Cancer Chronicle

On December 2, 2022, I was 69 years, 9 months, and some 20 days old when everything about me changed. During a routine mammogram, a cancer was discovered in my left breast and soon diagnosed as Triple Negative Breast Cancer, stage 2b. It was 3.5 cm long but hadn't gone anywhere else and didn't involve my lymph nodes. The doctor asked, "Have you ever heard of Triple Negative Breast Cancer," and I shook my head and said, "Well, at least you caught it early." His expression was among the most fearful moments of my life.

But I'm alive as of September 2023 and still undergoing treatment. I have several things going for me for which I am clutching an attitude of gratitude to my alien chest:
  1. An impossibly tender and supportive spouse
  2. A circle of close friends and relatives
  3. No dependent children or parents
  4. I live a mile and a half from the University Cancer Center
  5. I have no other serious health issues complicating things
  6. I'm on Medicare which covers most if not all of the immense cost ($36,000 for a single infusion!)
  7. The majority of my doctors are female, I can't tell you how much I appreciate that
  8. The type of cancer I have is treatable, and I can stand the treatments
  9. I'm retired and so is Ed, so we have no other occupation than cancer. Lucky us!


It was a mammogram on December 2. I had one in 2020, but not in 2021, because I'd had false negatives every time that scared me, and I thought I would minimize the upset. I'd read where false positives were not good outcomes and I knew that was that true for me. I'm not sure it matters, actually—the kind of cancer I have is fast-moving, so it may be that a late year 2021 mammogram wouldn't have found it. Too late to worry about it now.

Anyway, I went into the breast imaging department at the university. I probably walked there, but I have no memory of that. I took off my top, put on the lovely burgundy robe, and put my clothes away in the locker—then I noticed that I had chosen locker 13. I am a pessimist and have false premonitions of disaster every time I fly or even make a long journey by car, so using locker 13 was just funny. But it turned out the PA who was conducting the mammograms saw something.

Let me just say—mammograms are painful at any time. They squish your boob between two plates, and I always think dark thoughts about it why they have to be so damn painful, but nonetheless. The PA was concerned, so she took pictures and asked me to sit in the waiting room for a few minutes to see if the doctor wanted to speak to me. My mind was a blank. I remember I looked at the other women in the room and none of us looked happy. After a few minutes, the PA came back and got me, and a doctor, a man in his 40s, but I can't remember much about him, told me the preliminary findings.

  • An irregular mass in the left breast is highly suggestive of malignancy. Biopsy should be considered. BI-RADS Category 5: Highly suggestive of malignancy.
  • Finding 1: There is an isodense, irregular mass measuring 32 mm with indistinct margins and associated coarse heterogeneous calcifications in the left breast at 12 o'clock located 3 centimeters from the nipple.
  • Finding 2: There are scattered stable isodense, oval masses with circumscribed margins in the right breast. These findings are most consistent with multiple lymph nodes.

That's when the doctor said to me, Have you heard of Triple Negative Breast Cancer? and the expression on his face when I suggested it was early told me I was definitely in trouble.

On Wednesday, December 7, I had a needle biopsy (they used a needle to take a snippet or rather several snippets of the tumor while I watched, or perhaps turned my head and hummed something comforting. Not the Star Spangled Banner). That day I finally had the nerve to tell S&K about it (tactfully, I waited until after Steve's birthday). A Brazilian doctor from Sao Paolo conducted the biopsy, and the other medico in the room was a PA or doctor named Jessica, who was teaching an intern. Eye contact was comfortable with no one. The new result appeared in MyChart on the 8th, and it said the cysts in the right breast were benign and there appeared to be nothing in my lymph nodes in the left armpit. But.

Biopsy Results

Breast, left, 12:00 3 cm from nipple, needle biopsy
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma, Grade 3 by ESBR criteria (tub 3 + nuc 3 + mit 2 = 8/9), 0.9 cm in linear extent, with associated giant cell reaction, calcification and prominent desmoplasia
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ, high nuclear grade, solid type, with comedo necrosis

So, that means that there is ductal carcinoma, meaning it started in the milk ducts but is confined to the left breast. They didn't find anything in the right breast to be concerned about, nor any affected lymph nodes in my left armpit. We—I almost wrote I, but Ed was with me full bore on this—we were to meet the breast surgeon Dr. Sugg the following Tuesday afternoon at 2:30, when she would talk to us about whether we want a full mastectomy or a lumpectomy. Can we do none? It is Breast Cancer Stage 1 or 2. However, what I read later tells me I think she meant 2-3 given the size. It is thoroughly treatable, and my relief is heavily larded down with concern over what might be in the pathology report and the miracle that we—or I, but we too—will survive for the foreseeable future. But I feel fine! Oh well, something's gotta kill me, it might as well be something new to learn about.

At the end of the day I got that finding, I looked over, and the geranium was blooming; the geranium we took off the porch two months ago and ignored was blooming. Amazing.
Geranium Flowering

Next: CC What is Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Created by KKris. Last Modification: Saturday 09 of September, 2023 09:04:32 EDT by KKris.