In October of 2012 Heidi went in for her annual routine mammogram. After awhile we got a phone call saying that she would need to come in for another mammogram because they found something suspicious in the images. This had happened before as her breast tissue had been classified as being dense so we were not overly concerned at this point.
After her second mammogram they told us that they wanted to see her in six months as there was definitely something they wanted to monitor. In the past she had undergone two lumpectomies for cysts that were both benign, so still we were not overly concerned at this point.
Prior to her six month follow up, in February of 2013, Heidi noticed a lump in her left breast. We waited until the six month follow up because we believed they would be able to tell us more then. When she went in for her follow up they said they were only going to take an image of her right breast. She told them she felt a lump in her left breast but they told her “…it’s not what you feel, it’s what the mammogram shows.” She argued with them until they relented and took mammograms of both breasts. The results concurred with what Heidi had said; there was a mass in her left breast.
She was then scheduled for an ultrasound to get a better idea of what the mass was in her left breast. The image was bothersome enough that they scheduled her for a biopsy. After the biopsy we were given an appointment to see a Dr. Schwartz who had done her last lumpectomy.
In August of 2013 we went in to see Dr. Schwartz and he gave us the bad news, Heidi had breast cancer in her left breast. He discussed options and various procedures she could choose. He told us that if she chose for a mastectomy and reconstruction that he would have to refer her to another doctor in Roseville as there were no plastic surgeons locally who would work together with surgeons for this procedure. We decided to go to see a doctor in Roseville and were referred to a Dr. Jay Owens at Sutter Roseville.
Our first appointment with Dr. Owens was just an informal sit down to discuss her cancer and the options available to us. Heidi chose to have a lumpectomy and a date was set up for her surgery.
From day one Heidi had begun researching breast cancer, reading everything she could on the matter. Along with that friends and co-workers had been offering her advice as to what was in her best interests in regards to the mode of treatment she should undergo. During this time she became very depressed and stressed out because she was not sure what she should do. We discussed this at length and through her own prayers came to the decision to have both breasts removed. The fact that she had a history of cysts played a big part in her decision as she was simply tired of having to go in for these procedures, therefore she opted to have her breasts removed to put an end to them once and for all.
Having made her decision we had to notify Dr. Owens that she had changed her mind. So we set up an appointment with him and told him of her decision. He was considerate and understood her conflicting emotions and said we would need to choose a plastic surgeon to do the reconstruction process for her surgery.
Finding a plastic surgeon was not easy. All the doctors who were listed in our insurance companies handbook of providers who were contracted with Blue Shield told us they did not accept our insurance. So we called Dr. Owens office and told his assistant and she said she would help in finding a plastic surgeon. Finally, a Dr. Lim was located who accepted our insurance and a date was set; September 23 2013.
All the while this was going on Heidi had numerous appointments. She had to go in for lab work, she had to undergo another ultrasound to get an idea of the cancer had spread into her lymph nodes, which according to the scan had not. It seemed we were spending more time in doctor’s offices than we were at work and at home.
On the day of the surgery we checked in to the hospital in Sacramento early in the morning. They set her up on an IV and prepped her for surgery. She appeared calm and relaxed while inside I was scared shitless. I tried putting on a brave face for her sake, but I was scared to death that they would wheel her into the operating room and I would never see her again.
Once they took her into the OR her part in this would go by in seconds as she would go to sleep, then wake up when the surgery was over. For me it was an eternity sitting in the waiting room with my mind imagining all the things that might possibly go wrong. It was an enormous relief when after 5 hours Dr. Owens came out and told me that she was almost done, that the cancer had not spread, and that she was doing okay. It was still another hour before Dr. Lim came out and told me that she was doing okay and that I could see her soon.
When they finally wheeled her out of the operating room and took her to her room for the night I couldn’t believe how frail she looked lying there in that bed. I was so thankful that she had come through the operation without any complications, but still, I was frightened at how tiny and weak she seemed at that moment in time.
Eventually the anesthesia began to wear off and she started to wake up. She asked when were they gonna do the surgery, and I laughed because she didn’t realize it was almost 12 hours since we had last spoken to each other. I told her what Dr. Owens and Dr. Lim had told me and fed her ice chips to quench her thirst. Thankfully her two nurses on the night shift were Filipina and they helped a lot by keeping her cheerful. Still, it was difficult when she had to get up and use the restroom. I was concerned as to how I could handle her by myself when she was released from the hospital. The next day Heidi was released from the hospital and we came home to begin the second chapter of her battle with cancer; reconstruction and recovery.
Prior to her surgery we had gone to see a nurse who specialized in helping breast cancer patients. She explained to us some of the problems we would face after the surgery and she told us about the drains that would have to be checked and emptied three times a day.
From the first day of her surgery I had scheduled myself for vacation to be with Heidi and help her as she recovered. Most of my time was spent helping her get up to go to the bathroom, checking her drains, bathing her, and preparing food for her to eat.
Each week after her release from the hospital we had to go down to Sacramento to see Dr. Lim. Her first visit was to check her drains and see how she was recovering. But the next visit they took out the drains and began the process of expanding her implants.
From the way it was explained to us when they do a mastectomy with reconstruction they have to put the implants UNDER the muscles of the chest wall. They said the implants are too heavy to be supported only by the remaining skin and need the support of the muscles to hold them in place. Therefore they insert temporary expanders under the muscles and gradually inject saline solution into them to get the chest muscles accustomed to being stretched out. So each week we would drive down and have 100 cc’s of saline solution injected into her expanders and then she would go through the painful process of getting used to her chest muscles being s t r e t c h e d out to make room for the permanent implants.
From the moment Heidi could get up and move around on her own she spent hours online researching implants, and everything she could about breast cancer. Dr. Owens had told me post op that Heidi’s cancer was an aggressive cancer, but it had not spread into the lymph nodes. This was confirmed by the biopsy sent to us a couple weeks after the surgery. Still they had mentioned that she would need to see another oncologist, one who specializes in chemo and radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer.
I have never been a big fan of the cancer industry, and I call it that because in my opinion they do not want to see an end to cancer, only in the perpetuating of an industry that makes millions off the treatment of the disease. The complete prevention of cancer would mean the end of millions of dollars of profit for all those involved in the treatment of a disease which I believe is preventable.
Through her research Heidi came to the same conclusion, that to take chemo when they said they got all the cancer out of her body would be stupid. Why make herself sicker when she needed her strength to recover when the doctors could not guarantee that she would never get cancer again? If they could promise that the treatments would eliminate any chance of her ever having cancer again, then maybe we would agree to it, but otherwise she decided that she would treat herself alternatively. Her view was that we all die, and she would rather enjoy life and treat herself, trusting in God, than to make herself sick by taking chemo, and still run the risk of getting cancer later in life.
So here we are, 3 months after her surgery and she is recovering well. She is still sore but she is a fighter and will push through it. She is lifting weights and regaining her strength and will return to work tomorrow.
We will get through this. God saved my life twice; once in high school when I almost drowned and another time in a car accident that should have killed me. I believe He did that so that I could meet Heidi. I believe He will sustain her as her faith is much stronger than mine and has brought her through some tough times in her life.
Whatever happens, I will continue to post updates as our battle over this disease continues. I will share things we have learned that help, and those which do not. But for the moment we are together again and I am so proud of her and how quickly she has become the Heidi that I knew before we were given the bad news just months ago.