Breast cancer survivor: I’m thankful I came to MD Anderson first

Some people go to MD Anderson after they’ve exhausted all other local cancer treatment options. But for me, the thought of going anywhere else made no sense.

I’m not going to say that cancer didn’t scare me. Because by the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 53, cancer had already killed my toddler daughter, my father, my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law. And it continues to leave marks on my husband’s face, with each additional Mohs surgery he endures to keep skin cancer at bay.

But after working at MD Anderson for almost 30 years, I knew that it was the only place to go for cancer treatment.

My breast cancer diagnosis

I learned I might have breast cancer while I was on vacation in November 2014. I’d just retired from MD Anderson and was still recovering from surgery to remove my uterus and a benign, 11-pound fibroid tumor. My husband and I were about to become empty-nesters, too: our youngest daughter had just gotten engaged.

Then I got a call from my gynecologist’s office about a suspicious mammogram. The nurse tried to keep her voice calm while telling me about it, but I could tell the news wasn’t good. She just didn’t want to say so over the phone.

I scheduled a fine needle biopsy with that doctor for the day I returned to Houston. Then, I continued my vacation, because I didn’t think a single week was going to make any difference. It’s not that I was in denial; I just wanted to be in control. I was also determined that my family wouldn’t have to say goodbye to me for a very long time.

My breast cancer treatment

The biopsy showed a fairly small tumor in my right breast. But when I read the pathology report, it sounded like there were three different types of breast cancer involved. I was very confused. So, I called MD Anderson.

Once I got there, Dr. Welela Tereffe explained the pathology report to me. She confirmed that I had breast cancer, but said what I’d thought were different types of cancer were actually just multiple receptors, or molecules on the surface of cancer cells. Their presence (or absence) helps determine which types of treatment patients are offered. In my case, the breast cancer was estrogen receptor positive, HER2 negative, and progesterone receptor negative. That, combined with other factors, meant that chemotherapy would not work for me.

Instead, Dr. Tereffe and Dr. Meghan Karuturi recommended a lumpectomy (a type of surgery to remove the tumor), followed by four weeks of radiation therapy. Dr. Abigail Caudle performed the lumpectomy on Jan. 29, 2015. Plastic surgeon Dr. Geoffrey Robb did some reconstruction on my right breast. And Dr. Tereffe oversaw the radiation treatments afterwards.

Together, my doctors made me feel in control of something I really had no power over. They were a world-class team. I could not have selected a better group to care for me.

Staying healthy after breast cancer

I rang the bell to mark the end of my breast cancer treatment in March 2015, one week before my daughter’s beautiful wedding.

I’ve shown no evidence of disease since then, and I’m determined to stay that way. I do my best to get a great night’s sleep. I have a regular exercise routine, supervised by a personal trainer. I keep a positive attitude. And I watch what I eat very closely.

Next spring will mark five years that I’ve been cancer-free. And I’m thankful every day for the team that helped me get here. Not only have I survived, I have thrived. Coming to MD Anderson right away saved my life. And now, it’s giving me my best opportunity to stay that way.

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