In August of 1998, I happened to drop a bottle of shampoo while in the shower. When I bent down to pick it up, my arm brushed against the “7 o’clock” position of my breast and felt a lump. I immediately touched it with my hand, then frantically checked my right breast to see if it had a similar bump in it. No such luck.
I already had my GYN exam scheduled so within 3 days I was at my doctor’s office. I’d had a mammogram 6 months earlier which showed nothing. All I knew was that there was something that felt to my finger like a mangled, chewed-up piece of gum, and even though I tried telling myself it was nothing, I wasn’t buying it. My doctor tried to aspirate it but all he got was blood and I felt the next stab of fear. He told me it didn’t mean anything, other than he couldn’t get to it and sent me for a mammogram to be followed immediately by an ultrasound.
The mammogram didn’t show anything (even though they didn’t tell me, I could hear them outside the door talking). I knew the UT tech and it was very uncomfortable because I knew I couldn’t ask her anything. I left there feeling very unsettled.
The next afternoon when I got home from work, my doctor was on the phone. He wanted me to see a surgeon. I was 43 years old, divorced, and raising my soon-to-turn 9 year old son alone. No family in the area and very few friends. The surgeon wanted to do a biopsy. When it was over, I didn’t have a chance to talk to him as he was leaving for a conference. He told my friend that it looked ok to him. Later during the week, I got a phone call from him and heard those dreaded words, “I’m sorry but you have cancer.”
Life goes into a strange mode when you hear those words. I knew my son was playing in the next world but I was disconnected and moving in slow motion. I called my friend who lived across the street and she came over right away. She held me and let me cry and slowly I felt myself returning to reality but I also knew I would never be the same.
I decided to be treated at a university cancer center and believe it or not, the surgeon was upset with me for that decision, but I never regretted it. Surgery was scheduled with an oncology plastic surgeon. Before they did the surgery, they implanted needles filled with dye into my breast to map my lymph nodes for a Sentinel Node Biopsy. It was scarier than it was painful, fortunately. The lumpectomy was successful with clear margins and my first sentinel node was clear so that was all they removed.
I then underwent 4 rounds of Adriamycin/Cytoxin infusion, followed by 4 rounds of Taxol. I lost every bit of hair on my body but beyond the obvious being my long blonde hair, I missed my eyelashes the most. I was never sick during treatment and my labs were always good. I did take Coenzyme Q-10 and ate a strict vegan diet during treatment.
I was big on email in those days and had people praying for me all over the world which brought me great comfort. I printed out the emails and kept them in a binder so I could read them when I felt sad or anxious. I endured 29 radiation treatments. I was exhausted and my skin burnt but the burn cream cleared it up right away and within a few months I was feeling pretty good. My hair grew back slowly and other than some neuropathy in my toes (which I still have), I was pretty much back to normal. Because I had no hormone receptors, I was not a candidate for Tamoxifen or herceptin.
I am now in my 14th year as a cancer survivor. I suffer from depression and from PTSD from an ill-fated second marriage that I don’t think I ever would have gotten into had I not wanted to feel loved after going thru the ugliness of chemotherapy. I do also suffer from Post Chemotherapy Cognitive Impairment and it has limited my abilities. I can’t multi-task anymore. I am also an insulin-dependent diabetic, but despite all I’ve been thru I’m pretty healthy for someone who was “seriously ill.” I remember reading that term about myself and thought, “Who, me?”
Breast cancer is not a death sentence unless you believe it to be. You’ve got to fight. I believe in God and my faith in Jesus Christ brought me thru the toughest days. There is nothing anyone does to give themselves breast cancer. I had none of the risk factors other than birth control pills and depo-provera which may or may not have contributed to it. I will probably never know and it really doesn’t matter. My pathology report stated I had a Grade 3 cancer and listed my prognosis as poor. Fourteen years later, I’m still here. My son is about to turn 23 and despite the hardships life has thrown at me, I’m relatively good. There is life after breast cancer. Don’t depend on mammograms alone. USE YOUR HANDS! Check your breasts AT LEAST once a month. For me, every time I shower, I check just in case. I do have a small benign cyst that has not changed in 10 years.