Our very own Medical Advisor’s Wife- A Husband’s Journey Through Breast Cancer
November 23, 2021:
The phone buzzes as I reenter my treatment room at the cancer center. It’s my wife who I just left downstairs in the breast center. It’s 3 days before Thanksgiving and I’m about to have a relaxing 4 day weekend. I answer “Hey!” I can still feel the fear in her voice as she says, “they want you to come back down here.”
I am an occupational therapist, a lymphedema therapist, and an aspiring oncology rehab specialist. I am a medical advisor for Look, Learn, Love and I am a very rational person. So, when my wife tells me she feels pain in her right breast and she thinks there is a lump, my first intuition is blame it on a swollen lymph node related to her recent COVID booster. After all I’ve been hearing the physicians in tumor board discussing enlarged lymph nodes following the vaccine.
I walk back down to the breast center and am immediately brought back to the director of breast imaging’s office where my wife is waiting. “We found something on the ultrasound.” “We would like to perform a biopsy of the mass and the lymph node you see on the screen.”
My 36 year old wife is positive for the BRACA I gene mutation and has been followed as a high risk breast cancer patient for the past 3 years. This means she receives alternating mammograms and MRI’s every 6 months. Her previous MRI was in July. Just 5 short months ago. The MRI was completely clear.
There is no time to process this information as we are lead into another room where my wife is prepped for the ultrasound guided core biopsy. The director of the breast center prepares 3 syringes full of localized anesthetic to numb the areas around the mass and the lymph node. A small incision is then made over the area of the mass and a core biopsy instrument with a long needle is inserted. The needle entering the mass can be seen on the screen of the ultrasound machine. A clicking noise can be heard as the device removes a portion of the mass. This process is completed 3 times. A metal surgical clip is then placed within the mass to mark the area for future procedures and scans. The same process is completed to take a biopsy of the lymph node. The whole procedure takes 30 minutes. Steri-Strips are applied to close the wound over the mass and surgical glue is used to close the incision over the lymph node. There is very little pain noted during the procedure. She describes it more as deep pressure.
We are then taken to another room to have a mammogram. After the mammogram she is provided with an ice pack and a wide ACE bandage to provide compression over the area of the incisions in order to assist with healing, reduce bruising, and control swelling. With permission from the APRN I take my wife upstairs to my treatment room and fit her for a compression bra. The compression bra may be worn day and night to assist with the healing process. With the use of the ACE bandage and the compression bra my wife experiences very little pain, bruising, or edema over the next several days.
Note: There are many different brands of compression bras available. It is recommended that a trained professional fit these garments, especially following surgery. Ask your oncologist for a referral to a certified lymphedema therapist for proper fitting and to be followed for edema after surgery.
November 24, 2021:
We receive a call from the director of breast imaging and are given the news we both dread. “The results of your biopsy indicate breast cancer.” “It is the most common type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma insitu.” My wife asks what that means. I hate knowing what it means. The physician informs us that we should know the remaining tumor biology next week, which will determine the treatment plan. We will then meet with a surgical oncologist who will discuss the plan of care. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
Note: A very comprehensive article discussing tumor biology.
November 29, 2021:
“Triple negative.” Again not the news we want to hear. However, there is a silver lining. The lymph node is benign. Maybe we caught it quickly and there is no metastasis to other areas of her body? Other biology we learn about includes the KI 67 and the grade. These numbers are very high KI 67: 92% and the tumor is a grade 3. The tumor size is 2.3 cm. This is a very aggressive cancer. It explains why the tumor developed so quickly after a clear MRI 5 months earlier. All of these numbers will help her team of oncologists plan her treatment strategy. Information is good but also sobering. We will meet with the surgical oncologist on December 1st.