5: Diagnosis, Part 2

The initial biopsy results came back on a Tuesday afternoon. When I had talked to the radiologist, he had said that the breast clinic saw newly-diagnosed patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Within a day or so, I had an appointment to meet with the "multi-disciplinary team" the following Tuesday. 

Having worked around cancer diagnosis and therapy for quite a while, I knew that at this point, the presence or lack of distant metasteses was a game-changer. I contacted the oncologist and asked that if she was going to do imaging to look for mets, could I have the scans done sooner rather than later. She agreed, and that Friday, I had a nuclear medicine bone scan and a chest/abdomen/pelvis CT scan with contrast.

I had the advantage that I was able to walk over to the radiologist reading room and review the images with the radiologists as soon as the scans were over. This meant no waiting for the results. No distant mets showed up on either scan, which was very good news in the midst of a very difficult week. There were, however, several enlarged lymph nodes, all located in or around the left breast, suggestive of local mets. 

I waited for additional pathology to be performed on the biopsied tissues. Those results showed that the breast cancer I had was triple negative - HER2 negative, ER negative, and PR negative. Essentially, the tumor cells did not contain hormonal receptors. The downside to this is that hormonal treatments aren't effective. 

I did what everyone advises you not to do - I started looking up papers about triple negative breast cancer. I had to. I needed the information. I needed to know as much as I could about what was going on. I learned that triple negative breast cancer tends to be fairly aggressive, as are breast cancers in women under 40. Essentially, I learned that surviving this was not a given. However, I was much more focused on getting started with treatment - the sooner I started treatment, the sooner I would be finished with treatment, right? 

I knew perfectly well that all the statistics in the world were not going to tell me how all of this would play out. Even the most recent 5-year survival curves are based on data that are 5 years out of date, right? And population statistics are no indication of the probability that I, personally, would have a recurrence, be alive 2 years from now, or be alive 5 years from now. I wanted to know what would happen over the next few years, but all the data in the world wasn't going to tell me that.