I had an appointment with my oncologist on Monday to run my blood panels, talk about my side effects and get my third round of Faslodex injections. I spoke with the PA first about the medications I had picked up at the pharmacy over the last week for nausea and heartburn. I assured her that both were working great, so I was finally getting some relief.
My oncologist came into the exam room and handed me my blood panel results, and it was not what I expected. I knew that certain levels would be off but for them to be where they are after only three weeks on iBrance was a shock. My white and red blood cell counts are low, not dangerously low, but lower than we would like, and my ANC is low. ANC, Absolute Neutrophil Count, is the “infection-fighting” count. My count is .8, and the low end of normal is 1.25, so I am at high risk for infection. I need to stay away from crowds, busy restaurants, and people who have a cold or the flu because I could end up in the hospital with an infection and become severely ill.
After taking in the initial shock of this news, my doctor said he was very concerned, so he told me to stop taking iBrance for the next month. The break in taking the medication should give my system a chance to get back to normal levels. I had already received this next round of drugs from Pfizer because I was scheduled to start back on it after a week off a few days ago on Monday. We did discuss dropping my dose from 125mg to 100mg, but we will only do that if my bloodwork doesn’t improve. So, for now, he told me to hold on to the meds, so I will have them to take again starting on May 23rd.
Once I was done discussing everything with my doctor, I went back to the infusion room to get my Faslodex injections. Have I said how much I hate injections? I absolutely hate injections, but that is the only way this particular drug is administered, so I don’t have a choice. It seems that each time I have the injections, I have different side effects from them. Generally, I deal with headaches, bone pain in my hips, and, as with this last time, pain from the medicine itself. I have a small area on the left side near the injection site that is causing me some pain, but it has improved each day. Some good news is that I am done with the initial three doses, so now I will have the injections monthly instead of every two weeks.
During my next appointment on May 23rd, I will see my oncologist, have my blood panels run, and get my Faslodex injections. This will be my regular schedule moving forward every month for an indefinite period of time.
Over the last few years, and again now that my cancer has returned, many people have asked me if I had any signs of breast cancer before I found the first tumor in my breast. Yes, I did have a few of these signs, and I had pain. Please, remember to do your monthly breast self-exam and watch for these signs.
Medically reviewed by Amy Tiersten, MD — Written by Jennifer Bringle on October 5, 2020
Everyone talks about the importance of catching breast lumps as early as possible. But did you know there’s a host of lesser known breast cancer symptoms that might not show up on a self-exam or mammogram?
According to the American Cancer Society (ACA), breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, other than skin cancers, and it’s the second-most deadly cancer for women behind lung cancer.
On average, there’s about a 1 in 8 chance that a U.S. woman will develop breast cancer at some point in their life. The ACA estimates that more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer in 2020.
The most common form of breast cancer is invasive breast cancer, which is any type that has invaded the breast tissue.
Less common forms include inflammatory breast cancer (which is caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin, causing the breast to look inflamed) and Paget’s disease, which involves the skin of the nipple or areola.
With the high rates of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends women have the choice to start annual mammograms at age 40. The organization says women between the ages of 45 and 54 should get mammograms every year.
And while the disease is most commonly discovered by detecting a lump during a mammogram, there are other lesser known signs and symptoms of breast cancer that women should look out for.
According to Marisa Weiss, MD, breast oncologist and founder of BreastCancer.org, discharge that’s bloody or pink and generally only on one side can possibly indicate the presence of cancer in the breast tissue, particularly if it’s persistent.
An enlarged breast — particularly if the swelling is isolated to one breast — or a change in the shape of the breast, can indicate issues within the tissue.
“An unusual shape where the contour is distorted and there’s a bulge in one part of the breast can be a sign of cancer,” says Weiss.
“It could feel like a lump, but it could also just be a region of the breast that feels firmer, and you can’t really feel a lump within it,” she says. “It also often becomes more pronounced when moving in different positions.”
Weiss says it’s important to remember that these signs and symptoms can indicate other benign issues that aren’t breast cancer, but it’s critical to monitor the symptoms and act if they don’t subside.
And for those who’ve already had breast cancer, it can be even more difficult to discern the innocuous from the malignant. In that case, Weiss says it’s particularly crucial to monitor changes in the breasts and alert your doctor when something doesn’t look or feel right.
“You’re always worried about recurrence of a new problem, so the ability to recognize the less common symptoms and signs may be a little trickier,” she says.
It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between leftover scar tissue from your prior breast cancer. And if you’ve had mastectomy and reconstruction, you could have lumps and bumps in there that are due to scar tissue from all the healing where they removed and recreated your breast, says Weiss.
