Our website will soon be relaunched with a fresh look and improved user experience. Take a look by visiting our test site.
Call us 24/7 at (888) 552-6760
Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Julie Ullman

Breast cancer - Stage IIB

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

My story

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer three times. After she was first treated, the cancer returned and spread -- twice. She had cancerous tumors in both breasts. Because of her history, I was concerned about developing the same disease. So I was diligent about having annual routine mammograms starting when I was 40 years old.

In September  2012, I was under a lot of stress and had felt lumps in my breasts. I felt certain that sooner or later, I would develop breast cancer. My doctor encouraged me to wait to see if I actually developed cancer.

In the early spring of 2013, a lump appeared in my breast, and I scheduled a mammogram right away.

The results of that test came by mail. No change had been observed, but the report also stated that I had dense breast tissue, which, as I understand it, can sometimes make cancer difficult to see.

A week later, my right breast started bleeding. After a sleepless night I called my doctor. She saw me that day and referred me to a breast surgeon near my home outside Baltimore, Maryland. The surgeon did an ultrasound and saw two areas in my breast that looked suspicious for cancer.

My first response upon hearing this from her was that I wanted to have a surgery. But like my previous physician, the surgeon suggested I wait. She wanted to do a biopsy to confirm that the masses were malignant. She said there was time, that the tumors were not going to grow that fast. So a few days later, I had a biopsy.A week later, she confirmed it was breast cancer.

The surgeon wanted me to have an MRI before going ahead with any surgical procedure. An MRI would reveal any other areas of concern. Sure enough, the imaging test confirmed the presence of a mass in the lymph node. Upon seeing the results of the MRI, she wanted me to have another biopsy to determine whether the mass in the lymph node was cancerous. A week later she had the results from the biopsy, which confirmed that the mass was malignant. At this time, she agreed that I should have a bilateral mastectomy.

About four weeks after I learned that I had cancer, I underwent surgery.

No more waiting

Before I had the surgery, a friend of mine told me about a friend of hers who had been treated for breast cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Chicago. The friend had said wonderful things about the care she’d received, and my friend was urging me to talk to her.

I didn’t call right away. Traveling to the Chicago area for treatment seemed out of reach for me. I have three children, one of whom has cerebral palsy and needs constant care, and I didn’t see how I could logistically travel for treatment. So what was the point in calling? Plus, I had no prior experience with cancer treatment. Even though there were waiting periods between tests and procedures, I thought that perhaps this was just how things went with cancer treatment. But I was looking at all of these obstacles from a human perspective, not allowing my faith to guide me.

I finally got in touch with my friend’s friend, and then called CTCA®. Five days later, I went to the CTCA facility in Chicago for an initial consultation.

This is where I’m supposed to be

My first visit to CTCA was very reassuring and they didn’t want me to wait any longer for treatment.

Now it was me who wanted to delay. I knew that I wanted to be treated at CTCA almost immediately, but I wanted to have a few days back at home before starting chemotherapy. I was concerned that if I lost my hair, my daughter would be alarmed. A friend of mine had used something called cold caps to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy, and I wanted time to inquire about this for myself. So I went home and returned a week later to begin treatment.

I had chemotherapy and adjunct therapy trastuzumab once every three weeks for six rounds. For each treatment, I traveled to Chicago, staying there for one or two nights, and then returned home. I continued traveling to CTCA every three weeks for 12 additional rounds of adjunct therapy with maintenance trastuzumab. I did end up using the cold caps, and they worked for me—I did not lose my hair. My Care Team also recommended radiation therapy. Following chemotherapy and radiation, I chose to undergo reconstructive surgery in October 2014.

The quality of the care I received at CTCA was excellent. When I was at CTCA, my needs were taken care of. My side effects were addressed both medically and through nutritional and naturopathic support. When I was at home, I also felt that CTCA was immediately within reach. When I developed an infection, my CTCA doctor was available right away by phone to advise me.

The hardest part of going through cancer was getting the diagnosis, and now that was long behind me. The care I received at CTCA from the doctors, nurses and staff was above and beyond what I had thought was accessible for me, but somehow I got to the right place. I even met a lifelong friend who was on the same three-week chemo schedule, so our doctor, scheduler, and infusion nurses made sure we could meet in the infusion center for our “chemo parties.”

I also know that I would never have made it through this time without the support of my family. My mother, still fighting her own breast cancer, was able to take care of my children when I could not. I am so grateful for their love and support. I am also grateful for all of the wonderful moments I’ve had traveling to and from Chicago, and while staying at CTCA. I am thankful that it has been possible for me to share my experience at CTCA with so many people by just being in situations where my cancer journey might help others. I am honored to still be able to give back to other cancer patients by being part of the Cancer Fighters® Care Net program.

Reconstructing and restoring

Today, I am doing well. I return to CTCA every six months as maintenance. My energy has returned, and I have resumed my normal activities of life. I’m back at work and able to take care of my children and enjoy our time together. We went on a family vacation to the Bahamas, just the five of us for the first time ever. And I celebrated my 50th birthday.

More importantly, though, I am closer to living the way I want to live now. Work is less of a focus for me, and my beliefs are at the forefront of my mind. I have become very active in my church, and have a close group of friends with whom I share my faith. Before I had cancer, I was going through the motions of life too busy to stop and notice what was going on around me. But going through this time made me stop and slow down and re-prioritize.

As a result, it feels like everything is falling into place. I traveled on a mission trip with my son in 2015, and I have been able to finish physical therapy with my daughter for her cerebral palsy, now doing self-directed services for her. She is doing well. My beliefs kept me strong during cancer treatment and they will keep me strong for the road ahead.