HER2+ breast cancer survivor shares hope

When Dorothy Paterson discovered a lump in her right breast while
showering in 1998, she didn’t believe it at first.

“I tried to wish it away, but then felt it again the next day,” she
says. “I’d had a clear mammogram just the year before, but something
was not quite right.”

So, Dorothy went to her general practitioner. After a number of
tests, he diagnosed her with invasive ductal carcinoma. Dorothy knew
exactly what to do next. She had heard positive stories about MD Anderson for years, and several of her
friends urged her to make an appointment here immediately.

An HER2+ breast cancer diagnosis

At MD Anderson, Dorothy received
additional testing, which revealed she had a particularly aggressive
form of breast cancer known as HER2+. The tumor in
Dorothy’s right breast measured 5×8 centimeters (or 2” x 3¼”). It had
reached stage III in less than a year. But MD
offered Dorothy treatment — and more importantly, hope.

“I will never forget that momentous day,” she says. “My parents were
babysitting on Jan. 15, 1998, when my husband and I went for my first
appointment. And when we came home, they were so confused because we
were all smiles. My mother asked, ‘So, you don’t have cancer?’ And I
said, ‘Yes, I do. But we have found the right place and the right
doctor. He will leave no stone unturned to give me the best quality of
care possible.’”

Starting breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson

Dorothy had a bilateral mastectomy with breast reconstruction. She
also had 27 lymph nodes removed, two of which were cancerous. After
surgery came eight rounds of chemotherapy — a combination of 5-flouraurasil,
doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan).

“Adriamycin is known among patients as the ‘red devil,’” Dorothy
says. “It is extremely strong and toxic, but that’s what I needed. And
I was so thankful it was available to get rid of that insidious disease.”

Dealing with breast cancer treatment side effects

Dorothy experienced a number of side effects from chemotherapy,
including bone loss.

“But the worst part of going through chemo at age 42 is that it
causes warp-speed menopause,” Dorothy says. “So what normally takes 10
or 15 years to happen takes place in just a few months. I was having
up to 200 hot flashes a day, but you just have to suffer through it.”

To take her mind off of treatment and its unpleasant side effects,
Dorothy found refuge in exercise. She started running, swimming and
cycling. She even rode in the 180-mile MS 150 bicycle ride from
Houston to Austin after she finished treatment, and continued to do so
for 12 years after that.

“I call it my ‘Vitamin X,’” Dorothy says. “Exercise is my
antidepressant, part of my self-care and a spiritual practice. I made
it a priority, and it remains the biggest gift I can give to myself,
my family and my friends.”

Sharing hope in the Breast Center and beyond

Dorothy has also found great satisfaction in volunteering at MD Anderson.  Two years after finishing
treatment, she retired from her 21-year career as a geologist to
become a full-time advocate and volunteer “to do whatever I can to end
cancer forever!”

“I was one of the original Pink Ribbon Volunteers in the Breast Center,” she says. “I began serving in
this special program when it started in 2000 and did it for 10 years,
listening to patients, encouraging them and being the face of someone
who is thriving after making it through that very scary time.  I must
have flashed more than 500 women in that private room there, just to
show them what real, live breast reconstruction looks like.”

Today, Dorothy continues to share hope with every MD Anderson cancer patient she meets. She
finished her own breast cancer treatments here in April 1999, and has
been cancer-free ever since.

“Keeping their hope alive fills me up and turns my story and all I
went through into something so positive,” she says. “It’s been such a
gift for me to be able to give back to others.”