Stage 2, BRCA2+
Meet Ann, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, BRCA2+, Stage 2 Celebrating 7 years disease free!My Year of Living Cancerously,
by Ann Loonam
January 26, 2020
In November of 2012, I found myself putting off my annual mammogram which I knew I needed to take care of. I have an extensive family history of cancer, and my Mom had just passed way from metastatic endometrial cancer a few months earlier. As a result, catching up on my medical appointments was not a high priority. Though in hindsight, it certainly should have been.
My Dad died in 1986 from prostate cancer when I was a junior in college. One of my sisters has had thyroid cancer and all three of us girls in my family have had skin cancer. My brother is the only one in my immediate family who has not had a cancer diagnosis and I pray that he never hears the words ‘you have cancer.’
After my initial mammogram in 2012 I was called back for additional imaging. This had happened a couple of times before, and I wasn’t all that concerned about it. When I walked into the imaging area, the same technician greeted me who had done the initial mammogram.
‘Do you know why they wanted you to come back in?’ she asked.
‘I’m guessing they just needed more images.’ I responded.
Then I saw the computer screen with my mammogram up on it. I could see the two spots as bright as day, one larger than the other.
More mammogram images were taken, then I was told an ultrasound would be needed. The ultrasound was conducted, and it was after that when the radiologist came in and sat down. He said in effect that there were some spots that looked ‘suspicious for cancer.’ He told me a biopsy would need to be done, and asked since I was there already did I want to do it then or come back another day? I opted to have it done then since I was there, I then went into to a small changing area and waited for the procedure room to be prepped. That’s when it hit me, I most likely have cancer.
The radiologist noted that I seemed fairly calm, that’s when I told him I had just lost my Mom to cancer and couldn’t believe this was happening to me now. I have 3 siblings, 2 live out of state, and my other sister an hour away. As I got changed for the biopsy, I sent a text to my sister in Oregon saying, ‘it looks like I have breast cancer.’
The gut feeling I had was correct, it was cancer. This was confirmed after the biopsy by my primary care doctor the next day. I wasn’t surprised at all, though I was numb and a little stunned. The official word was stage 2, triple negative breast cancer, and after genetic testing I have the BRCA2 gene mutation as well.
What followed was treatment that did not go as planned. It was to be surgery, chemo, then radiation. Being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, there was no disputing that chemotherapy was in the plans. After the first surgery the margins weren’t clear, so I was given two options: go back in and do a re-incision to get the margins clear or go straight to a mastectomy. I opted for the re-incision. From the time of my diagnosis I was hoping and praying that I wouldn’t have to undergo a mastectomy.
After the second surgery I had a call from the surgeon who let me know the margins still weren’t clear, and that a mastectomy would be necessary. I sat there and let the word sink in, mastectomy. My sister was visiting and helping me after my second surgery and after I hung up with the surgeon I asked her to let my other two siblings know what the new plan was. Again, I found myself stunned and, in a fog, trying to wrap my head around this latest news.
What was truly awful when I look back now, is that I started chemo not long after hearing this news that I had cancer and knowing that when I was done months later, I would have to undergo a third surgery (the double mastectomy) and have my ovaries removed due to the genetic mutation. The cancer was on the right side, but I saw no reason to have a one-sided mastectomy with my family history. What followed was months of nausea from the chemo that nothing, and I mean nothing, helped. Debilitating bone pain in my legs that was so bad I could literally hardly stand it (thank you Neulasta!) I had made it through 10 infusions of the second chemo drug and had to stop before I could complete all 12. I was in so much pain and so miserable that I just couldn’t do it.
There was no ‘final chemo’ celebration, no bell to ring, no signs stating that I was done with photos taken, etc. It came to an end when I called the nurse and told her in tears that I couldn’t come in that day as planned for chemo, I had given up, the side effects were too extreme.
After some time to recover from chemo (about a month or so I believe) it was time for my last s