2xSurvivor's Journey with Breast Cancer

Survivor: Breast Cancer

Patient Info: Finished active treatment more than 5 years ago, Diagnosed: almost 11 years ago, Female, Age: 61, Stage 0, HER2 Positive: Don't Know, ER Positive: Don't Know, PR Positive: Don't Know

  1. 1
    over 4 years ago
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    Diagnosed

    Oh No

    I was only 41, raising a nine-year-old son as a single mother, when I learned that I had breast cancer. I didn't want my son, with whom I was astoundingly close, to fear losing me--a fear I had experienced at age ten with respect to my own mother, of blessed memory, when she had surgery for ovarian cancer. I succeeded in hiding my fear from my little one, sharing it only after my lumpectomy had been performed and I felt safe because all my lymph nodes were clear.

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  2. 2
    over 4 years ago
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    Lumpectomy or Mastectomy? Reconstruction or Flatness?

    Decision Point

    I saw three surgeons in search of one who would NOT recommend a mastectomy over a lumpectomy. The third time was the charm. Dr. Applen was the eldest of the three, so I trusted his experience. His rationale made sense to me: We can always go back in and take more if the need arises, but we can't put it back after we take it out. During the days when I thought that my best option was a mastectomy and was investigating the possibility of breast reconstruction, I concluded that reconstruction was unwise. Implants are temporary, and I didn't want to have to undergo surgery every ten years or so for the rest of my life. The thought of having a foreign object inside me that might spring a leak or cause other problems did not appeal to me either. It seemed much safer to wear my prosthesis on the outside of my body than on the inside in case of unforeseen difficulties. Over fifteen years later, despite a recurrence after nine years necessitating a mastectomy and a second pre-emptive mastectomy last month when I learned that I was positive for the BRCA genetic mutation, I have not regretted either decision.

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  3. 3
    over 4 years ago
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    Lumpectomy

    Procedure or Surgery

    I am a wimp when it comes to pain, but I experienced so little pain from the surgery that I never took a single dose of the Vicodin that my doctor had prescribed for me. What amazed me most was how soon I was able to get my arm up over my head. Friends who had undergone similar surgeries--including a slim, healthy dance instructor in her thirties--had told me that it took them anywhere from six to eight weeks to do so. It took me only six days! As soon as my stitches were removed, my range of motion returned. That very night, I was out doing Karaoke. The next day I was driving over an hour each way for a Christmas get-together alone, and thirteen days post-surgery I attended a New Year's Eve dance and danced the night away. God is so good!

    Went as Expected: Strongly Disagree
    Minimal Recovery: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Side Effects: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Strongly Agree
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  4. 4
    over 4 years ago
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    Chemotherapy

    Drug or Chemo Therapy

    I really hate IV's, so I can't say it was easy, but it really had very little effect on me. On chemo days I would become slightly woozy; it was not extreme enough to qualify as nausea. I never missed a day of work and made up the hours I missed for my treatments. The only activity that suffered during my chemo was that on the night of a treatment I would explain to my nine-year-old son that I wasn't feeling very well and would ask if it would be okay for me not to read him a bedtime story that night, and he always understood and complied with my request. That was it! One special blessing during that period of my life was that I never went alone for a chemo treatment. I was divorced, so I had no husband to accompany me, and I was between boyfriends. Friends from my Sunday School class or from my Friends of the Library group always came with me to chat, distracting me from the pain. It was a time to have fun with friends! Sometimes we would go out to lunch together afterwards (remember: I never got really sick). Someone had told me before I started chemo that eating an apple just before an administration of it would prevent nausea, so I took an apple with me each time. I had been unable to confirm the veracity of the claim, but I knew that eating an apple couldn't harm me, so why not? I'm not convinced that this practice contributed to my getting through my chemo so amazingly easily, but it did cause me never to want to eat another apple! Ever since then, apples mean chemo to me, and I want nothing to do with them! I did lose some of my hair, but not enough for most people to notice the difference; I would estimate that it was about 1/4 to 1/3 that I lost. As I result, I never had to rush out and and purchase the wig that I had taken a great deal of time selecting so that I would be ready when the need arose. Under no circumstances was I going to be caught dead without hair! I had very carefully found the wig that best matched my own long, dark, wavy hair and knew where to order it and how long I would have to wait for it to arrive.

