Questions & Answers
I get asked a lot of questions over and over. Here are the answers.
How are you feeling?
Depends on the day. I’ve been everything from “almost normal” to “near death.” As of this writing (Aug. 16), I’m still getting over the side effects of chemo. Felt ok yesterday, then, today, I feel like a truck ran over me.
You’ll be fine. My aunt/sister/mom/daughter had breast cancer and she’s doing great!
While I would very much like to believe you, don’t forget that every woman is different and every breast cancer is different. The prognosis for pre-menopausal women is not nearly as good as it is for post-menopausal women. With all of the treatment I’m doing, I have about an 85 percent chance of being alive in 10 years (actually, of being “not dead” from cancer). I would rather that were higher. Other people my age have more like a 99 percent chance of being alive in 10 years. I’d like to have a doctor tell me that, but it isn’t going to happen.
How did you find the breast cancer?
I had pain, which is a little unusual for a breast cancer symptom. All of the doctors raise their eyebrows when they hear this. There is an adage that if it is pain, it generally isn’t breast cancer, and I had a doctor tell me this a few years ago. Don’t believe what you hear! The first pain was a shooting pain, through the center of my breast. Felt like a lightning bolt shot out my nipple. Had a few of those one day. Then, it started changing over the course of three weeks. It felt sore for a while. I also had a symptom where I felt like I had breast milk leaking, but when I would touch my nipple to see what was going on, nothing was there. Honestly, that was more alarming than the pain. I actually dismissed the pain, thinking it was probably a cyst. By the time I got to the doctor about three weeks after the first pain, I also felt a heaviness on the side of my breast where the cancer was found. My doctor found the lump, even though I had been poking and prodding the area trying to find something. It was too deep for me!
Did they find the cancer on a mammogram?
No. I was 34 years old at the time of diagnosis. It takes an act of God and Congress to get a mammogram before you are 35. You can get what is called a “baseline” at 35, which just means your first one. Then, they don’t do it again until 40. They’ll do it annually after that. I would have requested a mammogram in June when I had my annual exam. (I’ve been anxiously awaiting this “35” threshold for years, often asking for a mammogram and always discouraged from it.) I’ve been told that younger breasts are typically more dense and do not “perform” well on a mammogram. I think it’s a health insurance issue — they don’t want to pay so they are playing the odds. Breast cancer occurs in 1 in 229 women under 40 and 1 in 7 over 60. Unfortunately, breast cancer in younger women tends to be more deadly. I have to think this is because it is not spotted as early as it is in women over 40 who get annual mammograms.
Do you have breast cancer in your family?
Yes, but don’t let this fool you into thinking you are safe. 90 percent of women with breast cancer have NO family member with the disease. 80 percent have no identifiable risk factor whatsoever. (Which makes me wonder, what the heck is a risk factor if it only identifies 20 percent of those who get it?) I have two paternal aunts and one maternal aunt who have had breast cancer thus far, although all were past menopause at the time of diagnosis. I have learned that post-menopausal breast cancer and pre-menopausal breast cancer are two different ballparks.
How was your surgery?
I had a lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy on March 27. It was really, very, extremely not fun. I have a six inch incision on my breast and a 3.5 inch incision in my armpit. They removed three lymph nodes and an area of tissue in my breast that was 10 cm x 9 cm x 6 cm (about 4 x 3.5 x 2.5 in inches). When I removed my bandage the evening of March 29, I was a little startled by the difference in my breast, but I was really glad to get the cancer out. I was doing really well and starting to feel pretty good, except for the suture pain, by March 30, when my surgeon called to share the bad news that they did not get all of the cancer. This was a serious emotional blow. I will have to have a mastectomy soon.
Are you going to lose your hair?
Yes. I lost all of my hair due to chemotherapy. There are a couple types of chemo used on breast cancer patients and they all have the potential to make you lose your hair. I had three types of chemotherapy: Adriamyacin, Cytoxan and Taxol.