Sarah Thompson

In November of 2012, I went to my General Practitioner for a full health workup. At the age of 46, I hadn’t had my first mammogram yet, so he scheduled one for me on December 4th. During the test, the technician saw a suspicious mass on my right breast, booked me for a biopsy on December 16th and an ultrasound December 18th

About a week later while at work, I received a call from the doctor’s office, telling me that the results had come in. I went and sat in my car while I spoke with the nurse.  She stated that I could make an appointment for the doctor to go over them in person or she could get him on the phone.  While I would have much rather spoken with him face to face, I was extremely anxious to find out after beginning the process several weeks earlier. The waiting is hell but results come when they come. By nature I am a patient, positive person. But I needed to know right then because NOT KNOWING was wreaking havoc on me.

She placed me on hold as the call was put through. That hold seemed very long to me although it couldn’t have been more than a minute. The doctor came on the line and, after exchanging greetings, told me that the pathology was consistent with an invasive ductal carcinoma. I have breast cancer. He then explained that a lumpectomy may be performed versus a mastectomy and said he could see me right away to discuss all of this in person. I responded that I would be there within the hour. As the call ended, I sat in my car in disbelief, stunned, quietly sobbing. Over the prior weeks, my husband and I had numerous talks about the possible outcome of the tests, kicking solutions around as to how to deal with the worst possible diagnosis, juggling home and work while doing whatever it took to get through it. I collected myself for a few moments, and then sent him a text to call me as soon as he can. In seconds we were on the phone. While I struggled to maintain some composure, as soon as I uttered the words, “I have breast cancer,” I dissolve into tears. My husband of 21 years was initially silent. Then, as only he could, reassured me that we would get through this together. 

A second biopsy was scheduled for December 26th. My older sister, who lives about two hours away, left her family on Christmas evening to drive up and take me to my 8:30 a.m. appointment. Once we got back home, she was my “nurse” - switching out the cold packs, keeping me hydrated, cooking and dealing with my three four-legged children - a Great Pyrenees named Gretchen, a German shepherd mix rescue, named Kobe and a Terrier mix rescue named Weezer! God bless my sister and her patience!!

I kicked off 2013 with my first visit to a local breast surgeon to whom I was referred by my employer, a two-year survivor who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. The surgeon reviewed my tests and stated that a lumpectomy would most likely be the procedure she would perform. I had no family history of breast cancer, but did have a second cousin with ovarian cancer, so she encouraged me to have a BRCA test. 

On January 6th, I had a PEM (Positive Emission Mammography) scan. My breast surgeon called me two and a half weeks later with the results. The test revealed an additional mass that had initially been overlooked. Now a lumpectomy wasn’t really an option. My best chance of coming out of this out cancer-free was a skin-sparing mastectomy. I told her that I wanted to schedule the surgery as soon as possible, to which she replied, “there’s really no hurry – it isn’t spreading.” Hearing this response made me angry! When you know you have cancer, you just want it out. That is when I made the decision to find another doctor. 

My employer’s sister has worked at M.D. Anderson for 20+ years and he offered to contact her to get me an appointment. While I was tempted, Houston is three hours away and I wanted to be close to home. In the meantime, I had three other people tell me they could help me get in to MDA, which I said I’d think about. I have been known to be a bit stubborn at times. After so many folks offering to help me be seen there, I still didn’t grasp that going there would give me the most peace of mind and be the best decision for me. I was seeing the difficulties with the travel back and forth instead of the benefits. Then, I had lunch with one of my dearest friends and shared my diagnosis with her. She is the one who actually “took the bull by the horns,” so to speak.  She told me her boss, Ken, whom I’d met through my job in the apartment industry, had all kinds of contacts. Would I mind if she told him? I said, “No, go ahead.”  The next morning, I have an email from him to Emma Jacobs asking if she could help me get an appointment. Within 24 hours, I had another email, forwarded by Emma, from Dr. Anthony Lucci, a breast surgeon at M.D. Anderson, stating he could see me within the week.

My first visit was on February 19th and my sister-in-law took off from work to take me since she had worked in the medical district for several years and was familiar with the area. The morning was spent in tests and the initial consultation with Dr. Lucci was to be the following day. On the 20th, my sister took the day off to be there for me during the consultations. Dr. Lucci immediately put us at ease with his depth of knowledge, kind manner and brilliant smile! I would not require any treatment prior to surgery.  At that moment, I knew I had made the right decision. I was READY for this!
I underwent a skin-sparing mastectomy on March 26, 2013 and went home the next morning. In a couple of weeks I would learn whether or not chemotherapy, radiation or both, was recommended. The weekly visits for the expansions were difficult and uncomfortable, but I was grateful to get through them.

On April 11th, I had the first appointment with my oncologist. The pathology tests on the tumor had not yet come in. When they did, she could recommend a course of treatment. On May 3rd I received the results of the Oncotype DX testing which revealed that I was in a low risk category with an estimated 5-year recurrence rate of 10% while on concurrent tamoxifen. I would not need chemotherapy!

In September, my reconstruction surgery was performed. I have had no issues to speak of and am back to leading a normal life. I have never been one for tattoos, but I will be getting one in the coming months!  My first post-surgery mammogram is scheduled for March 21st. I am thinking positive thoughts and ready to have those confirmed! On March 26th, I plan to have one hell of a celebration for the anniversary of my surgery! Thank you, Emma, for asking me to share my story. It has helped me, and I hope it will help others.

Laurie Marsden

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My Breast Cancer Story 
 
When my sister told me she had breast cancer, I was in my kitchen on a warm Australian summer’s day. The sun was shining in that endless blue sky. I could see outside clearly from our wall of windows in our townhouse in Paddington, just outside the Central Business District of Brisbane, where I had lived for nine years with my Australian husband and our two children.
 
I remember talking to Cindi on the phone in America all those miles away and feeling disbelief and shock. We had no family history of the disease and somehow I thought that meant we were less likely to get it, or that we simply wouldn’t get it. I remember switching into clinical mode while speaking to her. As a licensed clinical social worker specializing in psychotherapy, I was used to listening to people in crisis. I asked her questions and let her story unfold, being attentive and sympathetic, trying to be constructive and, of course, as supportive as possible.
 
Throughout the conversation she kept saying, “And you should get checked too.  You need to go and get a mammogram right now.” I brushed the first few comments off and redirected the conversation to her. After all, I wasn’t quite old enough for a mammogram and I didn’t even have breasts, really. My brother had always teased me that mosquito bites were bigger, and at a 32 AA, well, I certainly didn’t have much. My small bosom had been a great asset in my modeling days. I had been a Ford model in New York City and had spent 11 years in front of cameras, wearing clothes that needed a hanger body, good shoulders and tiny breasts so that they hung well and looked good. I had gotten used to having small breasts through the years.  The comments and teasing about being “flat-chested,” as I was so often called growing up (and sometimes still heard as an adult) hadn’t fazed me in years. I was happy with my body, and my small breasts had come through for me, performing surprisingly well when needed, feeding two children for a total of 22 months.  
 
“You MUST get a mammogram, Laurie.  Promise me you’ll go,” my sister pushed. By the end of the conversation I agreed, just to make her feel better. 
 
I went into the breast clinic in The Wesley Hospital and couldn’t believe how many women were waiting. It was quite an operation there with women in blue hospital gowns from the waist up reading magazines with coffee, tea, biscuits and homemade banana bread (brought in by one of the many volunteers) there for our taking. I indulged in some tea and waited. Doctors and nurses would come out and call out names, then usher the lucky woman into a room. Sometimes she came back and waited to be called in again.  Sometimes she just left. I had a passing thought that it was like some sort of odd lottery, where no one wants to win.  
 
When my turn came I thought, “Thank God. Let’s get this over so I can get home. I’ve got a few things to do before the kids get home.”  But after the mammogram, they ushered me into another room to do an ultrasound—then back to the waiting room. Next came a meeting with a doctor, then a fine needle biopsy for a suspicious area. “It’s probably nothing, but we just want to check,” is what I kept hearing.
 