No matter what, Weiss advises women to pay attention to their bodies and maintain regular self-exams and mammograms. And should they notice something out of the ordinary? Let their doctor know.
Jennifer Bringle has written for Glamour, Good Housekeeping, and Parents, among other outlets. She’s working on a memoir about her post-cancer experience.
I went to see my oncologist today. First, some good news, my blood panel was completely normal today, with no low or high levels on anything! Today was the first time I have had my blood look this healthy in 3 years. Of course, now, that will change somewhat with the meds that I started today. We discussed both meds that I started today, and I asked him a few questions that we thought of after my last visit. So, this is what we discussed and the questions he answered.
The Faslodex is given in two injections because it is a lot of medicine, 500 mg. The drug is very thick, so they must warm it before injecting it. It is administered intramuscularly into the buttocks (gluteal area) slowly (1 -2 minutes per injection) as two 5 mL injections, one in each buttock, on Days 1, 15, 29, and once monthly. Today was day one, so my next three appointments are on April 11th, April 25th, and May 23rd.
My dose of iBrance is a 125 mg capsule taken orally once daily for 21 consecutive days, followed by 7 days off treatment to comprise a complete cycle of 28 days. It is highly important that my doctor keeps an eye on my white blood cell count because this medication can drop my levels to too low, just like infusion chemo did. If my white blood cell count drops too much, he will lower my dose to 100 mg or 75 mg if necessary.
I will have a PET scan every three months to check the progress of the meds on my tumors. If the meds shrink the tumors, we will keep my meds the same. If the tumors are growing, we will change my meds and try something else. The goal is for the tumors to disappear or shrink and then stay that way; at that point, my cancer will be controlled, and I will be in remission.
My questions: How long will I be on these meds? I will be on both meds as long as they are working, indefinitely.
Do I need to do anything special while on these meds? I need to drink 2 to 3 quarts of water every day, get plenty of rest, stay away from large crowds or people with colds because I will be at risk of infection, wash my hands often, and something new this time; I can’t eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice.
There are, of course, side effects, as with any medication. So far, I have had a headache tonight, but nothing that Tylenol couldn’t knock out. I had some discomfort from the injections for a few hours after getting them, but that has stopped.
I will let you know how I am doing as I go through my next few appointments.
I met with my oncologist this past Tuesday to discuss the results of my PET Scan. I was shocked to hear that I have two tumors in my neck, not just one. I found them early, so they are small, 0.9 x 0.5 cm and 0.5 x 0.5 cm. So small, under 1 cm, that they usually wouldn’t have done a biopsy on them, but I had already gone to my surgeon to have the initial ultrasound and biopsy done and had received the results already. I am happy that I took that initiative and went to see my surgeon as soon as I found the tumors so that I found out sooner rather than later that my cancer had returned.
The spot on my rib is still causing concern; it has been determined that it is a lesion that was not on my previous PET Scan in 4/2019. So with the fact that it was not on the last PET Scan and the combination of findings from the recent PET Scan, they are concerned that it is a solitary bone metastasis. My oncologist ended up ordering a biopsy of my rib after our discussion. So next Thursday, I am going to the hospital to have a biopsy of the lesion done. I will have both a local drug and anesthesia for the procedure. The procedure will take about an hour, and I will be in recovery for about 2 hours as they want to keep a close eye on me for bleeding and excessive pain. Unfortunately, I have to go through this biopsy to know if the lesion is cancer or not because it could change my treatment plan if it is positive for cancer, and I then have two different locations on my body with cancer.
Because I am having the biopsy done this coming week, I cannot continue planning with my radiation oncologist at this time. It is good that she now has the images she needed to determine my scope of treatment and if it is possible to treat the tumors in my neck, but the biopsy results could change everything. The lesion on my rib is on my 8th rib, right under my left breast, so as far as I know, it is located in the previous scope of treatment done in 2019/2020.
So my oncologist and I discussed what would happen if I couldn’t have radiation treatment. As far as my neck is concerned, he doesn’t want me to have to undergo surgery, but it is a possibility that I may have to go that route. When it comes to my rib, he didn’t want to speculate on it much. I asked him if it is common for there to be one tumor in one location when it comes to bone cancer, and he said it is unusual but not impossible.
