By Erika Archer Lewis
Twenty years ago, while a college senior, I spent weekends commuting from Austin to Houston to care for my 42-year-old mother. She was battling an aggressive form of stage 4 breast cancer and was told her odds for survival were less than 20%. After witnessing first-hand her intense, four-year battle that included chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow extraction, a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, I wondered for years if and when breast cancer might strike me.
A family history of breast cancer
When my young, healthy, active mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, there was no pattern of women with breast cancer in her family history. But shortly after she was diagnosed, her cousin was diagnosed with the same cancer, even in the same breast. Since that time, there have been four other women on my maternal grandmother's side of the family who have struggled with or lost their lives to breast cancer.
In late 2013, after a series of suspicious mammograms, ultrasounds, an MRI, and three biopsies, I wondered if I was doomed by the pattern within my family that had reared its ugly head decades before. With recent advances in technology and medicine, I learned there was a simple blood test for identifying genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA 1 and 2. I felt an overwhelming need to know if I had what felt like a ticking time bomb inside my chest.
Results tagged “Breast cancer”
By Erika Archer Lewis
By Erika Vandiver
I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second child when my doctor told me, "You have breast cancer." I was only 28 years old -- 20 years younger than my mother when she received her breast cancer diagnosis.
The local medical team that performed my biopsy and lumpectomy had limited treatment options. My choices were bleak: terminate my pregnancy so I could try to live myself, or risk dying from cancer by allowing my child to live.
Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment while pregnant
Although this was my second child, it was my sixth pregnancy. Four previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. I was determined to find an alternative for my breast cancer treatment.
By Katrina Burton
MD Anderson is standing by a recommendation that women 40 years old and older receive annual mammograms, despite a recent study that raised controversy regarding breast cancer screening.
"We are not recommending that women change their screening practices," says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. "We stand by our guidelines that recommend women have annual mammograms beginning at age 40 and continue to be screened as long as they are in good health."
But a study by the Canadian National Breast Screening says annual mammography in women ages 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer and mammography screening should be revisited.
The results of the study, published in the BMJ Journal on Feb. 11, are in direct contrast to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation that women should begin annual mammograms starting at age 50, and of guidelines by MD Anderson, the American Cancer Society and others that call for annual breast cancer screening to begin at age 40.
"By having this testing I'm protecting my family," Terry says. "Now, we have the smoke alarm."
Terry is a mother of five -- three girls and two boys -- ranging in ages from 19 to 31, and a grandmother of five. Genetic testing for the BRCA gene could let those future generations know if they are at risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
She received the results in November 2013.
"Mutated gene 5385insc-BRCA 1," the report said. That meant her children could have the gene as well.
Facing new questions after genetic testing
Terry's daughters plan to undergo genetic testing soon. Her sons are considering testing to see if they carry the gene.
By Brandie Sellers
All cancer sucks. However, I must admit (not-so-secretly) that I envy people who complete cancer treatment. In my case, breast cancer treatment has been constant since my diagnosis and recurrence in 2011. I often return to MD Anderson for CT scans, bone scans, chest ultrasounds and other tests that come along with having a later stage breast cancer diagnosis. The scans are never completely clear, and there's always something to watch. Living without absolutes really messes with my head.Living from cancer treatment follow-up exam to follow-up exam
I'm always hesitant to make plans for more than six months ahead of time. That's how often I have my follow-up scans. With so much uncertainty, it's easy for me to get into the pattern of living my life in short bursts. I wonder, "Why plan something for next year? What if I'm in cancer treatment again?"
Danielle Harmon thought she was too young for cancer, but at age 31, she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer following a routine well-woman exam.
The mother of a 1-year-old boy, Sam, was shocked.
"I just cried and cried. I thought, 'I'm going to die ... I'm
not going to see Sam grow up.'"
Danielle was concerned that her husband Jason would have to raise their son alone.
"Immediately when you arrive at MD Anderson you get the feeling that these people are serious ... they know what they're doing. They make you feel like you have a fighting chance to survive the disease," she reflects.
Danielle's breast cancer treatment included a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, as well as six rounds of chemotherapy. "It wasn't an easy experience, but we got through it. I got a clean bill of health, and we were continuing on with our lives," she says.
blessing from breast cancer
More devastating than the disease, though, was that that Danielle would not be able to have more children due to the need for long-term chemotherapy.
At 37 years old,
3 triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis is tough to swallow. If you're a
working mother of twin boys, one of them with special needs, a triple-negative
breast cancer diagnosis can be even more daunting.
So, for Bree Sandlin, coming to MD Anderson for her triple-negative breast cancer treatment was the only choice there ever was.
