By: Jennifer Carabillo
April 16, 2021:
Hi, my name is Jen and I would like to share my breast cancer journey, and yes I said “journey”. I was 34 years old when I got diagnosed. To me covid was a blessing in disguise. Last year in May I had left my fiancé of 7 years and moved back home. That’s when I decided to really take control of my health. In June I was about 30 pounds down when one day I was drying off from a shower and felt a lump in my right breast. I immediately started freaking out and called my mom. She told me to calm down, that it was probably just a cyst because she had atypia. So I immediately made an appointment with my doctor. After that appointment she made a referral for a mammogram and ultrasound. Due to covid it took almost 2 months to finally get an appointment. August 28th rolled around and me and my mom went to my appointment. After my mammogram was done I was waiting for my ultrasound when the tech called me back. She said that they needed more images and that the radiologist was already reviewing my case. My heart sunk as I knew those things were not good. I had the extra mammogram images and my ultrasound done. They grabbed my mom and she came into my room. Then a few minutes later the radiologist came in. The look on his face was not good. He sat down, looked at me and my mom and said I had breast cancer that had metastasized into at least one lymph node. I completely lost it and started bawling my eyes out. Me!!! Breast cancer at 34?!?!?! How could this be happening. My mom sat down next to me and she started crying as well. When the radiologist said that a biopsy was necessary to confirm it she begged with him to try and get it done as soon as possible because of the delay in me getting my mammogram and ultrasound. He said that he would work on getting me an appointment as soon as possible. Me and my mom went home and sat my dad down. At the sound of this news he completely broke down. His oldest was just diagnose with breast cancer. Now let me quickly add that unfortunately breast cancer runs in both sides of my family. But right now I am the YOUNGEST to get diagnosed. My mom called my sister and she was so devastated for me. My brother had no reaction because he was so numb to the news. The radiologist called me back within about an hour and said that he could do it the next day, Friday. Biopsies are no fun, they are very sore and tender. So I got my biopsy done and was out of work for the weekend, I’m a nurses aide at a hospital. Tuesday September 2nd rolls around and my mom got the phone call with the results. She calls me and I said to her, “I dont want details but did the biopsy confirm what the radiologist said”. She replied back with “yes”. At that moment I felt like my world was ripped out from right under me. I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. My cancer was also triple positive. From September 2nd to September 28th everything started happening. I had to get tests done, I had to get a covid test done before getting my port placed and ended up having to get a second one because my first one was lost. I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. I had to call the fertility clinic back and tell them that I wouldn’t be freezing my eggs due to finances. That had crushed my world even more. Between the chemo and the hormone therapy I have to go on, there is a very good chance I wont be able to have kids. And the hormone therapy I am going to be going on gives kids deformities. I had met my oncologist and we made a plan. He had mentioned these things called cooling caps. They are used with only certain chemotherapy drugs and what they do is freeze the hair follicles so the chemo cant get to them and your hair is saved. My parents being the angels that they are, we applied for the cooling caps and I qualified. So they rented them for me for the 4 months I was getting chemo. I was taken out of work September 20th due to my job and covid being around. Chemo was once every 3 weeks for 6 treatments. September 28th started the first part of my journey. Chemo wasn’t too bad. Because of my chemo regiment I had to change my cooling caps every 25 minutes during chemo and then for an additional 4 hours after. If you would like to know more about the cooling caps please feel free to reach out to me. Treatments 1-3 went good. It was treatment 4 that hit me hard and for the first time I looked like an actual chemo patient. After treatment 4 I met with my breast surgeon to get some information on the 2 types of surgeries. We had talked about a lumpectomy vs. mastectomy and whether it would be a single or bilateral mastectomy. Then my breast surgeon had recommended I meet with a plastic surgeon to know my options if I opted for a mastectomy. Shortly after I met with my plastic surgeon and we talked about implants vs. a diep flap surgery. I had ALOT to think about with all the information that was given to me because I was meeting with my breast surgeon in January to discuss my decision. I also met with a radiation doctor to discuss the possibility of radiation. My head was whirling. Chemo ended January 11th and the following week I met with