    Easy to Do: Neutral/NA
    Minimal Side Effects: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Strongly Agree
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  5. 5
    over 4 years ago
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    External radiation

    Radiation

    What my doctor told me was correct: once you make it through chemo, radiation is a piece of cake. I rejected the notion of being tattooed, not wanting any more permanent modification to my body than I had already experienced with the lumpectomy, so I was marked with a purple marker as needed (it would fade over time). The marker got onto my bras, but they were purchased just for my time of radiation and were not the sort I normally wore, so that wasn't a significant problem. The radiation made my skin red and itchy like a sunburn. I had been told not to scratch, but I couldn't help it. I used lotion, but I still itched. This was the worst of the side effects--probably the only one. Just as with my chemo, I had to leave work for my radiation treatments, but I quickly made up all lost time. I had been concerned about using up my vacation time on my cancer treatments, but I didn't end up using a bit of it. The room in which I received my radiation had numerous windchimes of all sorts hanging from the ceiling. Looking at them during treatment was fun. I learned the first day that they had been provided by patients who had gone before me, so I began shopping for my contribution long before I had completed my regimen. Presenting it was a pleasure--a celebration of the victory over cancer that was now, at the end of surgery, chemo, and radiation, complete. I had survived.

    Painless Experience: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Side Effects: Agree
    Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Strongly Agree
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  6. 6
    over 4 years ago
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    Fourth of July Church Picnic

    Celebration

    A few days after my chemo had ended, my church had a Fourth of July picnic. My nine-year-old son and I attended it. The one thing I remember about it is playing with hula hoops. I had been very good at the hula hoop as a child and had come in second in a hula hoop contest as an undergrad, but subsequently I had lost all ability to keep the hoop up. At that picnic, I succeeded in doing so for the first time in over twenty years! Another victory! My son attempted to master the hula hoop but couldn't keep it going for more than a few seconds. I have two precious pictures, one of each of us doing the hula hoop that day, in my collection of treasured photos. There I am with a huge smile and my signature long hair, although slightly thinner than before, playing--only a week or two after having gone through a full regimen of chemo! What a blessing!

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  7. 7
    over 4 years ago
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    Diagnosed

    Oh No

    About nine and a half years after that first diagnosis, I learned that I had cancer again in the same breast. I had just decided to go to law school and was beginning to study for the Law School Admission Test. The diagnosis didn't stop me; I figured that God had gotten me through one cancer adventure with flying colors and that He could get me through another one just as well. I continued studying--until my oncologist told me not to even think of taking the LSAT until at least six months post-chemo. He said that I would get "chemo brain" and be unable to think effectively. On his advice, I cancelled my registration for the test. Before I reached that six-month mark, however, I permitted friends and family to dissuade me from my plan to attend law school. This had nothing to do with cancer but rather was based on the purported cruelty of law professors, who tear students to shreds. I couldn't see myself enjoying that kind of treatment, so I gave up my plan. Oh, but back to the cancer. I thought that I would simply have another lumpectomy and get on with my life. Then I learned that this option wasn't open to me this time. I got a second opinion, which concurred with the first, and cried on the way back down in the elevator. That was it. By the time my husband (in that nine and a half years I had remarried--my boss, who had lost his wife to breast cancer!) and I reached the car, I had resigned myself to losing my entire breast this time and had stopped crying. The only other crying I did was the next night, when I thought about the fact that it was I and not my now eighteen-year-old son who had cancer. I couldn't imagine how I could survive his having cancer and cried tears of joy that it was I and not my baby who had been diagnosed. By the way, when my son was later admitted to law school during his last year as an undergrad, I visited the school he would be attending and sat in on three classes. I saw that the professors didn't mistreat the students after all but got to know them as individuals, listened respectfully to their points of view, and rewarded their efforts. I saw that a law school classroom was the most fun place to be, surrounded by bright young people discussing justice, and decided to enroll after all--but only if I could obtain a full scholarship. I managed to do just that and have just begun my final year of law school. My son became a successful lawyer last year and is enjoying helping people who experienced physical injuries. I hope to work against human trafficking.

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  8. 8
    over 4 years ago
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    Mastectomy

    Procedure or Surgery

    Just as with my lumpectomy, everything went better than one could have expected. I was back at work seven days after the surgery. I even discovered that my friend had been correct when she told me that she didn't feel lopsided; I had to stop and think about which breast was gone, as I really couldn't feel the difference! God really makes our bodies amazingly well!