I got the results a couple days later. Inconclusive. They were not able to get enough cells to determine if it was dangerous or not. I spoke to the Doctor and was given the options: 1. do nothing and monitor, 2. do another fine needle biopsy hoping to get more cells this time, 3. do an MRI, 4. do a core biopsy, or, 5. do more than one of the above. We agreed I would do an MRI and a core biopsy, options my sister had strongly recommended.
 
I went to the hospital a few days later and had the MRI. I was back at the breast clinic in the gown in the waiting room with all the other ladies when the doctor called me in with the results. She had a big smile on her face and told me it all looked “good.” I was free to go. It took me a while to digest this.
 
“So, I am OK?” I asked.
 
“Yes, we are happy with the results.”
 
“But what about the core biopsy?”
 
“Well, we are happy with the MRI results; MRI’s are 99% accurate,” she said.
 
I sat there thinking. I knew I should be getting up and thanking her and leaving but something kept me in my seat and prodded me on.
 
“But you told me the only way to really know for sure is if you look at a tissue sample. An MRI is just an image.”
 
The doctor looked at me intensely.  ‘Laurie would you like us to do a core biopsy?” 
 
It was one of those moments when you don’t fully realize that your life is hanging in the balance and yet, against all logic, you make a bold decision.
 
“Yes, I think I do,” was all I could get out.
 
Dr. Ellena Mackey took four cores that day instead of the usual two, and on the tip of one of them they found ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS with aggressive cellular characteristics.  But since it was only in the ducts, I was lucky. So began my cancer story.
 
I ended up having two excisions that did not yield clear margins, so I made the decision to have a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.  To everyone’s surprise, the pathology came back that I had had seven centimeters of DCIS in total. The entire top half of my right breast was full of the cancer, yet it didn’t show up on any imaging test. It was a stealth enemy within.
 
On a lighter note, because my “good breast’ was so small I had to have that side boosted in order to match my reconstructed side. So yes, technically, I did finally get a boob job! One year and five surgeries later, I was cancer free and sporting a new 34C bosom. My plastic surgeon, Dr. David Thiele, had a great manner about him and often made me laugh. The surgeon who did the excisions and mastectomy was wonderfully skilled but had a more serious demeanor. I realize now that he had to tell many, many people that they were going to die over the course of his career. I can’t imagine how that affects a person and how these courageous surgeons do what they do.
 
This all happened 3 1/2 years ago. I have basically moved on with my life and moved back to America. But, of course, I still get my other breast checked regularly. Again, I consider myself very lucky. I am able to move forward with some scars, but no ongoing drama. And nothing really haunts me on an emotional or psychological level. 
 
That being said, there are some things that I still remember very clearly about those days and months. I remember praying the rosary while waiting for each of my operations. I remember how the nurses would put my rosary in a plastic bag and tie it to the bed, promising it would make it into surgery with me. I remember getting wheeled again and again down the corridors of the hospital on the way to the operating room, feeling like I was in some weird dream or a movie.  I remember how narrow the operating tables were and how everyone was kind while I was trying to make funny small talk in those precious minutes (seconds?) before I was put under.
 
I remember the shock after my mastectomy, when they took off the compression wrap and I saw what it really looked like to be flat chested on one side. I can still see myself strolling on the ward with a material satchel holding plastic bottles that the tubes in my side drained into. It hung over my shoulder on my walks and I called it my “Louis Vuitton.”
 
I remember how kind women were from my children’s school—how they took turns delivering food to our home every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for six weeks. Busy women with busy lives helped me in such meaningful and practical ways; they were angels.  
 
I remember how at peace I was with the whole process. How I gave myself over to it and realized that, whatever happened, I had had a good life. I was grateful. I am more grateful now that I am through it and I survived. My chance of getting breast cancer again is basically that of any other woman’s.
 
After my recovery, I had the privilege of working with women going through their own breast cancer journey. They have been doing my program, the 8 Steps to Becoming You,http://lauriemarsden.com/8-steps-to-becoming-you. This web-based therapy program helps women re-evaluate their lives and make changes that promote emotional, psychological and physical health. Although I developed and ran the program for many women throughout my 14-year career, the 8 Steps to Becoming You has been a very good fit for women survivors.  There’s nothing like cancer to get you to think about what is really important and how you can honor and take care of yourself better.
 

 


-- Laurie Marsden is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist with undergraduate and graduate degrees from Columbia University. As a working mother, breast cancer survivor and former model— Laurie has unique insight into the everyday challenges that women face. She has dedicated more than 14 years to helping women understand themselves and improve their lives in one-on-one sessions, group therapy and seminars. 
The 8 Steps to Becoming You available on LaureMarsden.com is a great program for women who have had a life-changing event like an illness or loss that has made them question their priorities and realize they have to take care of themselves in a daily and sustainable way. 

Rochelle Yuga

Four Year Survivor in Astronaut Training
 
It was just another routine mammogram. It had been a few years since I’d had one. I would always do them like clockwork. But work had been so busy, I’d let taking care of myself fall by the wayside and missed a year or two, so I finally scheduled it.

Shortly thereafter I received a call from the nurse at my long-time doctor’s office saying that they wanted to do an ultrasound.  First time that had happened! Then another call to do a biopsy. Shortly thereafter I got the call I never thought I’d get. It was March 18, 2009 when I heard “You have invasive ductal carcinoma of the left breast.”

My head was spinning. This can’t be MY diagnosis. But it was, so my thoughts went to how I would deal with MY REALITY. My paternal grandmother had breast cancer and lived a nice long life in spite of it, all without fancy treatments, as there was no money for that in those days. I had acquaintances that had had breast cancer and were thriving, so I felt my chances were good, too. I notified my family, friends and co-workers who were as shocked as I was!  I knew I was in for the fight of my life!  I decided I would face it positively, not allowing negative thought and asking only for prayers, positive energy and BIG smiles!  My employer made it clear they were behind me 100% and they wanted me to focus on kicking some cancer butt!!!

A dear friend, Nuri Nuri told me to think of this whole process as “training” to be an astronaut, that I’d have to make up my mind that I’d do whatever it took to get through all of this “training” and that, when it was over, I’d be an astronaut!  I loved that analogy and adopted it for my own!

As luck would have it, three of my co-workers had personal relationships with doctors at MD Anderson in Houston, TX, the premier cancer hospital in this galaxy, who placed calls in lightening speed on my behalf.  But I didn’t want to go to MD Anderson! It was too big and scary! Surely I’d get lost in that monstrous maze! My Survivor friends all wanted to refer me to their doctors. It was all so overwhelming! Then I remembered meeting Laura Mannetti (a SURVIVOR), the wife of a co-worker, with whom I’d had an immediate connection that I could never quite put my finger on, but just knew we were very connected. She was a beautiful, fun-loving, sparkling personality, so full of life with a kind demeanor. She was the very busy mother of four beautiful kids and a husband. She was the first person I called. As busy as her life was, she offered her help without hesitation. I was so touched! Throughout my experience, Laura was my personal angel to whom I owe so much!  She introduced me to MD Anderson, showed me the ropes and made me feel comfortable with MDA. She had been a nurse, so she knew the lingo and all the right questions to ask, plus she took copious notes! She got me in to see Dr. Anthony Lucci, a young, accomplished breast surgeon who was doing lots of research on the prevention of reoccurrence of cancer and I signed up to participate in his study. At our first meeting, it was determined that he was a music lover like me, so I KNEW he was on my team. My first meeting with him was more like a party as he and my dear friend Eva laughed a lot in between the serious medical discussion.  My co-worker, Kiki Dikmen, got me in to see his personal friend, Dr. Banu Arun, MDA breast oncologist, who is also doing lots of research at MDA.  She and I connected on our first meeting.  I felt great confidence in the team that was going to help me beat this nasty beast! I signed up for a trial with Dr. Arun, figuring this research would help others one day and, maybe, help me.  As luck would have it, the computer relegated me to both radiation and chemotherapy, so chemo was added to my treatment regimen.

