Breast Cancer Diaries
Follow Laurie’s breast cancer journey from diagnosis to making treatment decisions. Find out how she is doing a couple of years after treatment. Read selections from her diary below.
October 3, 2005
I went in for my annual mammogram today, and the results were irregular. I’m scheduled for another mammogram in two weeks, which will tell us more. But my gut tells me it’s breast cancer.
If it is, cancer was something I never thought I’d have to face again. I was diagnosed with Stage IIIB non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 1977. Fortunately, after a year of treatment — which included radiation and chemotherapy — I beat it and was able to get my life back on track.
Amazingly enough, for the last 30 years I’ve enjoyed perfect health.
October 18, 2005
I had my second mammogram today. The radiologist recommended a biopsy. Before I even left the parking lot, I called my oncologist — the same one who treated my lymphoma and who’s been checking me annually ever since. He works with a surgeon and a radiologist in his practice, so if something is wrong, it’s reassuring to know my healthcare team is in place.
November 2, 2005
Today, I went in for my biopsy. We have to wait a few days for the results. I am worried and can’t really put my finger on it, but the radiologist’s tone of voice leads me to believe the news will not be good.
November 7, 2005
The biopsy results indicate that I have early-stage breast cancer. Not the outcome that I had hoped for, but not a total surprise either.
Time to gather my strength for what lies ahead. I know I can stick with the process. After all, I’ve been through it once before. Overall, I’m really healthy, and that is a huge advantage, as is early detection. I am also very lucky because I trust my oncologist and his team.
My oncologist and I discussed my treatment options. My cancer is at an early enough stage that a lumpectomy may be sufficient to remove the tumor. This would require radiation following the surgery. But there’s a catch. Because my first cancer was centered in my chest, under the breastbone, that area has already received a full dose of radiation. We need to track down those old medical records before we can be sure that I am a candidate for a lumpectomy. If they can’t be located or we find that the area can’t be re-radiated, my only choice will be a mastectomy.
November 14, 2005
Great, great news: The medical center located my 30-year-old medical records, and we can radiate my breast again. So a lumpectomy it is! What a relief. But the truth is that if I’d needed a mastectomy to recover my health, I would have done it in a heartbeat.
November 17, 2005
I went in for my lumpectomy yesterday. It was an outpatient procedure. I can’t even begin to express how good I feel just knowing the tumor is gone from my body. There was more good news: no lymph nodes are involved.
I have to say, though, that my breast is extremely sore. I’ve been sleeping with a surgical bra, which hooks in front. That way, I don’t have to lift my arms over my head, so it is much easier to take on and off than a regular bra. I’ve also been sleeping with a big pillow clutched to my chest for added support. It’s far more comfortable, and with it I can get some much-needed rest.
A big part of getting through this process is managing my fears. Whenever I start to worry about what might happen in the future, I take a step back and focus on the here and now.
- I’m not getting ahead of myself
- I trust the people who are treating me
- I believe I’m strong enough to get through whatever comes my way
Sometimes convincing myself takes some mental discipline, but there is no question my attitude is helping me manage the day-to-day stress of all this.
November 30, 2005
I just spoke to my physician and determined that I won’t be taking chemotherapy! It is one of the happiest days of my life.
After my lumpectomy, we knew I’d have radiation. My oncologist said we need to consider whether or not to use chemo. He told me about the Oncotype DX® test that can predict how likely breast cancer is to come back, and how likely I would be to benefit from chemotherapy. I met all the criteria for the test, so we decided to order it.
A lot was riding on the score for me. After my treatment for lymphoma, I had reached the lifetime maximum of some chemotherapy drugs also used to treat breast cancer. Taking them a second time would expose me to terrible risk factors like leukemia and heart damage — complications I really wanted to avoid if possible.
We waited two weeks for the results, and it wasn’t easy. I’ll never forget the moment I learned my Recurrence Score®. I had gone out of the house to run some errands. When I drove back into the garage, my husband Peter was standing at the top of the stairs with a wide grin on his face, arms outstretched, waiting to embrace me! (My doctor had called with the results while I was out, and of course I had given him my permission to share the results with Peter.) As soon as I saw my husband, I knew that I’d gotten a low score. That’s when my mental recovery really started.
My Recurrence Score result was 17. The Oncotype DX test gave us data for making an informed decision. That low-risk score liberated me from a lot of fear. From that point on, all I needed was to put one foot ahead of the other to complete my path through treatment.
June 30, 2006
We just returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands!
I started planning the trip while I was still undergoing radiation therapy. Making those plans and looking forward to the future really symbolized the end of that chapter of my treatment.
I love traveling. This trip, especially, meant so much to Peter and me. It represented renewal, beauty, adventure … and a new beginning.
January 30, 2008
Looking back at my diary entries from 2005, I’m confident that I made the right treatment decisions. I completed radiation in early 2006, and will take an aromatase inhibitor for the next five years. I’ve been cancer-free since my treatment began.
My doctor watches me like a hawk! I’m checked every two months and have mammograms every six months. The anticipation is always there, but I’m comforted knowing that if anything is detected, my healthcare team will spot it early.
The hormone therapy is also challenging. Because my tumor was estrogen receptor-positive, the therapy reduces my estrogen to zero. On the one hand, I’m happy to have the safeguard, but it also seems to have dried out my skin. I also have more joint pain and stiffness even though I remain physically active. Fortunately, I’m involved in a local cancer survivorship program and have learned lots of things I can do for myself to help.
Thanks to the excellent care I received from my healthcare team, and with the wonderful support of my husband and family, I have returned to all the activities that enrich and bring joy to my life. I continue to be an avid traveler, hiker, long-distance swimmer and tai-chi practitioner. In between, I take pleasure in my professional life as a non-fiction author and corporate historian.