HER-2+ breast cancer survivor: Why I chose MD Anderson
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.
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.