty stuff to discuss and I need to write again. My plan was to come out of my hiatus with a light post filled with happy photos of the beautiful people and places that have kept me occupied over the last several months. But somehow focusing on beautiful memories was the tipping point in pushing me from a point of control and optimism to some much needed and oddly absent tears.


Rather than re-write it all out, I will simply copy the email I sent to my friends and family on Friday with my news since I was in a stronger place then.
Dear Friends,

Please excuse the fact that I am about to tell you some rather hefty news in an email, a group email at that. I have been blessed with the challenge of having many people whom I can call dear friends so I just have not had an opportunity to call each of you personally. I should say, not yet anyway.

Now, take a deep breath and shut your office door or find somewhere quiet to read this because I am not being overly dramatic (although I totally feel like it). Yesterday I received the results of a biopsy I had last Friday. I have been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

Before I go on with any more details, take another deep breath and please know that I am absolutely fine. Surprisingly fine, in fact. I have lists of things to do and phone calls to make and I feel positively buoyed up by the knowledge that each and every one of you is with me ready to fight whatever comes next. That is an amazing comfort to me, and you didn't even know you were already helping, did you? When the possibility of cancer hit me after my biopsy I sat down and wrote each of your names on a piece of paper that I have been looking at all week knowing that if the answer is cancer, I have people on my team. It helps that spring has finally arrived in New York, the sun is shining brightly and I closed on the biggest case of my career yesterday (which is why I am pretty sure I owe many people a call/text/email/birthday card).

To try and address some questions I assume you might have, in more technical terms, I have a 2.7 cm invasive ductal carcinoma. I also have a .9 cm atypical ductal cells consistent with metastatic ductal carcinoma in the axilla (armpit!). On the good news side, it is progesterone and estrogen positive (which means hormones fuel the growth - hormones that can be turned off and treated). I am also HER-2 negative. Not sure I understand this part completely but I'm told this is a good thing. More good news, my prognosis is 80% survival rate for ten years! Those are some seriously good odds.

I'm sure you might also be wondering how I found this so forgive the length of this email as I dive into a few more details. No, I did not find the lump myself. In the tricks that one's mind tends to play in revisionist history over the last week or so (the mind that attributes every ache and pain I've ever had to the mystery that might be cancer)I have had thoughts and twinges of memories of maybe, possibly feeling it and blowing it off but I don't think so. I went to a routine appointment with my gynecologist on Tuesday, April 19th (yes, 10 days ago) and as we chatted about this and that (because she is seriously the greatest doctor) she felt a lump. The lump/mass/abnormality/badness/
whatever you want to call it. She did not raise the alarm. She just sent me for my first mammogram and asked about my family history. Until about six months ago I could confidently answer there was absolutely no breast cancer in my family tree. But now I have some on my dad's side but according to every doctor I speak to that doesn't actually count since it generally is on the mother's side.

On Wednesday the 20th I went for my first mammogram, thinking a long lunch hour would work. I believe all in it took around three hours of waiting area #1, then freezing private waiting area #2 where all the women are in matching pink hospital gowns on top with matching street clothes on the bottom, then to the plastic vice-grip of the mammogram and finally to the dark ultrasound room where I was told I would need a biopsy right away and what was the name of my breast surgeon. . . . Thursday was spent googling and googling and Friday the 22nd I had two fine needle aspiration biopsies - one of the slightly enlarged lymph node in my underarm and one of a very tiny non-palpable lump. This all passed without incident but then I had a core biopsy to extract tissue from the larger mass. The one that sounded the alarm by bumping up against the surface. It hurt like hell and I knew this was serious. It wasn't supposed to hurt. The radiologist was great and gave me more anesthetic but it still hurt and when envisioning a warm beach didn't work I pictured myself last summer on top of Half Dome with the cool breeze and the bright sun shining basking in the glory of conquering something great. I breathed through it and the last step was marking the mass with a teeny tiny s-shaped clip. Then I was given the unfortunate news that after all of the harpooning they needed to stop the bleeding so I could go have the pleasure of another mammogram to ensure the clip was placed correctly. Oh, how I dreaded that next step. But the technician was kind and didn't squeeze anything too tight and I was free to walk home shortly after the radiologist informed me he found the lump "concerning," a word that prepared me for the news but made the wait difficult.

In an effort to control the process I set up an appointment with my gyno to get the results. Optimistically we scheduled it Wednesday morning but the results were unfortunately not ready by then so it was pushed to noon on Friday just prior to the 1:30 appointment with the breast surgeon.

Thursday afternoon my closing meetings complete I retrieved a message from the surgeon's office - the appointment needed to be moved up. I was rescheduled for 8:30 am on Friday but it was after 3 pm Thursday and I didn't know the test results and my doctor was out. I left a message for her assistant and another doctor called me and while I stood in my office with the glass door shut, I stared out the window and was told "it's cancer" very directly. That's all I knew. I made a few calls and then spoke with my boss and a co-worker before going home to more phone calls.

