Becoming a Mama - Part 5
I was so nervous as I sat in the waiting room at the breast care center. They called me back and I had a consultation and exam with a medical resident and the surgical oncologist (who is also the director of the breast care center). Neither of them could give me an explanation for my symptoms, and both agreed that while IBC would be extremely unlikely because it is so rare, they couldn't rule it out. I was led down the hall to a separate waiting room so that they could squeeze me in to have a breast tissue ultrasound done. Because I was pregnant, a mammogram wasn’t considered safe, though that would have been the normal course of action.
I had researched enough to know that they would want to rule out an infection before doing a biopsy. In fact, inflammatory breast cancer is often misdiagnosed as mastitis because the symptoms can present in such a similar fashion.
The radiologist explained that I had significant skin thickening on one breast as she showed me the ultrasound images on the screen. She said, “I think this is mastitis”. Mastitis usually occurs in women who are breastfeeding, so that seemed odd to me. I also had never had a fever, which is a hallmark sign of infection. The surgical oncologist agreed that it was odd, but we needed to rule out infection before doing anything else. She put me on a course of antibiotics and scheduled me for a follow-up appointment in one week.
The week crawled by, as I took my antibiotics each day, tried to manage my anxiety, and prayed that I would see a difference. I didn’t. Back to the breast care center I went, and I knew I would probably be having a skin punch biopsy.
At this second appointment, I was led back into a sterile operating room. Thanks to a local anesthesia, I could only feel some slight pressure while the doctors performed the biopsy. A skin punch biopsy is a procedure that uses a circular blade to push down through the layers of the skin (it reminded me of a straw) so that the surgeon can obtain a full sample of full-thickness skin. Once it was over, I was bandaged up, given instructions to care for the wound at the biopsy site, and I was told we would have the results in 4-7 days. They booked an appointment for me to return for a follow-up in one week – the following Tuesday.
Our team was prepping for Kyndal and Isaac’s wedding in Mt. Airy, NC that weekend and Jarrod was headed out of town for work. On Thursday afternoon, as a big snowstorm was bearing down on us, and Betsy, Nicole and I had to make the decision to pack everything up and head out to Mt. Airy two days early to live/work out of a hotel. We knew it was just too risky to wait and try to make the 45-minute trip in the snow. Boy oh boy – did that end up being a good decision because the weather was a mess!
I tried to put on my bravest face as we packed everything up and headed out of town, but I knew that we might receive the biopsy results while Jarrod and I were both traveling. Just even the thought of getting a phone call to learn bad news while I was alone in a hotel room or at a the wedding was almost too much to bear. I emailed the doctor and asked her to please wait to tell us the results in person when we returned to her office that following Tuesday to have my stitches removed, discuss the results, and/or determine next steps.
That Friday and Saturday, I focused on our amazing clients and their special wedding day. It was the best kind of distraction. The snowstorm made our jobs very hard, and we encountered a lot of challenges… but that made the work all that much more important. Betsy and Nicole sent me back to the hotel once the wedding reception was underway so that I could rest and go to bed. I’m not sure what made me think to log in to the online medial portal, but I did so and found an email from the surgical oncologist. Her email brought tears to my eyes immediately. “The results do not show cancer”. It was almost midnight when I saw the email, but I called Jarrod and woke him up to tell him the news. We were both so grateful she had emailed instead of letting us wait until Tuesday's appointment. In my entire life, I don’t think I had ever felt such a sense of relief. In that instant – all of the other hardships (the uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms, the gestational hypertension worries, and the Down syndrome diagnosis) were suddenly put into a crystal clear perspective. I did not have this deadly breast cancer. I was not going to die. My little girl would have a mother. Everything else would be just fine.
In the end, we still don’t know exactly what was going on. My doctors have chalked this all up to “hormones do weird things to your body during pregnancy”. The large, red/swollen area on my breast that scared the daylights out of us for seven full weeks mysteriously went away and has never returned.
In all of my Google searching during that scary period of waiting, I couldn’t find any similar stories. If you’ve found these blog posts because you’re also searching for information and you’re scared that you might have inflammatory breast cancer – know this: there are other explanations. It’s okay to be scared, but it’s not okay to let Internet research guide your every thought. I worked myself up into a terrified frenzy and my worry was all-consuming. Go to the doctor, and don't delay. Push for answers and be vigilant about your health, but know that your worry is best used if it incentivizes action. Otherwise, it will just break your spirit. I remember feeling especially worried at that first appointment because I thought the doctors would think I was a Google-obsessed hypochondriac who was blowing things out of proportion. Instead, I encountered genuinely caring and concerned people who reassured me that my fears weren't silly, and that while I was probably going to be okay - I was right to be vigilant and take it all seriously. The stakes were much too high to have ignored it or wasted any time.
Earlier that month we also had a fetal echocardiogram. Since many babies born with Down syndrome are born with holes in their hearts, we needed that additional screening to see if our daughter would need special treatments or surgeries after birth. Praise the Lord... the echo showed that her heart was in great condition.
Things were looking up and we spent the next few months continuing to prepare for our daughter's arrival. Our friends and family threw us beautiful baby showers in Shreveport, Louisiana (Jarrod's hometown) and here in Winston-Salem as well. My doctor's appointments and ultrasounds went smoothly and my gestational hypertension remained under control.
In mid-April, at an ultrasound appointment, the doctor told me that it was time. I was 37 weeks pregnant and now that the baby was considered nearly full-term, it was time to remove the risk associated with gestational hypertension from the equation, since it was possible that I could develop pre-eclampsia. She told Jarrod and I that we should expect to discuss a plan for induction at our next regular pre-natal appointment a few days later. And that's when things got REALLY exciting!
To be continued and finished on Friday!