When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I never dreamed it would all be so complicated. I also didn’t realize I’d have to make decisions that would affect my ‘survival rate’ or ‘cancer recurrence rate.’ I thought a team of doctors would tell me what to do. Everybody I met had a different opinion, and ultimately, I had to make my own decisions about surgery and treatment each step of the way.
Hot Hubby and I pondered such delights as potential recurrence and survival rates versus percentage of potential side effects for various treatments. And as Hot Hubby pointed out, I decreased my survival rates by driving to these appointments with the crazy LA drivers out there!
After meeting many respected oncologists, we found the third trifecta of our dream team. Dr. Philomena McAndrew walked us through the pathology of my tumor and showed us data on the effectiveness and recurrence rates of hormone therapy and IV chemotherapy. She believes breast cancer has been treated as “one size fits all” in the past, instead of a more personalized approach. She strongly believed the data on my tumor from two FDA approved genetic tests that showed me at low-risk for recurrence. McAndrew didn’t believe IV chemo would lower my risk of recurrence. I looked her in the eyes and said clearly she’s the expert. I trusted her guidance for adjuvant therapy, and I needed her advice for my next steps. She very calmly said, “I believe that IV chemotherapy would not lower your risk of recurrence to warrant the side effects. I’ve showed you the data, but YOU have to believe that.” So that was that.
We discussed how the next ten years would look with hormone therapy. By the way, this is no “get out of jail free” card. Tamoxifen is supposed to cut my risk of metastatic disease from 20% to about 10%, which means I should grow old with Hot Hubby and die in my sleep holding his hand after a long walk on the beach with our grandchildren. But there are no guarantees. Tamoxifen also comes with many uncomfortable side effects including moodiness, hot flashes, risk of stroke and uterine cancer (lovely).
My battle is far from over, and I could be sharing a very different story or not be here to share at all had I detected this disease later. According to my PET/CT and bone scans, I am cancer free (YAY!), and I am taking a daily magical pill that suppresses the hormones that feed my cancer, and will prevent a recurrence. (Frankly it seems like a huge weight to put on one measly pill!) I had breast reconstructive surgery, I recovered nicely, and had four subsequent surgeries. It was quite a year!
Now we’re on the other side of cancer, I realize we attacked this disease as a family, and learned important lessons. Before, I never worried about cancer. A plane crash? A car accident? Maybe. But cancer?
I’m told that my five and ten year anniversaries are significant. Each headache and knee pain over the next few years will be stressful with the “what if’s,” but I refuse to live in fear. I will continue to live life full and large, and as Nemo said, “Just keep swimming!”
I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising feral wolves teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.