Bree's triple-negative breast cancer treatment
"When I first arrived at MD Anderson to meet with my oncologist, I had pages of notes and questions," Bree recalls. "My doctor took the time to go through each one and laid out the plan for me. She did an amazing job leaving me with a feeling of hope, optimism and encouragement for the future."
Bree's plan consisted of six months of chemotherapy, followed by a bilateral mastectomy, and ended with six weeks of radiation therapy. When doctors removed the tumor during surgery, they found no trace of cancer.
A new outlook on life
Now 38, Bree calls herself a survivor, having been in remission with no sign of triple-negative breast cancer since April 2013.
The holidays can be difficult when you or a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment. But while your usual traditions may be interrupted, the holiday spirit can still be found.
We asked several survivors how they coped with cancer during the holidays and what advice they had for patients undergoing treatment during the holidays.
Here's what they had to say.
on what makes you happiest about the holidays
"Life has changed, and every holiday provides me with a deeper appreciation for being given another year. Cancer hasn't changed the way I celebrate holidays, but it makes being around family and friends much more special.
Throughout the year, our cancer patients and cancer survivors shared insight, advice and stories from their cancer journeys, giving us inspiration and hope.
Here are some of our best stories from patients and survivors in 2013.
Getting married after cancer: Guilt is part of the diagnosis
Before proposing to his girlfriend, Justin Ozuna couldn't stop thinking about how the proposal would align with his cancer diagnosis and his uncertain future. Find out how the couple accepted their new reality.
Bodybuilding: How a breast cancer survivor regained confidence
After a breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Sonia Byrd decided to retake control of her body and life. So, she signed up for a bodybuilding fitness contest. Read her story.
By Brandie Sellers
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2011. Several holidays came and went while I was in treatment. Each holiday I woke up and thought, "I'm still here. No matter what happens today, I still get to be here."
I felt pretty rotten for some of the holidays -- the Fourth of July, in particular. But during each and every one of them, my eyes opened and I got to see my children.
Surviving breast cancer changed how my family and I celebrate the holidays, but we know it's for the better.
Holidays are different after breast cancer treatment
Holidays are different for us now. We don't have as much money as we had when I was diagnosed with cancer. Our house is simple, our meals are simple, and my expectations of the holidays are few, as are my children's expectations.
We have trouble with Christmas lists around here. Gifts given out of love are always welcome, but nobody here is making a long list of wants. All we want is to be together and giggle. And maybe to have some time to read some books and dance around the kitchen. Oh, and my kids do always want snow on Christmas, which, although not common in Dallas, actually happened last year.
By Carol A. Turni
That third week in August 2011 is one I will never forget. That's when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was 44 years old with no family history of cancer. It seemed like I was on a bad news train. Not only did I have breast cancer, but it was caused by a BRCA 2 genetic mutation, which extended my breast cancer treatment course drastically. I was married with two young girls, 5 and 7 years old at the time. My world changed so drastically that I am not sure you can put it into words.
My family and friends were all very supportive. However, one piece was missing: my older brother, whom I had not spoken to in more than seven years.
An unexpected call from my brother
The details of our disagreement had long faded, but there was no communication and a painful feeling of loss. Shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis, though, the phone rang.
by Jody Schoger
I was doing what I do every day: advocating for breast cancer survivors through various social and traditional media outlets. I advocate, write, review grants, educate, read research studies and, yes, even joke about it when conditions are right.
Until this year. Last Christmas, there were some physical changes I couldn't ignore. I blamed a sudden weight loss on stress. It simply did not register that cancer was about to re-enter my life after a 15-year remission.
But it did. I was diagnosed with metastatic lobular breast cancer on my annual visit to MD Anderson's Survivorship Clinic in April.
Coping with metastatic breast cancer recurrence
Cancer is wily. Invasive lobular breast cancer is especially so. It doesn't always cause lumps and can be difficult to image. The cancer skipped my remaining breast for better territory, landing in the opposite lymph nodes under my arm, then traveling up into my neck before traveling into my abdomen.
By Karen Mae Perdon
My mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, just four years after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
This year her breast cancer returned. When I heard the news, I kept thinking, why her? Why is this happening again to the person least deserving of this? I thought we had said goodbye to cancer, but I guess God had other plans.
Yet, despite being a bit shocked, I was surprisingly calm about the news. I knew that my job as a nurse here at MD Anderson was not just to help my patients, but also to help my family.
An inspiring first experience with MD Anderson
I haven't always been a nurse at MD Anderson. In fact, it was my sister's breast cancer diagnosis that led me to MD Anderson, first as a caregiver and now as a nurse.
by Michael Keating, M.D.
This ambitious and innovative program seeks to significantly reduce the mortality rates for several cancers -- including melanoma, triple-negative breast, high-grade serous ovarian, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), lung and prostate -- and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers.
