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Shawna Bunch

Breast cancer - Stage IA

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

Overview

My story

Different opinions

I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My family had just come home from vacation, and while I was doing laundry I noticed bloody discharge coming from my left breast. I could feel a mass there, and called my doctor immediately.

My local doctor referred me for a mammogram the following week at a nearby women’s health center. After the mammogram, the specialists there decided to do an ultrasound, but didn’t see anything on the image. They thought I had ductal carcinoma in situ, also referred to as stage 0 breast cancer.

I then had surgery at a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, near our home. The surgeon could see that the tumor was larger than was initially suspected; it was about 4 millimeters. In addition, there were blockages in several ducts. I decided to have a full mastectomy of my left breast, as well as breast reconstruction at the same time.

After six weeks of recovery, I began meeting with oncologists about further treatment. I met with four doctors, and each had a different opinion about my next steps. Treatment guidelines generally start at tumors measuring 5 millimeters, and mine was smaller than that, but still significant enough to measure.

I chose an oncologist to work with and had one round of chemotherapy in December 2012. But the treatment had strong side effects. I had trouble sleeping and severe mood swings. I was also very nauseous. The side effects lasted for about eight days, and I wasn’t sure I could continue on that path.

Finding the care I wanted

It was my mother who first called Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Someone had recommended CTCA to her, and she decided to find out more. She and my husband were my caregivers, and they wanted to make sure I was getting the right care for me. My husband and I have three young children, so life gets pretty busy. Thankfully my mom was on the case and doing the research.

My husband and I were both impressed by what she told us. We talked to an Oncology Information Specialist at CTCA about what CTCA had to offer, and then went for a consultation at the CTCA hospital outside of Atlanta in January 2013.

During that first visit, I was immediately struck by how the care team focused not only on the cancer, but also on my overall health and well-being. Meeting the naturopathic clinician, nutritionist and pastor, along with many other clinicians, showed me they treat the whole person, not just the cancer.

I began treatment at CTCA, traveling there every few weeks to receive trastuzumab (Herceptin), a monoclonal antibody that is specifically for people with HER2-positive breast cancer. I received the medication intravenously. The trastuzumab had few side effects, and problems I mentioned were met with help from my naturopathic clinician or other members of my care team.

For most treatments, I had a caregiver with me. But when I didn’t, a counselor from the Mind-Body Medicine Department accompanied me for appointments. That’s one example of how CTCA has gone above and beyond my expectations throughout my treatment. I’ve never felt like a patient there, I’ve felt like a person. And that’s a big difference. Today I am feeling well. I’ve completed treatment and will continue going to CTCA for check-ups every three months for the next two years.

Knowing what matters

Because I was only 30 years old when I was diagnosed, at first it was hard to believe I had cancer. And it has been difficult to explain to our children what has been happening. But the experience has been eye-opening for me. It has shown me what is important in life, and the people who are most important to me. This past Christmas, I could feel how much I was in a different place compared to a year earlier. During the first round of chemotherapy, I was upset and angry, and could not understand why this was happening to me. But this year, I could see what a blessing it was to spend time with my family.

I credit the mind-body counseling offered at CTCA for helping me transition from angry to grateful. I’ve learned the importance of making time for myself and finding different ways to cope with difficult situations. I’ve also realized the importance of exercising as a way to help me get through struggles.

The staff at CTCA has helped me through, as have my caregivers, who have let me vent and have been there for me. Dr. Randolph, my oncologist at CTCA, is caring and compassionate, and he listens to my concerns, care that I had not found elsewhere. Above all, my husband and children have kept me motivated.

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