My lumpectomy surgery, with Dr. Lucci at the scalpel, was scheduled early May 2009 and I came through it with flying colors.  All the while, dear friends were in the waiting room that day, encouraging me with their presence.  I recuperated that weekend and was back at my desk on Monday----smiling through the training. 

My chemotherapy was scheduled to begin in May—four sessions, one every three weeks.  I was having the double whammy of Taxotere and Cytoxan.  Just my luck, I was allergic to the Taxotere, making it hard for me to breathe. I would be at the hospital for 12 hours or more on my chemotherapy day, because the nurses had to slow the infusion way down.  My angel, Laura, accompanied me for my first round, then my friend Eva took the last three shifts, not wanting me to be there alone. I would never have asked for anyone to accompany me, but I was both thrilled and comforted for the company as this was an unsettling time. The chemo made me very tired and I lost my appetite as everything started tasting like tin. I contacted a natural healer in Hawaii who helped with some tasty organic options to boost my appetite. He also helped with a natural treatment when the breast got hard, refusing to drain, causing lots of pain.  After the third chemo treatment, my hair started falling out, just a day before I was scheduled for a busy business trip to NYC.  I went to my stylist, asking him to cut my long hair short.  Poor guy didn’t know what to do as my hair started falling out in his hands and brush by the bucketful. The look on his face was priceless! I told him not to worry and that the short hair would help me get through this trip where I would be seeing all of our New York and New Jersey employees, mostly men, who we are used to seeing me sassy and very upbeat. I would not let anything keep this trip from being normal.   The next night my hair was all over my pillow and I told my co-worker our morning adventure would be looking for wigs there in NYC.  We found a great place and soon I had a full head of hair for my afternoon meeting that the weather and humidity would not affect!  What’s not to like?? I decided hair was something I could control when everything else in my life at that point seemed so far out of my control.  When I arrived home from that trip, I asked a friend to give me a buzz cut, and then my sweetheart shaved my head. Wigs were in my future---lots of wigs, all colors and styles! Now I was ready for anything!  My co-workers encouraged me and appreciated my upbeat attitude about all of this. This attitude made it easier for everyone (especially me) as people really don’t know how to react to all of this “cancer stuff.” I’m still smiling through the training!!!

It soon came to light that the chemo scarred my tear ducts over, causing constant watery eyes.  They had to be ”opened up” in a doctor’s office. That was fun!!! Another challenge checked off the list. Furthermore, the chemo left me with neuropathy in both feet that continues today.  I was accepted into a trial of biofeedback for it with no positive results for me, sorry to say. I am told there is more than likely nothing that can be done.  Still smiling!!

I finally made it through my chemotherapy and next was the 30 rounds of radiation that ended in November.  Dr. Bloom and her team at the Bellaire radiation arm of MDA were great.  I would run to the clinic (close to my office) have my radiation,  change clothes and be back at work all  in a little over  1/2 hour.  Although I was now even more tired, I felt the radiation was a breeze.

We noticed that I had a tiny pinhole that would not heal.  I was told not to swim or snorkel on our annual vacation to Cancun because of this, so I scheduled for a procedure to take care of that little inconvenience.  This time the surgery would only heal to the size of a pencil top eraser.  We waited until August of 2010 to do yet another surgery and this time the entire sight of the original surgery opened up and refused to heal. This was not what I was expecting!!! The radiation treatment that I thought was such a breeze was coming back to haunt me, not allowing my tissue to heal!  Training’s getting harder but I’m still smiling!!

It was at this point, as I was not interested in any more surgery, even plastic procedure; I was referred to the wound care center at Memorial Hermann to work on this new problem. The experts tried everything to get this sight to heal.  For a period of time I had to wear a negative pressure wound therapy device, WoundVac, 24/7 that worked on healing the sight from the inside out.  Finally after three months, just before they put me in the hyperbaric chamber as a last resort, the wound healed!  I was overjoyed and did not care that the breast looked dented in!  To me it was healed and THAT was a beautiful thing!  It was my proof that I’d been on quite a journey and simply ecstatic that I had aced the training and was now, an Astronaut!    Biggest smile yet!!!!

I attributed my positive outcome to the fabulous care I received at MD Anderson, the never-ending support from my wonderful partner, Bob, my angel, Laura (who has since left this life on earth), a really, loving support system of superb friends, and a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

Josie Caruso Sethi

Ten Years of Gratitude

 
“Never Give Up.” “Never Give In.” “Never Lose Faith.” This has been my personal mantra for the past ten years, words which have served me well ever since being diagnosed with non-curable Invasive Metastatic Lobular Carcinoma on December 31, 2003, also my husband, Tony’s, birthday.



Ironically, while most people look forward to the New Year as a fresh start, in my case, January 1, 2004 was literally the beginning of my new life as a three-time breast cancer survivor. Who could have imagined those four little words, “You have breast cancer,” would bring my world to a screeching halt. The stage was now set for the rest of my life, and the show was about to start.

Tony and I pulled together as best we could. Our world quickly became a labyrinth of major surgeries, minor procedures, chemo cocktails, and endless doctor appointments. It was scary, exhausting, and overwhelming.  And, if dealing with all that wasn’t enough, it didn’t help that our son, Dalip wanted to leave Law School so that he could be closer to home. (Thankfully, parental reasoning won over, and we put that fire out right away.)

Over the course of the next six months, my cancer journey was thrown into over-drive. My body did not tolerate the harsh chemotherapy—AC. AC is a combination of two drugs, the brand name Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide. I would often end up in the ER for dehydration, adverse reactions, and secondary infections due to low blood counts. Death would have been easier.

Tony depleted his vacation time to accompany me to my chemo infusions, but eventually had to return to a job that took him away from home for days at a time.  Thankfully, through the kindness of family and friends, people made sure I was never hungry, never alone, or never without a ride.  Admittedly, there were times when I was frustrated at my temporary loss of self-sufficiency, and I often found it difficult to ask others for help. (As the first-born child, my parents raised me to be helpful, independent, and resourceful…it was not in my nature to request and accept this much assistance.)

In addition to the loss of personal independence, I also developed an underlying guilt about disrupting the lives of everyone who knew and loved me, having quickly learned that “my” cancer journey was now “their” cancer journey as well. One person’s suffering is bad enough, but through association, I felt I was also dragging everyone else along for the ride.

Cancer has a way of reducing us to the most basic level, exposing a darkness unlike anything we have ever known. My spirit would have died then and there had it not been for one saving grace, namely, that no matter how difficult things would get, there was always an underlying sense of gratitude. I was walking a tightrope, knowing things could potentially become much worse, and yet, without fully comprehending it at the time, I intuitively allowed myself to feel gratitude, and that made all the difference in how I moved forward with my journey.

At first, it was difficult to find things to be grateful for. The short list included my family, friends, co-workers, and an amazing team of doctors. I struggled with my diagnosis, not just on a physical level, but on an emotional and spiritual one as well. However, over time, my gratitude list grew, and grew, and grew. Let’s face it, cancer or not, there are always plenty of reasons to complain throughout the course of a day, but learning to find moments of gratitude during tough times had a positive, long-term cumulative effect. 

Day by day, the dark thoughts in my head began to lighten. I was sleeping better, walking daily, and feeling an increased sense of emotional well-being. The dramatic mood swings were lessening as my focus shifted from self-preoccupation to a more gratitude-driven existence. With less time for self-pity, there was a renewed awareness and deeper appreciation for others. I lost some of my bad habits, and started developing some good ones, like saying “Thank-you,” more often, as well as throwing up an occasional “High-Five” hand slap.  And, most importantly, after a long time, I began to feel a deep sense of calm over my medical diagnosis, regardless of the outcome.
 
As far as I know, we only live once in these bodies that we are born with. And, knowing that death is as much a part of life as life itself, I find it amusingly ironic that the disease that nearly killed me (not once, not twice, but three times), is the same conduit that bridged the gap between my newly-found appreciation (gratitude) for what is, and a peaceful acceptance of what is inevitable.
 
