My cancer story began over 40 years ago when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, my grandmother waited too long to see a doctor. Even though she had a double mastectomy and showed her courageous spirit during her cancer journey, the cancer had spread and my grandmother died within a few years.
About the same time my grandmother received her breast cancer diagnosis, my mom found a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy of her left breast. Ten years later, Mom found a lump in her right breast followed by another mastectomy. It's been 30 years since Mom's second mastectomy -- and she's been cancer-free ever since then.
When I received my own breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 55 I had two examples of tremendous heart, spirit and courage to follow. For me, that made all the difference.
My breast cancer diagnosis
I started getting annual mammograms after my mom received her second diagnosis. Each year, I almost expected to hear the words, "You have cancer."
That phone call finally came in June 2013. I had infiltrating ductal carcinoma. I never experienced denial or anger, although I feared what my diagnosis meant for my two daughters. My main worry was that my daughters might be the fourth generation in the line of breast cancer.
I quickly scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic. That's where both my doctor and I had always planned for me to go if I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I chose MD Anderson because of its reputation. The location, in my hometown of Houston, was a bonus. I got to go home every day. I continued to work. I could get my radiation treatments during my lunch break.
Coming to MD Anderson
On July 5, I had my first appointment with my team at MD Anderson my oncologist, Carlos Barcenas, M.D.; my radiation oncologist, Benjamin Smith, M.D.; and my surgeon, Isabelle Bedrosian, M.D.
During my appointment, I met with my three doctors together as a group, as well as one-on-one so that I could better understand their role in my care. They left for a short time to talk together. It was reassuring to know that the three doctors actually met face-to-face to discuss their recommendations for me.
Together, we developed my breast cancer treatment plan -- a lumpectomy, genetic testing and radiation therapy.
My breast cancer treatment
My lumpectomy was two weeks after I met with my doctors. The surgery went well, and I was resting at home later that afternoon.
About a month later, on Aug. 2, I underwent genetic testing to see if I carried the BRCA mutation, which puts carriers at increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I knew that if I tested positive, my daughters also may be more likely to develop cancer. Waiting for these results was one of the hardest parts of having breast cancer. Luckily, I learned that I don't carry the BRCA genetic mutation.
After the genetic testing, I started my four weeks of radiation therapy on a clinical trial with Dr. Smith. When I sat in the women's waiting area before my radiation treatments, I loved reading the notes and cards left by other women who had finished treatment. It also was encouraging to talk to other women who were waiting for their treatments.
Everyone I met at MD Anderson was kind, reassuring and uplifting. The staff helped me see my radiation markings as "war paint" and soothed the burns brought by treatment.
Participating in a clinical trial to avoid breast cancer recurrence
About 10 months after completing radiation, I was invited to participate in a study with Elizabeth Mittendorf, M.D. I'm so glad to be a part of this study which will hopefully lead to a new treatment protocol that will use a vaccine to protect women like me from breast cancer recurrence.
Thanks to everyone at MD Anderson and to my family's love and support, I was able to make cancer history for myself -- and hopefully for other women in the future, too.