Ah, breast cancer. Just when you think you have it beat, it sneaks back up on you in the form of metastatic breast cancer or MBC. It’s the surprise that no one wants, and it rarely actually involved the breast, like the name would imply. Instead it refers to a recurrence of the initial diagnosis that has spread to other parts of the body.
For me, my initial triple positive breast cancer has spread to my brain, liver, and bones. While brain and liver mets are no picnic, bone cancer is a constant struggle. Constant infusions and treatments to support the body’s natural bone building process, while at the same time the bones are slowly being eaten away by the cancer.
Something Abnormal in the PET scan:
Back in December 2020 I was scheduled for both an MRI and PET scan to determine how well my cancers had responded to treatments thus far. While the overall news was good, all existing tumors had shrunk and there was no evidence of new growth, something abnormal “lit up” on the PET scan in my left hip. I was immediately scheduled for an MRI of the area to determine if it was a fracture or something else.
While we waited for the MRI to be scheduled, I was referred to an orthopedic oncologist. My husband and I were under the impression that this appointment was to assess the damage to my C4 and C5 vertebrae in my spine.
The Good News:
We arrived at the spine and joint institute, unsure of what exactly to expect. Turns out our impressions were incorrect and this orthopedic oncologist focused only on bones and not the spine. That had us a bit confused as the spine is bone, but that’s a topic for another day.
He had the results from my MRI but wanted to do a few x-rays of the area to be 100% sure of what he was looking at. The x-rays confirmed that there was in fact cancer in the ball and thigh bone of my left hip. But he also noted the appearance of new bone growth over the cancer area. I was not experiencing any pains in my left hip, or any other areas of bone for that matter, so he was not overly concerned. The plan moving forward was that we would not need to see him again unless I started to develop pains from the bone cancer. He would also refer us to a specialist to assess my spine and see what could possibly be done to fix the area so I could be freed, once and for all, from the collars that I have had to wear since my diagnosis in July 2020. We left that appointment feeling pretty good, as we had finally got a bit of good news for a change.
The Bad News:
After two hours spent in the car, and even more time in the doctors office, I was ready to curl up with my fuzzy blanket and rest on the couch. Although I was tired, I was happy to finally have a bit of good news in relation to my bone cancer. But that feeling was short lived.
We arrived home to a message on the answering machine from the doctor that the orthopedic oncologist had referred us to. One phone call later, and needless to say it wasn’t long before the happiness bubble was popped. The damage to my C4 and C5 was highly concerning and he wanted to enlist the help of a neurosurgeon. A second call later that evening advised us that we would hear from the neurosurgeon the next day before 5PM. Fear and anxiety took hold of me a sleep was a bit fleeting that night as I didn’t know what to expect the following day.
You Want to do What???
Instead of a traditional phone call, we were scheduled for a zoom meeting with the Director of Neurosurgical Oncology. Basing his diagnosis on the latest spinal scans which were from September 2020, he was highly concerned and recommended surgery be done as soon as possible. The condition of my C4 and C5 was putting my spinal cord in danger, and me the risk of possible paralysis.
As we discussed what the surgery would entail I felt my anxiety going through the roof. The procedure would involve a one to one and a half inch incision in the front of my neck, cutting of the muscle in that area, and moving everything else off to the side in order to bring the spine into view. The damaged and broken bones would then be removed, and replaced with a titanium cage. I would then be flipped upside down, and a second incision done from the back to put in a plate. A four to 6 day hospital stay would be in order post op, and I would have to spend two weeks in a hard collar to ensure everything healed properly. There would be large amounts of pain, and this would not, in any way, be an easy surgery, but it would need to be done in order to prevent me from either ending up in a wheelchair or worse, paralyzed.
Since his diagnosis was based on old scans, our first step would be an updated set of scans to determine the current status of my spine. That at least would buy me a little bit of time before I’d have to make the decision on whether or not I would choose to have the surgery done. An MRI and CT scan would be scheduled, and we would have a second Zoom meeting with the neurosurgeon once he had the results.
Scans were scheduled for January 6th 2021, and our followup with the neurosurgeon was set for that Friday. There was both good news and bad news to be had on that Friday. The good was that my bones were in better health than they were back in September. Holes seen on the previous scans had filled in, which was good. The bad was that even with the collars, my spine had collapsed further. Surgery would be needed, sooner rather than later, as the longer we waited the more the area could collapse and put me at risk of being wheelchair bound, or worse paralyzed.
Surgery is Scheduled:
Although I have been through my fair share of surgeries, making the decision on this one has been by far the hardest I have ever had to make. My logical brain knew I had no choice, that I had to move forward, while my emotional side was scared to death. It would have just be easier if I didn’t have this issue to begin with, but instead I found myself having to decide on a six hour, possibly more, surgery, with a hospital stay, two weeks in a collar, and a butt ton of pain. Today my husband made the call telling them I will be moving forward, and surgery has been scheduled for January 26th.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, heck, it’s quite the opposite. But I’m trying to do my best to keep my nerves in check and putting my faith in God that all will turn out OK. I have a few pre-op appointments this Friday, and I will also need to get another COVID test done, then after that it’s just a waiting game until surgery day. I’ll just be happy when this is all over and I’m on the mend with this surgery behind me.
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