Furthermore, without gratitude, I am convinced I would have eventually sunk into despair. Without gratitude, I would not have been open to receiving help from others when I needed it the most.  And, without gratitude, I would not have been humbled to the point of realization that, “There by the Grace of God, go I.”
 
Fast forward to 2013
To date, I am healthy and stable against all odds. On December 31, 2013, I will joyfully celebrate my tenth “Cancerversary” of my first diagnosis, in unison with my husband’s 64thbirthday.  While I did not choose this journey for myself, gratitude continues to be the driving force behind my inner happiness, and my determination to share this happiness and reach out to others. 
 
In 2007, I authored “The Faces behind Breast Cancer,” an inspirational book featuring photo essays of hope and survivorship.  And today, I am a certified volunteer for the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery mentoring program. Unlike the many friends I have lost to breast cancer, I have been given a second, and third chance to rebuild what was broken, and to repay all the love, care, and support I have received along the way.
 
Looking back, ten years seem like a mini-lifetime, especially when one is undergoing lengthy cancer treatment. However, challenges come and go, and no matter how things play out in the future, I will forever remain grateful that within the past ten years I was blessed to witness many memorable family events, including my son’s graduation from law school.
 
As Alphonse Karr once said, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

Nancy Charland

On September 11 of this year, I celebrated seven years cancer-free. In the fall of 2005, I decided I was going to start knitting chemo caps to donate to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, but what I didn’t know was that God had another use for those caps in mind. 
 
In November of 2005, I discovered a lump in my right breast. I wasn’t sure if it was a lump since it  was around my cycle. When it didn’t go away, I scheduled an appointment to have a mammogram and in early January of 2006, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal and invasive mammary breast cancer, classified stage two because it had gone into my lymph nodes. 
 
On September 11, 2006, after undergoing six months of chemotherapy, I had a radical, modified mastectomy of the right breast. I was rather anxious about how I was going to look after the surgery, but it wasn’t as shocking as I thought it was going to be. They did not do my reconstruction right away as they wanted to make sure I didn’t need radiation, which I’m happy to say I did not. 
 
After consulting with the surgeon regarding reconstruction I was advised that my surgery would be more successful if I lost weight.  So I gradually lost 30 pounds and I’ve kept it off for more than three years. 
 
In December of 2012, I took the plunge and had the “Tram Flap” procedure to use my abdomen to recreate my breast. I have named that breast “Dolly” as it’s quite voluptuous and my left one is “Twiggy,” for obvious reasons. My surgeons still have some minor adjustments to do in order to make “Dolly” a little less voluptuous, but I am very happy I had the surgery. 
 
God has done some amazing things in my life through this walk, but my biggest challenge remains to live one day at a time and to leave the “what if’s” in the hand of the Lord.

Claudia Farinola

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My name is Claudia Farinola and I am a five-year breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with breast cancer as a single woman, age 43 just six months after my sister, Tina, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
 
Tina discovered a lump during a routine self-breast examination. She immediately scheduled a mammogram. The results of the mammogram simply read, “The breasts are heterogeneously dense. This may lower the sensitivity of mammography. No dominant mass, distortion, or suspicious calcifications are identified. Routine follow-up mammogram in 1 year is recommended.” Tina insisted that there was a new mass in her right breast and demanded an ultrasound. The ultrasound proved that there was a 5 cm. mass. The mammogram had failed her due to heterogeneously dense breast not once but twice when her second opinion doctor ordered a repeat mammogram to be performed, rendering the same results, negative of any masses. The second ultrasound again confirmed the presence of the tumor and the biopsy showed cancer. Thanks to Tina’s due diligence, she was able to move forward with the proper course of action. My sister is now a six-year breast cancer survivor.
 
I felt it was my responsibility to also exercise due diligence based on Tina’s experience. I scheduled my mammogram. The results of my mammogram read exactly like Tina’s, “The breasts are heterogeneously dense. This may lower the sensitivity of mammography. No dominant mass, distortion, or suspicious calcifications are identified.” It was recommended that I have a routine follow-up mammogram in one year. Déjà vu!  The results of my mammogram would not be acceptable for me either. I wanted an ultrasound as well. How accurate is a mammogram on dense breasts?  Must not be if it missed a mass that measured over 5 cm., as in  Tina’s case. I made a big stink and my doctor obliges me. She ordered another mammogram along with an ultrasound due to family history. Surprise, this time everything was different. Difficulties getting proper images during the mammogram, switching out equipment, multiple techs coming in trying to help with the images and then I moved into a room for the ultrasound. I knew there was something terribly wrong when two radiologists and another nurse came in. They found three masses in my left breast! Immediate biopsies were taken. It was confirmed three days later that I had breast cancer. WOW! Thank you God and thank you Tina for helping me find this cancer. What if I had accepted the first mammogram results? Due diligence paid off again.
 
FISH (Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization) proved that I was ER/PR (Estrogen Receptor/Progesterone Receptor) positive and HER-2/neu (Human Epidermal Growth Receptor 2 gene) positive. Treatments were as follows: unilateral mastectomy with delayed reconstructive surgery (two years later), four  rounds of FAC, 12 rounds of Taxol, one full year of Herceptin and continued use of Tamoxifen.
 
I was one of those patients who suffered a side effect from my Herceptin infusions. I started to experience symptoms of congestive heart failure. I was immediately put under the dilligent care of my current cardiologist. My heart’s ejection fraction fell over 20 points. I was elevated to a Class III on the New York Heart Association Functional Classification scale. (Class III: Patients with cardiac disease resulting in marked limitation of physical activity. They are comfortable at rest. Less than ordinary activity causes fatigue, palpitation, dyspnea, or anginal pain.) Herceptin was discontinued for four months while I started on a heart beta-blocker, Coreq. Everything I was told going into my Herceptin infusions was that if any issues came up with your heart, it would only be transitory; the heart would heal itself after Herceptin was stopped. Since then, my cardiologist has decided to continue with the Coreq indefinitely. I continue to experience shortness of breath.
 
Many people ask me if I was tested for the BRCA gene mutation since my sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer. My sister was approved to take the genetic BRCA test. The results were negative for the gene mutation. Truthfully, we do not fit the profile for this particular gene. Only 5% - 10% of breast cancer is thought to be hereditary. With that said, I wanted this story of my journey with breast cancer to be one of awareness. Everyone must be his or her own advocate. Being my own advocate, I even demanded a different oncologist in the middle of my treatments due to some erroneous statements he had made and his cold bedside manner. He brought nothing to my oncology meetings and even confused me as an ER/PR negative patient when I was positive to both. It was inconceivable that this could even happen. I had to present my case to the Department of Breast Medical Oncology of my hospital and demanded that my oncologist be removed as my doctor. I then personally picked the brilliant oncologist who remains with me today. My oncologist is a wonderful doctor and she brings constant updated information to every one of our meetings. I look forward to every follow-up meeting with her.
 
Breast cancer made me a better and much stronger person. As I mentioned, I started my journey as a single woman. Two and a half years ago, I was introduced to a wonderful man at a dinner party and five months after that famous dinner, we would elope. Breast cancer taught me that life is meant to live for today because tomorrow is a privilege. I am living my life today with the love of my life and I am a breast cancer survivor. I have truly been blessed in so many ways.
 
 

Frances Arzú

The Power Behind The Dragon
 
My name is Frances Arzú and I have always believed in exercise. In December 2003, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer, which was followed by chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.  One thing I am not is a woman who accepts the word “never” or “can’t.”
 
Those who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer are told that may never regain their full range of motion due to surgery and radiation. A lot of survivors were afraid to exercise for fear of lymphedema. (Lymphedema occurs when the lymph system is damaged or blocked. Fluid builds up in soft body tissues and causes swelling. It is a common problem that may be caused by cancer and cancer treatment. Lymphedema usually affects an arm or leg, but it can also affect other parts of the body. Lymphedema can cause long-term physical, psychological, and social problems for patientshttp://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/lymphedema/Patient/page1)
 
For me, that simply was not good enough. I began swimming using only the backstroke; at one point I was up to five backstroking miles per week in order to regain my full range of motion. I subsequently joined an exercise group spearheaded by a radiation oncologist, Dr. Ted Yang from Bayshore Hospital in Pasadena, TX, involving an all-breast-cancer-survivor Dragon boat team to coincide with a program that worked with the limitations of breast cancer survivors.
 
