One thing I’ve learned over these past several weeks is that every cancer is different. Another is that figuring out the pathology of a cancer isn’t a one-test (or even one-day or one-week) affair. Getting that full picture takes multiple tests and reports, which can take weeks, or even longer—depending on what else your doctors want to know about your cancer to determine how to treat it.
There’s a great publication on breastcancer.org called Your Guide to the Breast Cancer Pathology Report, which explains the whole process and how to read these reports. And if you’re really lucky, like I am, your surgeon and oncologist will explain them very thoroughly.
And one of them might even take your notepad right out of your hands and start writing notes for you. What the hell?
Ok … that was actually a good idea.
The first test results that rolled in the day after my biopsies showed that both of my tumors were definitely cancerous, specifically infiltrating (or invasive) ductal carcinoma, and that they were low grade (Grade 1, or slow moving).
Five days later when I met with my surgeon, I learned about the tumors’ hormone receptor status, which, in the most simple of terms, tells you about the “switches” of a tumor. What are its biggest turn-ons? What are its biggest turn-offs?
The good news was that both of my tumors tested high positive for progesterone and estrogen and negative for HER2/neu. It’s good news because there is quite an arsenal of weapons to fight these types of tumors, including Tamoxifen, a drug that in effect blocks those hormone receptors. And even when your tumors and other visible signs of cancer are removed during surgery, any remaining cancer cells floating around in your body that started from the breast cancer have those same receptors.
Several days after my surgery, we learned even more. The exact sizes of the tumors were 2.8 cm and 1.6 cm; and their margins were negative, meaning that no cancer cells were found right outside of the tumors.
But the cancer had spread to two lymph nodes. Frick. To make matters worse, there were cancer cells a little ways beyond those two lymph nodes, which means chemotherapy and radiation are recommended.
So, all of that means that I’m at Stage IIB (I prefer the less formal 2B). Using the TNM staging system, I’m T2, N1.
As weird as it may sound, I was hoping for Stage 2. I knew before my surgery that it probably wouldn’t be below that, so this is actually good news. It still sucks, but it’s good news all the same.
Next up: possibly going on trial.