Although October has long been known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we feel that the condition is worth bringing attention to all year long. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Here at BASS, we aim to stop breast cancer in its tracks as early as possible. Below, find a story from a recent BASS breast cancer survivor and make an appointment today to get yours checked!
On June 18th of this year I was diagnosed with breast cancer, specifically “ductal carcinoma,” as Dr. Rose called it.
Before I got the news, I’d spent all weekend semi-worrying. I’d been having intermittent pain in my right breast for weeks and had just undergone a biopsy of the newly discovered mass on the
14th. We were at Tulloch Lake with family enjoying Father’s Day weekend, and the word “cancer” kept popping into my head. I didn’t let it stop me from having fun, though. Although the doctor had told me not to get my incision wet, I threw on a life vest, grabbed the tube handles and held on as tightly as possible while my brother-in-law towed me behind a speedboat. It felt so good! I figured if I was about to find out that I had cancer I might as well have fun while I was still able.
I kept my cool while talking to Dr. Rose. We’d just dropped off our two girls, Camille (7) and Sasha (3), at school, and I was happy to be driving into the city with Fred. He usually left early and took BART, but today he waited around so we could drive in together since we knew my results would come in.
I asked Dr. Rose all the necessary questions and was very calm. I got the surgeon’s name and was to call her office to make an appointment. I hung up. We had just gotten off the 580 Interchange and merged onto 80. Just before we approached the toll plaza, I lost it. I broke into tears. I was inconsolable and I spoke out loud to no one in particular. I didn’t want to leave my girls and I didn’t want to die. We tried for three years to get pregnant with Camille before we finally succeeded. There was no way in hell I could accept that she lived through weeks in the NICU as a micro-preemie just for me to die while she was still a kid.
Fred held my hand and tried to hold back tears of his own. He guided me over to the median, exited the passenger side and came around and opened the driver-side door. I got out and fell into his arms and sobbed. He held me and told me it would be okay. He walked me to the other side and put my seatbelt on me. I managed to pull myself together for the broker’s tour I had scheduled that morning. After making it to most of the houses, Fred took me home. He decided he’d “work from home” for the rest of the day (which ended up being more like the rest of the week).
Before I had a chance to call the surgeon’s office, they rang me. I was so surprised and relieved. They called me the same day they received the referral. I made a mental note: One point for them. They offered me an appointment for the next day. Two points. I couldn’t wait to meet the surgeon.
Wednesday afternoon we arrived at Dr. Ghanta’s office. As I looked around, I saw only one other patient and realized Dr. Ghanta was a solo practitioner. I thought to myself, “We’ll see.” Then, as she walked into my patient room, I thought, “She looks so young. She can’t be the surgeon! And board certified at that? She hasn’t been in practice long enough.” Soon, my feelings began to change, though. She was patient and personable as we talked through my diagnosis and recovery plan. I didn’t feel rushed, even though I asked a million questions. She did an ultrasound to re-confirm the location of the tumor and showed it to me. She had me get dressed, and then we met in her office to discuss our options - mastectomy or lumpectomy. We opted for the lumpectomy with a sentinel node biopsy, which would address the tumor in my breast. However, if my armpit lymph nodes tested positive for cancer, or if the breast tumor were to return we’d go back in and do a complete removal of the armpit lymph nodes and the mastectomy. When we left the office, we had booked the surgery for July 11, and Fred and I were confident with our treatment plan and with having Dr. Ghanta as our surgeon.
I reconciled myself to the fact I’d have to wait, and Dr. Ghanta assured me that it was okay. I was worried the tumor would quadruple in size over the next three weeks. Two days later while eating breakfast in downtown Walnut Creek, I received another call from Dr. Ghanta’s office. There was an opening for June 27th. Did I want it? Without hesitation, I responded in the affirmative.
The week of the surgery Fred’s parents arrived in town to help with the girls. I would be staying at my mom’s because we knew I’d get no rest at home. Thursday came, and I was ready. The nurse took me to pre-op and got me settled. Dr. Ghanta came in, asked how I was feeling, explained the procedure again, and then marked me up. Soon after, the anesthesiologist came to see me. I kissed my mom and Fred. I remember rolling through pre-op on the gurney and being wheeled out the swinging doors. The next thing I remember is being in post-op, slightly nauseous but somehow hungry. Fred looked so relieved when I opened my eyes. My mom smiled and asked how I felt. The nurse checked on me and oriented me to my surroundings and explained how to take care of things at home.
Recovery went well. There was pain of course, but by the third day, I’d stop taking the narcotics because they made me nauseous and gave me a horrible headache. My mom took great care of me – making sure I was fed, iced, and comfortable and doing what mom’s do: reminding me to not rush myself. As the days progressed, I was in less and less pain.
We saw Dr. Ghanta twice after surgery, and she was pleased with how I was healing. We reviewed the pathology and genetic testing results and discussed the next steps in my treatment plan. Stage 1A is how they graded my tumor initially. However, the mass was larger than it appeared on the scans because of its location. If I recall correctly, the scans measured the tumor at about 1.9 cm, when in fact it was 2.6 cm. And like that, it became a 1B.
It’s now the end of October, and I’ve completed 28 radiation treatments (under Dr. Moini ) and am onto hormone therapy in the form of quarterly Zolodex injections soon to be joined by daily AIs (under Dr. Superfin), which will be my new normal for the next 5-7 years. I have another follow-up with Dr. Ghanta in November. While the circumstances suck, I am truly blessed to have such caring and compassionate clinicians. I feel my team worked well together in devising an appropriate treatment plan.
Will it be enough to keep me cancer-free? I can only hope.
How do I feel? I have good days and bad days. I still ask myself daily “Why doesn’t my body like me?” Every so often I forget about the cancer, and then something will trigger me. I’ll utter an expletive and get really down for a while. I think about my babies and my husband. They keep me going. I have a career as a realtor that I truly enjoy, which affords me the flexibility to be with my family. We haven’t had a real vacation in years, so when things settle down a bit, I look forward to a nice family trip.
I would offer to anyone going through this journey to surround yourself with a positive support system while getting rid of as much negativity as possible. Don’t let anyone else decide how you feel or approach the situation. Find something to look forward to and keep reaching for it. Most importantly, don’t be embarrassed to ask questions of your medical team. It’s your life.