When I received a phone call about an abnormality discovered during
my mammogram in December 2016, I didn’t think much of
it. I was prone to getting fluid-filled cysts in both my breasts, and
I’d always gone in and had the cysts drained. But this mammogram was
different: it showed a solid tumor in my right breast.
I went in for a biopsy, and the results left me in shock. I really
didn’t know how to accept my HER2-negative breast cancer diagnosis. Then I remembered my
years as a single mother and the difficult months I’d spent caring for
my husband, who’d died from colorectal cancer four years earlier.
From these experiences, I knew I had the strength to face any
challenge. I just needed to have faith and do whatever needed to be
done to survive. For me, that meant returning to MD Anderson. My late husband received amazing
care there, so I knew I could trust the doctors and staff with my life.
My breast cancer treatment
In January 2016, I scheduled my first appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar
Land, the MD Anderson location closest
to my home. My first conversation with Dr. Sadia Saleem assured me I was in the right
place. After she went through my treatment options, she looked at me
and said, “Leave this cancer to me. I’m going to treat you and take
care of you. I want you to live your life.”
When I started my chemotherapy regimen with Paclitaxel in March
2017, I did my best to keep my life as normal as possible. I scheduled
my infusions on Fridays so that I could recover over the weekend and
return to work the following Monday. And thankfully, my side effects weren’t too debilitating – just
some skin darkening, altered taste buds and fatigue.
Sharing my breast cancer diagnosis with colleagues
I did lose my hair about a month into treatment, but I opted to wear
a wig until I felt comfortable in my own skin again. After about three
months, I’d garnered enough strength to show up to work bald. Up until
that point, no one knew that I had breast cancer.
Some of my co-workers asked me what was up with the new style. When
I revealed that I was going through chemo, many of them said, “Wow! We
wouldn’t have ever known!” They were all so encouraging.
Their support helped when I started my second round of chemotherapy
infusions in late June. Even though I was receiving Adriamycin and
cyclophosphamide infusions once every three weeks, this combination
hit me much harder. I couldn’t do anything for about four days after
each infusion. I had fatigue and diarrhea, and I had no appetite. I also started
experiencing neuropathy in my hands. Thankfully, Dr. Saleem
prescribed me medication to ease those side effects.
Focusing on remain cancer-free
On Nov. 2, about a month after I finished my second chemotherapy
regimen, I underwent a partial mastectomy with Dr.
Ana Paula Refinetti and breast reconstruction with Dr. Victor Hassid. I started radiation therapy
at the end of the year and was done by early February.
Now I’m taking a preventive drug called Letrozole for the next five
years, and I’m in the process of joining a clinical trial that’s studying whether taking a
second preventive drug, called everolimus, delays a recurrence and
improves the overall chances of survival in patients like me with
HER2-negative breast cancer, as well as women with high-risk,
HR-positive breast cancer.
I’m hoping that this clinical trial and my renewed motivation to
maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly will ensure that I enjoy the
rest of my life cancer-free. After all, that’s what I set out to do
when I received my diagnosis one year ago.
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