Breast cancer - Stage IIIB
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
I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. I have a brother who is five and a half years younger than me. As a child, my favorite thing to do was to play school. I would bring out the chalkboard and pretend I was the teacher. I taught my brother the alphabet and how to count. I loved working with him, and I always knew I was going to be a teacher.
When it was time for college, I went to Oral Roberts University. There, I studied to become a teacher, but I learned so much more. The school believes in “whole-person education,” and physical fitness and nutrition are part of the academic experience. I learned to exercise, maintain proper eating habits and focus on an awareness of my body.
After graduation, I started teaching in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Teaching was never a job for me. It felt natural to be around kids. As a kindergarten teacher, each day is different. While there are challenges and ups and downs, the job has its rewards. I love working with kids and being part of their first year in elementary school.
In early 2011, my husband and I were in the process of divorcing. It was a difficult time, and I was raising two very active boys. The days were long, and it sometimes felt like I never had enough time. I was up and going early in the morning. After working, I was busy with my boys. We would do homework, go to sports practices and games and participate in many activities. It was a very busy lifestyle.
In the summer of 2011, I went out for a walk and came home with the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right with me physically. I looked and checked my body, but I didn’t find anything wrong. About a month later, I broke out in shingles. I first noticed it on my back, and then it spread to my left side. After it finally cleared up, I noticed a lump in my left breast.
I wasn’t alarmed at first. I had mentally produced many theories as to what it was. Perhaps it was related to the shingles. Maybe it was a fibroid tumor aggravated by my coffee drinking. School had just started, and with so much going on, I just don’t think I wanted to address it directly.
The shock of a lifetime
In October, I went to my doctor for a check-up related to an autoimmune disease that I was previously diagnosed as having. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system can attack your thyroid. If the thyroid becomes damaged, it can’t produce enough thyroid hormones. I went in for an annual scan to check my thyroid health.
I didn’t say anything at the scan, but when I went in for my results, I just sort of mentioned something to my doctor about the lump. As soon as she felt it, she told me that I needed to go have it checked out right away. But I still wasn’t concerned. I went to a local provider and had a breast biopsy.
I waited for the results, and on Halloween, I got a message to go see the doctor. When I arrived, the doctor walked out to the waiting room to greet me. That’s how I knew the results were bad. She told me I had the early stages of ductal carcinoma breast cancer.
I was in a state of shock. The next few weeks, I felt like I was living in a fog, and so I just followed the recommendations of my doctor. I went to see a surgical oncologist at a local hospital. I wasn’t prepared for the treatment plan that was presented to me. The doctor wanted me to have a mastectomy, hysterectomy and then complete chemotherapy and radiation. I felt so conflicted because I thought that I had caught this cancer early, yet the recommendation I was given felt so radical. I wasn’t prepared for what I heard, and I left there even more upset and confused.
I did some research and talked to friends and family, and I decided that I didn’t want to go through all of those treatments. I then saw another physician, and he also recommended radiation, among the other treatments. I had heard and read so much negativity about radiation, and I was scared.
For the next few weeks, I kept researching and talking to other people. One day, the nurse at my school approached me and said, “Have you heard of IORT?” I started researching and found out that IORT stood for intraoperative radiation therapy. It is a relatively new technology that delivers a concentrated dose of radiation therapy to a tumor bed during surgery. This would hopefully eliminate the need for radiation after surgery over a period of time. Then I found out that Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa was one of a handful of hospitals that offered the technology. I called right away.
Navigating my journey
From the moment I called, CTCA® impressed me. I spoke to an Oncology Information Specialist, who provided me a lot of information. I found out about the process of becoming a patient and how CTCA would handle my insurance verification, obtaining my health records and scheduling all my initial appointments. While I was waiting, a medical oncologist from CTCA called me to tell me about the IORT procedure and explained the operation to me. I was so impressed that I was connected to a physician so easily and quickly. I felt so important, right from the start.
At my initial evaluation they not only focused on my physical health, but they also addressed my mental health. I had an entire team of doctors and clinicians focused on helping me treat my cancer. I had a very real fear about cancer treatments, and through education, they helped me put that fear aside.
I had the IORT procedure, which combined the surgery and radiation. I then took Herceptin®, a targeted chemotherapy drug. I experienced some side effects, such as fatigue and nausea. But any issues that affected me were addressed with the supportive therapies offered at CTCA, such as nutrition and naturopathic support.
I was also going through a divorce, so psychologically I was struggling. I felt alone and depressed, and I worked closely with CTCA clinicians to address my feelings. They not only provided me therapy but medications when I needed it.
CTCA really worked with me, and I felt empowered. I had a say in my cancer treatments. I felt a part of the team, and I was determined to keep fighting.
Time went along, and just as I started to feel the sun poking out from the clouds that I felt trapped under, I found out I had a cancer recurrence. After completing my cancer treatments, I had to now complete chemotherapy. Thankfully, it killed the cancer, even though I felt a lot of side effects like losing my hair. When all of that was completed, I had breast reconstructive surgery.
My cancer journey had its ups and downs. I had good days and bad. There were some days I thought, “I can do this, I’m going to make it.” And then there were other days that I cried and cried, feeling like I couldn’t go on. But I kept fighting.
I had one goal when I started cancer treatment: surviving!
CTCA hosts a yearly event at each hospital called Celebrate Life®. It is a day to honor and celebrate cancer patients' five-year anniversaries since coming to CTCA. They understand how much cancer patients have gone through to reach this five-year milestone. My goal when I first started cancer treatment was to be a part of this special day. When it was finally my turn, my brother flew in from Colorado to surprise me and came to the event with me. My parents, my boyfriend and my youngest son all were there to celebrate with me that day. I dreamed about this day for so long, and it was such a magical day.
I thank God for the friends and family in my life who support me. I couldn’t have gotten through my battle with cancer without them. My sons have been there for me the whole time. We make a great team, and we appreciate our time together even more now.
Going through cancer and treatment and everything that goes along with it changes your life. Not knowing if you are going to live or die changes your perspective on everything. I don’t let the little things bother me anymore, and I appreciate so much more than I ever did.
I’m 51 now, and so far, scans show that I have no evidence of disease. I don’t exactly know what’s ahead of me. What I do know is that it will be new, it will be fun, and it will be an adventure. I choose to focus on the positives in my life because I know I am blessed to be a cancer survivor.