|Mom holding her first grandchild, baby Audrey, in 2007.|
Read my mom's latest cancer post here.
Mom called me on Tuesday night. It wasn't a call I was expecting -- I didn't realize she had any appointments that day. Turns out, she didn't know her oncologist would want to meet with her then, either. Surprise for everyone.
"I just had an appointment with my oncologist, and I don't want you to freak out, but ... the cancer has spread to my bones."
No, no, no, no, no, no ...
Metastasis. That's a fancy word for a primary cancer transferring through the blood stream or lymphatic system and latching onto a new set of tissues. In my mom's case, the primary breast cancer transferred to the bones. The PET scan showed "suspicious" small lesions on her shoulder, spine, pelvis and hip, she said. Metastasis means an automatic upgrade to Stage IV as far as cancer staging goes. The oncologist will need a bone biopsy to confirm, but this is what it appears to be.
She also tested positive for HER2 protein overexpression, which basically means her cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread than normal. She said the oncologist also called the cancer estrogen-receptor-positive -- which means the hormone estrogen fuels its growth -- and she'll need to go on hormone-blockers to prevent it from spreading.
As we talked about this ominous development, I felt an odd sense of calm and peace. Odd because metastasis is news you NEVER, EVER want to hear with regards to cancer. It was definitely upsetting to me, but I did not experience the panic I felt when my mom initially told us of her diagnosis. I simply felt like this would mean a new path, albeit a more difficult one, for her. I believe this peace and sense of direction to be the comforting influence of the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, I believe his presence at this time is a direct result of others' prayers on our behalf.
Whenever I am faced with a trial, I feel less afraid and more empowered by taking in as much information as I can about it. It's how I fight my fears. So after I got off the phone with my mom, I started researching HER2+ cancer. I read a lot about how it can be treated through specific chemotherapies as well as hormone-blockers. I found it all very encouraging.
The next day, I had an appointment with my mom's surgeon for myself to discuss that lump I have on my ribcage. It's gotten bigger since I first found it and with all this cancer news, I decided to take action. Thanks to a friend who works at the office, the surgeon was able to see me about it on Wednesday.
As I was heading over there, Mom called me. Bless her soul, she told me she had been up crying and dry-heaving all night from worrying over this new information. She then said she'd called the surgeon's office manager and they'd worked it out so she could piggy-back on my appointment. I was more than OK with that, and actually relieved since I had Clara with me and knew she'd probably benefit from Grammy's presence.
My lump was examined and the doctor recommended I have it removed. It is probably a lymph node, but it's better not to guess with these things, especially since it has grown quite a bit. So I'll have it out in a few months, after Clara is weaned.
Then, it was Mom's turn. I listened quietly as she expressed her fears about the news of the bone metastases. She was crying and panicked, her face lined with genuine worry ... it broke my heart to see my mother in that state. It's one thing to be told you have breast cancer and be presented a pretty cut-and-dried plan about how to treat it. But to find out it's Stage IV and in the bones ... everything changes at that point.
The surgeon (whom my mom LOVES) was so sympathetic and even teared up at my mom's emotions. She explained that "mets" (short word for metastases, which is a real tongue-twister in my opinion), though they aren't good, aren't necessarily the end of the world, either. Especially "bony mets" as she called them. The cancer is NOT in any of my mom's vital organs. And the lesions must be very small because she has no bone pain, either. She went on to tell about patients of hers with the exact same diagnosis as my mom's, thriving decades later. She said there is no cure, but you can manage it as you would any other chronic illness. This visit really put my mom at ease and I was glad to be there with her for it.
After I got home, I researched more about these bony mets. They can be treated in a surprising number of ways. There are clinical studies about this very thing -- breast-to-bone metastasis. There are online support groups, members of which have had their mets for years, some for close to 20. I found all this information so encouraging, so I sent it to my mom, too.
One thing the surgeon recommended was that my mom take some time to do things for herself right now. I couldn't agree more. I am coming up with some things I could do for her or with her, but I appreciate suggestions, too. So please, send your ideas my way!
Every day brings new emotions and feelings about this experience. Anger, sadness, hope, relief, worry. It is a roller coaster, and not a fun one. I sometimes find myself breaking down at the thought of my wonderful parents having to endure such a huge trial in their lives. But a friend whose mother had cancer gave me some great advice this morning. She said, you can't worry about the future because that's too overwhelming. You can only allow yourself to worry as far as the next appointment or treatment and it's more manageable. I'm sure she's right. And she reminded me that faith and prayers will get me through. I KNOW that to be true and I have experienced the healing power of prayer already.
Thank you all for your prayers, thoughts, good vibes, hopes and well-wishes. It really is helping. I do believe it's all in God's hands, but I also believe we are ALL God's hands on earth and that we are here to lift each others' burdens.