In 2014 I was diagnosed with stage III, triple negative breast cancer. I discovered a lump in my left breast in March and went to my general practitioner who noticed a second lump. She requested a mammogram and ultrasound to see what we were feeling. A week later I went in for these tests, which came back as a suspicious mass. Next a biopsy was ordered, and a week later I was told the news. I went to a geneticist and due to my age and family history, was tested for the brca1 and brca2 gene mutations. My results indicated that I had the brac1 gene mutation. If you're not familiar with what this means, it buts me at a 60 to 80% lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. It also puts me at a 40% risk of getting ovarian cancer in my lifetime. I was scheduled to have a double mastectomy in May 2014, two weeks before my oldest daughter graduated from high school. The surgery was hard and recovery a slow process, but with the love and care of my family I got through it. My first appointment after surgery with my oncologist went over my options going forward. He indicated that I had a 60% five year survival rate, and that his recommendation for treatment would be a 20 week cycle of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. He also told me that eight out of the twelve lymph nodes were positive for cancer cells. This put me at a stage IIIa. Three weeks after surgery in mid June I had a port placed for quick access to my bloodstream, followed by a pet scan. The pet scan results showed mild glowing under my armpit, which I was told, could be due from the recent surgery and scar tissue.
The first four chemos were called the pink punch, and it took me out of commission. By the fourth treatment, I thought to myself, if I had to do this again, you would find this grown adult kicking and screaming like a four year old as I bragged to the car for treatment. Thankfully this did not happen. I had lost my hair by this time and feeling the side effects of the poison invading my body. The next twelve treatments were better then the first; But came with additional side effects like neuropathy and cording. Along with chemo weekly, I went to a plastic surge to get the expanders filled to stretch my skin for implants. Painful and very uncomfortable. Chemo ended at the end of October, and I was able to go back to work part time. My body had lost so much muscle strength it was difficult to get back into the work mode. With radiation every work day, this also wore me out. By the end (man 2015) of my radiation my skin was red and pealing, anything that touched the area made me want to scream. My skin is still discolored in the area and you can visually see the damage. Several months later I woke up in consideration pain, turns out that the radiation damaged my ribs as well, and I had cracked a rib while I was sleeping. In August of 2015 I had a totally hysterectomy to decrease my chances of getting ovarian cancer. In Sept. of 2015 I had my first reconstruction surgery. My skin was so damaged that the plastic surgeon actually slipped his scalpel right through my skin. A month later I walk up and while using the restroom noticed a cool sensation on my pajamas. I looked down and saw a large blood spot. I lifted my p.j.s and almost passed out; my incision had opened up and I had a three inch split in tissue down to the implant. That day I received 75 stitches and the next reconstruction surgery was scheduled for a week and a half later. This surgery would consist of tacking a patch of scion from my back and a muscle and use it to patch the incision site. The skin they look was about the size of my hand. This recovery was the worst. I had to go back to work two weeks later with drains from my surgery still placed; very uncomfortable. At this point I didn't think I could take anymore upsets. Thankfully the reconstruction worked and three months later I was scheduled for my last surgery to create the nipples in February of 2016. It was a long painful road with five surgeries, three radiation tattoos, over two feet of scares across several areas of my body, loss of movement in my arm, lymphedema, memory loss, and a sense that I had lost my femininity and sexuality. Month by month I started getting back to a semi normal state or a "new" normal state. I got through this! I made it.
Nov. 2016 - Just when I thought my life was getting back on track, I noticed a red rash on the breast that had the cancer. I didn't make much of it at first, since rashes come and go. After two weeks I made a mental note to call my oncologist and ask if it's something I should be worried about. Surprisingly the nurse ask me to come in the next day. The oncologists said it didn't look like a reoccurrence but wanted a biopsy to rule anything out. Three days later, I had one biopsy taken of the affected area. I personally took my own specimen to the lab I work at. I asked that it be assigned to our breast pathologist and be handled by coworkers that would keep it discrete. A week later my results were in, I was told that the clinician has been contacted with my result. I called immediately. As soon as I heard the news I left work, went home and burst into tears. The results were the cancer has metastasized into my skin, this type of cancer is very aggressive, and it is stage four. This was last Friday, all weekend my husband and I researched on the internet about the condition and prognosis. All information pointed to little hope. The next week I received a second pet scan and I was literally praying that it was not going to light up like a Christmas tree! On Friday we met with the oncologist and he reviewed the results, although the radiologist report had not come in, my dr didn't see anything he was concerned of, other then the left breast and into the left armpit. Our first small win! He said that he would order a brain MRI as the brain has areas that naturally glow on a pet scan. He also said that he met with the Tumor board and all agreed the best treatment plan would be six rounds of gemcarbo chemo, then localized radiation, followed by surgery to remove the reconstructed breast. Then perhaps another round of chemotherapy. From the time I went to see the oncologist with the rash until now, the rash has more then doubled, it almost covers my entire breast. My husband and I are scared shitless. We told my family today (dec. 18), as they all live across the country. I shake constantly, I have three children, a good husband, a loving family, a wonderful job. I can't image my life being over. My doctor says he is optimistic as the first round of chemo is new and specifically better results with brca1 triple negative breast cancer patients. Only time will tell, I get another port placed on Tuesday and start chemo that day or the next. People say, you have to be strong, but how much can one person take? I guess that this is the test that God has placed upon me. I will keep you all posted. Love, Holly