I was a little bit worried that maybe Jess would be too scared to have the lump examined for fear of receiving some bad news, but the very next day we paid an optimistic visit to the doctor's office and, while they did agree that it was probably nothing (given that Jess is only 35 years old), they also advised us that we should nevertheless have an ultrasound done, just in case.
If for no other reason than for simple peace of mind, on the following day we went to an imaging center so that they could do the ultrasound. We fully expected them to turn their not-so-fancy looking machine on, tell us about the cyst they discovered, and send us on our way -- but that's not the way it went down.
During the US, Suzanne (the US technician) called for Dr. Gill (the radiologist) to come down into the US room. She didn't say why, and it was at this point when the panic began to set in. What was so significant about a cyst that warranted the immediate opinion of a medical doctor? Furthermore, what could they possibly know from a black-and-white image of a distorted blob? Why even call Dr. Gill down here in the first place? As awesome a person as Suzanne is, what was she thinking?!
"Don't panic," said both Suzanne and Dr. Gill... as we both sat there in a panicked state.
After a few moments of (not) panicking, I asked Dr. Gill, "Please be honest with us: is it-- you know...? Is it?" I couldn't even manage to say the word at first.
"I would say -- based on the image I'm seeing right now -- there's probably a 50 percent chance that it's cancer," the doctor replied. "... 50 to 60 percent chance."
She had to throw in the extra ten percent. Don't get me wrong: literally everyone with whom we've interacted throughout the course of this journey has been nothing short of amazing. Suzanne is amazing; she is so reassuring, so optimistic, and so sweet. Dr. Gill is amazing; she is so honest, so patient, and she went above and beyond when it came down to answering our questions.
Back to the whole cyst-that-looks-like-cancer thing. Before we could know any additional information, we were told that a mammogram followed by two biopsies would need to be performed: one would be performed on the shadowy mass of mystery itself and the other would be performed on one of Jessica's lymph nodes, presumably just to confirm that it was equally as non-threatening as the mass was. According to Suzanne, "Tuesdays and Thursdays are boob days," which meant the earliest we could have those tests performed was on the following Tuesday.
June 27, 2017. We returned to the imaging center so that Dr. Gill could perform the mammogram and the biopsies, looking forward to finally being able to put our initial concerns to an end. I caught her on her way out, after the tests were complete, and once again she was extremely patient and helpful in answering all the questions I continued to throw at her. Ultimately, the biopsy would be the only way to know for sure whether or not a real problem existed, and for that we just had to wait until the results came in.
After a few days had passed, the suspense was becoming too much so we spoke with Dr. Gill to see if she had heard anything. And she had. And there was a problem. Jessica had breast cancer.
The first thing we did was some research to find out what comes next. After being highly recommended by four totally separate and unrelated people, we decided to make an appointment with Dr. Senofsky (a surgical oncologist), with whom we were able to meet in a few days.
At our appointment he wasted no time in running additional tests needed before surgery could take place, telling us what our options were based on those test results, giving us a good idea of what to expect based on those results, setting us up with an appointment to see Dr. Ashjian (a reconstructive surgeon), and assuring us that his staff would handle everything from that point forward -- from future appointments to making sure we were on track to insurance pre-authorizations to whatever else would be necessary to get the cancer out of Jessica's body.
The options were pretty straight-forward: she was not a candidate for a lumpectomy, so at minimum she would require a radical mastectomy. Further, based on a number of other criteria including family history, DNA tests, tumor size, etc, it would be in her best interest to undergo a bilateral mastectomy which is exactly what we were hoping he would say.
Dr. Senofsky and Dr. Ashjian, along with their respective teams, are both (unsurprisingly) completely amazing. So knowledgable, so straight-forward, and so on top of their game.
Flash forward to a month after the whole thing started and by God's grace, Jessica is now at home after undergoing her mastectomy surgery which took place at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. (Incidentally, each member of the hospital's staff that tended to Jessica in any way at all is equally as amazing as everyone else up until this point. In case there were any doubts.)
Dr. Senofsky told us from the start that chemo therapy would be the next step after the surgery, and we're fine with that; it may not be fun, but it could be a lot worse. He also told us that radiation therapy might be required, depending on what he found during the surgery with regard to her sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Additionally, Dr. Ashjian told us that if radiation were to end up being a requirement then reconstruction would be a significantly more complicated process. Unfortunately, during her surgery Dr. Senofsky discovered that the cancer had in fact travelled to the sentinel lymph node and as a result he removed seven lymph nodes in total.
The number of offers we've received to help out during these less-than-ideal times is something we're both beyond grateful for, and to each offer the response is always the same. Even though the battle is far from over, we'll get through it one way or another but what we could use the most help with at this point in time is the ability to pay for the medical bills that have been and will be incurred for the treatment that Jessica requires, as well as the regular bills which have begun and will continue to accrue as we make her full recovery our top priority.
We don't know if we'll ever be able to express the amount of gratitude that we both feel toward each and every person who has even done so much as to simply keep us in their thoughts and prayers, but please know that it is abundant and that we could not be more appreciative.
Thank you all so much.
- Duane Grobe
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