my plastic surgeon. I decided to do a bilateral mastectomy. While the cancer hadn’t spread to my left side, I didn’t want to take any chances due to the type of cancer I had. I also didn’t want to go through all of this again. She told me personally that she would have recommended the mastectomy because of my age and the family history. I then met with my plastic surgeon shortly after to discuss my options. At first I was leaning towards implants but after a more lengthy discussion about the diep flap, I decided to go with that one. I am waiting about a year to get the diep flap surgery because I need active insurance for it to be covered and the recovery period is about 6 months. February 5th was my mastectomy surgery. That surgery went well, I came out of it with 2 drains. A few hours later my mom had noticed a hematoma forming on my left side. My drain also had this huge blood clot in it. My plastic surgeon came in the following morning and said that he didnt want to leave the hematoma in, so I was going for surgery that day. The removal of the hematoma was successful but I came out of that surgery with an additional drain. So I was going home with 3 drains!!!! Thanks to my moms research she found the Brobe company and what a life saver. Between my mastectomy surgery and 3 drains I was in no mood to be getting dressed. So she purchased the recovery robe. How amazing is that product, plus the bra. I lived in that for about 2 week. Showers were very hard the first few days as I was getting use to my new chest. For about 2 weeks after that I was going back to the plastic surgeon to have my drains removed. That’s when my left incision wasn’t looking right. Oh, due to how my original breasts were I had to have the upside down T incisions and they were not able to spare my nipples. When I went to have the final drain removed that’s when my plastic said to me that he wanted to go back into surgery to see what was going on. The NEXT DAY I was scheduled for my surgery, February 24th. He removed the left spacer and found a nasty infection. So at this time I have an empty left side and spacer in the right. The infection needs about 2-3 months to completely heal. Back in March I started my antibody treatment. That is once every 3 weeks for 14 treatments, so unfortunately I still have my port in. I found out that radiation was necessary because even though my lymph node was cancer free, the tumor only shrunk by half. Instead of being able to go every other week to expand my spacer, I had to go weekly because radiation needed to start within a month. March 19th I returned back to work. April 7th started my radiation journey. I go Monday- Friday for 25 treatments. So far radiation is going good. The side effects are fatigue and a possible sunburn looking area where I’m getting the radiation. Radiation is held where I work so I make my lunch break for radiation. My antibody treatment is going good as well. It’s only an hour and a half. The only down fall is I have this rash that sometimes gets itchy. June 2nd I’m scheduled for getting my spacer put back in. I still have a ways to go but I am doing great. I have the support of my family which means the most to me and I am continuing to lose weight. I choose to stay positive and upbeat because being negative wont only not change my diagnosis but it will weaken my immune system more, and with covid still around that isn’t good. Getting diagnosed with cancer put a whole new perspective on my life and I am living for ME, not anyone else bc I am a SURVIVOR!!!!!
Update: June 3, 2021
Hi all you beautiful ladies. I had my surgery yesterday, Wednesday June 3rd to get my spacer put back in. At my pre op appointment I asked what I could do to minimize my chance for infection even more because I didn’t want another one. Being lopsided all these months were getting to me, having to stuff my bra to make sure I was as even as I could be. I asked him if I could use something like Hibiclens. He said that was a great idea. He told me to shower with it the night before and the morning of. Tuesday, the day before my surgery I got the call from the hospital with my surgery time and what time I had to be there. For me, the earlier the surgery the better so I can be home relaxing and recovering. Wednesday morning I was to the hospital by 5:45 am and surgery was at 7:30. Surgery took about an hour and a half but went well. My mom was told by my surgeon that the skin and tissue was still very pliable so they were able to use it again. He fixed the hole shaped scar and was able to use a much smaller incision this time. Thank god with this surgery I didn’t need a drain and only need a week of recovery before going back to work. The amount of love and support from not only my family but my true friends means everything to me. So fingers crossed this is the last surgery before my reconstruction next year. Radiation was completed in May so that is one more thing to cross off this journey. I am still receiving antibody treatments every 3rd week so my port will be staying in until the end of the year. Stay strong ladies and remember that we WILL get through this!!!! Love you all.