How I found beauty during breast cancer treatment

My doctor didn’t notice anything unusual during my well-woman exam in February 2018. When I felt a lump in my breast two months later, I wasn’t overly concerned. I was only 38 years old. My husband said I should get checked again, but I didn’t think it would turn out to be breast cancer.

When I went to see my gynecologist a couple months later, my husband insisted that she re-examine me. My doctor ordered an ultrasound, a biopsy and a mammogram. They showed I had breast cancer.

The weeks after my diagnosis were a blur of appointments and tests. The worst part was the uncertainty. I felt weak and completely vulnerable.

My breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson League City

I've lived in Houston for 15 years. Even before coming to MD Anderson, I knew about its reputation as the best cancer hospital in the U.S. So, there was no question about where I’d go for breast cancer treatment.

I met with Dr. Richard Ehlers at MD Anderson League City a few days after receiving my breast cancer diagnosis. From the beginning, Dr. Ehlers was encouraging and positive. He always took the time to fully explain the pros and cons of my options. He also listened to my concerns.

I liked that I didn't have to deal with Houston traffic when I drove to MD Anderson League City. It was also easier to navigate and less crowded, and there’s free parking.

In July 2018, I started chemotherapy. Because the breast cancer was hormone receptor-positive, I had 12 weekly rounds of Taxol and four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan.

A clinical trial helped reduce breast cancer treatment side effects

I liked that MD Anderson ran many clinical trials to find new treatments and better manage long-term side effects.

One of my concerns with undergoing radiation and lymph node dissection was future lymphedema, a swelling that can occur in the arm or leg after cancer treatment.

I also wasn't fond of the idea of having a mastectomy followed by radiation and then waiting six months to a year to complete breast reconstruction.

Dr. Ehlers gave me two clinical trial options to reduce my chances of developing lymphedema and start breast reconstruction sooner. I chose one that allowed me to undergo radiation therapy before surgery.

I had 15 rounds of radiation in January 2019. A month later, Dr. Ehlers performed my mastectomy, and Dr. David Adelman did my breast reconstruction.

I am thankful that I had radiation before surgery. If I'd had surgery first, the tightness and limited range of motion caused by the mastectomy might have been much more uncomfortable.

Now, I am on my first of five years of hormone therapy. I get a monthly Zoladex injection and take a daily Arimidex tablet. So far, I haven’t shown signs of lymphedema.

A team approach to my breast cancer treatment

I was impressed with how well my care team worked together to develop my treatment plan. I always knew that medical oncologist Dr. Sausan Abouharb, radiation oncologist Dr. Neelofur Ahmad, Dr. Ehlers and Dr. Adelman were communicating about my care.

Their proactive and collaborative approach reduced my stress during treatment. I just showed up when and where they told me to, and I knew I was in good hands.

Finding the beauty in cancer

When I looked in the mirror and saw a face that didn't look sick during my treatment, I felt less sick.

I had some side effects from treatment — hair thinning, losing my big toenails and dry skin, among them.

I used cold caps during chemotherapy to keep me from going bald. I think this made things much easier for my two young kids. I didn’t lose all of my hair, and I still looked normal to them, which made it easier for them to process what was happening.

When I lost my toenails, I found a set of fake ones, put them on and painted them. To my surprise, they looked terrific, and I wondered if any other women thought about these different beauty hacks during their treatment.

Some of these discoveries made me feel better, and I wanted to share them with others. I created a blog to provide beauty tips and encouragement for women going through breast cancer treatment.

I knew in my head that I had breast cancer, and I saw my calendar full of doctor's appointments. But in my heart, I didn’t feel like a cancer patient because I found small ways to feel normal again.

My hope for other women is that they can still see the beauty in themselves during cancer. 

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