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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Recurrence Story

Hello everyone, I'm Dawn.

How is everyone doing? I am good because every day above ground is a good day. I was dx with breast cancer in March 2008. No one in my family has breast cancer. Why Me, God? I found a lump in my right breast. I got a lumpectomy and they also removed 8 lymph nodes, which were also affected by the cancer. I was stage 2 and received 6 rounds of chemotherapy and 12 weeks of radiation. I was on Tamoxifen for 2 years and then which to Aromasin for 8 years to keep the estrogen low, because the estrogen feeds the cancer, and the estrogen will make the cancer grow.

For some reason God had something else planned for me. They say God only gives you what you can handle. Sure, I was mad, even a little depress, all normal things. I have no regrets and I am not mad now because they say there is always a reason why.

Sometimes you don’t know why, but I believe I got cancer so I can take care of my daughter who also had cancer, Hodgkin's Lymphoma, 2007 and 2 total hip replacements 2008. She is cured and we are blessed with 2 grandbabies from her. I needed to stay home with her to take care of her. We were home together fighting cancer and watching the same boring regular TV channels. After a few months, I finally broke down and order cable. I think I was the last one on my block to get cable. We just ran out of things to watch.

I was getting ready to celebrate my 10 year of being cancer free by having a pink T-shirt burning party, but that didn't happen. I never owned anything pink before I got breast cancer. I received the results of my mammogram of May 2018. I was diagnosed with breast cancer again.

Really!! Why? And now twice. I thought it was bad enough hearing it the first time, but to hear it again. I saw the surgeon to prepare for a mastectomy and the surgeon told me I was a stage 1, and the insurance will not pay for a PET scan because I was a stage 1. What, I was upset. I have heard horrible stories about cancer coming back, and when it does it comes back worse than before, So I was not excepting that answer.

I told him I want a PET scan. I am a veteran, so I talk to my VA doctor and told him what was going on and he ordered me a PET scan. Meanwhile I was waiting on the PET scan I saw the surgeon for the reconstruction of the breast. I got a phone call from the nurse saying the surgery is scheduled for June 5. I told the nurse I am not ready for the surgery. She said well that is when the 2 doctors can get together and do the mastectomy and reconstruction. I again told her I am not ready, not mentally ready. Plus, I was still waiting on my results from my PET scan. I cried. My head was spinning. They wanted to hurry and do this surgery. I was just not ready to have the mastectomy.

I called the surgeon for the mastectomy and told him I have not heard what the results are for my PET scan. He was surprise no one had called me for the results. He put me on hold to go read the PET scan. He told me the cancer did show up in other areas that I needed to talk to my oncologist.

I called my oncologist to make an appointment to find out the results. My doctor told me that I was now stage 4, metastatic and there is no cure. It had spread to my bones and lungs. I took one look at my husband and noticed tears in his eyes. I then took a deep breath and knew I had to be brave and strong, brave for the both of us. I then asked my doctor: “how long do I have.” She said: “you have 10-20 years.” What! Did I hear that right? Then, I thought to myself, I’ll take that. That was great news because some people do not even have 10-20 months, weeks, or days. She also said you will have to be on chemo for the rest of your life. What does that mean? Will my hair fall out again? Is that what I was really thinking about. Worrying about my hair falling out. She said: “it might, and it might not.” I told her it took 10 years to grow this long. It was hard losing my hair, but a good thing came out of it, it did grow back, and it grew back curly. Now, I can save money, I do not have to pay for perms anymore or hear my husband say:” you’re getting your hair done again.” He tells me I am beautiful no matter what- hair or no hair. I am so glad I advocated for myself, I would have had the mastectomy for no reason and would have went through all that pain and mental problems I was having before the surgery. I had anxiety.

I told my oncologist about the insurance not paying for the PET scan and I almost had the surgery. It was unfortunate she was out of time during that time, but she told me she would have ordered the PET scan before I had the surgery. That is comforting to know that. My question is why didn’t she just order the PET scan before sending me to the surgeon? It would have solved a lot of heartache and anxiety for me. Speak up ladies, it is your body.

I also developed lymphedema in 2012. I would like to explain what Lymphedema is so you can educate yourselves and keep an eye on your arm. Wants you get it you have it for the rest of your life. We do not need any more complications in our lives, we have enough to deal with. Lymphedema is the swelling of my right arm because my lymph nodes were affected by the cancer. The lymphatic system moves fluid around your body and mine where removed or damaged and the fluid cannot be removed from my arm properly. However, there is a pump to help pump the fluid out of my arm. I also wear compression sleeves and a night garment to assist with keeping the swelling down. Please educate yourself on lymphedema if you had any lymph nodes removed. I take chemo pills every day and I get 2 shots in my buttocks, so now I have new lady lump- “baby got back.” The chemo will keep me alive.

