About a week after my bi-annual mammogram I got “the call” saying they saw something and I needed to come in for a biopsy and further tests. They took three biopsies and did an ultrasound. The physician was talking to the medical student in soft tones. I said, “If you are looking at cancer, please tell me now. Don’t send me home hoping for days on end when I can hear the truth now.” So he told me I have breast cancer.
He said he knew what he was looking at and there was no doubt in his mind. He thought I was lucky because it was very small and I would likely only need a lumpectomy and radiation.
I am a very positive person by nature, so I believed what he said and looked at this as a blip on my radar. I would do what was necessary and get this behind me. What I didn’t know was that although the lump was small, I was HER2 positive, the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes and I was going to need rounds of chemotherapy and then a year of Herceptin treatments intravenously
There were so many highs and lows during this cancer journey but overall I would say my journey was a positive one. I was fortunate to have a family member in the “breast cancer system” that was able to guide me in some of my decisions. I felt very well cared for by Cancer Care, but the many decisions you have to make along your own particular journey are difficult. You need to be careful which articles you read because there is so much misinformation on the internet that can make decision making more difficult. I was fortunate to be assigned to a very good surgeon who was very open with me in helping me make decisions. She gave me the resources and support to give me the confidence to say no to further surgery, and let the chemo take care of the cancer found in my lymph nodes. I chose this because of the added risk of lymphedema with further node removal. I healed well from the surgery with a slight infection and then began chemotherapy. I was fortunate again to be assigned to a young very talented oncologist who I felt very comfortable with. I was again faced with a decision as to which treatment plan I would opt for when two were presented to me.
I continued to work throughout my treatment which was very important to me and my mental wellbeing. I was fortunate to have an employer who was very supportive of my working a reduced work week to accommodate the down time I required between treatments. Many of my staff wasn’t aware that I was even sick. My husband was my biggest support and had my back in every way possible. He read books on what to do, and more importantly what not to do. He ran interference for me and took over household chores to allow me to focus my energy on working
Losing my hair was my worst day, which surprised me because I am not a particularly vain person. But losing your hair is so unnatural. It was exactly three weeks to the day of the first chemo treatment. My hair had been falling out steadily and you can’t imagine how painful it becomes because the little ends that have fallen out are sharp and prickly and every time you move or your hair moves, it pokes your head. You reach a point where it is falling out in handfuls and has to come off. This was so difficult for me. I was feeling good and didn’t feel like a cancer patient, but looking at me in the mirror with a bald head changed that in a nanosecond. I was suddenly that person you see on TV ads, and magazines. Denial or non-acceptance was no longer an option and I struggled for weeks when I would take my wig off at the end of the day and don the small hat that would keep my head warm. I wouldn’t allow pictures when I was wearing my wig or without hair. So the best picture is one where we have been travelling, which was something we made a commitment to do once I had this behind me.
After chemo was concluded I had 20 rounds of radiation (5 days a week) which leaves you absolutely drained. I can’t explain the kind of tired that is. I have never experienced fatigue like that before or since. At the end of radiation I took some vacation time at the lake before starting the Herceptin treatments. These took place ever three weeks for one year.
Once you are “discharged” from Cancer Care back to your family doctor there is a loss of comfort in feeling that you are being so well cared for, in treatment and being monitored for everything at your oncology appointments. It is an adjustment to feel on your own again and you worry over every ache and pain - could that be something coming back? I imagine I will struggle with that for the rest of my life. I don’t take my health for granted and I am more diligent with my family doctor about things that I am questioning.
I encourage anyone who is diagnosed with cancer or any serious disease for that matter to reach out to someone who has been on this journey because they can advise you to read only valid medical sites for information, laugh, and cry and support you, and give you so much peace of mind.
This picture is of a flight I took in the exact plane my dad (Who died 5 months before I was born) taught new flyers in. My nephew is a pilot and took me up in this plane. I sat in the exact seat my dad would have sat in. This was an experience I would never have tried prior to my cancer diagnosis and has significant meaning for me