The beginning of January 2001, I made an appointment with my dentist for teeth cleaning on January 23. A few days before the appointment, I decided to see if my mammogram clinic had any openings for the same afternoon. May as well get both procedures out of the way if I could. It was last minute, but it wouldn’t hurt to try for an appointment. Maisel Women’s Health Center had an opening that would fit in perfectly right after the teeth cleaning. On January 23rd I remember talking to my dental hygienist and telling her I would be getting my mammogram done after the teeth cleaning and still be able to be back to work before 3 p.m.
I went to the Health Center and had the mammogram done. The technician came into the waiting area and said she needed to do a few more pictures. Frankly, I assumed I had moved or taken a breath that messed up the picture. After a short wait, the tech brought me to the attending doctor who asked if I would have time for an ultrasound that afternoon. She said there was something on the picture but an ultrasound was needed to get a better idea of what was there. I said o.k. and called work to tell them something may be going on and I’d be late.
After the ultrasound, the doctor asked how I would feel about a biopsy then and there. I said sure, why not. The biopsy was uncomfortable to say the least. After a review, the doctor said there may be a problem but she wouldn’t know absolutely until the lab results were reviewed. When she asked if I had a surgeon I would like to use, I knew something was more than just suspicious in the results. I asked for her gut feeling since she’s the professional and had to have a pretty good idea what was there. She felt there could be a malignancy and gave me a manila folder with information with the hope I wouldn’t need it. She also suggested a surgeon who was a friend of hers at another hospital as the best in the business.
On January 25 I got the call that I had malignant breast cancer, stage II, grade II. As they say, the rest is history. On November 14 I finished the last treatment. This year, I had two surgeries (lumpectomies) on the left breast and lymph node removal; 4 courses of A/C chemo; 12 weekly treatments of taxol; and 33 radiation treatments. I have met the most wonderful people at the Rose Cancer Treatment Center of Beaumont Hospital. The staff has been the best Dr. Helen Pass (the oncology surgeon); Dr. David Decker (chemo oncologist); and Dr. Frank Vicini (radiation oncologist) are now the team who will be with me the rest of my life.
My words of wisdom to any newly diagnosed patient, subscribe or buy the magazine “MAMM.” It has a lot of information that is incredibly useful and comforting. If you need to talk to someone, do it. No one will turn you away. Breast cancer survivors are part of a club no one wanted to belong to but incredibly supportive to each other.
If you need chemo, trim your hair short once, and then buzz it a second time. The first time will give your family and friends help easing into your new look. The second time do just after you start chemo. Having your hair come out in clumps is not pleasant. If you have the courage, make it a three step process and have your hair dresser shave your head bald. Turn it into a party with family and/or friends. We had fruit, munchies, champagne, and soda. Each of my sisters took a turn at using the electric razor. It was a shock for all of us, but we laughed through our crying. I will admit it was much harder than I expected. Be ready for it.
How you deal with the baldness is very individual. My cousin, Cheryl, was diagnosed a week after I was. She got a wig and wore it faithfully in and out of her home. I wore my wig when my head was cold and, boy, does your head get cold! As soon as the weather warmed up in April, I left the wig at home. At that time I was working for the Governor in his southeast Michigan office. No one minded in the least that I had a bald head. In fact, the Director appreciated it because for a change someone had less hair than he did.
When treatment starts, rest, rest, rest!!! Learn from my mistakes and experience. Hire someone to clean your house and do laundry. My husband and two teenage sons were supportive but not as capable as I would have liked. I should have hired someone or closed my eyes. Instead, the housework got done and I got tired. If your family is willing, let them cook or do carry-out as much as possible. Don’t give in or give up because you’re receiving cancer therapy but do listen to your body’s needs.
I continued to work full time through treatment. In retrospect, I should have taken time off after each chemo. The first one was no problem but they get progressively more difficult. I never got sick but I did get incredibly worn out. The fatigue was very challenging. Also, chemo brain was very interesting. I didn’t know about that at first. I noticed I was having problems focusing and thinking. Apparently, it’s very normal to have chemo brain. The best thing is to laugh about it because sometimes it is darn funny. I sort of felt like I had a mild buzz going on and wasn’t able to verbalize very well.
Another suggestion, have manicures, pedicures, and/or massages at least once a month throughout the treatment. Those things were relaxing and helped me feel like a girl again. I even went to the make-up artist at my beauty salon and got advice on how to do make-up while I had no hair on my head, no eyebrows, and no eyelashes. It felt good.
Radiation was boring but no problem. Going every day during the week on my lunch hour for 33 treatments was not fun. Fortunately, I didn’t have much burning at all. I’m not sure how to get past the repetitive aspect of it. I used the cell phone during my drives; did drive through lunches; and occasionally had people come with me. I brought new magazines to replenish the waiting room; brought in candy, muffins or donuts to share with the techs and the patients; and wore funny socks so the techs would laugh (and they always did) as I was laying on the table.
It’s been an experience I would have preferred to miss but would rather I go through than any of my family or friends. If anyone needs to talk whether they’ve had cancer or have questions because they have someone close with cancer, email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always here.