There is hope even getting cancer twice. I am however, on my 3rd line of defense for my cancer. I was first on Ibrance, then Xeloda and now on PIQRAY. I am not worried, because my doctor told me when one chemo drug stops working, we find another one. The side effects are what I worry about. With PIQRAY I have high sugars and I am on 4 different types of medicine to lower my sugar. At first it was scary. I did not have anyone following me for my sugar levels. My sugar got up to 400. So again, I called my VA doctor and they got right on it and started helping me. Speak up ladies it is your life. We only live once.

Please be your own advocate. Ask questions, even get a second or third option, and have the doctor order all the scan you need to find out what is wrong with you. Cancer does not care who you are. I advocate for myself and even then, sometimes the doctors do not listen. Make sure they hear you. They could have caught my cancer 2 months earlier if the VA doctor were listening to me and where I was describing my pain. See I was preparing for another 5K breast cancer fundraiser run in February 2018 when I was having pain in my left hip. I called my VA doctor and requested an X-ray for my left hip. I might have had cancer on my hip back in 2008. They tried doing a biopsy on it, but said it was probably too small. The biopsy was very painful because they did it when I was awake. Plus, I fracture my hip from falling out of a golf cart during another breast cancer fundraiser. Yes, alcohol was involved but I was not driving, but that fracture did not stop me 2 days later I ran a 5K for breast cancer.

Yes, it was painful, but at the time I did not know it was fracture until I was getting my 6-month scans from the oncologist. The pain I was experiencing was the same pain from the biopsy and the fracture. The doctor explains to me it was fractured because it was weak from the radiation. They had radiated that spot incase it was cancer. My VA did not listen and ordered a low back X-ray, which I did not find out until later when I questioned them on it. Listen to your body if something hurts and does not go away call the doctor. Just think if the VA would have done a hip X-ray, I would not have to have gone through any of that mess with the surgeons or even my oncologist. The VA would have just ordered the PET scan in February and would have been done with it and started treatment right away. Wow. Life is crazy.

I am medically retired 2019, and after I retired, I adopted a baby girl, What a handful. She was 4 months old when we adopted her. She is now 1.5 years old. What was I thinking back then at the age of 50 adopting a baby? The sleepless nights, every 2-4 hours feeding and potty training, but my little puppy makes me happy, she keeps me busy and my mind off my cancer. She is my emotional support dog and she is

great pet therapy. Pet therapy does wonders for people.

Her name is Pixie. We are in training to be a pet therapy dog and a service dog for me. We almost finished the classes when COVID-19 happened. They cancelled our classes. We waited months for classes to started up again. I stayed busy by training her and going for walks around the neighborhood. In October 2020, my husband and I got covid-19. I was not scared, I just thought great, what now. As soon as we drove away from the ER my breathing started to get worst.

I development a fever that night and had a fever for 4 days. I was coughing and the stuff I was spitting out was green. I called the ER back and they said to take over the counter stuff, that they could not give me anything. I called my oncologist; she most thinks I have her on speed dial. I told the nurse what was going on and she talk to my doctor and they order me a Z- pack. That I had a sinus infection, so the sinus infection was secondary, and it helped me out a lot. I was taking every vitamin possible and over the counter cold/flu stuff. On day 3 my daughter asked me to smell the candle, I tried and could not smell anything. Then it became a game, going around the house trying to smell everything. Well, we could not smell anything and then we realized we could not taste. So, I guess it is true, we have COVID-19. I felt like myself again after 17 days. I took my dog for a walk, not far, I was still tired. Being tired with COVID-19 was worse than being tired from my chemo medicine. I thought to myself COVID-19, you will not take me out, I got cancer and let the cancer take me out, especially that I know I have at least 10 years to live, well now 7. I hope to get at least 10 years. April 2021 will be 3 years for me with metastatic breast cancer. I prayed and prayed, and I am doing fine. Husband has a little bet of chest pain here and there from COVID-19. He is being followed by the VA. They are monitoring him. I am grateful for my husband; he is my greatest supporter, and he goes with me to every appointment. I believe I will get the covid-19 shot. My oncologist recommends it.

There is so much unknown about the shot, but I do not want COVID-19 again. I feel we had a mild case the first time and we were very lucky, so I do not want to risk getting it again. I also thanked God for giving me cancer again so I can retire, take care of myself and to take care of my parents, that also have cancer. Which unfortunately my dad past last year from Mesothelioma. I am no longer afraid to die. I am at peace with my cancer. I told my patients to take 1 day at a time, so I am taking my own advice. I am going to stay strong, positive, keep my faith and trust in God. Thank you and God Bless you all.


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