By Carla Dickerson
For me, curling up with a good book is a relaxing evening. I particularly enjoy reading autobiographies. Other times, when my creative juices flow, I'll write some poetry or prose.
During a difficult time several years ago, I started to write parables and devotionals. My first book was self-published, and I feel it revealed to me that God's purpose for my life was to minister to others as part of my own healing.
As Maya Angelou eloquently stated, "I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it." I'm hopeful this blog post will provide comfort to someone else on a similar journey.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has taken on an entirely new meaning for me since the discovery of a suspicious mass on my mammogram this past March (a few days shy of a milestone birthday). I complied with the requisite ultrasound, still claiming that it was some calcification and nothing serious.
Once the ultrasound results confirmed the same suspicious mass, I was directed to have a biopsy. At that point, it was time to switch gears and doctors. With my fiercest advocate, my daughter, I became a patient at the No. 1 rated cancer hospital in the nation, MD Anderson Cancer Center.
After another mammogram, ultrasound and subsequent biopsy, the mass actually turned out to be negative, and I rejoiced hearing the good news. With wise counsel, I met with the surgeon, Gildy Babiera, M.D., to schedule the removal of the mass and some surrounding margins. Again, my faith was unwavering and I expected the pathology report to be clear again.
Alas, that wasn't quite the case. The margins revealed the cancerous cells and I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma, stage 0. While most people probably cringe at even the mention of cancer, and ask "why me," I had faith that this would be but a blip on the journey of life. With my family, friends and church family, I had plenty of support to face whatever lay ahead.
While my treatment may not have been as arduous as some, it was a journey.
The next course of action was to meet with the radiation oncologist assigned to me, Simona Shaitelman, M.D., to determine my specific plan as a preventive measure.
Dr. Babiera had already suggested I would be a good candidate for a targeted method of radiation using a catheter, called brachytherapy. The surgeon performed a re-excision to remove the remaining margins (pathology was negative) and Dr. Shaitelman agreed that a few days after the second surgery, the catheter would be implanted.
I was especially pleased with this treatment method, as it was in a shorter time period -- twice a day (early morning and late afternoon) for five days with minimal discomfort. The radiation administered lasted about five minutes each session and Dr. Shaitelman's team took excellent care of me, answering any questions and allowing me to mimic some silly TV character as I was moved about the treatment room. (I found humor helped me to stay positive.)
With the exception of having to wear a bra 24-7 to hold the wires hanging from the catheter in place, and some general oozing at that site, it wasn't unbearable. The only other byproduct was the fact I couldn't take showers, only sponge baths. I kept reminding myself that it would be over in a few days and this chapter would be closed.
While the catheter site was not within my view, the nurses ensured I had clean dressings after each treatment and also showed my other nurse, my daughter, how to keep it clean and bandaged. (There was a weekend and holiday in the midst of my treatment.)
Ringing the bell
One can't imagine how much I was looking forward to "ringing the bell" of completion after my last treatment. I was a little shaky on that last day -- I'm not certain why -- but I persevered. Dr. Shaitelman removed the catheter, cleaned up the wound and put steri strips on, I dressed and it was done. (I was able to shower 24 hours later ... thank goodness!)
Since the completion of radiation, I met with Sharon Giordano, M.D., the medical oncologist, who has put me on a five-year course of Tamoxifen. Fortunately, I seem to be tolerating the medicine well and have not experienced any side effects.
What started as a minor thought to me in March was a major triumph in early July, thanks to a very dedicated and caring team.
So, as I reflect on my journey, I'm also reminded that there are many sisters (and brothers) out there at different stages of cancer and subsequent treatment. While I don't know their personal stories, they're fighting with everything they have and I'm right there with them in thought and prayer.
I'm very thankful to be in the best city with the best hospital and doctors. And, I continue to remind colleagues, family and friends about being vigilant regarding their health. Change can occur in an instant.
Accelerated partial breast irradiation treatment: Who needs it?