Nearly a decade ago, Maria Newhouse’s father was told that his colorectal cancer had metastasized to his liver and lungs and that he had no more than six months to live.
Despite the odds, her dad, who was in his early 80s, had part of his colon removed and prayed for a miracle.
“Sure enough, six months later his oncologist told us, ‘I wish I could tell all my patients this, but there’s not a trace of cancer left in him. I have no idea how to explain any of this,’” Maria recalls.
Maria’s breast cancer diagnosis
Although Maria’s father died of heart failure several years later, his cancer journey gave her comfort when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2016.
“I wasn’t going to give up. If there’s any chance, I’m going to take it,” she recalls telling herself.
Days earlier, Maria’s family doctor had discovered a lump on her left breast during a routine exam. She underwent a biopsy through MD Anderson Cancer Center Breast Care with Memorial Hermann, a collaboration that allows patients to receive breast imaging and diagnostic services from MD Anderson breast radiologists at certain Memorial Hermann locations around the Houston area. The results showed stage I HER2-positive breast cancer.
After meeting with other physicians, Maria sought a second opinion from Makesha Miggins, M.D., and Victor Hassid, M.D., at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, which is only a few miles away from her Missouri City home.
“I fell in love with them because I felt they were a team,” she says. “I was so impressed by them that I decided to make them my surgeons.”
Choosing between a mastectomy and lumpectomy
Maria initially wanted to undergo a mastectomy, but after consulting with Miggins and Hassid, she opted for a lumpectomy and breast reduction instead.
“I’m very petite and I had very large breasts, and they were causing me back problems. Dr. Hassid said this option would provide me the best quality of life,” she says.
In mid-December, Miggins removed Maria’s tumor and four sentinel lymph nodes, and Hassid performed the breast reduction.
After the surgery, Maria got the biopsy results, which showed she actually had HER2-positive stage II breast cancer. “It was a bigger tumor than they thought, and one of the lymph nodes showed microscopic evidence of cancer cells,” she says.
That meant Maria needed to undergo a second procedure to remove more surrounding tissue. But before the procedure, she developed a serious infection at the site of a surgical incision.
Dealing with chemotherapy side effects
After taking two rounds of antibiotics to treat the infection, Maria underwent the second procedure -- a small, 30-minute lumpectomy -- at the end of January. She started the first of six chemotherapy infusions less than a month later.
Maria says her chemotherapy drugs and antibiotics trigger diarrhea so severe that it leaves her hospitalized for days after each infusion.
“But I know the drill and my care team knows the drill, so I really feel comfortable with MD Anderson taking care of me,” she says.
She’s also met with MD Anderson dietitians and social work counselors for help managing her nausea, weight loss and mouth sores, as well as the emotional side effects that accompany a cancer diagnosis.
Holding onto hope
Maria has two more chemotherapy infusions left before she begins four weeks of radiation therapy. She’s glad that she doesn’t have to think about breast reconstruction surgery after that.
“I’m glad I didn’t decide on a mastectomy and that they were able to work with my own breast tissue,” she says.
Most of all, she’s glad that the odds are in her favor – though her father’s story has proven to her that even if that wasn’t the case, there’s never a reason to give up hope.
“Miracles happen. I’ve seen them happen; my dad was one of them,” she says. “Even when something seems impossible, why not hope for a miracle?”
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