Breast cancer survivor: Why I’m grateful for mammograms and MD Anderson
I’ve never been happier to live in Houston than I was during the spring of 2018. That’s when a routine mammogram revealed I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — or stage 0 breast cancer.
I knew exactly where I’d be going for treatment: MD Anderson. Because I was born and raised in Sunnyside, which is only about eight minutes away from its Texas Medical Center Campus. And I’ve heard all my life about how it’s the best place in the world to be treated for cancer.
Now that I’ve actually been to MD Anderson myself, I can honestly say that I’m impressed. Its doctors are geniuses. And the care I received there was very warm and personal, yet MD Anderson runs like a well-oiled machine.
The thing I loved most about MD Anderson was the way my medical oncologist, surgical oncologist and radiation oncologist got together to hash out a treatment plan for me. If anyone disagreed with a recommendation, they all deferred to the person with the most experience in that area. I thought that was pretty amazing.
At one point, I asked my doctors if I needed a mastectomy: “So, are we gonna do an Angelina Jolie on these, or what?” But they said I didn’t have any genetic mutations that would make removing my breasts necessary. So, in the end, they decided I only needed a lumpectomy. That was followed by six weeks of radiation therapy.
Solid explanations helped me make good decisions
My radiation oncologist, Dr. Eric Strom, was so reassuring. Making good decisions felt easy because of the way he explained everything.
The radiation technicians and nurses in the Radiation Treatment Center were also very compassionate. They created a motivational playlist for me to listen to during my treatments, based on my music preferences. And they helped me time my treatments so my work schedule wasn’t disrupted at all.
Even one of the receptionists showed me so much kindness, just by asking me how I was doing every day, when I checked in to my appointments. And that kind of bedside manner from everyone on the staff is what sets MD Anderson apart from other hospitals.
I still feel lucky to have gone to MD Anderson
Today, I feel most grateful that the cancer was diagnosed so early. But I also feel grateful for my doctors at MD Anderson — and lucky to have access to all of the resources available there, even now.
Bacon will always be my weakness. But Dr. Gilchrist gave me a thorough evaluation, a personalized exercise plan, and a Fitbit to monitor my progress. She also provides me with regular feedback on how to keep building on my successes. Now, I’m getting in 10,000 steps a day, making better meal choices and feeling a lot better.
Why I tell everyone not to skip their annual screening exams
I still don’t have quite the same mobility as I used to. And I have to rub lotion on my skin to reduce the tightening and hardening that can sometimes be a side effect of radiation therapy. But otherwise, breast cancer treatment has done nothing to limit my life.
I’ve shown no evidence of disease since my lumpectomy surgery on May 11, 2018. And I’m back to getting mammograms annually now, rather than every six months. I’d only had two mammograms before the third one came back abnormal in 2018. So, I tell everyone now not to skip their annual checkups. Because there really is no substitute for getting your screening exams on time.