Stage IV breast cancer survivor: Look at your family history
Everyone on my father’s side of the family has died of cancer — my dad of prostate cancer, my grandpa of lung cancer, and my grandma of kidney cancer. So I always suspected I would get it someday, too.
Still, it came as a shock when I was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer called infiltrating ductal adenocarcinoma last fall. I started feeling a lump in my left breast while nursing my son in July. I thought it was just a cyst, but even after I began weaning Braxon in October, it didn’t go away. In fact, the lump seemed to be getting bigger, so I called my gynecologist.
Because the lump wasn’t hard, my doctor didn’t think it was anything bad initially. But he sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound anyway. After looking at the scans, he ordered a biopsy. The lump turned out to be cancerous.
My stage IV breast cancer diagnosis
I work for Jason’s Deli, and we’ve been fundraising for MD Anderson for a few years, so I knew that’s where I wanted to go for my breast cancer treatment. I made an appointment right away at MD Anderson in Katy, because it’s the location closest to my home in Kyle, Texas. A PET scan there revealed that the cancer had already spread to my pelvis and spine. I had stage IV breast cancer.
I don’t think I really understood what those words meant when I first heard them. But once I did, I was terrified. I was only 32. And I wanted to see my kids grow up and find out who they’d become. Suddenly, I didn’t know if that would be possible. But Dr. Naoto Ueno said not to be discouraged, because there were many, many treatment options available.
Why I chose a Phase III clinical trial for my breast cancer treatment
After only five months on the clinical trial, I had a near complete response. My tumor shrank by almost 75%. I had my double mastectomy on June 27, 2017, and I finished 30 rounds of standard radiation in early October. I plan to have breast reconstruction next summer, too, if all goes well.
My cancer tested 99% estrogen positive, so I also had a full hysterectomy and oophorectomy on November 2. When I look back on my life, I never want to say, “Well, I should have done this to keep the cancer from coming back.” Hormones are clearly driving this bus, so my ovaries had to go.
Look at your family history
I refuse to live in the land of “what ifs,” but if I had known I had the BRCA and CHEK mutations sooner, I definitely would’ve started getting checked for cancer long before I found the lump.
That’s why I tell everybody to look at their family history. Because if you have a lot of cancer on either side, being proactive rather than reactive can change the game. And if you notice a change in your body, get it checked out. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.