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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Debra Pattullo

Breast cancer - Stage 0 (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ)

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

My first encounter with breast cancer came in 2010, when I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), or stage 0 breast cancer. At that time, I decided to have a lumpectomy to remove the small portion of my breast that was affected, followed by eight weeks of radiation and treatment with the estrogen-blocking medication tamoxifen. I had hoped that the risk of any future malignancy arising in my breast was slim after that course of action.

And yet five years later, in July 2015, my routine annual mammogram showed something suspicious so I returned for a biopsy. The suspicion was confirmed: I had developed DCIS again in one breast. This time, it was closer to my chest wall.

The diagnosis took me and my husband, Mark, by surprise for two reasons. First, I was coming up on the five-year mark of having no evidence of disease, so I thought my chances of the cancer returning were slim. Second, Mark was coping with his own cancer diagnosis. In the fall of 2014, he’d been diagnosed with stage IIB prostate cancer. Now it was both of us. We had taken our vows to be there for each other in sickness and in health so many years ago, but I don’t think we’d ever dreamed that we’d both be coping with the cancer at the same time. Still, we knew that we would get through this together.

Treatment together

After several months of research and feeling unsure of what to do, Mark had finally decided to pursue treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). His prostatectomy was scheduled for September 2015.

Because of Mark’s experience at CTCA® and the convenience of being treated at the same place, I decided to pursue treatment there, too. From the start, I was impressed by how fast we were able to get information, results and appointments. At CTCA, everything is under one roof, and we spent very little time waiting. CTCA also has systems in place for accessing your test results and other information about your diagnosis. When we have questions, we get responses quickly. When we come to CTCA, the staff remembers our names and why we are there. I just felt like I was in the right place.

Because this was my second bout with DCIS and an MRI showed an area of concern on the other breast, I decided to have a double mastectomy. My surgeon was ready to biopsy the area seen on the MRI and take a more minimal surgical approach, but I felt that a double mastectomy was the best option for me. I knew that I did not want to go through cancer a third time. I was grateful that my surgeon honored my treatment decision, and the surgery was scheduled for two weeks after Mark’s procedure.

Even though the malignant cells were in a difficult place, my surgeon was able to perform nipple-sparing surgery, which was integral to the reconstructive surgery I would have later. I had been able to handle the logistics when Mark was having his surgery two weeks before mine, but now we both headed home for six weeks of recovery together.

The healing process

The recovery took longer than I expected, but my Care Team at CTCA put me at ease. After two weeks at home, I started to feel like the healing was taking forever. But the physician assistant, in particular, really helped settle my worries.

At the same time, I wanted to be there for Mark, who was having his own challenges. Prostatectomies cause intense changes, and returning to normal can take a while. We needed to be there for each other. We knew we would get through it. We knew that the weeks spent together on the couch watching television would come to an end. But for a while there, it was difficult. Thankfully, we were able to be upset together and then laugh together, and come through it together.

Through it all, we had the support of CTCA. Sometimes the questions come only after you return home from your appointment. We have always had all our needs addressed. We have an unusual situation, where two patients are each other’s caregivers, but we always book our appointments at the same time to make traveling more convenient. I feel we’ve received excellent counseling on nutrition (Mark likes to joke that all the mice have left our kitchen because there’s nothing left to eat), and natural approaches to alleviating pain. I also believe that God helped me and Mark through this journey, and I am grateful for his guidance through it all.

Forward together

Going through cancer changes you. You learn to appreciate each day a bit more. You are more thankful. You understand that life’s challenges are really opportunities. Going through cancer as a couple changes your relationship. It has made us stronger, and I’m so glad for that.

Today, we try to make a difference wherever we go. No matter who we come across or where we are, we try to carry good things with us. We share our story with as many people as possible to give hope to others.

In May 2016, I completed a deep flap reconstructive surgery, and life is feeling back to normal. Then again in the fall of 2016, I had a follow-up reconstructive surgery. These surgeries helped me achieve the results I had hoped for when we started this journey. I feel that my reconstructive surgeon’s high standard of work has contributed greatly to me feeling comfortable in my own skin again despite a radical surgery. Our sons are grown up and starting their own families, and Mark and I are looking forward to many years of happiness together, as well as seeing our gold leaves on the Trees of Life in a few years at Celebrate Life®.