Still, I was caught off-guard when I felt a lump in my left breast last September during a bath. When my mother felt a lump in her breast back in 1996, the chief surgeon at the hospital where she worked examined her immediately. He told her it was malignant and needed to come out as soon as possible. She had surgery the next day, but still died within a year. I was so scared.
My fears were made worse by the fact that I was new in town. My husband had died in 2019, and I’d just moved to Texas from Florida to be closer to our daughter and grandchild. Other than them and my son-in-law, I did not know anyone else.
I considered going back to New York for my breast cancer treatment, since I still have family there, too. But MD Anderson’s reputation is really impressive, and I wanted to be near my daughter. Today, I am so glad I chose MD Anderson. Because practically everything I’ve experienced here has felt like a miracle, starting from the minute I walked through the doors.
Exceeding my expectations from Day 1
I didn’t know any of the doctors at MD Anderson — much less anyone who could recommend one. But every single person I’ve met at MD Anderson, from that very first day, has exceeded my expectations.
My medical oncologist, Dr. Jason Mouabbi, is always so positive. He’s been my biggest cheerleader from Day 1. He told me that my breast cancer was not just treatable, but curable. It hadn’t spread to any of my lymph nodes. And the only reason he was calling it stage II was that the tumor was a little too large to be considered stage I.
Even the radiologist who performed my breast biopsy was so kind. She came and gently took my hand when I started crying. She said, “Ms. Fernandez, this is not your mother’s breast cancer. You are not going to die from this. ”
My breast cancer treatment
As it turns out, that pathologist was right. I ended up needing only four rounds of chemotherapy spaced three weeks apart to destroy the breast cancer entirely. When surgical oncologist Dr. Diana Liang performed my lumpectomy on Feb. 16, 2022, there was no tumor left — only scar tissue. The pathology report confirmed that I had no evidence of disease. I was so grateful.
So many people in my family have been diagnosed with cancer, you’d think there must be some genetic link. There isn’t. Several of us have been tested. We’re just a really unlucky bunch.
But I have done better with cancer treatment than all of my relatives combined. I only needed four rounds of chemotherapy plus surgery to get rid of mine. I also didn’t need additional chemo or radiation therapy after surgery, because my doctors offered an alternative.
Why I feel blessed today
I never imagined being given a choice of treatments. But I’d already responded exceptionally well to other treatments, so I had the option of joining a clinical trial instead of having radiation therapy. I just had to visit MD Anderson more frequently for my checkups.
There’s no guarantee that the cancer won’t ever come back, even with radiation therapy. But I figured more frequent monitoring would make up for its loss. So, I joined the clinical trial.
I’ll continue to get my checkups at MD Anderson every six months for the next five years. And, since it’s closer to my home in La Porte, I’ll keep getting trastuzumab injections at the League City location every three weeks until the end of 2022. I’ll also take a hormone-blocking drug called letrozole daily for the next 5 to 10 years. But all of that is well worth it not to be afraid anymore.
I feel so blessed to be where I am today. I know it sounds insane to say that I’m grateful for my cancer diagnosis now. But it has helped me put the rest of my life in perspective. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important. So, I’m not wasting any more time on worrying. I’m filling the rest of my life with happiness.