I was diagnosed on January 23, 1998, when I went into the hospital for what I thought would be an outpatient procedure for an excisional biopsy. I had had one two years prior for a lump found in my left breast, except that time it was benign. This time I did not wake up in the recovery room but in a hospital room. My husband was in a chair close by my bedside and within a few minutes of waking my surgeon came in and told me that news, “We found a little cancer.” I was too groggy at that time to grasp the full impact of the news, so I just closed my eyes and went back to sleep for another hour or so. When I awoke later, my husband was still there and again the surgeon returned and asked if I had any questions at this time. I didn’t. Not now. All I wanted to do was go home. I felt an ache in my chest and left arm and touched myself wondering if my breast was gone.
The next few days and weeks were spent meeting with doctors and searching the internet for any and all information on breast cancer. I was like a sponge, devouring all the information I could get. I had to know everything. To me, knowledge is power. I got copies of my path report, my films, blood tests and doctors notes and took them with me as I met with three different medical oncologists to find out what the next step in my healing would be.
I found out that my lump was small (1.1 cm) and that 18 of 18 lymph nodes removed were all benign. All three oncologists, however, recommended chemotherapy and radiation followed by five years of tamoxifen. I began my treatments with Dr. Yee, a confident, compassionate, no-nonsense oncologist and hemotologist with a terrific sense of humor. I selected Dr. Yee of the three, because she let me ask a ton of questions and she patiently answered all of them. She even gave me a homework assignment. I liked her immediately. She sensed I needed information and that’s what she gave me. Lots of stuff to read and learn.
I had four rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan administered by her chemo nurse in a office with a comfortable reclining chair, video equipment and plenty of magazines to read. I knew ahead of time what to expect, possible nausea and definite loss of my hair. As it turns out, however, I never got sick because I got great anti-nausea meds prior to each chemo. And in my research and reading I learned a lot about supplements and vitamins to keep my blood counts up. With Dr. Yee’s permission, I took a lot of supplements, and I believe they helped me tremendously.
Following my four rounds of chemo, which ended the day before my stepson’s wedding, which I attended wearing a gorgeous wig of flowing black hair, much like my own had been before chemo, I met with Dr. Z, the radiation oncologist. He and his staff of nurses and technicians were wonderful, caring and funny. I got marked and tattooed for radiation treatments–35 in all, and began rads about 6 weeks after my last chemo.
In the interim, I discovered a group of women on an AOL breast cancer board who quickly became my online support group. We became “breast cancer sisters.” I use to keep a list by my computer of their real names and screen names so I could keep them straight. Finally, as I learned how to create a webpage, I added their names, ages, locations and dates of diagnoses to the page and shared it with them so we could keep track as more and more women joined the board. I even gave us a name–“Just Us.” We were an exclusive group. We had breast cancer in common and our own language, our own warped sense of humor. We really connected and developed love and friendship with one another.
The Just Us gals helped me as no others helped. When I was down or sad or scared, there was always one or another sister online to hold my cyber hand and lend a cyber shoulder to cry on.
I also began taking tamoxifen in July 1998 along with my radiation treatments and I experienced tremendous hot flashes and I finally hit bottom and was crying all the time. I couldn’t concentrate at work. Yes, I worked throughout all my treatments, only taking off on Fridays for chemo, and leaving early every day when radiation treatments began. But, it all caught up to me emotionally, and I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with clinical depression and put me on Effexor, a mild anti-depressant, which also helped to minimize my hot flashes. I took two months off work to concentrate on me, on getting well and finishing the last two weeks of my radiation treatments.
Life was starting to get back to normal and the gals from the Just Us online group made plans to meet. We came from all across the US to meet in West Chester, PA. There were 30 of us at that first meeting, and it was one of the most rewarding and emotionally charged 4 days of my life. I had made some wonderful friends who helped during my darkest days. Now almost four years later, many of those ladies are now angels, having lost their battles with “the beast.” However, our Just Us sisterhood endures. We have had meetings in Florida, Las Vegas, New York, Palm Springs, San Antonio. Who knew that breast cancer would open up a whole new world of friendship for me.
Now, I and many of my Just Us sisters reach out to help others who are newly diagnosed. We are all now warrior women. We have survived, thrived and live our lives like there is no tomorrow. We live for today!