THE EMMA JACOBS BREAST CANCER FOUNDATION
In January 2001, I was lying in bed on the telephone and I reached up and touched my breast and found a lump. Needless to say, I was pretty shocked.
I had started menopause early, several months before, and had been recommended to a doctor at The Women’s Hospital who specialized in menopausal women. I suppose she asked, "When was your last mammogram?" and, "Do you have breast cancer in your family?" I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that she prescribed estrogen. I took it for eight weeks and then I found the lump.
I had been on birth control pills for years, but had stopped taking them in 1993 to try and get pregnant. My son, Jacob, was born in 1994.
The next step was another mammogram, followed by a needle biopsy with a positive diagnosis. I had ten years of mammograms and I was only nine months out of the last one. No sign of cancer on that film..,was it the estrogen? I immediately called a friend whose husband is one of the best plastic surgeons in Houston. (Of course I didn’t know that at the time and, boy, was I lucky to get him!) Dr. Jeff Friedman called me back within ten minutes and the next day, I found myself sitting in front of one of the top surgeons at Methodist Hospital.
At the time, I was a single mother dating my now husband, Patrick, and I did not want to lose my breast. I elected to do a lumpectomy and radiation. The doctor felt I had caught it early and it was still in the duct, or so he thought. Surgery was scheduled for 24 hours later. As they were wheeling me into the operating room, I suddenly felt the urge to tell the doctor, "If you get in there, and it is worse than you think, please don’t cut off my breast. Sew me back up and let me revisit my options.” He did follow my instructions, but he did not wait around to tell me himself. He told Patrick to deliver the news to me when I woke up. Can you imagine poor Patrick having to deliver this kind of news. It was all over the breast and in the nipple. I had to have a mastectomy. I was devastated.
Back in Dr. Friedman’s office, we decided on a tram-flap using the stomach fat and tissue for reconstruction. At least that way, I thought, “they” would go “south” at the same time and I'd get a tummy tuck out of it. Jeff scheduled the surgery at Methodist Hospital in Houston and I checked into the Dunn Towers Fondren Suites—very swanky. Patrick set up bar in the adjoining room. We, of course, had to cater for the visitors! More than 70 people came with cards and flowers – and all stayed for drinks. Shannon Nolen placed pictures of my friends around the room in frames and my young son, Jacob, six years old at the time, visited too, while I recovered on the morphine drip. AHHH yes that delicious morphine drip.
It was a Friday afternoon and I was alone in my hospital room still enjoying my morphine. A man I had not met before entered my room, announcing that he was my oncologist. He had my pathology results. The cancer was in four lymph nodes. I would need to do six months of chemo followed by a six-week course of radiation. It was 5:30 p.m. on Friday; it was the weekend and, he told me, he didn’t have time to talk to me. He would see me on Monday.
He didn’t see me on Monday and he would not be my doctor. I did take the time later to call his office and I did speak with him. He said he was sorry for his rash behavior…he was having a bad day. I reminded him that his day could not have been half as bad as mine..
I called Jeff Friedman again, asking for a new referral for a new oncologist, and on Monday Dr. Jenny Chang entered my life. She is a fellow Brit, educated at Cambridge University and had spent many years working at the acclaimed Royal Marsden Hospital in London. I was much happier now! She and her assistant, Toni Sinclair, told me about a clinical trial and they signed me up. I was thrown into the arm of four rounds of double dose chemo, followed with six weeks of radiation. Jenny was insistent that the Tamoxifen was extremely important, as I was highly estrogen positive. That estrogen I took for six weeks was probably not a good idea, but who knew?
In 2002 I began volunteering at Methodist Hospital’s chemo facility. I went every Tuesday and I loved it. I got close to the nurses and doctors and it gave me a chance to be with other survivors, hear their stories and lend support. As luck would have it, I would run into that oncologist that was having a bad day, regularly. I would be sure to remind him who I was--remind him with a smile, a good morning and my name. My intention was to remind him never to do that again. Poor man, I was the thorn in his side for sure.
But what of me and my single mother status? That has changed, too. In September 2001, Patrick and I took a much-needed vacation, after I had completed my treatment, to Geneva, Vienna, Budapest and Prague. I knew he was going to propose but I didn’t know where. On our third stop, on the Chain Bridge that splits Budapest between Buda and Pest he got down on his knee - the rest is history…..