Growing up in Texas, living in Houston and having several family members who’d battled cancer, I was very aware of MD Anderson and its reputation. So when I found out I had breast cancer in 2013, I was relieved to learn it could be treated near my home, at MD Anderson in The Woodlands.
As people often do with big events, I can still remember the details vividly. It was around midnight, and my husband and kids were asleep. I’d just finished cleaning the kitchen, and the last thing on my to-do list was a monthly breast exam. Once the water was running in the shower, my hand immediately went to a spot on my left breast. It felt like a frozen pea.
Something in me knew what it was, though I hoped I was wrong. I sat in my towel on the side of the bathtub for a long time, looking up things on my phone. It was hard to get any sleep. The next day, I saw my gynecologist, and the whirlwind began.
A breast cancer diagnosis
When my doctor confirmed my suspicions, I was heartbroken: I had breast cancer — stage IIA invasive ductal carcinoma. I thought about my two young children and how I’d watched my own mother die of lung cancer at age 52. I envisioned the same thing happening to them. I wept for what their lives would be like with a sick mom — or even with no mom at all.
After those first couple of days, though, I resolved to fight and win. A cancer diagnosis did not have to be the end of my life. It was just one more challenge I could learn from and use to help others. My kids would not see a sick mom, but a brave mom. A fighter. And we would cross the finish line of this scary race together.
Getting tough on breast cancer
I called MD Anderson and made an appointment with Dr. Douglas Nelson at MD Anderson in The Woodlands within a week. I told Dr. Nelson that I wanted the treatments that were toughest on cancer, no matter how tough they were on me. I was too young not to be as aggressive as possible. And I wanted to be there for my husband and kids.
Dr. Nelson recommended I start with six rounds of chemotherapy. Because my breast cancer tested positive for the HER-2 protein (which made my cells divide more quickly), he also included a drug called pertuzumab, which had just been approved by the FDA to treat my exact type of cancer. After my last round of chemotherapy, Dr. Elizabeth FitzSullivan performed a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery on May 8, 2014. For seven months afterwards, I took herceptin, a targeted therapy agent.
Chemotherapy put me into temporary menopause. I experienced hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and a short temper for a couple of months. Then my hormone levels returned to normal. I don’t have any lingering side effects today, and I’ve been cancer-free ever since 2014.
What makes the difference
MD Anderson is committed to Making Cancer History®, and they do it in a human, connected way. It’s the combination that makes the difference. I had chemotherapy and surgery, but I also had people to talk to about my worries, a place to do yoga with other patients, books and resources for my children, help with nutrition and support on all levels after treatment.
My doctors were very knowledgeable, but they also guided me compassionately. Quite a few times, they helped me make important treatment decisions by starting a sentence with, “If you were my sister …” or “If you were my friend …” And honestly, I felt like both. They started out as trusted advisers and ended up feeling like close friends.
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