I had never seen or heard of a Dragon boat before, but after one practice on the water, I was hooked and am now the president and coach for Texas’ only all-breast cancer survivor team, Pink Phurree (pronounced “Fury”). Dragon boating presented the opportunity to get a full body workout without stressing any one part of the body. Pink Phurree’s mission is enabling the survivor to fully reclaim her life: mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. As such, we are completely “pinked” out. I meet so many survivors who want nothing to do with the color pink, but for me, it is so important to show the world that we are “alive and kicking.” Not only is our boat pink, all the accoutrements are pink. I love the reactions we get when we hit the road with our pink baby. Pink Phurree members have raced all over the U.S. and Canada, and in cities such as Florence, Italy and Jerusalem, Israel.

In October of 2014, Pink Phurree will represent Texas in the International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission Dragon boat race in Sarasota, Florida.  This event will be an all BCS race.  I can’t wait to paddle in a “sea of survivors.” It will be an amazing and exhilarating experience.   As we begin fundraising, I anticipate that we will raise enough funds to bring a full team of 26 breast cancer survivors. At the end of the day though, I’m sure, I, along with all the survivors, will be inspired and galvanized by having the opportunity to participate in such an event, as we are more than surviving, we are THRIVING! There is always room for more survivors, Please check us out at www.pinkphurree.org 



 
In 2011, I was diagnosed for the second time with metastatic breast cancer. I know most survivors breath a sign of relieve when they hit the 5-year mark (and I did the same), but I was diagnosed with “mets” eight years later. This time, I decided that I needed to do more for myself since I was not as shell shocked, as the first time around. So many people ask about my prognosis – my response is, “I’ll LIVE until I die.”  I’ve decided that I really wanted to prove the power of exercise, literally. My twin, Charlene Arzú, talked me into hiring her personal trainer a few months earlier, so I decided that I would begin training for a fitness/body building competition.  When I first mentioned it, I thought my trainers would laugh at me; instead, they jumped on board with both feet. They saw in me much more than I saw in myself.
 
In the last few months, I’ve watched my body evolve into the most amazing shape I’ve ever been in. Who knew this would be this much work? Although, I have a “locked” lung (essentially, I’m working with only one good lung), I have managed to be in the gym for a two-hour workout every weekday at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., focusing on cardio and building muscle. Once, a month, I leave the gym after my morning workout, head home for a quick shower and head to MD Anderson for my treatment.  I then head to work, before going back to the gym for my second daily workout. I have not yet decided which competition I will enter, but I WILL walk across that stage, as a Stage IV breast cancer survivor, in the best shape of my life. The truth is, every single time I walk out of the gym under my own power, I feel like I’m sticking it to cancer!  If I can do this, then, literally, anybody can!
 
In June, I celebrated my 50th birthday, but the celebrations really began in January. When I was diagnosed with mets, the doctor said, “You have metastatic breast cancer and women with mets die!” The inference was to basically go home and wait to die. With that diagnosis in mind, I decided that I would celebrate on the 17th of every month for my entire 50th year -- with cake – the emphasis on cake, of course. So, every month, my friends and family indulge this whimsy and celebrate with me. We’ve done everything from a sushi party to Mardi Gras to Wii with the kiddos. What’s been most interesting is how the youngest have embraced this idea.  Why? For the cake, of course, but not only that, they love the idea of a celebration – where did we lose that innocence and hope? I’m hoping that everyone will celebrate ALL of their moments, as tomorrow’s not promised to any of us. I have a few more celebrations to go and am not sure how exactly I will celebrate, but I’m pretty sure there’ll be cake and the Happy Birthday song!   
 
For me, it is about showing breast cancer survivors that there is plenty of life left to enjoy after a cancer diagnosis. It is about showing survivors all they can do instead of all they cannot do. I want people to see in me strength and perseverance and a dogged determination to reclaim my life. I want them to see a woman who is living life and embracing each day. I try to take advantage of all the opportunities presented to me now.

Sandy Castillo

After being diagnosed with Stage III invasive breast cancer without any nodal involvement, I was completely taken by surprise at how harsh chemotherapy and radiation turned out to be, probably because I'd been a vegetarian, teaching yoga for so many years and had no family history of cancer.  For me, I ended up bridging both Western medicine and Eastern medicine for my personal success.  I'd hydrate on Yogi Tea and meditate before sharing a box of Girl Scout Cookies, all while getting chemo with the other ladies at the infusion center. I vowed to not allow anything to get me off of my schedule, because I already knew when my post-chemo party was scheduled!  I didn't get sick throughout my treatment. I continued to run around Memorial Park and date during my nine months of therapy while blogging away all of my secrets to empower others like me.  I'd receive random emails from people thanking me for telling them how to not puke!
 
During treatment I was recruited to work downtown. When I finished my treatment I was given opportunities to speak to other women throughout different venues. Because of my commitment to helping other women with breast cancer, my boss and I had to part ways.  He did not like it when I left the building.  But I couldn't say "no" to sharing my stories and speaking to so many women who were scared, just as I was.  I could see fear in their eyes, until I would tell them that it was going to be a tough time, but if I could do it, anyone could do it.  When they were relieved, I was satisfied with my job of empowering other women and asking them to pass it on.  The decision to focus on breast cancer nonprofits with my skills and talents had already been made for me.  I finally had to listen to my heart and not my head.

Soon, I was volunteering at every breast cancer nonprofit that interested me.  I raised money, rode my bike, shared stories, visited patients, painted plates, and appeared on TV to share my story of how breast cancer actually empowered me to focus on life ahead and shed the pains of the past.  I was blessed and wanted to remind everyone in my path that they were also empowered.  It's our choice and it has always been that way; sometimes cancer has to wake us up.

Now that I've just celebrated my four-year "Pinkaversary" on the day I was diagnosed, I am still a survivor, but now I'm also an educated patient advocate blessed with scholarships to attend conferences around the globe.  Just last month, I graduated from Rice University's Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives with Distinguished Honors after spending one year cultivating my resources towards a career working within breast cancer research.  Along the way I've garnered a position as a Consumer Reviewer for the Department of Defense's Breast Cancer Research Molecular Biology and Genetic Panel where I rate high-impact grants for funding.  (I just got another appointment) I've seen how funds are utilized from grass roots to the grass tops and it's amazing what women have done for the industry.  We still don't realize just how strong we are united together.  I do see a future without breast cancer.  However, I also find that so many survivors finish their treatment and try to go back to their lives only to find that they are not normal after all - in fact, they are empowered and special.  I continue to be a resource for so many valuable nonprofits that most of us are not aware of. We need to know that we can all get what we need when we need it.  All you have to do is ask.  Be the best person you can be no matter what the odds.  Follow my path as I continue to advocate this fall during the Women's Empowerment Cancer Action Network (WE CAN) Inaugural Conference in Uganda onhttp://is-ext.fhcrc.org/sites/we-can/index.html#network and follow my stories athttp://sandymcastillo.com/.  Together we can share our stories with the rest of the world and make a difference.

Peggy Corrigan

PeggyC.jpg

Although I’m not proud of it, I’ve never been one to commit to annual medical exams.   I’ve always enjoyed great health... Or at least I was asymptomatic of any disease so that it gave the appearance of good health.  Anyway, I was feeling some twinges in my breast and it had been two years since my last mammogram, so it was time.  

The mammography showed a lump in the left breast and required another film...   After the second mammo was read, my Personal Care Physician ordered a biopsy. 

I met with the breast surgeon, Dr. Dwight DeRisi, who was so kind, I felt as if I’d known him forever.   I would say he treated me like a sister, but none of my brothers ever saw me topless.  “It’s probably nothing, but it could be something.  We’ll know after the biopsy.” I asked if the outcome was cancer, would he be able to remove the lump without taking off the whole breast.  “Absolutely,” he replied.  Good, I thought, ‘cause I need my rack.  

