Breast Cancer Awareness- Heather
1. First, we'd love to learn more about you. Please share your name, age, and, if you're comfortable, your date of diagnosis and remission.
I am Heather, diagnosed at 37 years old and about to turn 40.
2. At what stage were you initially diagnosed? Did your diagnosis change, and if so, how did it evolve?
"I was initially diagnosed as Stage 1B with Ductal Carcinoma ER+ and HER2- which is the most common type of breast cancer where your heightened estrogen levels activate cancer cell growth. I was to start chemotherapy within 2 months' time. While I prepared for this like looking into cold capping, wigs, and sitting through my doctor's office chemo education class, I could not shake something that has been on my mind and back for many years, too many years.
I have had lower back pain for over 2 decades. It became much worse after 2 c-sections.
Sometimes so debilitating, it would take a good 20 minutes just to be able to stand up straight from bed. The week before chemo was to start, I told my Oncologist about my back pain and that I really wanted to get a Pet Scan of my back. He thought I was exaggerating but I insisted, and I was able to have a brain MRI and crown to mid-thigh Pet Scan that week. The results determined that I had a bone lesion in my spine which after a bone biopsy (terrifying procedure for me) was the same cancer as my breast. I was then diagnosed as Stage 4 Metastatic with 1 bone lesion to my spine. But get this, my bone lesion had nothing to do with my back pain."
3. How was the cancer initially detected? For example, through a breast self-exam (BSE), a clinical breast exam (CBE), or an annual mammogram?
My Mother was first diagnosed at age 45 and so I was able to start getting mammograms 10 years before her first dx. My first 2 mammos were normal and I was also receiving a thermography and an ultrasound because of dense breast tissue. My 3rd mammo was ironically on October 1st, 2021. I was there for 3 hours, and I knew something was up. The Radiologist came in and said, "Heather, you 100% have Breast Cancer."
4. Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?
Unfortunately, yes. My Mother was dx at 45 and then at 70 years old. She passed away at 71 years old on July 29th, 2020. My Aunt (my mother's sister) also passed away at the age of 45 years old. While we all tested negative for the BRCA gene it is likely we have a gene that has not been discovered yet.
5. Could you share more about your treatment process?
First, I chose to have a lumpectomy. After becoming Stage 4, chemotherapy was no longer a viable option as the cancer had already metastasized. My treatment needed to be focused on lowering my estrogen levels. I received 15 rounds of radiation to my breast and spine and then started my regiment of medications. Now, I receive multiple scans and screenings a year and monthly blood tests.
6. Were you offered any programs or services to assist with the treatment process?
"There are a ton of services out there through doctor's offices, hospitals, social media etc... I personally did not utilize any of them.
During radiation, I did Barre every day to keep my energy up and nausea at bay and it helped tremendously. I also began acupuncture, reiki, tai chi, and scio. I also want to mention that I joined 2 Facebook groups who helped in my early months of this diagnosis. They continue to be incredibly supportive!"
7. Could you please share a challenging part of your journey and describe what was helpful in overcoming it?
"First, I was overwhelmed with the constant doctor's appointments within a 2 month timeframe and all of the information. I simple did not know how I could handle all of this without my Mother's support and guidance. My Husband was there for me every step of the way along with aunts, cousins, and friends.
My most challenging moments were the times where I was putting my 2 young daughters to bed at night. I would sob as my mind raced through watching their lives flash before my eyes wondering what I would miss. Those were some of my darkest moments but every morning I woke up, I prayed, and it truly changed my outlook. The practice of mindfulness and prayer has re-introduced me to a new spiritual side."
8. What are some of your favorite tips or resources you'd like to share with other breast cancer survivors or patients?
"My favorites are: Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber, Breakthrough Medicine by Suzanne Sommers is great, Mommy Has a Boo-Boo: Explaining Breast Cancer to Children by Marci Greenberg Cox and many of Louise Hay's books.
Facebook Group for Breast Cancer Under 40 has been so supportive and shout out to @IAMKELLYTHOMAS for her breast cancer monthly brunches."
9. What advice would you offer for supporting a loved one who is going through breast cancer?
Always ask what your loved one wants to talk about. Some people don't want to talk at all, and others are happy to. Don't assume what someone wants and NEVER bring up how your brother's friend's cousin's Grandmother died from Breast Cancer. You get what I mean....
10. What advice or message would you offer to women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer but are considering self-checks and proactive measures for early detection and prevention?
"Live for the glimmers. Those moments of silence when you can appreciate all around you. The hiccups in your day that put you on a different path than you intended. The people you meet unexpectedly who bring a breath of fresh air to your life. The people you love, show and give them the love right back.
And most importantly, just be kind. To others, and to yourself."
13. Is there any other information you would like to share with us?
"A life lesson I learned from my Mom. I cannot say this any louder than if I were next to you. Be your own health advocate!
If you see something, say something.
If you feel something, say something.
If I never questioned my back pain, I would have gone through Chemo for no reason. I wouldn't be on the medicine I am today. And I would have had progression by the time a scan uncovered it. "