By Stacy Nardo
I didn't think much of it, as breast cancer doesn't run in my family.
My First Ever Mammogram
It was 8 years ago. I went in for my first ever mammogram at 40 years old. My local hospital was having an event called Mammograms, Manicures, and Mocktails, and since I was always so busy with work and family, I scheduled the first slot at 4pm because I knew I would be in and out rather quickly, and I was. After the scan of my breasts, I went home and waited for the results.
I was called back for more imaging the next day, which I was told was normal for your first scan, and then was told to take a seat in the waiting room for what seemed like forever. I was brought back to the radiologist’s office to be told I most likely had breast cancer and needed to see a surgeon right away. I was then led into the Breast Cancer Center Navigator’s office, and she proceeded to help me to get an appointment with a breast surgeon the next day. I was literally in shock and couldn't believe what was happening. I remember going home and calling my husband, my parents, and my sister, and just crying and not really understanding what was going on.
When I saw the surgeon that next day, she saw how scared and upset I was and arranged for me to have a stereotactic biopsy that day. Waiting the next 2 days for the results seemed like forever! And then late Friday night, I got the call that I did indeed have breast cancer. The surgeon explained everything to me and said to make an appointment for Monday to come and talk to her about next steps. After I hung up the phone, I just remember crying for hours with my husband and parents by my side. How could this have happened to me? I was healthy and young and it was my first mammogram, it just made no sense to me. But at least we caught everything early so that was good.
When I had my appointment the following week, the plan was for a lumpectomy followed by 7 weeks of radiation after I healed from surgery. I wanted the surgery as soon as possible so it was scheduled for 2 weeks later, Valentine’s Day! I really didn't want this surgery on Valentine’s Day as every year it would be this reminder, but it was the soonest date she had so I took it. Everything went by so fast, and I don't think even to this day I really remember how I actually felt as I just wanted to get it out and over with and same with the treatment, as well.
In talking with the surgeon about the lumpectomy, she said it would make my breast considerably smaller than the other, so I decided to have a reduction of the other breast so I wouldn't have to wear a prosthesis and have a daily reminder of the cancer. I wanted my body to be as normal as possible. So, when I had the lumpectomy, I had a surgeon reduce my other breast at the same time so I would only have to go through one surgery. As it turned out, he didn't take out enough tissue so I had to have an in-office procedure to even it out as much as possible. No two breasts are perfect- I just wanted close enough.
After I was done my 7 weeks of radiation, it was time to talk about Tamoxifen. I had a lot of questions and concerns about the drug and wasn't sure it was for me. My radiation oncologist was not my favorite person, and when I asked her more about Tamoxifen and it’s side effects and benefits, I was told to buy her book! I couldn't believe she even said that to me. She is my doctor, she is supposed to answer my questions and help me through this. But she didn’t.
So, I sought out another opinion and then decided Tamoxifen wasn’t for me. I did some research and then spoke to my medical oncologist, gynecologist, and surgeon, and asked them about taking out my ovaries since I had had a partial hysterectomy years before, and taking out my ovaries would mean I didn't have to take the Tamoxifen because I would have no more estrogen in my body. With my cancer being estrogen positive, not having any estrogen in my body meant there was nothing to feed the cancer, and I would be safe. So, another surgery it was. But I felt like it was the best choice for me. I would be in early, medical menopause, but that sounded better to me than taking a medication I felt was toxic and that I knew I wouldn’t do well on since I never do well with prescription medicines.
Eight Years Later and Still No Cancer!
But it certainly hasn’t been a great 8 years. Because of the radiation, I developed many other medical issues that they just don't tell you about. I had cataracts and had to have surgery on both eyes when I was 45. My doctor told me it was from the radiation and pretty common, but the doctors don’t tell us these things when you are getting radiation. I have also been suffering from severe exhaustion since radiation as well. I was told that 7 weeks after my radiation ended I would start to get back my energy but that has never happened. I am always tired and sometimes to the point of it being so bad I just have to sleep as I have no other choice.
I have also had other health issues as well- bladder pain being one of them- and depression and anxiety, as well. and just not being in good health overall. I keep hoping for my old self back, the me before cancer, but I know it is never going to be that way again. I refuse to accept this as my new normal so I keep searching out ways to feel better, and I am sure I will find answers and don't intend on stopping until I do. I just must say one thing- I have had an amazing support system of my husband, parents, family, and friends. They have always been there for me and have helped me whenever it was needed.
I am truly lucky as some people go through this alone. I am glad I never had to do that and never will!
Thank you for sharing your story, Stacy. SBC supports you!
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