A few days after the biopsy, Dr. DeRisi confirmed I had breast cancer.   He said it was a “small cancer.”   Small cancer? … Oh, well that is JUST too cute.    WTF???
 
DeRisi convinced me that I had nothing to worry about … so I didn’t; I trusted this man.  How bad can a “small cancer” be?  I’m sure this can be removed by a lumpectomy.   I am eager to get this done.  I’m a busy woman and summer was almost here.   I had planned a vacation and several other fun things to do.  

Dr. DeRisi was pretty nonchalant and told me he saw no reason for me to hold up any of my plans.   Yay!!!   What are the next steps, Doc? I asked.  He told me he wanted to schedule a different type of biopsy before moving ahead with any treatment.  Apparently, there were enhanced calcifications he wanted examined.  They may not be cancerous, but he wanted to be sure.  Ugh ….  Can we please get this over with ... It’s enough, already.

I called my husband, Kevin, to let him know the news wasn’t good.  Some people might think I should have told him in person ... but what the hell?   I got the news over the phone and I’m ok.  Besides, I wanted Kevin to have the time to digest this before I got home so he wouldn’t barrage me with a ton of questions -- none to which I had answers.

Kevin was visibly rattled when I arrived home. I gave him all the information I had and told him that I was pretty sure all I needed was a lumpectomy.  I explained the need for another biopsy and that we will know more when those results are in.

My stereotactic biopsy was scheduled for June 7. The radiologist, Dr. Josh Kalowitz and his team greeted me warmly and explained to me what was going to take place.  This procedure is a combo of a mammogram and a biopsy.

I lay on top of this table and my left breast was pushed through a hole.   There were several hands under the table groping at my breast to navigate it into the right position.  I had to lie very still.  This must be what my car feels like when it’s on the lift.   After they got my boob properly situated, they clamped it on either side so it couldn't move.  I thought to myself ... why don’t they do this to terrorists instead of waterboarding?  It would have the same affect.  (I need to suggest this to the powers that be.)  As luck would have it – bad luck, that is – the calcifications were also cancerous.
 
The next step, in what seemed to be an endless ordeal, was to meet with Dr. DeRisi to discuss my options.  At this point, I was still voting for a lumpectomy.  The doctor told me that I could go that route, but there could be a 12% chance of recurrence; a mastectomy has much more favorable odds, i.e., a 3% chance of recurrence.  So what?  I think I’ll take my chances with the lumpectomy.  The bright side is there is an 88% chance of non-recurrence.   Right?
 
During the ride home, Kevin was relentless in his efforts to convince me to have the mastectomy and I finally agreed.  My surgery was scheduled for the second week in July  – a few days prior to that, I met with Dr. Mark Silberman, my plastic surgeon.
 
Dr. Silberman, like Dr. DeRisi was easy to be with and had a great sense of humor.  He took pains to explain the details of the surgery and the reconstruction that would follow.  He also told me that a large percentage of women elected to have both breasts removed – a) it was easier to reconstruct two breasts than to try to match one of them, and b) the chances of cancer showing up in the other breast were very slim.  
 
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  A few weeks earlier I was digesting the idea of a “small cancer” and a lumpectomy and now I was faced with the decision of undergoing a double mastectomy???
 
After I got over the initial shock, I thought:  What the hell … in for a penny; in for a pound.  Let’s get it done.   On July 11, 2012, I had both breasts removed.  Dr. DeRisi was confident they “got it all.”  What a relief!  All I needed were my implants and I could reclaim my life.  Right?
 
Not so fast … I was referred to Dr. Marc Citron, a renowned oncologist, to discuss next steps.  I wasn’t the least bit concerned.  They got it all ...didn’t they?  This was probably some sort of a “rubber stamp” visit so they could close the books.  Right?  
 
As a precautionary measure, Dr. Citron prescribed four treatments of chemotherapy, Taxotere and Cytoxan.  He also told me I would lose my hair.   Oh … this is just great.  The two things I had going for me were my rack and my hair … can this get any worse??  Well, look on the bright side, I thought.   I’ll probably lose the 15 pounds I've been trying to take off for the past five years.  When this is all over, I will be SMOKIN’ HOT ... for an old bag, that is.    Guess again!  Dr. Citron told me I would need to watch my diet because this particular chemo makes you GAIN weight!!!   In 60 seconds, I went from Smokin’ Hot to Fat, Flat and Bald.  Well, everything Dr. Citron said was true.  I blew up like a balloon and my hair fell out.  I could pass for my husband’s chubby brother.  
 
My last chemo treatment was at the end of October.  Halloween was upon us and I didn’t need a costume!  I could get an orange sheet and go as a member of the Hare Krishna Movement or get a brown robe and go as Friar Tuck.    I was tempted to answer the door without my wig and give the Trick or Treaters a run for their money.  
 
My reconstructive surgery was scheduled for November 26 and I couldn’t wait -- I was finally getting my rack back.  I bought new bras and some new tops.  The chemo weight came off and I was starting to feel a bit like my old self.  Now if only my hair would grow back.
 
By February of this year, I had enough hair to ditch the wig.   It was much shorter than I usually wear it, but it was MINE.  In fact, one day I was waiting in line at the bank and a total stranger told me she liked my hair.  Imagine that … I felt like doing a commercial.   “My eyes by Maybelline ... my lips by Revlon and my hair … by Taxotere.”
 
It’s been almost a year to the day since I was diagnosed and I feel terrific.  I try not to sweat the small stuff and to embrace life with a positive attitude.  I survived this nightmare and got a brand new rack out of the deal … who's better than me? 

Marcy Rothman

One afternoon in October, as I was getting dressed, my hand brushed the right side of my right breast and I felt something.  I had never been one to go to the doctor. I was rarely ill and did not even have a family doctor.  Something about this particular “something” caught my attention and I recall thinking specifically that I would check again next month and if it was still there, I would see a physician.  In November, it was still there.  I went to see my gynecologist and he sent me for a mammogram.  Getting a good image was difficult.  When I asked the radiology assistant if anything was there, she looked at me with her hands on her hips and said, “Honey, you knew something was there when you came in.”  I had a needle biopsy.  A few weeks later, in mid-December, two days after I had accepted a new position at a different law firm, my gynecologist’s office called and asked me to come in.  I could not wait; I called him and reminded him that I am not fragile and that I deal with difficult situations and bad news for living.  I asked for my results over the phone. Mercifully, he gave me the answer, although the answer was difficult:  I had breast cancer.  I remain grateful to him for giving me the news promptly and not making me wait. 
 
The most confusing part of the news was trying to decide what to do next.  Fortunately, one of my close friends from law school was a patron of the Baylor Breast Center and was able to arrange for me to see Dr. C. Kent Osborne, MD, one of the premier breast oncologists.  He and his nurse practitioner, the fabulous Mari Rude, RN, ANP, met me and started me on a journey that was difficult but that, today, I would not trade. 
 
As it turned out, my tumor was triple negative, aggressive and non-responsive to hormone therapy.  What we thought would be a quick course of radiation became a much longer course of dose-dense ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol) chemotherapy.  Every single complication that was explained to me as a possibility became my reality.  As it turned out, I was quite sensitive to the chemotherapy.  I spent a lot of time in the hospital with things like c. diff., thrush, and sepsis.  On the other hand, I have a well-shaped head (who knew?!) and going around bald, with no wig, was empowering.
 
At the end of my course of chemotherapy, we were sent reeling by another piece of news:  my genetic test had come back positive for the BRCA 1 gene.  At the age of 43, I was going to have to undergo a double mastectomy and an oophorectomy to protect against recurrences and additional tumors.  I am an active woman with an outdoor lifestyle.  I opted for a double tram flap reconstruction, a difficult operation but the one most suited for me, long-term.  I was so fortunate that Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, MD  agreed to be my plastic surgeon.  He is another Methodist star, world renown.  I am so pleased with my results.   A few months later, Dr. Karen Lu, MD and MD Anderson Cancer Center performed my oophorectomy, and, after a few nips and tucks, I was back in business.
 
