November 9: I wake up with a stitch on my right side. I figure that I had either pulled a muscle doing abdominal exercises or was coming down with something. I take the day off work.
The week of November 12: The pain has intensified a little and I am plagued by the 'gut-rats' (an expression I coined during my pregnancies to describe the intestinal discomfort I felt). I take a pregnancy test (negative, thank gawd). Towards the end of that week, I call to make an appointment with my family doctor.
November 18: It occurs to me that I might be showing symptoms of Celiac's disease (an auto-immune disease that causes an inability to digest Gluten). My sister has it and it tends to run in families. I groan and cross my fingers. Celiac's would be a pain.
November 19: Returning from a walk with my son, I have an attack of the most intense abdominal pains I have experienced since giving birth. It occurs to me that I might have something more serious than Celiac's with which to contend. I notice for the first time that my waist seems to have disappeared and the area on my right side between my waistband and ribcage is hard and swollen.
November 21: My GP examines me. When she asks me to take a deep breath, I yelp in pain. Obviously distressed, she tells me that my liver is very enlarged. She says, "I'm sorry. I know that's not what you wanted to hear." That's an understatement. In the last few days, I have learned that when breast cancer metastasizes (spreads to areas of the body other than the breast or nearby lymph nodes) it most often goes to the bones, chest, brain, lungs or liver. My GP calls the nurse who works with my medical oncologist and urges them to schedule an ultra-sound as soon as possible. I go from the appointment and then get my hair cut and dyed red in defiance.
November 22: I have a previously-scheduled appointment with my medical oncologist, although I end up seeing the GP who works with him. It is clear that she, too, is very worried. She orders bloodwork and says that they will get me in for an ultrasound before the end of the week. She does say that other conditions can cause a painful swelling of the liver and that they will test for those things as well. As we are leaving, my spouse and I agree that, "when you are hoping to test positive for hepatitis, life has become very weird."
November 23: The blood test results are in. My liver functions are elevated. Everything else is fine. I am scheduled for an ultrasound later that day.
November 24: I have a late-afternoon appointment with the oncologist. We wait a long time. My knees buckle when the nurse comes for me. I know that I am about to hear bad news. My oncologist enters, grim-faced. He is compassionate but doesn't sugar-coat things. I like him. He tells me that I have more tumours on my liver "than they could count." He tells me that from now on, we will not be talking about curing me but extending my life and making me as comfortable as possible. The first thing I remember saying is, "I have two beautiful children!" and "I'm only 39 years old" - as though these things should exempt me.
My oncologist was wonderful, clear and, as I said before, very compassionate. I finally screwed up the courage to ask, "How long do I have? Weeks....?" "I'm better than that," he replied (I really loved that answer). Then he said, "Years. Not decades."
So I start chemo, along with Herceptin tomorrow. My heart has still not recovered as much as my oncologist would like from the chemo but, as you can tell by the timeline above, my cancer is agressive and fast-moving. We need to act now.
The good news is that the new chemo drug I'll be taking is less hard on the body and less likely to cause nausea and hair loss. I may also be able to avoid taking the steroids that I hated almost as much as the chemo.
I am, all things considered, in fairly good shape emotionally (and not just because I am full of morphine). I have lots going for me and I intend to revel in the good things, especially my wonderful community of family and friends.
Don't get me wrong. I am really, really pissed off. And I'm sure that the real emotional fallout is yet to come. But, for now, I'm OK.
And I intend to keep blogging. My posts of the last few days have been terse, and not just for lack of NaBloPoMo inspiration. I needed to have answers before dropping hints and then I needed some time to absorb. I've missed being able to blog through my feelings and experiences. My blog will have very different content than I would have hoped in the coming months (and my blook a very different ending). But so it goes.