The Feast of The Transfiguration took place on August 6, 2015 and that happened to be the first treatment day for Theresa. We went to the UA Cancer Center and she settled in for the treatment and on the road to recovery. There was a bit of uncertainty about the treatment, especially side effects of the drugs.
The filled her up with so many steroids, anti-nausea drugs and other things, it was hard to keep up with everything. Finally, they pushed the AC through the IV line and we were done.
The next day, we learned that AC can be quite nasty to the person receiving it. Theresa was sick to her stomach and didn’t want to eat. Over the course of the next 7 weeks, the AC treatments got progressively worse and Theresa would spend 2-4 days in bed. All the nurses assured us that Taxol would be much better.
The surgery to check the lymph nodes took place in July and it went well. Dr. Viscusi was able to remove several lymph nodes for pathology and her initial review was they appeared to be normal. Again, we entered into a waiting period.
The results of the pathology came back and they were negative, in a good way this time! Again, we had much hope that they had gotten the entire thing and Theresa was heading towards recovery.
We met with Dr. Livingston on July 16, 2015 at the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson. He spent time explaining the pathology report, explaining that we had good margins and explaining what the preferred treatment plan was.
The treatment plan was to have 4 cycles of Doxorubicin Hydrochloride (Adriamycin) and Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). These were to be given once every two weeks. After that cycle, there would be 12 cycles of Taxol. When the chemotherapy was over, there was to be 35 radiation cycles.
Due to the size of the cancer, it was staged as IIA. There were to be several blood tests, along with a heart test before treatment could begin. In addition to the tests, there was to be another surgery to check the lymph nodes for signs of cancer.
We left the appointment with much information and much hope that Theresa would be on the road to recovery soon.
The follow up appointment with Dr. Viscusi rolled around soon enough. We met with Dr. Viscusi at her office and she brought in the final pathology report. It turns out that the tumor was actually a breast cancer, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The hormone receptors were tested and they all were negative. Both Theresa and I thought this was a good thing. But we learned that triple-negative, in relation to breast cancer, was not a good thing.
We learned that some cancers feed on hormones in the breast and those can be treated with hormone inhibitors. The triple-negative doesn’t respond to any of those inhibitors. According to Dr. Viscusi, a diagnosis of breast cancer was actually a good thing, compared to the blue cell sarcoma from June. There were many tools available to fight it and she suggested Dr. Robert Livingston, the best breast cancer oncologist in Southern Arizona. An appointment was made for July 16th.
These were the words spoken by Dr. Viscusi when Theresa met with her. The pathology report was still inconclusive due to the sample size and was still saying the lump was not breast cancer. Due to this, Dr. Viscusi decided to remove the lump and margins around it, while not removing any lymph nodes that are normal in a lumpectomy.
This surgery took place while I was away. My diaconate class was singing Vespers when I received a text message that the surgery went good and the doctor was confident she had good margins around the tumor. This was sent off for further pathology and hopefully for a good understanding of what it was. I flew back to Tucson on June 27th. Theresa had a follow up appointment with Dr. Viscusi in early July and the pathology report was expected to be completed. Again, the waiting game began.
Due in large part to Theresa’s comments about not canceling my trip, I was set to leave on the evening of June 13. We had a meeting with our parish finance council that morning and we ended up telling the council members about the diagnosis.
Our parish priest, Fr. Rankin, gave Theresa the anointing of the sick and had these words to say: “Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you. Let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also, do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?”
These words, spoken to Juan Diego, by the Holy Theotokos under the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe, gave me some measure of comfort in leaving for two weeks.
With that, I was off to Pittsburgh and Theresa was off to see Dr. Viscusi.
I was set to leave for Pittsburgh for 2 weeks beginning on June 13th to begin schooling for the Byzantine Catholic Diaconate. There was a scheduled appointment with the OB/GYN to review the results of the biopsy. This appointment took place a few days before I left for Pittsburgh.
When the Doctor came in, he asked if Theresa had talked to anyone yet. When she said no, he said that the results he had were preliminary but that the lump appeared to be a sarcoma, not a breast cancer. He threw out a few things, including a blue cell sarcoma. The Doctor said that pathology was still trying to pin down what it was and that the final diagnosis might change. However, he was confident that is was cancer.
He suggested seeing a breast surgeon to perform a lumpectomy. He put forward a few names, one of which was Dr. Rebecca Viscusi. She was on our insurance and we decided to go with her.
We left the office and went to Manuel’s restaurant to get something to eat. Neither one of us said much, as the shock of hearing those words still hung in the air. Theresa finally said, “I don’t want you to cancel your Pittsburgh trip. I want you to go.” That was one of the hardest things to hear and I didn’t know if I was going to go or not.
With those six words, our life was about to take a detour from where we were going. Earlier that day, Theresa had volunteered at Ryan’s school for water play day. They put her on the waterslide which she had to hang on to the sides to not fall down.
She came home tired and sore from all the bouncing. While taking a shower, she felt something in the left breast. That’s when she came out to the living room and uttered those six words…I Think I Found a Lump.
She had an appointment with her primary care doctor later in the month and wondered if she should wait until then. We decided that it would be best to not wait and get into the doctor.
They got her in to see the OB/GYN pretty quickly and he sent her for a scan. That’s when the lump was confirmed and they sent her over for a biopsy and the waiting game began.