The whole journey took a year from start to finish. I had been told by friends to expect that.  The hardest part was learning to sit still and accept help. It was also the greatest gift.  I had so much help from friends and family but also from people I never knew cared. It wasn’t easy but I would not trade the friends I made, the lessons I learned, the care I received, and the person I have become.  I deeply appreciate the care I got from the wonderful physicians and facilities in the Houston Medical Center, and my life is richer beyond measure for the experience. 
 
Marcy Rothman
Houston Texas
Six-Year Breast Cancer Survivor and BRCA1 Patient

Stephanie Peirson

As I was taking a shower one morning, I felt a lump in my left breast.  I mentioned it to my husband in passing, and he said it’s probably nothing, but I should get it checked out anyway.  I didn’t know much about breast cancer back then, except that older women got it, right?  I kept telling myself that 32 years old was too young for breast cancer, so this lump I just found had to be cyst, or something…. It has to be.  But apparently 32 wasn’t too young, and neither was I.
 
After a trip to my gynecologist, she referred me to the CyFair Hospital for a mammogram.  That was depressing in itself because the last time I was there, two years before, I gave birth to my son, one of the happiest days of my life.  This was starting to be a little more than I bargained for!  So were the results.  She sent me to a surgeon for a biopsy, which turned out to be a bit of a mess because he wasn’t on my insurance.  I didn’t find that out until AFTER I was checked in and waiting for a fine needle aspiration on my breast to see if it was cancer – I wasn’t about to turn around and leave.  
 
A few days later (which felt like a month!), I’m at work and I get “the call.”  It’s the surgeon’s office, telling me they’re 99% sure my lump is cancer.  I managed to drive home in a blur, but it wasn’t quite sinking in.  I got home and told my husband; we were both kind of numb.  What next?  I can’t go back to the surgeon because he’s not covered by my insurance.  What about our boys?  Ethan’s only two and Alex is seven…they need a mum!  Am I going to die?  What will my husband do if he has to raise both our boys by himself?  I know he can do it, but how unfair is that?!    I don’t want to die yet, I haven’t done all I’ve wanted to with my life, or with my boys or my husband. What if I have to have a mastectomy? Will that be the worst thing in the world? How will I cope with it?  Why did this happen to me?  ALL these thoughts ran through my head, around and around in circles every day from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep.  I sat and cried every night when the boys had gone to bed, when it was just me and my husband. 
 
Anyway, I digress.  I called my cousin, my only family here in the United States, to tell her about the diagnosis, and then I spoke with her husband. He told me that a woman we used to work with had breast cancer a few years ago and that I should give her a call for support.  I hadn’t spoken to Becky in a couple of years, but we had something in common now, so I decided to call.  BEST THING I EVER DID!  She asked which hospital I was going to, which surgeon, etc., and was completely mortified when I told her I was going to CyFair Hospital.  I remember her telling me “we have the best medical center in the nation, and that’s where you need to be.”  She gave me the number of her surgeon and oncologist, and for that I will always be grateful because I ended up with the best.
 
The next few weeks were a blur of mammograms, ultrasounds, core biopsies, CAT scans, and blue dye.  I had a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy on December 27th 2004.  The tumor was 4.8 centimeters and the cancer was in one lymph node.  My surgeon, Dr. Michael Coselli from Methodist Hospital (the. best. surgeon. evah!), didn’t get clear margins, so he said he could go back in or I could have a mastectomy since the tumor was bigger than the scans had shown.  HARDEST DECISION EVER.  My husband and I talked about it and decided I should go for the mastectomy.  So January 24, 2005, I had the surgery to remove my left breast – turns out it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Being told I needed chemo was the worst thing!  I started six months of chemo in March. My cancer was Estrogen positive and HER2 positive, so I was lucky enough to get on a clinical trial to get Herceptin for a year. Going on the trial was the next best decision I ever made with the help of my awesome oncologist, Dr. Jenny C. Chang, the Director of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, and Toni Sinclair, the Research Coordinator at The Methodist Hospital Cancer Center. These ladies are TRULY AMAZING and contributed to saving my life – along with Herceptin!  Radiation started after chemo and lasted for six weeks, yet another “worst thing in the world.” 
 
Turns out, it only took me a few months to realize that a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and all the other “stuff” that goes along with cancer, weren’t the worst things in the world.  Not trying every single thing to beat cancer, not getting those precious years with my boys - THAT would be the worst thing in the world.  I’ll be eight years cancer-free in November. My sons are now 16 and ten and I am TRULY thankful for modern medicine, my doctors, my husband (I have the best husband in the world, period!), and my family and friends. 
 
Stephanie Pierson
Eight-year Stage 3B breast cancer survivor

Elizabeth Wilson

In June of 2011, I discovered a very large lump in my left breast through self-examination that was not there in my last mammogram from October 2010. After a number of tests, my doctor informed me on August 30, that I had Stage II IDC (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) Breast Cancer. The tumor was estimated to be almost 3 centimeters. I tested as a Triple Negative Breast Cancer patient as well. I was also tested for the BRCA gene, which found no mutation -- fantastic news, especially since I have a daughter!
 
So with this information, my husband and I plowed through the Internet to learn as much as we possibly could in a very short amount of time. We opted for surgery first, feeling my body was at its healthiest prior to chemo so I underwent a double mastectomy on October 3, 2011.
 
However, prior to surgery I gathered all my best girlfriends and we hosted a ‘Girls Going Away’ lunch. It truly helped to have all of that support surrounding me prior to our first big step in the “Journey”.
 
After recovery from my double mastectomy, Dr. Frankie Holmes of Texas Oncology, my new best friend and life-saver, decided that TAC (Taxotere®/ Adriamycin®/ cyclophosphamide) was my best form of chemo treatment; six treatments – one every three weeks beginning on November 16. In case you have not heard, TAC is known throughout the chemo world as ‘The Red Devil’. It is red in color and very toxic – YEA!  My treatment was noted as very aggressive for the type of cancer I have and I was told that the more aggressive your cancer is, the better it responds to treatment – so go get’em, TAC! I have to say though, despite hair loss, feeling tired at times, mouth sores and some nausea – I did not experience anything severe enough that I could not handle.
 
My hair loss began15 days after treatment started. Prior to my chemo, I had a Cupcakes & Champagne party. A dear friend cut my hair to a manageable length so I would not freak out once it started falling out by the handfuls. This helped a lot with the process. Going bald was the one the physical sign I had that truly stated I had cancer.
 
We had one setback during chemo in January when I experienced an infection in the left expander and had to be hospitalized on intravenous Vancomycin antibiotic.
 
On March 6, chemo ended. Keeping in light with my Journey, we hosted a ‘Chemo’s over and I’m So Over It’ party to gather all my supporting family and friends to celebrate yet another milestone.
 
Once chemo ended, we waited four weeks to begin radiation – 33 treatments, six and one half weeks of going to treatments five days a week was more challenging than I expected. I trudged through the radiation protocol, but my skin took the toll of being burned day-in and day-out. It was raw and bloody to the touch. Three weeks into treatment not sure if I would finish, but the end came and, amazingly, my skin recovered in about two weeks. By then, it was summertime, but was quickly apparent that my skin wanting nothing to do with being out in the sun. But, this passed as well and I’m able to tolerate small amounts of the warm, healing feeling the sun provides.
 
The interesting aspect of Triple Negative Breast Cancer is that it is a fairly new diagnosis in the world of breast cancer. There are many studies being conducted and treatments evolve every day. Even today, I have learned at my nine month check-up that there are now different types of the Triple Negative diagnosis. Research is truly amazing in discovering so many various types of Breast Cancer, giving way to some wonderful treatments that not only provide options, but the best possible cure.
 
