Breast Cancer Awareness

Marsha Wheatley

August 8, 2008 will always be bittersweet to me. It was the day I married my husband, Larry; and the day I found a lump in my left breast while dressing for the ceremony.

We were in Key West for the wedding and three-day honeymoon. When we got back the battle would begin. This was truly a test of the ‘for better or worst’ part of our vows.

The internal medicine doctor I saw upon returning felt the lump but doubted it was anything to worry about. She sent me to have a mammogram. The results came back within minutes and within another few hours I was having a biopsy on the tumor. It would be a few days before I received the results of the biopsy.

The call came three days later, invasive ductal carcinoma. I would need to find an oncologist, quickly. After all, this is the disease that took my grandmother from me when I was just 9.

I broke down for about a total of two minutes. All I kept thinking was that I couldn’t leave my son to be an orphan. My first husband died tragically in 2003 and it devastated our lives. How can I do this to Jake? He needs to concentrate on high school, not another tragedy. I’ve got to do whatever it takes to live!

You would think it would be easy to find a ‘breast cancer’ doctor but it wasn’t for me. I spent two days going through my insurer’s provider directory before I found someone, a wonderful someone, Dr. Elizabeth Tan-Chiu. She said immediately upon seeing me that I was “too young” to be going through this at 38 and that the goal was to cure, not treat my cancer. She wrote down everything she told me and explained everything. When the surgeon I chose couldn’t see me for a month, she said that was “unacceptable” and called him personally to get me an appointment just a week away. I was scheduled for an MRI, CT scans, ultrasound, bone scans, blood work, and x-rays. The lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy followed a few weeks later.

The tumor was 2.7 cm and there was no sentinel node involvement. I caught it early both doctors said. Later blood work showed there would only be a small benefit from having chemo so I decided against it. I started eight weeks of left breast radiation a few weeks after the surgery. In May 2009, I had a complete hysterectomy to lessen the risk of recurrence. I will be taking an aromatase inhibitor for the next 5 years to fight off this disease. I’ve lost thirty pounds since December 2008. I have an appointment every three months to see my oncologist for a manual breast exam and blood work. In the next two weeks I will be going to have a mammogram and breast ultrasound. I’m nervous but my husband will be with me for support.

Through this all I have learned several things. Always do your monthly self-breast exam. Be persistent. Ask questions if you don’t understand. Do research online at reputable sites such as www.breastcancer.org. Have someone come to your appointments as support and as an extra set of ears. You’ll be surprised what you don’t remember the doctor saying but a companion will. Talk to your doctors if you have financial concerns BEFORE treatment. Don’t assume you’ll have the same experience as those women on the breast cancer forums online. I didn’t.

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