April 27 stands out in my memory probably more than March 9. The news I learned on March 9th was very devastating, don’t get me wrong, but April 27th was when I heard the words “non-curable.” It was the day I sat in the hospital hoping for good news, but had to process what Stage 4 cancer meant instead. I was numb for most of the day, but I did get homemade perogies, which distracted me greatly.
April 27 closed the chapter of having merely Stage 2 breast cancer. It was the end of my hopes that dealing with breast cancer would be only a phase of my life. Before April 27th, Stage 4 was so far away from my mind, I was not prepared to hear those words.
Twenty days before April 27, I had a double mastectomy. Recovering from a double mastectomy takes time and is a very painful process. But I wasn't aware that some of my pain was caused by my spreading breast cancer. During my recovery I was stuck in bed, which is normal. Moving around was painful and they pump you full of medication. At first I thought it was normal discomfort, normal pain, and this was all part of the cancer rollercoaster.
On April 27th I wobbled down the stairs, looking for my fiancé. Instead I ran into my soon-to-be- husband’s mother, who was visiting from Poland. She asked what was wrong and I pointed to my side. She said, “Larissa, that’s your liver.” Moments later, when I went outside to look for my fiancé, a sudden sharp pain hit my chest. I immediately thought I was having a heart attack. Still, I’m thinking, “Maybe I’m doing too much,”and “This is all a part of the rollercoaster.” I called my surgeon, but no luck getting her (she is a very sweet, sweetwoman, but surgeons are busy doing surgeon things lol). I then call my reconstruction surgeon, who was also not available. I don’t even bother calling my oncologist. My first oncologist couldn’t have cared less about me. Finally, my reconstruction surgeon called back and urged me to go straight to the ER to rule out blood clots.
The sharp pains in my chest and side intensified, and my upper right back/shoulder ached and ached. Still, I thought it was all normal. We arrived in the ER and waited… waited… good thing it wasn’t a heart attack or I would have died waiting. Finally, they escorted us to a room and I explained my symptoms. They asked who my oncologist was and I told them, but said I was in the process of switching doctors. Andthat I actually had an appointment to meet the new oncologist that day in Wethersfield, which I was currently missing. The really nice ER doctor called my hopefully new oncologist who had yet to meet me. (Meanwhile I see my old oncologist in the hallway doing everything in her power to ignore me.)
An hour or so later a woman walks into my room and introduces herself as Dr. DeFusco. My new oncologist! I’m delighted. She came to the hospital to meet me! She explained that this wasn’t usually how initial meetings went, but she jumped into action and ordered me a full-body CT scan. (Which, up to that point, had not yet been done.)
CT scans at the hospital go very quickly; in and out. She explained to me there were several spots on my liver, but no blood clot. I didn’t think cancer. Despite all the breast cancer awareness “pink” ribbon efforts, they don’t tell you that breast cancer can spread to other organs. Dr. DeFusco explained that they were going to have to biopsy my liver to see if the spots were cancerous. I looked at her funny, and thought what are the odds it’s cancer? It’s probably benign.
They moved me upstairs to a more comfortable room. At this point I knew I was staying over for a night or two. When the biopsy results came back, Dr. DeFusco was still there. She didn’t make me wait hours or days to tell me the news. She's truly a remarkable person. She gently explained that I had a non-curable type of breast cancer called metastatic breast cancer. I remember like yesterday staring at her, confused, but she made me feel OK, told me it didn’t mean I was going to die tomorrow. She compared it to diabetes -- it’s not curable, but treatable.
My fiancé, my mother and I were all in disbelief. My mom asked me what I wanted to do. I looked at Martin and said “I just want to marry you.” And very quietly, I added, “… andsome of your mom’s perogies.” (I’m notorious for eating my emotions.)
Everyone jumped into action. I got my homemade perogies and we started planning our wedding, which we moved up from Oct. 8 to May 7.
So when people ask when I learned I had breast cancer, I almost ALWAYS reply that it was on April 27th. March 9th started my journey, but April 27th changed my whole outlook on life. So today is my one-year anniversary of my metastatic breast cancer. One year of truly viewing each breath of life as a gift, and a day I will never forget! I was never a huggy or physically affectionate person, or someone who took time out of her busy life to watch butterflies. But that all changed on April 27th. Now I’m thankful for each moment and grateful for all the generosity and love that surrounds me each and every day!