When you receive a cancer diagnosis, you quickly learn just how precious life is.
Almost seven years ago, I learned I had stage IIIC, HER2-positive breast cancer. My very first mammogram revealed a large tumor in my right breast, just five days before my 41st birthday.
Because my mother died of lung cancer at age 48, my husband and I felt like time was of the essence. We immediately packed up and headed to MD Anderson from Meridian, Mississippi.
My breast cancer treatment
My MD Anderson doctors put together a breast cancer treatment plan that included chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy and then radiation.
I agreed to try a new chemotherapy cocktail, and I was able to complete it at home so that I could be close to my three children, who were young teenagers at the time. Afterwards, I came to MD Anderson for the mastectomy. While recovering from the surgery, I developed a staph infection, which set my treatment schedule back by more than a month.
Despite the setback, my husband and I had hoped that I’d be able to get my radiation treatments back home. But just before we left for the airport to head back to Mississippi, my radiation oncologist, Welela Tereffe, M.D., called and asked us to come back to MD Anderson.
Why I received my radiation therapy at MD Anderson
Dr. Tereffe explained that my type of breast cancer was aggressive and that the radiation machine at my local oncologist’s office was used to treat all patients and all types of cancer. However, the radiation machines used at MD Anderson’s Nellie B. Connally Breast Center were specifically for breast cancer, and they were constantly being upgraded and improved. She didn’t want to take any chances, and neither did we.
After our meeting, we went back to our hotel and changed our plane reservations. I started radiation therapy at MD Anderson the next day. I stayed in Houston for almost eight weeks, flying home only on weekends to watch my kids play sports. I even spent my 20-year wedding anniversary in a hotel room by myself, praying for light at the end of the tunnel.
I was thankful for the few friends I made in the waiting room of the radiation clinic. We were all there with no hair and scars on our chests, and we naturally gravitated to each other because we were all going through treatment alone in Houston. As we each got to ring the bell at MD Anderson to signal the end of our radiation therapy, we were all so genuinely happy for each other. My turn came on Dec. 23, 2010. About six weeks later, I learned that the treatment had worked and I was in remission.
Living for new milestones
Before cancer, I didn't appreciate life the same way I do today. Now, I keep every appointment, and in between, I live life to the fullest. Since my breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve watched my daughter get crowned homecoming queen and seen one of my sons get married. I've visited the Eiffel Tower, taken a family vacation to Hawaii and enjoyed the Northern Lights of Alaska. And, my husband and I finally built our dream home, which had to put on hold when I was diagnosed.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but because of our strong faith in the Lord and the excellent care I received and continue to receive at MD Anderson, life just keeps getting better. In fact, my husband and I just celebrated our 26th anniversary.
Thank you, MD Anderson and Dr. Tereffe, for giving me a second chance at such a beautiful life.
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