To chemo or not to chemo. That was the question.

On June 30, 2013 (only 10 days after my initial breast cancer diagnosis), I went to see an oncologist. To say I walked out of there devastated, would be an understatement. I went from Stage I to Stage II (because the size of the tumor was originally measured at 1.8cm on the ultrasound, then the MRI measured it at 2.2cm. Anything over 2cm is considered Stage II.

I immediately broke into tears, but was happy to hear her reassuring words. Something along the lines of “This is a good cancer to have (ER/PR+). You are going to beat this and live to be old.” Then she followed it up by saying that because of my young age (45 y/o) she suggests I treat it as aggressively as possible. That meant 4 rounds of chemotherapy, one every three weeks.

I went to my car and broke down. I was devastated.

At my followup appointment with my surgeon the following week, he said something to me that really made me think. As far as the oncologist made it seem, I had no choice but to do chemo. My surgeon said to me “Make sure that the benefits outweigh the risks.” Then he proceeded to tell me about tests (for ER/PR+, node negative breast cancer) that can predict my risk of recurrence. The industry standard is Oncotype DX, which tests 21 genes, but he wanted to have me do a MammaPrint test, which tests about 70 genes. He said that it gives a more definitive answer, where as Oncotype DX sometimes has a gray area. 

So one week after my mastectomy, my surgeon sent out tissue samples of my tumor for a MammaPrint test. The two weeks of waiting for the results was agonizing. I prepared for the worst, but prayed for the best.

When the results came back, I was so relieved. The MammoPrint test indicated that I was “Low Risk” for recurrence. It was 10% and with hormone/endocrine therapy it could cut that percentage in half down to 5%. On the second page of the MammaPrint report it specifically stated “No expected benefit from chemotherapy, endocrine therapy further reduces risk.”

I was ecstatic and could not wait to talk to the oncologist. 

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Much to my surprise, the oncologist still insisted that I do chemotherapy. She told me she does not trust the results of the MammaPrint and that she thinks my recurrence risk is considerably higher. Since the Mammaprint was so new, I could understand where some concern may be, but to flat out say she doesn’t trust it and I should just get chemo anyway, just did not sit right with me.

So I suggested getting the Oncotype DX done. I wanted confirmation. I was not ready to just jump on board the “chemo train” without knowing that I know, it is the right thing to do. And this oncologist was not convincing me. When I suggested the Oncotype DX test, her response was “I would not suggest doing that for you, because it will probably come back inconclusive.”

I had her order it anyway.

Then she wanted to set me an appointment to start chemotherapy in two weeks. “You can always cancel if you change your mind.”  … How about we DON’T schedule anything now and if I change my mind THEN I will set the appointment. The way she handled the whole thing just did not sit right with me. I was prepared to do chemo if I felt I needed it, but I wasn’t convinced.

Two weeks later, the Oncotype DX results came in – Low Risk 5%!!! It absolutely confirmed what the Mammaprint said.

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I then set an appointment for a second opinion with one of the most respected local oncologists. She was so thorough and reviewed all of the tests and she even called a scientist at Oncotype to discuss a certain part of my test. Her recommended treatment plan included 10 years of hormone/endocrine therapy. That is a medication that actually blocks estrogen from clinging onto any cancer cells that may still be in my body. Since my cancer is hormone receptive, the theory is that without estrogen the cancer cells can not grow. This is a good thing.

We discussed getting my ovaries taken out, verses taking another prescription. She said that hormone therapy + removal of my ovaries would be the most effective course . I also did a lot of research and talked to anyone with any breast cancer treatment knowlege. And even though I did hear “You should get chemo ‘Just in Case’ there are any microscopic cancer cells left.” from a few people. It just did not make sense to me to fill my body with poison, when the Tamoxifen + ovary removal would be just as, if not more effective.

It wasn’t easy and I had a lot of sleepless nights trying to decided what to do about chemotherapy. In the end, I chose not to do chemo and start on the hormone therapy. I am 6 days into taking Fareston. It has a ton of side effects, but I am staying prayerful that they will be minimal for me. Every time I take my medicine I say a quick prayer of thanks to God for healing my body and keeping the side effects minimal to non existent. So far, so good. =)

One thing I have learned is that every woman’s breast cancer is different. Therefore so should their treatments. I trust in the knowlege of the doctors I see, but no matter what, I will be the one to make the decisions that are right for me. I don’t take this responsibilty lightly and feel it is important to educate myself. After all, it is my life and health that I am fighting for. So instead of blindly listening to a doctor’s suggestions and following a treatment plan I wasn’t comfortable with, I did a ton of research and found that my gut feeling was right. I would not have been able to make this decision without the MammaPrint and Oncotype DX tests.

http://youtu.be/DZOfuWebLvI

Cancer is a word, not a sentence!

