March 28, 2018
How I found strength during breast cancer treatment
BY Cheryl Ratliff
When I received a phone call about an abnormality discovered during my mammogram in December 2016, I didn’t think much of it. I was prone to getting fluid-filled cysts in both my breasts, and I’d always gone in and had the cysts drained. But this mammogram was different: it showed a solid tumor in my right breast.
I went in for a biopsy, and the results left me in shock. I really didn’t know how to accept my HER2-negative breast cancer diagnosis. Then I remembered my years as a single mother and the difficult months I’d spent caring for my husband, who’d died from colorectal cancer four years earlier.
From these experiences, I knew I had the strength to face any challenge. I just needed to have faith and do whatever needed to be done to survive. For me, that meant returning to MD Anderson. My late husband received amazing care there, so I knew I could trust the doctors and staff with my life.
My breast cancer treatment
In January 2016, I scheduled my first appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, the MD Anderson location closest to my home. My first conversation with Dr. Sadia Saleem assured me I was in the right place. After she went through my treatment options, she looked at me and said, “Leave this cancer to me. I’m going to treat you and take care of you. I want you to live your life.”
When I started my chemotherapy regimen with Paclitaxel in March 2017, I did my best to keep my life as normal as possible. I scheduled my infusions on Fridays so that I could recover over the weekend and return to work the following Monday. And thankfully, my side effects weren’t too debilitating – just some skin darkening, altered taste buds and fatigue.
Sharing my breast cancer diagnosis with colleagues
I did lose my hair about a month into treatment, but I opted to wear a wig until I felt comfortable in my own skin again. After about three months, I’d garnered enough strength to show up to work bald. Up until that point, no one knew that I had breast cancer.
Some of my co-workers asked me what was up with the new style. When I revealed that I was going through chemo, many of them said, “Wow! We wouldn’t have ever known!” They were all so encouraging.
Their support helped when I started my second round of chemotherapy infusions in late June. Even though I was receiving Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide infusions once every three weeks, this combination hit me much harder. I couldn’t do anything for about four days after each infusion. I had fatigue and diarrhea, and I had no appetite. I also started experiencing neuropathy in my hands. Thankfully, Dr. Saleem prescribed me medication to ease those side effects.
Focusing on remain cancer-free
On Nov. 2, about a month after I finished my second chemotherapy regimen, I underwent a partial mastectomy with Dr. Ana Paula Refinetti and breast reconstruction with Dr. Victor Hassid. I started radiation therapy at the end of the year and was done by early February.
Now I’m taking a preventive drug called Letrozole for the next five years, and I’m in the process of joining a clinical trial that’s studying whether taking a second preventive drug, called everolimus, delays a recurrence and improves the overall chances of survival in patients like me with HER2-negative breast cancer, as well as women with high-risk, HR-positive breast cancer.
I’m hoping that this clinical trial and my renewed motivation to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly will ensure that I enjoy the rest of my life cancer-free. After all, that’s what I set out to do when I received my diagnosis one year ago.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsBowel Management Hair Loss Fatigue Neuropathy Nutrition Breast Cancer Clinical Trials Side Effects Support Exercise Survivorship Breast Reconstruction Treatment Surgery Chemotherapy Prevention
I just needed to have faith and do whatever needed to be done to survive.