Liv A.

Breast Cancer - Stage 2

Liv Arnold

I also strongly feel that the body, mind and spirit are all connected and that you can’t treat cancer in isolation. I feel that nutrition, stress, physical therapy, etc., all play a part in my wellness. So I wanted to take advantage of the supportive care therapies available at City of Hope, specifically nutrition and naturopathic support. The best part was that everything was available under one roof and I didn’t have to wait weeks for scheduling.

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. 

In 2012, I gave birth to our second child, Whittaker. My husband, Nick, and I also have a daughter, Margaux, who was 2 years old at the time of Whitty’s birth. Near Whitty’s 1st birthday, I turned 40, and my doctor recommended that I get a baseline mammogram. But I was still breastfeeding, so I had to wait. After completing breastfeeding, I went in to see my gynecologist for my annual check-up. I mentioned that I had some pain in my right breast and I felt a small lump, which I always attributed to my milk supply. My doctor ordered my first mammogram, and I went in April 2016 to complete it.

During the mammogram, the technician discovered three lumps. I wanted to know right away what I was dealing with and requested a biopsy immediately. I knew what I wanted, and I knew I had to be my own advocate. Through my persistence, and a bit of luck, I had the biopsy the same day. A few days later, I received the news from my doctor: I had HER2-positive breast cancer.

I was in shock, and I went through the next few weeks in a haze. I was scheduling and coordinating all these doctor’s visits and lab procedures. I was constantly on the phone. I underwent many tests and diagnostic procedures and saw so many doctors, including a medical oncologist. Through all of this, I kept thinking, where do I fit into my care? I felt my frustration building. Then one day, my husband and I faced a decision to either continue with the status quo or to take my power back and be the “general” of my cancer battle. I needed to find the right doctors to help support me and my family in this fight. That’s when I decided to start doing my own research and look for cancer treatment that was right for me.

Finding personalized care

My research led me to Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* I had a friend who worked there, and I figured I would at least go in to get more information and see if it was the right fit for me. Despite this, I was still nervous about the idea of changing doctors. My initial evaluation at the hospital was quickly and efficiently scheduled. CTCA® even took care of obtaining my old medical records, verifying my insurance and all the details that I was worried might slip through the cracks.

I walked into the hospital in Zion, Illinois, and was immediately greeted in the front lobby. The receptionist actually said that they were waiting for me. I was given a hospital tour and introduced to other employees at the hospital. Then I received a printed schedule showing the dates and times of all my appointments. My treatment was outlined and coordinated. I knew where I had to go and when. It was a huge relief to have everything so organized for me.

Meeting my care team, I knew I was in the right place. I realized that cancer treatment isn’t the same everywhere. At CTCA, I had a team of doctors and clinicians focused on treating my cancer. They worried about my treatment. I only had to worry about me.

I also strongly feel that the body, mind and spirit are all connected and that you can’t treat cancer in isolation. I feel that nutrition, stress, physical therapy, etc., all play a part in my wellness. So I wanted to take advantage of the supportive care therapies available at CTCA, specifically nutrition and naturopathic medicine. The best part was that everything was available under one roof and I didn’t have to wait weeks for scheduling.

Empowered to be part of the treatment decision process

I underwent genetic testing, and the results determined that my cancer was not linked to a known genetic mutation. I was glad for my children’s future health to learn this, but my mindset was I don’t care how I got it; I just want to stop it. I met with my doctors, and many treatment options were presented to me. I chose the one that felt right for me and opted for chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy.

My first round of chemotherapy was in June 2016. I experienced side effects, which my team outlined for me, and as needed, suggested supplements to help address them. In September 2016, I had a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy with immediate, one-step breast reconstruction using pre-pectoral anatomic-shaped silicone gel implants. At CTCA, my surgical oncologist and reconstructive surgeon performed my surgery together, in the same procedure. I wanted to get it all done at once, and I really appreciated CTCA working with me to combine the two surgeries into one. I thought my treatment was complete.  However, my surgical oncologist performed a sentinel lymph node test during the mastectomy. The final results from the lymph node testing came back positive for cancer (the initial test was negative), and my surgeon called me directly with the news, which was a pleasant surprise. A follow-up surgery was immediately scheduled to remove the additional lymph nodes.

After healing from surgery, I was able to quickly start radiation therapy in November 2016. An incident with fluid build-up around my right implant during radiation was addressed by my care team swiftly and professionally. I was then able to finish treatment early. After completing radiation, I started on the last piece of my treatment plan: a second round of chemotherapy because of the positive lymph nodes. I experienced some side effects, but they were quickly addressed by my team of doctors and the supportive therapies offered at CTCA. I was able to complete all my treatments by May 2017. The rapid response and sense of urgency to everything I brought up was above and beyond anything I had expected or experienced before.

At CTCA, the focus is exclusively on cancer, with a complete whole-person approach. I had a comprehensive team that was working for me and personalizing my care, and I felt that my opinion and concerns were heard. I was more than satisfied in my cancer treatment, and I want to tell everyone I know about the excellent care I received. I didn’t realize what I was missing or what support I needed until I came to CTCA and my care team educated me about all the possibilities and options. The doctors, clinicians and employees at CTCA all showed me what compassionate care truly means.

I am happy to report that recent tests showed no evidence of cancer, though I continue to meet with my CTCA care team every three months to monitor my status and assess my needs. Eventually, if my tests continue to show no signs of disease, my follow-up visits will be extended to every six months, then once a year.

A message to all women diagnosed with breast cancer

Based on my personal experiences, I believe it’s important for women to follow their intuition. If something feels off, pay close attention to that message. Trust yourself. Be empowered to seek out information, and don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Look at the situation from all angles. Then, base your decision on all the information that you have at that time. Don't marinate in the "would-a, should-a, could-a."  Find out what works for you. Be honest with your doctors and care team about your lifestyle and things you may be doing that fall outside of your prescribed treatment plan. In order for your doctors to help you, they need to be informed as well. There will be a lot of advice coming from all directions: your family, friends, coworkers, church, the Internet and medical professionals. Be proactive, selective and in charge. This is your treatment.

Sunlight at the end of the tunnel

My husband, Nick, was by my side the entire journey, and he was an amazing caregiver for me. He took on additional responsibilities and continued to care for our two beautiful children while I was going through treatment. I am so glad that I have gone through the tunnel and I can see the sunlight on the other side. My family is my whole world, and I am grateful that I get to continue sharing this life with them.

Because of CTCA, I am able to continue doing the things that I love: cooking, eating and traveling, spending time with my loves, Margaux and Whittaker, and growing old with Nick.

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.