Cancer is a word, not a sentence! <– Click on this link to see the original artwork by Theartsatichipter!

I love this saying because it is a good reminder. I Googled the saying and found this link to a drawing Theartsatichipster did.

Simple, yet so meaningful to all those who have been touched by this dreaded disease. <3

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is well known for being Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In years past I have always posted the pink ribbons in support for those fighting it. This year, it had a whole different meaning to me. I was the person people were wearing pink for!

Personally I think more emphasis should be put on getting mammograms, self exams and education year round. Prevention and early diagnosis is key to stopping this dreaded disease.

The publisher of The Beacon Magazine in Jupiter, FL asked me to write a monthly column titled “It happened to me.” The goal is to share my story and hopefully educate and encourage people in the process.

Here is the first column I submitted for the Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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The follow up column for November 2013:

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Three weeks – Are you kidding me?

July 8, 2013 – The waiting was killing me.

When will they set the date for surgery?

Will it be next week?

Am I prepared?

I finally get the call from Ilene at Dr. Shapiro’s office. The surgery was scheduled for July 30th at 8am.

July 30th? That’s three weeks away. Are you kidding me?

Nope, July 30th. They not only needed to coordinate their schedules, it was the middle of summer, which meant vacations.

And the kicker is I had my pre-op appointment with Dr. Vinas the following Monday and they wanted to entire payment in full. How am I going to pull $4500 out of my ass in one week?

Fortunately for me, my wonderful life-long friend Tova set up a fundraising sight for me and she and my other friends spread the word. Although I was uncomfortable with the idea, I felt blessed that so many people reached out to me.

I was able to spread the payments out to half on July 15th and the balance on July 22nd. I cleared out my business and personal checking and ran up what little credit card I had to put down the deposit. But I did it! By the time the next week rolled around Tova was able to get an advance on the fundraising account. She paid Dr. Vinas directly and I paid the remaining $167.

What a huge sigh of relief. This is really going to happen!

Over those three weeks, I was busy researching grants, I applied for a forbearance on my mortgage, went to my church for help and continued going to all my Doctors appointments and got a lot of needed work done around my house.

Although the waiting was hard, it really turned out to be good timing. I got to celebrate my girl’s 18th birthday. It was a special night, with special people. <3

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I am truly blessed.

Get those Mammies Grammed!

Regret serves no purpose and it certainly does not help the healing process in any way. I just sometime can’t help but wonder how much easier recovering from and treating my breast cancer would have been had I not skipped two years of mammograms. Would the tumor have been smaller? Would it only be non-invasive or only Stage I instead of invasive and Stage II? The questions could go on and on, but they serve no purpose at this point. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and all of the second-guessing in the world would not change that fact.

But maybe my experience can education, inform and remind other women that even though you are busy or may even be scared to, get that mammogram anyway. Take the time to take care of yourself. 

My friend Tova and cousin Melanie worked in conjunction with my other friends Nina and Deena of Fabulous40rties Magazine to write an article that hopefully will serve as a reminder to women. Don’t wait or put it off. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones.

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My angels, my heroes and my friends

It’s been almost exactly 5 months since my mammogram and ultrasound that discovered my tumor and a little over 3 months since my surgery. SO much has happened I could not possibly catch up on all the details, but there are some very important aspects of this journey that I could not and would not forget to mention.

Being under-insured I had to clean out all of my accounts and still did not have enough to cover the surgery. And only being able to work half of what I normally did, due to Doctors appointments, phone calls and research, didn’t help either.  My life long friend Tova set up a GiveForward.com fundraiser and managed to raise over $4,000. This was very difficult for me to accept. Here I am fighting for my life and that stupid thing called “pride” just made it so difficult to accept that so many people reached out to me. Many of which did not even know me.

I am humbled that so many people reached out to me, to comfort me and pray for me at a time I felt lost. Family members, life-long friends, new friends and complete strangers all reached out. It is incredibly humbling and overwhelming when I really stop to think about it.

How do you put into words how much this means? I have thought about this non-stop for the past 5 months and I feel I am no closer to finding the “right words” to say, because “Thank you” just does not seem like enough. It doesn’t, but it’s all I have.

All I know is that this love and kindness I received when I needed it most will not be wasted and I will somehow find a way to pay it forward.

The GiveForward.com site has since been taken down because I did not like that the site showed up in a Google Search. I have clients that do not know and I am not yet to a point where I want to really make this public knowledge.

Before I took that site down (after the fundraiser was done), I posted a “Thank You” video. It is still hard for me to watch because it reminds me of the struggles I have been through the past 5 months and I am so ready to move forward. I don’t want to forget, but I am ready to let go of some of the grief, fear and sorrow that has been so prevalent the last 5 months.

But the most important thing is to “try” and express how thankful I am for the Prayer, Love and Support I received during the hardest time of my life. <3

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This is the Thank You video I posted.