What’s going on

Yesterday was my birthday. It was also VJ-Day or as they call it in Korea: “Liberation Day.” To everyone who sent me birthday wishes via facebook and/or email, “Thank you. I really appreciate it. I’m a youthful 29 with 16 years of experience!

This was a photo I took from the ridge above the beach in 2010. We usually stay to the southern part of the beach because the northern end of the beach has a pretty strong rip tide.

This will be the first time since 2004 that we won’t be at the beach for my birthday. We usually go to Yonghwa Beach in Samcheok. Of course, there is a very good reason for this. Anna, my wife, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. We ended up celebrating my birthday in the hospital. We had the cake and the candles, Noah serenande’d me with the Birthday song, but we couldn’t lite the candles because a women next to us was on oxygen.

Anna discovered the lump about month ago. It must have been around the 16th of July. She, of course, showed it to me and I told to get it checked out. So, she went to a local clinic that gives mammograms for free. They confirmed that the lump looked suspicious and urged her to see a specialist at a local hospital. Anna scheduled an appointment at a local hospital and went to see the doctor. He determined that Anna needed a biopsy. Anna had the biopsy on July 23rd and we got the results back on July 30th.

The biopsy confirmed that Anna has an invasive ductal carcinoma, histologic grade 2/3, nuclear grade 2/3 and a metastatic carcinoma in the lymph node in her under arm. The good news is that most breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas, so it is treatable. With cancer, however, it is always better to catch it before it metastasizes and this is why Anna had the bone scan and full body PET/CT done. Both of those came back clean.

We went to get a second opinion from an American-trained doctor in Hannam-dong. Hannam-dong is near the UN Village and many of the Ambassadorial residences, so he is well known for handling breast cancer cases among the foreign-service community here in Seoul.

Doctor Lee, the doctor who is well known in the Ambassadorial community, had Anna do additional tests and he determined that Anna has late stage 3 breast cancer. The initial mass is over 5cm and it has metastasized to the lymph system. The spreading of the cancer into the lymph system is fairly advanced, so the doctor recommended that Anna begin chemo immediately.

Although the spread of the cancer is isolated to the lymph system, the doctor wants to treat this aggressively, hence the immediate chemo. There are several benefits to having chemo before surgery. First it may help shrink the tumor so less of the breast needs to be taken, although the doctor will probably recommend that Anna have the whole breast removed, just to be safe. Second it immediately starts the process of dealing with the metastasized cells. With cancer, it’s the spreading that is more serious than the initial tumor.

Anna started her chemo therapy last week. The chemo has really kicked Anna’s butt. It has sapped all her energy and has done quite a number on her stomach. She hasn’t vomited that often, but she has felt pretty nauseous.

Anna will receive six chemo treatments over the next six weeks. After this initial treatment, the doctor will re-assess the situation; however, the most likely outcome will be surgery to remove what remains of the initial cancerous mass sometime in October. After surgery, the doctor will again assess the situation. He will either recommend additional chemo or radiological treatment to clean up whatever cancerous materials remain.

Obviously this second assessment of Anna’s situation is more severe than the initial assessment. The doctor suspects that poor calibration of initial chest MRI and PET/CT scans generated poor data. And it is the data from which a doctor makes his/her diagnosis.

Anna returned to the hospital on the 14th of August for a blood test and the doctor has decided to keep her overnight for observation. Anna was kept for several reason. First her white blood cell count had dropped dramatically, second her nausea was worse than the doctor anticipated and she has lost 4 kg in one week of chemo. We visited Anna yesterday and they were pumping her full of both clear and colored liquids.  It was a veritable rainbow of fluids.

BoA returned from her trip to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia the night Anna returned to the hospital. Anna’s unexpected hospitalization resulted in me being unable to go get BoA at the airport.  I had to stay with Noah. Luckily, because her school group arrived late,  her teachers had planned to stay in a hotel near the airport, so BoA was able to stay with them and then she took public transit  home the next morning.

Our phone conversation must have been pretty shocking.

BoA: “Daddy where are you?”
Me: “I’m at home.”
BoA: “Didn’t you know I was arriving today?”
Me: “Yes, but I thought Anna had Kakoa Talked your teachers.”
BoA: “Why?”
Me: “Mommy is in the hospital and I have to stay with Noah.”
BoA: “Why?”
Me: “Mommy has cancer.”
BoA: <fast and short breathes>
Me: “She’s OK, but the doctor wants to watch her.”
BoA: “Wait. I’ll call back.”

We decided to wait and tell her about Anna’s diagnosis when she got back from her trip, but we hadn’t intended that we would end up telling her over the phone as soon as she stepped off the plane.  She was aware that Anna had a biopsy, because she went with Anna to the hospital that day, but she left before we got the results back.

We’ll be heading back to the hospital again today. Anna probably won’t be released until her white cell count ticks back up enough so that she no longer at risk of infection.

One Response to “What’s going on”

  1. brawnblog.com » Blog Archive » Weekend Update Says:

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