I discovered a small lump in my left breast on a Saturday at the end of March 2010. I was initially not too concerned because I had my annual mammogram only about 8 months earlier which was normal. Nonetheless, I called my gynecologist’s office Monday morning and was referred to a surgical practice that has doctors who specialize in women’s breast issues. I got an appointment the following Monday. The doctor examined me and did an ultrasound. He told me that I could potentially have an infection or possibly inflammatory breast cancer. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic and told me that I should come back that Friday. At that appointment, I had a biopsy and on the following Tuesday I learned that I did, in fact, have breast cancer.
The surgeon had been trying to reach me all day and finally got me at the end of the school day. He felt he had to tell me the news right then and asked if I could see him at noon the next day – his first free time. I hung up the phone, contacted my principal and told her what was happening. She told me not to worry about my class, i.e., that she would take care of getting a substitute. I then called my youngest sister who lived about an hour from me and told her my “news”. She told me that she was going to go to the appointment with me. She made arrangements for someone to help get her children from school and with her principal about needing to take the day off.
At the appointment, the doctor confirmed that I had Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). He told my sister and me about the treatment plan. He also advised that he had made an appointment for me at 1:45 that same day with an oncologist who had worked at the National Institutes of Health in a pilot program concerning IBC. My sister and I left the surgeon’s office and went to see the oncologist.
The oncologist met with my sister and me for over an hour and then did a breast exam. During the meeting, she confirmed what the surgeon had told us about the diagnosis and course of action. She started by discussing the cancer itself and the need to determine whether it was estrogen positive (HER-2). She went over my treatment: (a) 8 courses of chemotherapy over the course of 16 weeks (i.e., 4 rounds of a combination of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (A and C) followed by 4 weeks of Taxol); surgery, and then radiation. She set up appointments for lab work at the hospital. These took place on Thursday and Friday of that week: a mammogram, CT scan, MRI, and a bone scan, to name a few. (The scans and MRI concluded that the cancer was in my lymph nodes, but did not appear to have invaded any organs). Before leaving her office, I had blood drawn and got prescriptions. The blood work confirmed that the cancer was estrogen positive.
My sister and I dropped off the prescriptions and went to have dinner while they were being filled. After dinner, we picked up the prescriptions. My sister brought me home and stayed a few minutes and then headed home to her family. I spoke with my principal and told her what
I had learned and what follow up I needed to do that week. I was concerned about the time I needed off because students were going to be taking standardized tests the following week. After the phone call, I remember thinking how alone and frightened I felt.
Editor’s note: Betty has fought estrogen receptor positive breast cancer or ER+ breast cancer. There are different types of treatment for this type of cancer. One treatment for this type of cancer is an estrogen receptor antagonist (like tamoxifen). An estrogen receptor antagonist blocks the effect of estrogen in many tissues, including the breast. However, in premenopausal women, tamoxifen thins the bone. Another treatment for this type of cancer is an aromatase inhibitor (like Femara or Arimidex). These treatments block the production of estrogen in body leading to possible bone loss. Any time bone loss occurs, calcium is recommended to help stop or reverse the loss.
Learn more about calcium and vitamin D with your Calcium and Vitamin D Tip Sheets.