Jane Adams, Survivor

My Connection to Breast Cancer: Survivorship……TWICE!

I sometimes get asked “what is your connection to breast cancer?”, and I have to answer with a story because I connect in several ways. My journey actually began in November 1974 when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was in college at the time and the thought of breast cancer had never really entered my mind.  Keep in mind that technology and research surrounding breast cancer in 1974 were vastly different then.  There were no self-breast exams, I don’t even think breast cancer was Staged at the time, and mammograms had only been introduced in 1966. The only option for mom at the time was a radical mastectomy which was the complete removal of the breast, underlying chest muscle and axillary lymph nodes as a treatment for her breast cancer, as well as many rounds of radiation.  There were no reconstruction options at the time either …. so, a breast prosthesis was the choice for her.

Fast forward 9.5 years to Summer 1984…dad came home from work to find that mom had fallen, long story short … she broke her hip.  Hip replacement ensued, but in the process of that injury and subsequent review, as fate would have it, her cancer had returned and had metastasized to her bones.  She underwent chemotherapy this time, fought like a warrior with everything she had and never lost her spirit, her ‘want to’, or her beautiful smile, but in July 1985 I lost my momma to this horrid disease.

My personal journey began in 1974 when I found a lump.  Fortunately, after a biopsy, it was found to be benign and removed.  In 1977, that same situation repeated…just the other side.  Fast forward to Fall of 2004…another lump…but this one felt different.  I had just started a contract job, and my husband had been laid off.  That equals … no insurance!!  I had told myself at the time that I would look for the symptoms mom had experienced and if I felt any of those, I would go to the doctor.  Maybe not the best strategy, nevertheless, the one I chose.  A month passed, and Les (husband) landed a job where insurance began immediately.  We went to the doctor, had a core biopsy (lightyears from the two previous biopsies) and on November 18, 2004, I received “the call”… invasive ductal carcinoma Stage 2 breast cancer.  Kinda felt like I had been sucker-punched, but Les and I were committed NOT to let this stupid cancer define me!

Telling the kids….we have five, and at the time they were in all phases of life…one in middle school, one in high school, one in college, and two out of school doing life!  Wow!  Not an easy task!  There may have been tears in those conversations and it took both Les and me to tell the story as neither one of us could hold it together long enough without getting emotional … parent tag-teaming at its finest!   The kids and ALL of my family and circle of friends were AMAZING (still are!).

Four days later I had a lumpectomy, and a subsequent appointment with my oncologist…an awesome, wonderful doctor who advised that after review, the best course of action for me would be chemotherapy (4 treatments, 3 weeks apart) followed by radiation.  She went on to share the two drugs recommended for me (Adriamycin (fondly referred to as “the Red Devil”) and Cytoxan) and that I would lose my hair about 11-12 days after my first treatment … and she wasn’t kidding!!  I went wig shopping and after several fittings, came home with ‘Bianca’….that was her name (on the wig box)!  I didn’t like her much at first, but I knew we needed to be “friends” for a while, so I had to change my tune a bit and just learn to get along with her!  I quickly learned that ‘hair’ is so overrated…for us women at least…. we gripe when we have it and we gripe when we don’t!  It’s just truly vanity run-a-muck!!

I received my port (where the chemo drugs are infused) just before Christmas that year and on December 28th, I had my first treatment.  Lo and behold, on day 12, the hair began to fall.  A few days later, my sweet Les grabbed his razor and shaving cream, kissed me, and said “let’s do this! And with that, he proceeded to shave my head….BALD as an eagle…we laughed and cried all at the same time!!  I continued to work and planned my chemo days on Thursdays as the impact of the treatment typically hit on day two after treatment, so I was pretty out of it on the weekends during that time, and fortunately only missed those four chemo days from work. I finished chemo at the end of March 2005, and while fatigue was brutal at times, fortunately, outside of one instance, I didn’t encounter the typical side effects of the treatments. After chemo, I received 32 rounds of radiation…every work day for a little over six weeks.  I would go by the clinic before work every day, get my treatment, and then head in to the office.  That process finished in mid-May of 2005.

I had always heard about the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure events here locally but had never done anything about it. Now it was personal, so I knew I needed to get off my ‘blessed assurance’ and get involved!  Three weeks after my last radiation treatment I walked in my very first SGK Race for the Cure in Plano.  I could only muster enough energy to complete the one-mile walk at the time, but when I finished, I felt like I had won a gold medal!  It was also then that PINK became my signature color!! ????

For the last 15 years, I have been diligent in getting my annual mammograms since my initial diagnosis … including last year…Friday, March 8, 2019 (somehow those days get etched into your memory!).  I had felt something again ‘a little different’ and shared this with the medical team at the mammography center, so while I was there, and since I had a history, they went ahead and conducted a diagnostic mammogram as well.  The results confirmed that there were not one, but two tumors.  That same day I had a core biopsy conducted on both tumors which would be analyzed further to confirm or deny if they were malignant.  Four days later, after 14.5 glorious years of survival, I got ‘the call’ (again!) confirming both tumors were indeed malignant…Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma.  After visits with the surgeon, the recommendation was a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, which took place on April 29, 2019.  I was out of pocket for a couple of months but was able to return to work the end of June.  Prior to surgery, it was thought I would not have to undergo chemotherapy, and man oh man, was I doin’ the happy dance!  However, after removal of the entirety of both tumors (vs. a core section via the biopsies) one of the tumors, while small, was further analyzed and was found to be a Grade 3 Aggressive (fast growing) tumor.  Additional tests were done, meetings with the oncologist were had, and as it would happen, chemo was back on the calendar….12 weekly treatments (on 3 weeks, off 1 week) which began end of June. What did this mean?  Yep…. another trip to the wig shop…. the 2019 version’s name is Nicole!  I think I like her better, but hopeful to part ways with her around the end of the year! ????  I have been fortunate AGAIN, outside of fatigue, not to have experienced the typical side effects of chemo this time either.  I completed those 12 treatments at end of September when I got to Ring the Bell in my infusion room with my whole family secretly in tow celebrating the end of that phase.  My journey is almost over.  I have a few follow-up scans and appointments, and one final (hopefully!) surgery…. then I should be done! 

So, what have I learned from my cancer adventure?  First and foremost, it HAS NOT DEFINED ME but has allowed me time and time again to smile (as my momma taught me!) and to share my faith.  It has made me take a hard look at my health over these last 15 years and made me actually do something about it.  Since my initial diagnosis in 2004, I have concentrated on eating healthier, losing weight and exercise. I changed my eating habits, started a walking regimen and dropped 50 pounds. I’ve been fortunate enough physically to participate in 25 SGK Race for the Cure events in Dallas, Plano and Wichita Falls, and have also walked in the Carry the Load event celebrating our men and women in the armed services on Memorial Day each year since 2013 (I’m a Marine Mom to the core!  Ooorah!).  But I have to say, my absolute favorite activity EVERY YEAR is walking the Susan G Komen 3-Day 60-mile event, in an effort to put an end to breast cancer. Last November, ne month after completing chemo, I walked (and completed!) in my 8th 3-Day!  This fight is personal for me, as I’m sure it is for all of you who have been touched in one way or another by this horrible disease. I have a long list of beautiful, strong, loving women in my life who have fought this horrendous disease. I, along with my family, friends and coworkers, am walking in honor and in memory of them (with my precious mom at the top of the list)!