I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer on March 15, 2014. In the months leading up to that day, I had experienced increased severities of back pain. Three months prior to diagnosis, the pain felt like the pain you feel following a bad night of sleep. It was sore and throbbing, not unbearable, but every once in a while I would get a shooting pain like a severe muscle spasm. As the weeks passed, it got to the point where I couldn’t pick up the kids anymore without considerable effort. I was still able to get around, but I was constantly sore. I figured the pain was from my chronic back issues as I have dealt with bad back issues my whole life. I used to regularly visit a chiropractor, so I made appointments to be seen again. The chiropractors adjusted my spine as they usually do, but the pain continued. I visited my PCM again and asked for a referral to a physical therapist which they provided, and I was set to see one in late March. March 2, I traveled with my family from our home in North Carolina to Indiana where my husband’s parents live near Lafayette. The pain had increased by then to the point that it affected the way I walked and arose/sat. We continued our vacation travels to my parent’s house in Springfield, IL for a few days, and the pain increased yet again. I saw a chiropractor there who also attempted to adjust my spine. Following that visit, the pain increased even more. We then traveled back to Indiana and stopped in to my husband’s parent’s house again. The plan was to stay there for one night and then head back to North Carolina as our vacation was wrapping up. That night, 12 March, my pain spiked to unbearable levels. I cried in bed as I laid awake trying to fall asleep. The ibuprofen and Tylenol could not touch this pain, and I was worried and a bit scared. I also began to vomit. It got to the point that I couldn’t keep even a sip of water down. I quickly became dehydrated, and I was unable to walk on my own. The pain was easily an 8 out of 10. That was the point that we decided to go to the ER. We had resisted the ER up to this point because we always assumed I was just experiencing back problems as I had in the past. I thought the ER may just help the dehydration until the virus (I thought) passed. The tumor in my breast (we didn’t know it was a tumor then) was larger, but I still assumed it was a clogged milk duct. Both Mark and I were worried that it could be cancer, but neither of us believed it really was. Mark had been worried about my back pain for a few weeks as he pointed out that back pain generally gets lesser the more one relaxes, but mine had only grown worse over the past few weeks. Despite all of these warning signs, it was the pain spike and vomiting/dehydration which finally drove us to seek help at the ER. When we arrived, the ER staff drew blood and provided IVs to rehydrate me. After an hour or so, the results of the blood work came back, and they found that my calcium levels were very high (about 3x the normal limit). If you google “high calcium” you find a great amount of information about hypercalcemia causes. The vast majority of hypercalcemia cases are caused by an overactive thyroid. Hyperparathyroidism. Parathyroid.com pops up as the first link, and Mark read the whole page. It specifically says that “If you are sitting in front of a computer reading this page and your calcium is high, then you are almost guaranteed to have a parathyroid problem NOT cancer!” That was a relief to him, but relief soon turned to worry when the Drs reported that my thyroid was functioning properly. Once Hyperparathyroidism gets ruled out, you’re pretty much left with one main cause for high calcium, and that is cancer. There are other potential causes for having high calcium levels, but cancer seemed a good possibility. I was admitted to the hospital, and they moved me to the 6th floor to an inpatient room for further testing and treatment. For the next few days, they stabilized my calcium spike with meds, and they hydrated me through an IV constantly. I still didn’t eat or drink until around the 14th of March, and even then it was just soup broth. During those days of waiting and testing, Mark became fairly confident that there was a connection between my breast lump, the back pain, and the high calcium. He thought it was likely cancer or some form of malignant tumor. At the time, we didn’t know the difference. He just hoped it was operable, but as he dug deeper into the cancer symptom info sites, he learned about cancer metastases and how the spread of cancer occurs. On the night of 14 March, he told me about everything he had been reading and that he was worried it could be cancer. Up to this point, we hadn’t discussed the possibility, but Mark knew it was going to be a bad diagnosis no matter what. He had pretty much ruled out any quick-fix possibilities. Now, we aren’t doctors of course, so we were eagerly awaiting official word about what was wrong. It was frustrating trying to get the hospital staff to hurry with the testing. They scheduled everything for the “next day” and it was difficult to wait once we suspected the worst. An MRI was finally ordered on 15 March, and we were lucky that a slot opened for me to get it done the same day. That afternoon, the hospitalist came to my room and asked if she could speak to Mark in the hallway to show him the results of the most recent blood work. This was something Mark had been asking to see when they had taken blood each day. Once they were in the hall, she told Mark that she didn’t actually have blood work results but that she had received word from pathology that there was cancer which had spread to my bones. The cancer would be treatable but incurable. After gathering
himself for about 10 minutes, he came back into my room and told me. That’s how we found out. It was later confirmed through a biopsy (which had been done the day before) of the breast tumor that it was breast cancer. The biopsy results took a long time to come in. We were impatient again as we thought that every day could be the difference in living or dying in the immediate future. Following a brain scan on 16 March, I remember thinking that the scan would probably show metastasis to the brain as well, and that I would probably die in the near future. The pain in my body and the inability to eat or drink caused me to think my situation was even worse than it was. It wasn’t until 20 March that we met with an oncologist who was ready to put a timeline against the diagnosis. 2-3 years felt like such a relief compared to the 2-3 months that we expected.