This morning the surgeon surprised me and after examining me he asked "how do you feel about doing chemo first?" Clearly I have no idea how I feel about any of this quite yet so I said I don't know and he told me to dress and go back to his office. Happily I had a very good friend with me who agreed to take notes and just be by my side so I was free to ask questions and just listen and absorb. Since the lymph node scan is positive the surgeon recommends the chemo to slow the growth which would make surgery and recovery easier since less tissue would need to be removed. He referred me to an oncologist and I have an appointment May 9th that may get moved up after they review my surgeon's records. I am also working on getting a second opinion but so far my earliest appointment isn't until the end of May and I don't want to delay any treatment waiting around for a second opinion when I feel pretty confident with the doctors I've seen so far - especially with how quickly they are moving things along.

My plan (because I need a plan) is first and foremost to surround myself with friends. That's your part. I need love and laughter and I am lucky to have it right here in front of me with each of you. I am sure this will not be a surprise to any one of you but I'm not exactly good at asking for help and I am being honest right now in telling you I do not currently need anything. Except if you are in NYC, maybe we could have lunch? brunch? dinner? But when I do have needs, I will tell you. And if I don't, feel free to barge in and tell me I need help. And if you feel too far away to do anything, I promise phone calls, emails and texts are bolstering as are private thoughts, prayers and well-wishes. I may not be one who is lucky to be blessed with faith but I am incredibly fortunate to have a strong belief in the power of family and friends united in love. This is a power I have felt as friends have reached out or thought of me over the last week before they even knew why.

Second, I've always wanted to cut my hair super short but never dared so I will be donating my hair to Locks of Love and rocking the pixie cut very soon . . . and if I lose that, well, expect me to become a bit eccentric with silk scarves and over-sized sunglasses.

Third, I will be sending updates and talking to everyone. I may change course on this but I have been writing a lot again lately and will likely be doing a lot more going forward. I hope you aren't offended by the details :)

And finally, I've got a battle ahead of me but I will meet it head-on like any great challenge and to steal from a breast cancer survivor's memoir (The Middle Place) I read a couple of years ago that has been ringing in my ears over the last week - when this is all over we will have a giant party to celebrate. An awesome I Beat Cancer party :)

Oh, also, the day before the lump presented itself and turned my life upside down I very efficiently 1) cashed in my hard-earned sky miles for a dream vacation in December to Patagonia, 2) finally bought my plane ticket to the half-marathon I'm registered to run with my sister in Seattle in June; and 3) registered for a 10-k in New York (you know, to prep me for the half-marathon). I'm not canceling anything unless absolutely necessary. And I'm pretty sure looking forward to Patagonia is going to be a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.

To riff on a phrase stolen from a friend, cancer can suck it. Your prayers, thoughts, meditations, well wishes, luck and positive thoughts are all welcome, pity is rejected because my stubbornness is going to be put to good use. I'm going to kick cancer's ass.

love to you all,
Throughout the weekend I was lifted up and separated from the heaviness of my diagnosis by the phone calls, emails and text messages that poured in. I am privileged to have so many amazing people in my life on whom I can rely. Each of them is a carrying a piece of this with them and making it that much lighter for me to bear. However, I know more difficult days lie ahead of me and since writing has been such a solace to me in the past, I hope you don't mind my decision to lighten my burden a bit more through words shared here.

And to leave you on a lighter note, below is a series of pictures shot with my cell phone out the door of a rented mini-van pulled off to the side of a Pennsylvania road with children who do not belong to me because a dear friend stopped when I passively commented "that looks like the kind of field you should run through and spin in circles." I cannot repeat it enough how lucky I am to have such amazing family and friends.


autumn said...

I'm so sorry! But you're right, you will kick this thing. You will beat it. You've got my prayers.

Jen said...

I think cancer's about to get a serious smack-down. You will be in my thoughts and prayers!

lemoniepants said...

i sent your boobs a package, you should be getting it today. squeeeeee! :)

lizzie said...

i want to frolick with you...and then come and let you nestle in my bosom...ha ha ha! love you!

lizzie said...

and my bosom is extra ample these days...

Tiffany said...

I'm glad you're back. Because you're amazing. Cancer picked the wrong honey badger to mess with.

katie said...

Seriously's a good thing I know you or I'd think you were creepy creep.

Sorry for the news Alyssa. We're thinking of you here and KNOW that all will be well.

Soul-Fusion said...

Katie, you think Liz was being creepy? Emily package was pasties . . . my friends know how to make me laugh, which is exactly what I need.

Mary said...

Sending thoughts and prayers your way constantly. I can't imagine what this must be like. But I love the other comments -- cancer totally picked the wrong girl!

Artax said...

Glad you're back -- but so sorry you are back with bad news. Wishing you the very best here. Hang in there.

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