Breast cancer survivor: Preventive surgery at MD Anderson caught my early-stage ovarian cancer
When I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2018, I wasn’t really that surprised. My gynecologist had been monitoring several suspicious spots in my right breast for years.
At almost every mammogram, the technician would say, “Oh, here’s something else we need to watch.” And, my doctor would insert a tiny metal clip there to mark the new spot after performing a breast biopsy on it. By the time my annual screening mammogram showed that I had cancer for sure, I already had five or six of those clips in that breast.
Thanks to MD Anderson, though, I now show no evidence of either disease. And I am incredibly thankful.
Why I chose MD Anderson for my breast cancer treatment
I guess Ikind of went into shock when I found out my breast cancer was triple-negative. I knew that meant it would be harder to treat, since it lacked the three most common receptors for targeted therapy to be a good option. But I was so stunned that I didn’t say anything when my doctor told me she knew a really great breast surgeon and made an appointment for me on the spot.
I already knew that MD Anderson was the best because it had cured my mother, Nancy Henson, of lung cancer years before. She passed away in 2014 at the age of 75, but her death was not caused by cancer.
I called MD Anderson and made an appointment.
My triple-negative breast cancer treatment
I knew right away that I’d made the right decision. MD Anderson runs like a well-oiled machine. Even my social work counselor was a huge help. She knew that I was struggling with money at the time, so she got me some parking vouchers to ease that burden.
Once I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation and learned how aggressive triple-negative breast cancer could be, I was totally onboard with whatever breast cancer treatment my doctors recommended.
For me, that meant 16 rounds of chemotherapy under breast medical oncologist Dr. Rashmi Murthy: four rounds of the “red devil” (doxorubicin cyclophosphamide) and 12 rounds of paclitaxel. Then, breast surgical oncologist Dr. Mediget Teshome performed a double mastectomy to reduce my risk of future cancer. I had that procedure done in December 2018.
Afterward, I was thrilled to learn that I wouldn’t need any additional treatments because I’d had a complete pathologic response to the chemotherapy. All that was left in my breast by the time I had surgery was a shell of the tumor. The cancer cells were all dead.
Why I had a salpingo-oopherectomy
Dr. Murthy referred me almost immediately to gynecologic oncologist Dr. Michaela Onstad-Grinsfelder after I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. She knew that it significantly increased my chances of developing ovarian cancer someday, and she wanted to get me started on a high-risk monitoring schedule right away.
My CA-125 levels were always in the normal range. But Dr. Onstad-Grinsfelder recommended surgery to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes to reduce my chances of developing ovarian cancer.
Unfortunately, all of this happened early in the COVID-19 pandemic. There were a lot of restrictions in place because everything was so new and uncertain. I was already due to have my tissue expanders replaced with breast implants. But both that surgery and the one to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes were considered “elective” procedures — which at the time were strictly prohibited.
Thankfully, Dr. Grinsfelder-Onstad kept very close tabs on the ever-changing pandemic situation, and when a window finally opened for elective surgeries, she got me scheduled immediately. I had both of those procedures done in June 2020.
Cancer-free and exactly where I need to be
I’d had no symptoms of ovarian cancer at all, but when the pathology report came back after the surgery, it showed that I’d already had stage I ovarian cancer in my left fallopian tube.
I had surgery about six weeks later to remove my uterus, cervix, lymph nodes and omentum as a staging procedure, to see what additional treatment would be recommended. Then, I had six rounds of carboplatin and paclitaxel to kill any microscopic cancer cells that might still be floating around to try to decrease the risk of recurrence.
Still, I have a lot of faith in my doctors at MD Anderson. I know that if Plan A doesn’t work, they already have Plans B and C lined up right behind it. They always have another option in mind, so that really reassures me and puts my mind at ease.
If it hadn’t been for MD Anderson, I never would’ve even known that I had ovarian cancer. And that’s how I know MD Anderson is exactly where I need to be.