As we wrap up Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to again remind you to check your breasts regularly and I'll share one more story with you. Meet Suzanne-
"Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life changing event. I learned to put more faith in God than I ever had. I saw the caring and compassion in so many people. I learned that I was not alone. I learned to treasure the simplest things in life.
I was 47 at the time of diagnosis. I had faithfully had a yearly mammogram since age 40, but 10 months after a clear mammogram, I began having occasional pain, so I went to my doctor. He didn’t seem concerned but sent me for an early mammogram. I was taken immediately for an ultrasound and could tell by the tech’s face that she could see something. Something was also spotted on the other breast. Within a week, I had 3 biopsies and had received my diagnosis that one of the tumors was cancerous. The doctor wasn’t convinced that the other side was clear, so I had to go through an MRI guided biopsy which was torture. It came back negative again. I also was sent for a PET scan, and the only cancer that was found was that in my right breast. Once all of the pathology reports were back, it was discovered that my cancer was Triple Negative - a less common, very aggressive cancer.
What a terrifying time this was. My boys were 12 and 15. My husband was out of the country on an extended business trip. I had just lost a friend to breast cancer, so that’s what my boys knew about the disease – people died. I tried to reassure them that I was going to fight as hard as I could.
The oncology team formulated a plan. Every three weeks, I received chemo. I had 6 rounds. I lost my hair but not my sense of humor. I kept smiling through it all as that helped me stay strong. I was weak and tired, but I continued to work – because that helped me feel like I was in control. My family and friends were awesome – helping with my boys, chores, cooking, etc. Getting through chemo was definitely a mind over matter thing. I had to be strong and be in control.
After chemo, we knew that the tumor was smaller. The doctor left the surgery up to me. At diagnosis, my immediate thought was to have a mastectomy – I just wanted the cancer gone, but after I had time to really weigh my options, I decided to have a lumpectomy. I did not get clear margins. The surgeon said I needed to decide what to do next. I opted for a mastectomy. Again, I did not get clear margins and had to go in for a third surgery.
After the final surgery, the doctors gave me a few weeks to recuperate before beginning radiation. I began daily radiation before Memorial Day and finished after the 4th of July.
This should have concluded my treatment, but my oncologist presented me with an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial. There was a trial going on for Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) patients. Patients had to have done chemo before surgery and still have active cancer cells at the time of surgery. Patients accepted into the trial were put into two groups. One group would receive a very strong chemo drug for 4 rounds. The second group would have that same chemo but would receive an IV of a trial drug for each of the four rounds and then move on to an oral trial drug for 20 more weeks.
This was a lot to think about since I was finished with my treatment, but after prayers and soul searching I applied and was accepted into the trial. I was no longer a patient but was now referred to as a subject. I was put into the group that received the trial drug in addition to more chemo. The first part of the treatment was brutal. The chemo was awful. The doctor offered to let me back out, but I didn’t. I kept at it, and nearly 20 months after diagnosis, I was through with treatment! I was able to complete my reconstruction surgery too.
20 months of treatment was brutal on my body. I was fatigued all of the time. Gradually my strength came back, but I don’t think you ever get back to the person you once were. It’s a matter of accepting that I had been through so much, and this was the new me. I had osteoporosis prior to my illness. All of the chemo caused the osteoporosis to become very severe, and I am undergoing treatment for that. There are still days when I become easily exhausted, but I try not to complain because I am alive! I am grateful for each special event that I get to share with my boys. I know these events are things most parents take for granted, but I don’t. I was diagnosed a little over 5 years ago and look forward to my 5 year ‘cancer free’ anniversary next March!"