Belgium · Cancer

The Beginning

Let me start from the beginning.

Many people have asked me about my diagnosis and surgery. And you cannot Google double mastectomy without getting thousands of links to Angelina Jolie and her story. I am not her. Darn it.

A little over a month ago I found a lump on my left breast. A walnut-size lump that was sore. I let it go for a few days, thinking it was a bruise from wrestling with the kids or a swollen lymph node from fighting off a cold. I went to the clinic on our base here in Belgium and was referred to our local hospital here in Mons, Ambroise. Belgian medicine is very aggressive in a good way and within an hour I had a number of digital mammography films taken, a detailed ultra-sound and 7 biopsies. At this point I was nervous but hoping that whatever it was they were looking at was only a benign cyst and could easily be dealt with.

A friend of our family is a Dr. here on base and he was able to come and talk to me the following day about the results they found from the mammography and ultrasound. He tried to prepare me for what they may say at the pathology appt. the following week. Although nothing could really prepare me, I had time to think about cancer and hope against hope that he was wrong. Not often does a Dr. want to be wrong but I knew he wanted to be this time.

The next few days we managed to stay busy as is typically easy with three small kids at the end of summer. Some friends watched the kids and Joe and I headed to Ambroise for an appt. with an Oncologist for the pathology results. The Dr. we met with was very timid, and my lack of French paired with her lack of English made it difficult to communicate the levity of the subject. Despite the fact that we had a very helpful Patient Liaison there to translate it was still hard to swallow the information she was giving me. What I could gather was, I did, indeed, have cancer. And based on the size of the tumor and how it had spread to at least 1 lymph node it was at least Stage II Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma with a side of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. I pretty much covered all the bases.

We had been researching larger Belgian breast cancer centers and even toyed with the idea of heading back to the States for treatment but were told about Leuven University Hospital by another friend who had also been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. We transferred my care there and were seen within that week for an appt. with the Head of the Clinical Oncology Dept. She confirmed what Ambroise had told me, only we had the comfort of communicating with her in perfect English. Leuven is in the Flemish region of Belgium and its citizens speak Dutch, French, and English. Everyone we came into contact with in the hospital spoke perfect English and it was quite relieving. I do not expect people to speak English in their own countries but when it comes to healthcare I am so grateful that they do.

A few blood tests, a chest x-ray, a liver scan and a bone scan later and I heard the good news that the cancer hadn’t metastasized large enough for a scan to read it. GREAT NEWS. There was a small possibility of micro calcification metastasis but we could knock that out with chemo. A tumor board of about a dozen or so doctors met to discuss my case and we scheduled my double mastectomy for 2 weeks later.

Here I sit, in a hospital bed, donned in a gorgeous quilt lovely sewn and shipped ASAP by my mother-in-law and contemplate the last month of my life.

I am two breasts and a whole lot of lymph nodes lighter. I will start chemo in a few short weeks. I may have radiation and I will most definitely be given hormone therapy in the future. This is my life now. But I am still so immensely blessed.

I am thankful for preventative health care and health insurance.

I am thankful for amazingly smart doctors and getting wonderful care in a foreign country.

I am thankful for sweet Belgian hospital roomies.

I am thankful for friends who come to visit in between chemo treatments and bring BIG bags of junk food.

I am thankful for parents who fly halfway across the world, at a moment’s notice, no matter how much last minute Delta tickets cost.

I am thankful for an amazing community of friends and supporters who bring dinner, hugs, comfort, and shoulders to cry on.

I am thankful for a husband who doesn’t care whether or not I get reconstruction. At least that’s what he tells me.

Because, honestly, after the last week I’ve had, I can’t even think about going under another knife anytime soon.

I am thankful that I have a faith that sustains me even when I feel like crawling under my electric hospital bed and hiding.

I am thankful I am alive. And kicking. With cute shoes of course.

And don’t forget the Foobies. I’m always thankful for the Foobies.


5 thoughts on “The Beginning

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. You are amazing Mel! I am blessed to know you and hear the wonderful things and movement God is doing in your life.

  2. I am guilty of thinking we have the best hospital care here. I am glad to hear that you received excellent care and information in English. Having lived & dealt with healthcare in another language, it is important to understand the recommendations.

    I am consistently amazed by your positivity and know that God brings all things to his glory. Hugs and prayers to you during your recovery and soon to be cancer treatments. Glad you have such a great support base there!

  3. Mel, your positive outlook leaves me inspired. I love seeing Sara’s bracelet on your wrist. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. I’m sitting in the street on a wall outside some random Turkish restaurant, stealing their wifi, crying like a crazy person. You are and will always be a true inspiration. I love you so much beautiful lady. Stay you xxxx

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