    Went as Expected: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Recovery: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Side Effects: Strongly Agree
    Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Strongly Agree
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  9. 9
    over 4 years ago
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    Chemotherapy

    Drug or Chemo Therapy

    This time, I was told, I really would lose all of my hair. So again I spent a lot of time choosing the wig that best resembled my own hair, which I had finally permitted to be its natural grey, and decided to donate my hair to Locks of Love. My hair was at that time (age fifty) the longest it had ever managed to grow in my life--about three inches below my waist in back. Just days before I went to a salon to make the donation, I decided to go public with it. I invited the local paper and all my local friends and relatives, and we met at the salon for my Shearing Party! I arrived with my wig and had everyone sign a guest list. An ex-boyfriend who had just bought a video camera interviewed my guests and then shot the shearing itself, along with the editor of the newspaper. Once my hair was gone, guests marveled at how good I looked without it, saying that I had a nicely-shaped head. Nevertheless, I had the beautician put my wig on me and arrange it, and the deed was done. Later that day I had my husband take my picture with my son, who had just come home from his first year of university. He wears his hair very short, so we were almost twins! He liked me without my hair, as I looked younger without the grey. Again the chemo didn't make me really sick. This time it was my husband who took me each time rather than different friends, and before long it was over again. One cannot have radiation in the same part of her body a second time, so this time when the chemo was over I was finished with my treatment. I had survived a second time!

    Easy to Do: Not Specified
    Minimal Side Effects: Not Specified
    Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Not Specified
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  10. 10
    over 4 years ago
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    To Give Up Healthy Body Parts or to Wait for Cancer to Invade Them?

    Decision Point

    This past May, during my law school final exams, a friend from my Messianic congregation sent me a rather lengthy cancer-related article from the Smithsonian (to explain why she had committed herself to donate $1 from the sale of each copy of her recently published book to the American Cancer Society). I came close to deleting it without reading it. I now praise God that I chose to read the article. The author explained that certain Jews (I'm Jewish) have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to contract breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. As I read it, I got goose bumps; the profile closely fit my own medical history and that of my mother, of blessed memory. I wondered whether my being Jewish might be the reason why cancer seemed to run in my family. I immediately emailed the article to my oncologist of six years earlier, asking if I had ever been tested for the mutation and, if not, whether I should be tested. He responded by authorizing me to meet with a clinical geneticist. In preparation for the appointment, I received a medical history survey to fill out. I was certain that this was serious business when I saw a category among the choices for ethnicity that I had never encountered on any other such list: Ashkenazi Jewish! There are two ethnic categories of Jews, and this was mine! The geneticist determined that I was a good candidate for the blood test. He said that if I tested positive I should give serious consideration to proactively having my ovaries and my remaining breast removed before cancer had an opportunity to strike them. This was a shock; I had looked into the mutation only out of curiosity (and had been alerted to its existence only to help me understand my friend's decision to donate to the ACS and not because she thought I might have the mutation). I had the blood test done that day (May 25). I then tried to put it out of my mind for the four weeks that the geneticist had told me I would have to wait for the results. The two genes that were tested were BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. I don't know a lot of Hebrew, but it occurred to me that they almost perfectly spelled out “br’cha,” the word for “blessing!” Only later did I learn that “BRCA” stands for “breast cancer.” When I told my now unbelieving adult son that this mutation didn't seem like much of a blessing, he replied that the blessing was in finding out about the danger in time to address it. I'm usually the one to find the bright side of things that seem dark, but this time he hit the nail right on the head. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of one of Tevye's charming lines in my favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof: “[to God] I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” Since meeting with the geneticist, I have been on a personal campaign to inform Jews of the mutation and its effects. If you are Jewish, I urge you to look into this if there is any breast or ovarian cancer in your family—particularly early onset (before age forty-five). If you are not Jewish but know someone who is, please help me spread the word. I have since learned that the mutation also affects those of Dutch, Norwegian, and Icelandic ancestry. I also recently met a Hispanic woman who has it. I met again with the geneticist on June 8 and learned that I do have one of the three mutations at issue. Therefore, I waited until my summer class was finished and then gave up the body parts that had a high likelihood of becoming cancerous if given the opportunity. I accepted this without distress and did not cry at all. The relevant organs have fulfilled their purpose in my life, having produced and nourished a healthy, handsome, brilliant son. Having the surgery without first contracting cancer meant that I didn't have to go through chemotherapy, which I saw as a huge advantage. I also thus avoided having lymph node dissection, so my right arm is still available for blood tests, injections, and taking my blood pressure. I shall never have another mammogram. I realized only after the surgeries that I would never again have to endure pap smears. Besides, it's great to be (relatively) symmetrical again; having no breasts looks much better than having one. Now I can choose to have breasts of any size I like from day to day--or go around completely flat! The possibilities are endless. I've even considered star-shaped breasts because I'm a Take Charge of Your Health Cancer-Surviving Rock Star! I've also invented Booby Sox--a way to roll/fold socks to use them instead of those little pillows or prostheses. I had my two surgeries three weeks apart, the one in which my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix were removed laparoscopically four days after I finished summer school, allowing two weeks after the second one (the mastectomy) before my fall semester of law school began. I've just completed the first two weeks of class and look forward to being fitted next week for my new bras and prostheses. God is so good--every time!

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