Breast Cancer Diaries
Follow Deborah’s breast cancer journey from diagnosis to making a treatment decision. Find out how she is doing after treatment. Read selections from her diary below.
April 12, 2007
I had a mammogram a couple of days ago, after skipping a few years. This is the first time I’ve had a digital mammogram. Today, I was called back for additional screening, and asked to bring the films from my last mammogram. I have to admit, I’m very nervous about what they might find.
April 24, 2007
What a day this has been. I went in for additional mammograms and an ultrasound today. The radiologist came in and told me, “You have cancer.” To confirm his suspicions I had a core needle biopsy this afternoon, which was rough. It was hard for them to get a sample, because I have extremely dense breasts. They had to poke me 15 times to get enough tissue. Now to wait for the biopsy results.
April 26, 2007
My biopsy results came in today. I have a high level DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ. At least 40 percent of the breast is involved. We’ve contacted a surgeon at a cancer center about 30 minutes away and scheduled an appointment. We’ve also asked for my films, pathology report, and slides to be sent to the surgeon’s office.
In the meantime, I’m reading up on acronyms (like DCIS) and breast cancer in general.
May 9, 2007
I met the surgeon today, and the appointment was very comforting. She was very matter-of-fact, and explained what DCIS is. She ordered an MRI of the other breast to make sure there was no cancer there. She did a separate biopsy to check for lymph node involvement; thankfully, there was none.
The surgeon told me that a mastectomy is my only surgical option. A bit of good news is that the reconstruction process can begin at the time of the mastectomy.
Before this appointment, my mind was racing; I had so many unanswered questions. Our meeting was very calming.
July 4, 2007
I had my mastectomy a few days ago. I’m surprised how well it went! I’ve had surgery before, and the anesthesia sometimes upsets my stomach. But I woke up faster than ever, and I was eating within a few hours. In three days, I was up and walking around our backyard. I haven’t really felt any discomfort, except for when I get up from a sitting or lying position.
July 12, 2007
I just received the pathology results following my mastectomy. It turns out that the cancer has broken out of the milk ducts and is now invasive breast cancer (specifically, invasive ductal carcinoma). My surgeon said I will probably be on a five-year adjuvant hormonal therapy, because I am estrogen-receptor positive and that I might also need radiation.
This was a shock; originally, I thought I’d be “cured” after the mastectomy.
August 5, 2007
I saw a radiation oncologist a few weeks ago. My case went to a tumor board, where a few doctors met to discuss the best course of treatment. Two out of three recommended against radiation; they thought it might do more harm than good, because any cancer cells left were very close to my chest wall, and over my heart.
I was really concerned about the radiation and possible health ramifications; so I chose not to undergo radiation treatments.
July 26, 2007
I just had an appointment with an oncologist. He mentioned that there’s a treatment profile that helps doctors evaluate the likelihood of recurrence. He said that, according to my tumor characteristics, I’d need to be on an aromatase inhibitor for 5 years. He said that this cancer was very unlikely to recur. We talked about chemo briefly, but the risks seem to outweigh the benefits.
Originally, I thought it would be cured with surgery, but new treatment options keep being considered, so I’m a bit more skeptical at this point.
I’m going to start taking the aromatase inhibitor. It looks like I’ll need to see an oncologist often in the near future, so I’m going to look for one closer to home.
August 10, 2007
I interviewed an oncologist that I liked, and had my records transferred to her office. Today, I had my first appointment with her.
The first thing she asked me was, “What are the results from your Oncotype DX® test?” I hadn’t heard of this test, so she explained that it can help doctors assess whether women with certain types of breast cancer are likely to benefit from chemotherapy.
I called my surgeon and said my oncologist would like to have the test done, so the surgeon’s office sent my sample off to Genomic Health.
September 6, 2007
My surgeon’s office called yesterday with the results of the Oncotype DX test. I had a Recurrence Score® result of 33, meaning I have about a 22% chance of recurrence (on average with range from approximately 17-27%).
I called my oncologist with the results and got an appointment really fast. My oncologist told me that she felt I needed chemotherapy and should already have started it several weeks before.
It looks like chemo is in my future after all. We’ll be placing the final reconstruction process on hold until I’ve finished chemo.
October 9, 2007
I started chemo last week. For about three days, I felt nauseous, but I was able to manage that with my oncologist.
January 17, 2008
I finished chemo last week! What a relief!
My hair has thinned a little, but I had no hair loss, which has been a big morale booster.
The support that I’ve gotten from my husband, Randy, has been just wonderful. He found a personal trainer for me soon after I was diagnosed. Everything I read about treating breast cancer emphasized the importance of exercise. It was really important for me to stay built up, for surgery and for chemo.
My trainers have also been very considerate of me. During chemo, my white blood cell count was very low. My trainers made sure to wipe down all the exercise equipment before I used it, to protect against infection. And I asked them to tell me ahead of time if they felt like they were coming down with a cold, so we could reschedule our appointments. I’ve told them how important they are to my recovery.
Randy also made sure that I was eating right. Before I started chemo, we met with a dietitian to discuss my nutritional needs. I needed a lot of protein — a minimum of 80 gm a day— so Randy had meals delivered that provided the protein I needed.
March 17, 2008
I’ve finished the reconstruction process! They put the silicone implant in today. And it was a piece of cake.
Now I really feel like I can get back to normal life.
May 21, 2008
I’m getting back to doing more of the things I’ve always enjoyed. For example, drawing and painting have always been a big interest. During chemo, it was hard to focus enough to draw. But in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten back into it. I’ve finished painting one portrait and am working on another.
Before my diagnosis, I had a business painting murals and decorative finishes. After I was diagnosed, I cancelled my business license and dropped my business insurance because I didn’t know what was in store for me. Right now, I don’t want to get back into that — no climbing ladders and scaffolding just yet! I’m focusing on pet portraits.
Speaking of pets, Randy and I stay busy with our two standard poodles. We go to the park with the dogs every day and meet other dog people there.
I’m still working with my personal trainers. I hadn’t been very active until I started training last year. Now, I miss exercising if I don’t do it.
I’m continuing to take an aromatase inhibitor, which I’ll be on for five years.
Looking back at my treatment decisions, it was a real rollercoaster. I kept hearing I was going to be cured, which made me confident that I would be, but it turned out I was at a high risk for recurrence.
The Oncotype DX test and my Recurrence Score result really helped change everything. I want to help make more people aware of the test. After all, when you have cancer, you want to do everything you can that is appropriate to make the right treatment decision.