Michelle R.

Breast Cancer

Profound moments are rare in a person’s life. In fact, they are so rare, that people only have a couple of them in their entire life. This is a story about one of my profound moments. It starts out in the doctor’s office. A few days before, I saw a lump in my left breast. I had very small breasts and I knew, for certain, that it was not there the previous day. I had it biopsied the next day and was waiting for pathology. I remember, the doctor’s office was painted peach, and everything was neatly in its place. There was a box of tissues on the windowsill. The doctor had called me while I was at Home Depot and told me to come in right away, my pathology was back. My husband and I had dropped everything and went to the doctor. September 26, 2000, is embedded in my mind forever, I can remember, even the smallest details.

At 33 years of age, I had breast cancer. Devastation immediately found its spot in my heart. Life as I knew it was over. I was an OB/GYN nurse at the time but knew nothing about oncology. Everything was thrown at me so fast that I didn’t have time to process what had happened. All I knew, was that I had to get the cancer out asap. Within a few days, I had a MUGA scan, mediport placement, and a left-side mastectomy. I remember my first visit with the oncologist. Sitting in the waiting room, looking around at all the people who were bald, knowing that I would soon join them. The doctor was very kind. He answered all of my and my mother’s questions. He said my cancer was poorly differentiated ductal carcinoma. He said the tumor was 3.2cm and that it was triple negative with an 86% MIBI. (MIBI measures how fast the tumor is growing).

I didn’t find out until years later, that it was one of the worst types of breast cancer to get. Up next, 4 treatments of Adriamycin and Cytoxan followed by 4 treatments of Taxol. I always went for treatment alone. When thinking back, I think it was because I liked the alone time and didn’t want anyone there. Those were the longest and loneliest 6 months of my life. I remember, I never vomited but had dry heaves. The first time, my husband rubbed my back while I was in the bathroom. On day 4, I was functioning again. I knew he was trying to help, but I had to put an end to the back rubbing in the bathroom. The last thing I wanted was for him to be hovering over me. I told him, in the future, to just make sure the toilet was clean and lay a towel on the floor. That was that. Emotionally, I was a wreck. My parents were scarce. They did not know how to deal with the situation so they used the avoidance tactic. Not good. I needed my mom. She should have been there for me during the day and gone home at night to cry. Years later, I told her how I felt. She had no idea. That is a scar that will be there for my entire life.

I went to a Relay for Life event. Big mistake. They had cancer patients and survivors talk. I can remember one man, in particular, saying he beat lung and bone cancer and now he was battling cancer number 3, which was the brain. The only thing that did for me was to tell me, it was coming back. To this day, I do not attend events like that. On to reconstruction. Back in 2000, they did not routinely recommend a double mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time, so I waited a year. I used to have a breast enhancement silicone piece I would put in my bra. One time, I was bowling and it fell out. How embarrassing. I had surgery and had expanders put in. Everything went fine. I would go every few weeks for, what I call, a fill-up. While in the hospital recovering from having the expanders exchanged for my implants, I went into respiratory arrest. Turns out, I received a little too much Morphine. I remember the doctor had the nerve to tell me that it came back that I had Versed in my system when they did a drug test. I was appalled! They had given it to me in pre-op. I felt so violated.

Jumping seven years in the future. I started my career as an oncology nurse. I felt that the reason I got breast cancer was so I could help others who were going thru the battle. That was ten years ago. I love my job. I help people like myself, every day. I remember how I felt, and base my practice around it. I treat the patient as a person. They are reminded that they have cancer every day, so I talk with them about regular stuff. Being an oncology nurse, one skill you hone in on very quickly is active listening. It’s amazing what you learn when you just listen. Just yesterday, I had a patient who was about to go through a double mastectomy and reconstruction. She was scared to death. Turns out, she had the same type of cancer that I had, so we had an instant connection. After shedding several tears, the patient said “You are an angel sent from heaven”. That is all the evidence that I need to know for sure, that that is the reason why I got cancer. I was treated by Dr. Hitesh Patel who is now a Florida Cancer Specialists (FCS) doctor at the Axelrod location.  My current physician is Dr. John A Peterson @ Florida Cancer Specialists, St Anthony’s.

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