Late yesterday afternoon I received a call from a nurse practitioner from my surgeon's office saying she had good news - my pathology came back and my "invasive cancer had regressed" to the point of a few "in situ cancer cells" with the sentinel node that was removed also having a few cancer cells. She was telling me to be happy about these results but, to be honest, I was having a difficult time understanding because all I kept hearing was "cancer cells." So I cried as soon as I hung up the phone.
Then I called my mom. Then I started googling to figure out how this was good news. Then I realized it would be best to talk to my surgeon about it.
This morning I saw my surgeon for the first time since the surgery and after having him explain the pathology report, asking some questions, reviewing the pathology report for myself and giving it all a little time to sink in, I think I finally understand it and can say - I HAVE GOOD NEWS!
What I failed to comprehend when both the nurse and the surgeon were explaining the report to me was they found cancer cells in the tissue they removed. For some reason I kept hearing that I still have cancer cells, not that the tissue they removed had cancer cells. Now that I am over that mental hurdle, I am feeling much more relieved about the news.
Basically, the tissue they removed from the breast (measuring about 4.4 cm) had no evidence of invasive carcinoma and the margins (the 2mm area around the tumor site) are negative. The lymph node they removed contained 0.1 mm of metastatic deposit which means no more than 200 cells. This means Stage 1 cancer. I started off with invasive carcinoma and positive lymph nodes which resulted in a diagnosis of Stage 2b breast cancer. I am told this is a huge improvement and shows chemo did its job.
My surgeon went on to explain that this is better results than he sees in many patients and there is a possibility that I am cancer free right now (YAY!). He also explained that since I am still so close to the end of chemotherapy that there is a likelihood that the chemo is still fighting whatever cancer cells might be left and had we waited a bit longer to do the surgery, I may have had completely clean results. He explained that in the past when the sentinel node still contained cancer cells they would go back and take out more lymph nodes but there have been significant studies which have shown there is no difference in recurrence between the women who had more lymph nodes removed and those who didn't. So I will go ahead and keep the rest of my lymph nodes.
I meet again with my radiation oncologist tomorrow to start planning the last stage of my treatment - radiation - which will be five days a week for six weeks starting in January when I return from Patagonia. In the mean time, I am starting to take Tamoxifin, the pill I will be taking for the next five years to block the estrogen receptors in my breasts. I also have a PET scan scheduled for December 19th and will have at least one or two more appointments with my radiation oncologist before I leave to get everything primed and ready to go to start radiation as soon as I am back. I feel reassured and comforted that I will be seeing my oncologist every three months and my surgeon every six months. I don't have a stamp of remission to brag about yet but I'm definitely starting to feel like chemo and surgery worked and I'm hoping for similar results with radiation.