Breast cancer - Stage II
This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.
View CTCA treatment results for breast cancer
Stage II Breast cancer
- Diagnosed: 2010
- Treatments received:
Sentinel lymph node biopsy, mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, breast reconstruction surgery
- Treatment at: CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center
- Care team:
- Rakhshanda Neelam, MD
- Kamal Patel, MD
- Aaron Pelletier, MD
- Eliot Edwards, ND, FABNO
- Khara Lucius, ND, FABNO
- Kristen Trukova, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, CSO
- Meagan Brown, MA, LCSW
- Alexandria Callahan, LCPC, BC-DMT, GLCMA
- From fearing to fighting
- From bald to thick silver hair
- From receiving hats for my bald head to giving hats to other patients
- From weakness to strength — turning cartwheels, running, skiing with my son
After noticing a lump during a breast self-exam in 2010 I had a biopsy in my home state of Colorado. I received the dreaded results - - it was cancer. A lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy revealed tumors in several lymph nodes that were larger than the one in my breast. I was diagnosed as having Stage II breast cancer and I would require another surgery to get a clean margin as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
I was devastated. I was still grieving the loss of my husband, Gary, from a heart attack. I felt overwhelmed by fear. This disease was so dreaded and frightening. I thought it would change my life forever and I was discouraged. I felt my body had somehow betrayed me. I exercise and eat well, I am healthy. It seemed so unfair. I felt it was beyond my ability to cope.
Gradually my thoughts shifted: I realized as unreal and unfair as it seemed, I did have cancer and I wanted to fight. I was ready to fight the fear and fight the invasion of cancer cells in my body.
Becoming a warrior
I became determined to fight cancer. My son and I even went to an army surplus store for camouflage gear; something I could wear to remind myself that this was a war and I had a job to do. I stopped thinking of chemotherapy and radiation as my enemy and began thinking of them as my weapons in the fight.
I was looking for a place where I could receive comprehensive treatment from experts. A friend whose husband had been treated for cancer suggested that I call Cancer Treatment Centers of America where he had received his treatment. I spoke with Doug White at CTCA on a Saturday. He was kind and compassionate as he took my insurance information. After he confirmed my insurance coverage, Doug asked if I wanted to travel to the hospital for tests and a treatment plan. On Monday I flew from Colorado to Illinois so I could have a consultation with the doctors at the CTCA facility in suburban Chicago.
During that first visit I met with several doctors, clinicians, a naturopathic clinician, dietitian, mind and body therapist, and a pastor. When I was presented with a treatment plan, I realized that CTCA was the place where I would be the best equipped and most supported for this war against the enemy, cancer. I knew that I would be surrounded by fellow warriors that were willing to invest in a relationship with me. Their hope and encouragement increased my hopefulness. So I decided to pursue treatment at CTCA's Midwestern Regional Medical Center.
My oncologist, Dr. Neelam, explained that the breast cancer I had was very aggressive. She was confident about the plan for treatment she presented to me, which included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She said it was imperative that I begin treatment immediately and not miss any treatments due to injury or illness. She told me I would most likely lose my hair and I would have other side effects, which my care team would help me manage. I loved Dr. Neelam's no-nonsense approach to my care. I now had a battle plan and I would not be alone in my fight as I had a team of experts that were committed to my health and well-being.
The night before my first chemo treatment my son, a student at the University of Colorado, shaved his head and sent me a picture. I was touched by his steadfast support. Before my second treatment, his roommate shaved his head. I did lose my hair after that chemotherapy and I felt ill and dreaded the rest of the treatments. I talked with my son who encouraged and reminded me that I was strong and I could go the distance, that I could do this, and that many people cared and were cheering me on. I was not alone in this fight. His support gave me the strength and courage I needed to continue.
My CTCA Care Management team helped me to manage the side effects. I chose to view the loss of my hair as an affirmation that the chemotherapy was working. I decided to have fun with wigs. And when a hospital volunteer offered me a selection of pretty, hand-knitted hats that I could wear while sleeping to keep my tender, bald head warm and comfortable, my heart was blessed by this thoughtfulness.
Telluride, Colorado, where I reside, is very conducive to outdoor activities. I enjoy kayaking, skiing, fishing, hiking, running, dancing and horseback riding. I also love to turn cartwheels. During chemotherapy I did not feel I could enjoy any of these activities. But as I completed chemotherapy and began to feel better I decided to try doing a cartwheel. I discovered I did not yet have the strength but I was hopeful that in time I would. After radiation, although I was feeling stronger, scar tissue restricted the range of motion of my shoulder so I still could not do a cartwheel.
Upon completion of treatment I met with Dr. Aaron Pelletier, a surgeon who specializes in breast reconstructive surgery. Together we decided to try a free-flap procedure in which tissue from my abdomen would be moved to the area where my breast had been. The procedure would require more than one surgery. Radiation prevented me from having a breast implant, so this approach was the only option for reconstruction. Once again, CTCA was able to provide for my needs.
The first surgery lasted about 11 hours. When I awoke, Dr. Pelletier was there, instructing the nurses and reassuring me that all was well and that he was pleased with the results. At a post-operative appointment I asked Dr. Pelletier if I could try a cartwheel. He gave his professional permission, so I gave it a try. Right in the hallway of CTCA I did a cartwheel. In fact, I turned 3 more cartwheels that day to the delight of the CTCA staff that had indeed become friends during my journey of healing and restoration.
Surrounded by care
As a patient going through cancer treatment, it has meant so much to be surrounded by so many caring people. The staff at CTCA seemed to always know exactly what I needed. They knew what would make a difference in my well-being, and what would give me peace, confidence, and hope. Each day of my treatment, as I arrived in my camo gear, I felt the support and encouragement of doctors, nurses, clinicians, therapists, pastors and other staff members, a long list of individuals who were willing to invest in me. They were an important part of my fight.
Since September 2011 there has been no active disease. Dr. Neelam was the first to report when I reached this status and there was such joy in her voice when she told me. I was ecstatic! I feel healthy and strong. My hair has grown back thick and silver. I love this new look—it is a victory flag, because I am a survivor.
Now I know I have the strength to fight any battle. Cancer is not a good thing, but good has come out of my experience with this disease. If there is a fight before me, I can fight. I also want to rejoice in every day. Each sunrise and sunset is a blessing. Cancer cannot make me afraid without my permission, and I refuse to give it permission. So I feed my faith, not my fears.
The caregivers at CTCA were an integral part of bringing me through a difficult and frightening time into an experience that I could embrace and by which I could be strengthened. CTCA continues to care for me and guide me in my pursuit of optimal health and wellness. When I walk into CTCA I feel at home surrounded by people who sincerely care about me.