Over the last year, the Moon Shots Program provided a tremendous boost to cancer research. My colleagues at MD Anderson and I have spent the last 12 months collaborating to make significant advancements for our patients as well as those patients not yet diagnosed.
Meaningful progress made in the
The Moon Shots Program became a reality after MD Anderson's president Ronald DePinho, M.D., issued a formidable challenge to our doctors and researchers: to develop a comprehensive action plan to significantly increase survival rates of cancer patients in the near-term and accelerate cures in the long-term.
Monique Cohen was a healthy, busy mom of three when, in early 2011, she noticed a lump during a breast self-exam. A lumpectomy revealed it was benign, but a follow-up mammogram six months later found another breast lump.
"'You have cancer.' Those are the three worst words you'll ever hear in your life," she says. "The first question you ask is, 'Why?' I did everything I possibly could to stay healthy. I exercised regularly. It was not in my genetics. But the fact was that I had cancer and we needed to do what was necessary to eradicate it."
A neighbor told Monique to make an appointment at MD
Anderson, a suggestion echoed by a family friend.
"It's the best care in the nation for cancer, and it's in our backyard," says the Austin, Texas resident. "When you're faced with a diagnosis as serious as cancer, why wouldn't you go to the best?"
"The hardest thing you ever have to do as a parent is to tell your children something like this," Monique says."You know it's going to be difficult for them and they're going to be scared, and as a parent and a mom, you're not supposed to do that to your kids. You're supposed to protect them."
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 37, I had no close friends who had been through cancer treatment. I felt alone. I felt like nobody on earth could know how I felt.
My friends are amazing, and, yet, they could not relate to what I was going through. Nobody can unless they go through it themselves or walk the treatment path with a close loved one.Creating my own breast cancer support group
By Lainie Jones
Many girls picture their wedding all the way down to the shoes.
I was never that girl. Yes, I wanted to marry the man of my dreams, but I never envisioned my wedding.
And I definitely didn't imagine I'd be planning a wedding while undergoing chemo.
adults should never have to face"
My husband, Joseph (JJ), and I met while working at a popular retail store when we were 21. (He was that shirtless dude in the front.) We started dating, and our love grew stronger each day.
Four years later, in 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. JJ and I were faced with a challenge young adults should never have to face. We still weren't engaged, but JJ said to me, "I am never leaving your side."
Since my breast cancer diagnosis, our journey with cancer has been a long one. I was subsequently diagnosed with two more cancers and had three recurrences. As we learned, I have a rare genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni syndrome. My body is lacking a P53 gene, which helps prevent cancer. Cancer will be a permanent fixture in my life.
By Katie Bispeck
The doctors at MD Anderson not only diagnosed my mother's stage III breast cancer. They also diagnosed a heart condition that may have become quite serious had it not been found early.
In a previous Cancerwise post, I mentioned that my mom developed edema, a condition that caused her lower legs and feet to swell after her first Taxol chemotherapy treatment. This did subside, but we soon learned that once a side effect goes away, you shouldn't believe it's gone for good. The swelling came back a couple of weeks later with vengeance.
My mom's oncologist, Sharon Giordano, M.D., watched the edema closely. Taxol can cause swelling but Dr. Giordano said it's rarely this extreme. She and her pharmacist thought this might have to do with Mom's blood pressure medicine and referred Mom back to Edward Yeh, M.D., chair of Cardiology at MD Anderson.
The Department of Cardiology is uniquely equipped to handle patients with every kind of cardiovascular issue. Some patients without cancer even come here to get their heart problems treated.
By Sonia Byrd
One year ago, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I had a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery two months later. My breast cancer diagnosis was a big shock, but once I got over that, I was ready to go on the offensive.
I realized that while I couldn't control having cancer, I could certainly control my journey. I decided I was going to be positive, and I truly believe that mindset played a significant role in my recovery.
For a lot of women diagnosed with breast cancer -- whether they get reconstruction or not -- their womanhood is challenged, and they wonder if they'll ever be able to get back to their former selves. I admit that I asked that of myself, and a year later, I can say with conviction: "Life does not end with a cancer diagnosis."
The experience that cemented this mantra for me is one I'll never forget.
How preparing for a
bodybuilding contest gave me support and confidence
A co-worker had recently participated in a bodybuilding fitness contest and, on several occasions in early 2013, encouraged me to compete as well. I politely declined.
During follow-up visits with my physicians, though, they routinely mentioned how well I looked. In response, I joked that I had been urged to enter this competition. I was pretty shocked when they said, "You should totally do it." Hearing that planted a seed, and I actually started to consider it. I spoke to my family and friends, who also encouraged me to enter, and I ultimately decided to go for it.
I admit that I originally thought of the competition as little more than a bikini contest, but once I started training, I realized it is much more than that.
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