Your Persistence Can Save Your Life - You Know When Something's Wrong!

by Norma Jauregui

Today's Guest Blogger is Norma Jauregui, she shares her experiences with a stage IIIA breast cancer diagnosis and treatments. Her persistence my have saved her life!

My name is Norma, I am 59 years old. I am from San Diego, CA. My breast cancer experience began in May of 2012, I was 51 years old. The first sign that let me know that something was wrong was pain.

Norma

I always heard that cancer does not hurt and it’s hard to know that you have it, but I started experiencing pain in my breast about two years before my diagnosis. It felt as if someone was stabbing my breast with sharp needles. I went to my doctor and he sent me to have a mammogram. 

I had been having mammograms since I was 40, I was told from the beginning that I had dense breast and everything looked normal. After the mammogram came back normal, I was told to wait six months and go back, I tried to wait but the pain persisted.

After 4 months I went back again with the same problem and this time they sent me to get a sonogram. When the Dr. came in after the sonogram, she said “I err on the side of caution, and I don’t see anything wrong, come back in 6 months”. Since I was told twice everything was OK, I waited the six months, the whole time with a lot of pain, taking painkillers. After the six months, I noticed that my right nipple was inverting, the texture of my breast was changing and the pain persisted. 

Once again, I made an appointment and after being examined, the gynecologist told me that at my age, women went through a lot of changes, and since the previous tests showed nothing wrong, I should wait another six months. At this appointment, there was a nurse that I did not know, she was a traveling nurse. After the doctor left the room, she told me that my breast did not look normal. She told me to make an appointment with a surgeon. I was surprised because I was just told everything was fine, but this nurse was insisting that I see a surgeon? She did not say see another doctor, she said go see a surgeon. 

I went home thinking she must be wrong, why would I need a surgeon if there is nothing wrong? Two days later the same nurse called me at home and asked me if I made the appointment with the surgeon, I said no, and then she surprised me even more and said, “I will make the appointment for you”. Something told me I should listen to her and we made the appointment.

Norma Cake

The surgeon was very nice and did not asked if I had been referred; he started examining my breast after I told him what my problem was. He sent me to have an MRI. 

Two weeks later the surgeon’s office called and told me to come in for an appointment and bring a family member with me. Both my kids went with me to the appointment. The surgeon told me that there were some tumors in my breast, two on the left 2cm and 3cm and one on my right under the nipple 5cm, it was the reason that my nipple was inverting. He could not say if they were cancer until I got some biopsies done. I went back to the same place that 6 months before told me there was nothing wrong with me. They performed 5 biopsies in each tumor. I felt like a pincushion!

Three weeks later, I was at Los Angeles International Airport. I had gone to take a friend who was traveling to Europe. I received a call that I will never forget. It was a nurse from my health provider; she said she was a cancer coordinator. She told me all the biopsies came back positive, and that they needed to schedule surgery as soon as possible. 

One week later I went to nuclear medicine where they inject a dye to find out during surgery the trajectory to lymph nodes so they can also remove some of them. The surgery in itself is not painful, they left four drains that I was supposed to measure each day to see how much liquid was draining. I was in the hospital one day. 

After one week, I went to get the drains removed and because I was given the wrong instructions, I had to leave the drains another week. (I was supposed to measure each drain separate, not together!) Another week went by and then the drains were removed, and the surgeon had more bad news. He found cancer on my lymph nodes so I had to go back to surgery in three weeks.  to have a lymphadenectomy and thank God nothing else was found. I was diagnosed with Stage 3a breast cancer.

I had a small surgery to install a port so I could receive chemo. I started chemotherapy almost immediately after the surgery. The first three months they gave a very strong mix, once every three weeks, I would get very sick the first week, (nausea, weakness, stomach problems) as soon as I was recuperating, I had to go back for the next dose. I started loosing my hair after the second dose, so I decided to shave it. A lot of salons do it for free for cancer patients and it’s very appreciated. 

The next three months were easy in comparison, the chemo had to be administered every week but I didn't have any side effects. After completing chemo, I received 36 doses of radiation. The radiation sessions are very fast; you take longer getting ready than it takes for them to give you a dose. The first two weeks were fine, then my skin started getting dry and brittle, as much as I applied the lotion they recommend, my skin got burned and they had to give me a couple of days off because the skin broke and it needed to heal. I only received radiation on the right side because the left side was to close to the heart. 

When all the treatments were done, I was prescribed the 5-year pill, which turned into a 10-year pill because when you are diagnosed with stage 3 they found 10 years are better. The side effects from chemotherapy continue long after you finished treatment, at least in my case, I got neuropathy on both my arms and my right leg, acupuncture and vitamin B help a lot. For a long time after treatment two things will trigger nausea in me, ice in my water (they give it to you during chemo to prevent blisters) and red drinks (the color of my chemo) Chemo brain is real, I can attest to that. 

Norma Husband

I joined a support group that helped me a lot and is where I feel that I am helping others. I learned a lot from this experience, I learned that I am stronger than I thought I was, I learned to value my family, my life and my time more. Being positive helped me go through this experience. I focused on what is my next step to get better, not my diagnosis. I learned how hard it is for the people around you to express what they feel. They want to help but they don’t know how. I appreciated the scarves, the hats, the pillows, the small blankets, the books, and the company when I had to go to chemotherapy. 

The main message that I want to share with everyone is “listen to your body!!” Don’t find excuses, its better to be overly cautious than to wait till it’s too late, I considered myself lucky and I feel God sent me an angel in the form of a nurse. If I can help just one person with my story then it was all worth it.

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