Fairbanks Cancer Center

A breast cancer diagnosis is a downer—no question about that! I think the doctor who had to give me the news that my biopsy was positive was expecting—well—hysteria? Horror at mutilation? Panic at the C-word?

I’ve lived with diabetes for more than 40 years. Of course I was unhappy at the diagnosis, but the prospect of losing a breast worried me far less than the prospect of losing my vision or legs, and I’d lived with both for years. As for fear of cancer, I was already aware that breast cancer, caught early, is one of the most treatable of cancers. And mine was caught early.

Yes, I was worried—I am still worried—about the possibility of recurrence, of metastasis. (I have a mammogram and a follow-up visit with the oncologist a week from now.) But the lump in my breast was caught early, in a regular visit to my doctor’s office. (As a diabetic on an insulin pump, Medicare requires that I see my doctor every three months.) After my doctor found the lump I had what would have been my annual mammogram a couple of months early. The mammogram led to a biopsy, which was positive. Surgery was indicated. (Not that I didn’t wish Roi’s Healing ability was real.)

Because my cancer had been caught early, I had a choice of mastectomy (removal of the affected breast) or lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. Being lopsided didn’t bother me, but the possibility of surgery affecting the diabetes did. I chose right through to go for the options that might take longer, but would have minimal impact on the diabetes. For surgery, that meant a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy.

I expected to be miserable after the surgery, but compared to a knee replacement a couple of years earlier it was a breeze. I don’t think I even used the pain prescriptions after the first day or two. I did have a drain, and that was the major annoyance connected with the surgery. I needed to raise my basal insulin for a few days, but aside from that my insulin pump kept my diabetes under control very nicely.

I think my main problem came from the fact that I had two oncologists, one for the radiation therapy and the other for chemotherapy, and they weren’t communicating very well. There was some question as to whether or not I needed chemotherapy, the genetic makeup of my tumor, and which should go first. They finally got it sorted out that chemotherapy should come first.

One thing I should say at this point. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital added a cancer center not too long before I was diagnosed. Before that, I would have needed to go to Anchorage, 350 miles of mountain roads away, for either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As it was, my therapy was within driving distance of my home.

I’ll get into the post-operative therapy next week. For now, I’ll just say that the diagnosis really woke me up to my own mortality. It was the final push that determined me to go ahead with assisted self-publication for Homecoming. Maybe if I had really kept at it I could have found an agent or a publisher. Certainly the book has garnered some fine reviews and is currently a finalist in one contest. But the cancer diagnosis was the final push.

A few breast cancer links:
Breast Cancer Organization
National Institute of Health
Susan G. Koman Foundation
National Cancer Institute
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska
Fairbanks Cancer center