Yesterday my husband remembered that I had pain in my rib several months ago. While we were discussing it, I remembered that I mentioned it to my surgeon when I saw him for a follow-up appointment in September. I pointed to the location of the pain and told him that I felt a bump there as well. When he felt the spot that was hurting me, he said, “that is your rib,” and I told him that I didn’t realize it was my rib because I had never been able to feel my rib so easily when I weighed much more than I do now. He asked if I remembered bumping into something or hurting it somehow, and I couldn’t recall doing anything like that. So I felt it yesterday, and when I pressed on it, it still hurt, and the bump was slightly more significant. So now that I remember that conversation with my surgeon, I am very anxious to get the biopsy done and meet with my oncologist to discuss the results and what will happen next.
I know this might not be common, but it seems that my body will cause me random pain, and then I find a tumor one to two weeks later. It has happened to me three times in a row, so I can say without a doubt that I will never, ever ignore any pain I might have in the future, especially if it is around my bones. My experiences are listed below; I don’t believe that this is a coincidence anymore.
Pain in my lower neck, to shoulder, to the shoulder blade = breast cancer
Pain from my outer ear, up the side of my head, to the top of my head = breast cancer in the lymph nodes in my neck
Pain in the 8th rib under my breast = most likely more cancer, not sure of the type due to location
I will update again next Thursday, depending on how much pain I am in, or Friday about my biopsy. Thank you for being here!
A few days ago, I had an appointment with my radiation oncologist. I hadn’t seen her in over two years, so it was nice to see her, but I wish it had been under different circumstances. After we caught up on where we had been, I was finally able to show her the pictures from our vow renewal ceremony, so that was nice, and what we had been doing; we discussed my cancer.
Unfortunately, since the CT of my neck came back clear, she has to wait for the results from my PET scan. She needs to see the exact size and location of the tumor to figure out if she can treat me or not. If there is even the slightest part of the tumor in my previous treatment area, she can’t put me through radiation. I didn’t know that you couldn’t radiate the same area more than once, so we must have clear images to compare from 2019/2020 to today. My PET scan is tomorrow, Friday, and I am going back to my oncologist next Tuesday for the results.
So after my initial appointment, my doctor asked if I could come back in an hour to do some plotting with the tech. I didn’t need to be anywhere, so I said I could come back, no problem. When I came back, they took me to the CT room, measured a few coordinates, and went ahead and marked me with stickers in case I could have radiation soon. When I laid down on the table, my doctor came over and felt where the tumor was, and she said, ” it seems like it is very superficial; that might be why the CT scan didn’t see it.” I hadn’t thought of that being the reason for the clear CT, but it makes sense.
Next, they had me put both arms over my head, which is the position I will have to be in for the radiation treatments. It has been almost three years since my first surgery in April 2019, and it still hurts to have my arms up over my head for any length of time. I have gained a lot of mobility back since that first surgery but not 100%. Because of the pain I am in when in that position, they will make molds for me to rest my arms in so the pain and pressure will be decreased, making me more comfortable. When I put my arms up, my doctor felt the tumor again and said it had dropped slightly in location, taking it closer to the area where I had radiation before; this is not good if I want radiation to be the primary treatment to get rid of the tumor.
So, now we are waiting for my PET scan and the results. What will happen if I can’t have radiation? I am guessing that I will have to have surgery to remove the tumor, but after that, I am not sure. I will be asking my oncologist about that when I see him on Tuesday next week.
So I guess if there can be any good news that goes along with having cancer again, that would be the good news I received today.
There is a spot on one of my ribs in the nuclear medicine bone scan. I am confident that it is from when I fractured my rib ages ago. We need to be sure that it is from my fracture and not more cancer, so I have a PET scan scheduled for next Friday. Something odd is that the CT of my neck came back clear, yet that is where the tumor is located; the CT couldn’t find the tumor that I can feel, crazy! My other CT came back clear, so the cancer is isolated to my neck. I will have to go through radiation, so I have an appointment with my radiation oncologist next Tuesday. She will determine how much radiation I need and if I will need surgery after radiation.
After radiation, I will be put on a new inhibitor because the one I have been on for the last two years didn’t work other than possibly keeping the new cancer from spreading. I will also be going through chemotherapy again, but this time, it will be in pill form, not by infusion, and for at least two years. But the good news is that I will not lose my hair while on the chemotherapy drug.
As far as my diagnosis, I have the same cancer I had before, invasive ductal carcinoma, breast cancer stage 3c. Because the tumor is nearby where the cancer was in 2019/2020, in the lymph nodes in my neck, and it has not spread to my organs, it is still considered breast cancer. Oddly enough, the tumor is on the same side of my body this time as well.
All in all, I am very relieved! I will update you after my next appointment.