I had lived in Houston most of my life and had just moved to the hill country in Wimberley, TX in June 2017. I have always been faithful about getting annual mammograms and breast exams with no red flags raised. My gynecologist in Austin recommended a 3D mammogram as part of my normal annual screening. This is how I learned that there was a small tumor that would need to be biopsied.
Finding out from a 3D mammogram
On September 5, 2017 my doctor called and told me I had ductal carcinoma breast cancer. I was stunned. There is no history of breast cancer in my family and the tumor was not palpable. The only way we knew of its existence was from my 3D mammogram.
Since I had just moved from Houston, I already knew that MD Anderson was going to be the place I would receive treatment. There was no question in my mind. MD Anderson's reputation is stellar and I had several friends, as well as my mother, who had been successfully treated there. Upon my initial consult, I learned that my cancer was Stage 1 and they recommended a lumpectomy, removing a few lymph nodes, followed by either proton therapy or traditional radiation. Since I was no longer residing in Houston, they gave me the option regarding radiation.
Once we looked into all aspects of traditional radiation versus proton therapy, it was clear that proton therapy would be the better choice. The next hurdle was to see if my insurance company would pay for it — which they did.
My personal journey through treatment
My personal choice for going through treatment was to do it by myself. I knew I had the love, support and prayers of family and friends. Everyone has to make the decisions that are best for them.
As far as the actual proton therapy treatments, I told the therapists that I get claustrophobic and they suggested I keep my eyes closed throughout the treatment. They asked what music I liked and I said classic rock. So, that's what we listened to. I felt completely at ease. I did not feel anything. They would tell me when they had the beam. Otherwise, I wouldn't have known anything was happening. I was just relaxing and going to my happy place. The proton radiation therapists are amazing! They were warm, caring, professional and willing to answer my questions.
I chose proton therapy due to the shortened time of treatment and because the targeted radiation diminishes the risk to other organs and tissue. Huge advantages over traditional radiation.
I completed proton therapy at MD Anderson in December 2017 for breast cancer. The last day of treatment, when I banged the gong, I received my MD Anderson Proton Therapy t-shirt and certificate, and hugs from my therapists.
Creating a masterpiece from my journey
After my treatment, I was given three acrylic breast plates from my treatment and my team issued me a challenge to find a way to use them creatively. So, I had an artist, Chris Vaughn, in Wimberley create an outdoor sculpture using the three plates. I told Chris that he had complete creative license and the sculpture would be installed on my property.
I love the way he incorporated the plates to be the center of the flowers. This sculpture is made with reclaimed pieces and is so life affirming. I love the flowers, the colors, the texture and nature of the materials. It makes my heart smile every time I look at it.
My advice to others
Choose your own path as to how to handle your cancer treatments. Get all of the information you can from the MD Anderson professionals and then make the best decision for you. If proton therapy is recommended, I would suggest doing your very best to get that type of treatment.
I love to travel. In fact, I took two trips in between my surgery and beginning my proton therapy. After treatment, when I returned home, I hit the floor running to get ready for Christmas. I felt great and had no tangible side effects. Life is wonderful and my future is full of hope and joy.
Choose your own path as to how to handle your cancer treatments. Get all of the information you can from the MD Anderson professionals and then make the best decision for you.