Andrea Jeffrey


It’s very fitting that I would be asked to share my story in May since it was in May of 2012 that my doctor “gifted” me with a baseline mammogram referral for my 40th birthday. Awesome right? I didn’t have to wait long because the MD Anderson mobile mammo truck was coming to my office a couple of weeks later. My results came back that they needed to recheck one side for “something suspicious.”
I made appointments for a magnified mammogram and an ultrasound and it turned out to just be calcifications. Whew! Fast forward six months to the week of Thanksgiving when, during a routine monthly self-check, I found an obvious lump in my left breast that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. I told my boyfriend, Thomas, right away and we agreed to enjoy the holiday, and then call the doctor as soon as possible. Of course, my doctor’s office was closed for the week, so while I waited for what seemed like forever until they opened on Monday, I prayed that if it was “something” that we’d caught it in time. My ob-gyn suggested I lay off the caffeine and if it was still there in two weeks, call MD Anderson, since they had my baseline mammogram. “It’s probably just a cyst,” she said.
Two weeks later and no change—time to make the call. I was able to get in pretty quickly for the mammogram but wasn’t able to schedule the ultrasound until January. Even though I had a feeling that my lump was in fact “something,” I knew God already knew what it was and worrying wouldn’t change that; we’d know soon.
I went to the ultrasound not really knowing what might happen next but I learned you should always take someone with you if you might have a biopsy. After a couple of minutes, the radiologist came in without a word but with several others and a huge tray of instruments. My gut told me this wasn’t good, so I said, “I assume you think this could be ‘something’ or you wouldn’t be doing this.”  I will never forget his response. He looked me squarely in the eye and calmly said, “I have lots of experience with this and it looks very suspicious to me.”
Time froze for a second as I considered the facts: I have a lump that wasn’t there six months ago; I am at MD Anderson—with an expert who sees something suspicious. In my mind, I had just been diagnosed! I was at work when I received the call five days later, confirming his suspicions—“I’m afraid I was right, you do have breast cancer.” I honestly have no idea what he said after that. Even if you are not surprised, you cannot be prepared for news like that.
I called Thomas and told him it was definitely breast cancer and while he called a client, an oncologist at MD Anderson to ask her how to proceed, I drove numbly to MD Anderson for them to check my biopsy site. I had had an allergic reaction to the prep and was very uncomfortable. I prayed over and over “Father, thank you that I am in the best city with the best doctors for this. I pray that we have caught it quickly and can get started soon to get rid of it.”
I had this overwhelming sense of urgency to get it OUT.  Then came the questions: will I have a mastectomy and chemo?  How will I tell our boys and my mother? It was important for me not to tell them until we had a treatment plan. But I did call my good friend Steph, who has published her story here as well. Her first words were “What!?  No way! If YOU have breast cancer, ANYONE can get it!”  Hello, my name is “Anyone.”  She was referring to the fact that I was in decent shape, no family history or other risk factors, and led a healthy lifestyle. It was ironic, as we met with the surgeon two weeks later, that my diagnosis was identical to Steph’s except that her cancer was at the next stage. I had Stage 1 IDC, estrogen and progesterone positive, which isn’t so bad by itself. But my tumor was a grade 3 and I was HER2+, so in English that meant that my cancer was like me, petite, very strong and likes to revisit places it’s been before—not good!
We sat with my surgeon, planning initially we’d do surgery the following week and even discussed that I might not need chemo, which would be awesome. Then, we decided to bring in MD Anderson’s Dr. Sharon M. Giordano, who would be my oncologist. She said that because of the specifics of my cancer, we should start chemotherapy immediately, and we’d start with the worst, AC (short for a combination of two drugs, the brand Adriamycin, which is the generic doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide). And, yes, my long, lovely hair would be gone within the month. The process would take 15 months. I would also receive Herceptin during 12 of these months to specifically treat the HER2+ cancer and would have a port installed. I cried while Thomas squeezed my hand in silence, comforted by his quiet strength. My doctor said that, while 2013 would be a crappy year, she believed my prognosis was excellent. The plan was for treatments of AC over three months, then switch to another Taxol and Herceptin for 12 straight weeks, and then surgery followed by radiation, and finally, continue Herceptin until May of 2014.
“Ok,” we said, “Let’s get started!”
Now that we had a plan, we had to tell the boys and I had to talk to my mother. I tried to downplay it so she wouldn’t worry, but since I, too, am a mother, I’m pretty sure it didn’t work. It’s the hardest thing to break bad news to those you love.  Thomas talked to our three boys and prepared them to see mom way out of her comfort zone. If you know me, you know there is “stop” and there is “go,” but not much in between.  I also declared that while chemo could take my hair, it would never take my heels! And I defiantly continued to wear my fabulous shoes even when I felt the worst.
I was shocked at the toll the treatment took on my body and my mind. I used to pray for God to please slow the train down a bit so I could enjoy more of my life, but this was not quite the slowing down I had in mind. Sometimes we have to be hit over the head to stop and let others take care of us. It’s how we learn to be gracious receivers. Thomas rallied the boys and my family and friends all pulled together. I will forever be grateful to my prayer warriors scattered all over the globe.
The coolest thing about treatment—yes coolest—was actually feeling my tumor melt away. I could literally feel it burn; it was completely obliterated by the second month! I continued to work and only missed work for appointments and the day directly following my chemo treatments. I hated feeling weak; I hated losing all my hair and I especially hated losing my mind. Chemo brain is no joke. I had many days that I called “Butter in my purse and keys in the fridge” kind of days. Fortunately, most days we all kept our sense of humor.
Chemo ended in July and surgery was in August. Because my tumor responded so well to chemo, my surgery was minimal and for that I am so grateful. I had a month of daily radiation and continued receiving Herceptin every three weeks. I continued to have pretty severe neuropathy in my hands that was quite painful, but fortunately six months after chemo, the pain subsided. My hair grew back completely curly and after growing back and falling out THREE times, my eyelashes finally grew back for good. Prior to my diagnosis. I had been gathering notes together to begin writing a book I’d had in my head for years. I decided the title would be “You Can’t Scare Me!” Now that I will be adding this new chapter on my cancer, I think it’s more than appropriate.
Once again, May is upon us, which means Mother’s Day—another birthday, my last Herceptin treatment, getting my port removed and that I am officially a breast cancer survivor! “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice with a superabundance of happiness.” Psalm 118:24 
Time to celebrate!

I wish we could have published this in May but it did not make it in until July.  Emma