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child; that saying is also true for someone who is diagnosed with cancer. Without my village ~ Team Elizabeth ~ my wonderful husband/caregiver, family members, friends, co-workers, doctors, nurses and many, many other breast cancer survivors and patients I have met along the way, I do not know how I would have gotten this far with a smile still on my face. The one aspect of the diagnosis I do recognize more than anything is that my cancer is serving a purpose for me to help others to get their annual mammograms, do self-exams and hold a hand or two if they are told they have cancer as well.

Tara Ferguson

MY STORY
by Tara Ferguson
Before being diagnosed with breast cancer, I was very naïve about cancer, treatments, and survival rates. Since my diagnosis, I have learned that you never have to be alone in your fight against cancer.
I received the news of my breast cancer diagnosis on Friday June 15, 2012, less than 48 hours after my biopsy. The biopsy results, delivered to me by my gynecologist over the phone, caught me completely off-guard.  I had just turned 40 a week earlier. I thought that I was physically fit, I drank alcohol responsibly, I wasn’t a smoker, I had breastfed both my boys and I ate a healthy diet. Wasn’t this supposed to make my odds of getting cancer very low? This had been my first mammogram ever and it wasn’t even a scheduled one. In May of 2012, while getting ready for a fundraiser for my sons’ school, I discovered the lump in my right breast with the assistance of an ill-fitting bra that I hardly ever wore. I had tried to convince myself that the lump being cancer was not only a very low probability, it was laughable. But my head and heart told me to take this very seriously, so I insisted on a mammogram.
Admittedly, I didn’t take the news well.  I began to cry and, while I don’t remember much from that first conversation with the gynecologist, I do remember remarking “I’ve watched Terms of Endearment, I know how this ends.”   I asked if I could call back once I regained my composure and hung up the phone. When I did call back with my husband, we were told by my gynecologist that she could provide us with very little information beyond the diagnosis. I had so many questions, who should I ask? A surgeon, she responded, and then recommended  three.
Problem was that none of the surgeons were available on Friday afternoon.  Calls to the surgeons’ offices were answered by answering machines with promises of a return call the following business day. Being total strangers to the world of cancer, our first thought to fill the information void was to turn to the internet and our local Barnes & Noble for answers. Many hours and several hundred dollars later, we felt we were no closer to understanding this diagnosis. We decided that, without having any answers to our own questions, how could we tell our family and friends. It looked like I was going to spend this weekend feeling alone, in a trance-like state, unable to eat, sleep or stop crying.
It was Sunday afternoon when my close friend Luan called me to discuss a 40th birthday party with the girls. This was my first chance to tell someone in the outside world of the little secret I carried and I unloaded it all on her. Luan listened quietly, and in doing so she was incredible. She handled the news as if it was something a friend told you everyday. She didn’t pity me or cry with me, she just listened. When I was finished, she discussed with me what I thought my medical options were, which helped provide some clarity to the situation. But one thing continued to bother me, I didn’t know any breast cancer survivors, and Luan couldn’t think of any either. The following day however, Luan called back with information that changed everything for me.
Luan recalled that she did know a survivor and provided me with Emma’s contact information. That first conversation with Emma may have saved my life. Emma was an 11 year breast cancer survivor – finally I knew a survivor. Emma had answers to my questions. She provided me with a lot of the information that I couldn’t find on the internet or in the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble. Then she said the words that I will always remember “Dr. Lucci is the surgeon you need to meet.”
Going to MD Anderson and meeting with Dr. Lucci and his staff instilled me with so much hope and confidence. In our first consult, I learned what the diagnosis meant and what my options were. The staff of MD Anderson were able to steer me towards books and websites that provided real answers. I have learned to stay away from online sources of information that contain a lot of false and misleading information. I was given guidance, but also felt like all decisions were mine to make. Even as my diagnosis changed from one lump to one invasive tumor, DCIS and a tumor in my sentinel node, Dr. Lucci and his staff delivered the news with care and informed me of how this affected my treatment. I had a partial mastectomy to remove the cancer and DCIS, am currently undergoing chemotherapy and am still evaluating my options following that. 
One of the oncologists I met with told me to approach my treatment like training for a marathon. As I had trained for half marathons before, I could relate to this very well. I now knew that this treatment was not going to be quick and it was not going to be easy. Ahead of me, I had surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and five years of hormone therapy.  To accomplish this, I had to take it one step at a time and not become overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. I could not think about the things I should have done in the past, I had to remain focused on the things I still had to do. All the time, I have to keep in mind the goal of killing this cancer (the finish line) and that keeps me motivated when I tire.
After living with this diagnosis for almost six months, one thing is clear, I could not have come this far without the love and support from my family and friends. Since my diagnosis, I have met so many breast cancer survivors and have appreciated every word of the wisdom they have shared with me. I have also been so touched by the support of our family, friends and neighbors who have supported us with gestures as simple as keeping me company of my daily walks, and bigger commitments such as dropping off meals, carpooling the boys to school or taking the boys for a few hours after school or over the weekend so I can rest. The support has been truly heartwarming and I am forever in their debt. We are trying to keep our home life as normal as possible. I know that I need to focus on my treatment, but life must, and will, go on.
 

Kaiulani Facciani

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The diagnosis of cancer left him reeling and disoriented. He stopped at the store and spaced out… staring… in front of the dairy section. So what does this mean? Do I buy a pint…  or a gallon?
 
     I remember well the surreal spinning of my world after the diagnosis of cancer. There is so much that is unknown and there are so many ramifications… immediate and long-term, vital and not so vital. There is so much information and so many emotions that you need to process. And your loved ones have to process it. And everyone is watching you process it.
     Ultimately, it is you that must choose your path. You have permission to feel anything you want to feel. Anything you need to feel. Cycle through the five stages of grief if it helps: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. But cycle, and process, and choose your path. Inform yourself. Take care of yourself. Commit to yourself. Do not give up on yourself. Choose a path that honors you.
     Five years ago, I had Ductal Carcinoma in Situ. Pre-cancer really, but I had a mastectomy to be cautious. I now have Stage IV breast cancer that has metastasized throughout my spine. They say that it is incurable and that it will kill me but that they can buy me some time. The truth is… they don’t know, nobody knows. There are many people who beat the odds they were given simply because they refused to accept the odds and took action. Since I am the single mother of a 20-year-old manling, I have chosen to throw everything I can at defeating it or buying as much time as I can. I’m buying the gallon, not the pint.
     I have chosen to fight. I have chosen to be the author of my destiny. I am employing both naturopathic protocol and toxic modern medicine. I am undergoing radiation to shrink existing tumors and chemotherapy to stop the advance of new growth. I am cleansing my body of toxins and providing it with nutrients and anti-cancer remedies from cultures around the world to change the bioterrain that allowed cancer to thrive. I am choosing to look at cancer as a gift and exploring my emotional landscape for opportunities to grow and cleanse my mind and soul. The healthier my emotions are, the better equipped to fight and win my body will be and the less likely cancer will return. And I will show my son what it means to not give up on myself. That is the path that I have chosen for myself. Because I know that if I don’t choose that path, there is no chance of winning. And I will win.
 
     While shopping in a consignment store near the hospital, a woman in a turban was trying on some white pants that she liked. “You know the rule about white pants after Labor Day, don’t you?” her friend commented. “Yeah, well, I’m into breaking rules right now,” she replied.
     A second friend entered the store and joined them. “There is nothing but snow and mud back home!” she exclaimed. “Why on earth would you be trying on white pants?” “Because,” she avowed firmly and testily. “I will wear them next SPRING!” Buying those pants was a symbol of hope... a way of thumbing her nose at the prognosis. I completely understood. She was buying the gallon.
     She stood at the cash register, white pants firmly in hand. She fidgeted nervously, still upset at her friends who obviously doubted that she would beat this thing.
     “I floss my teeth,” I offered.
     “Excuse me?” she said, puzzled.
     “And I use wrinkle cream. These are my affirmations that I will be around long enough to be happy I did these things.” She hugged me gratefully. And, I returned it. A nice, long hug.

 Kaiulani Facciani is a cancer survivor and current warrior who shares her insights and valuable information on beating cancer to support others in their battles through her writings at www.makesyoustrong.com.