Trudi, 63 “A Different Approach”

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ContributorTrudi, 63Read Full Bio

Biography

Trudi is a 63 year-old woman, married for forty years with two children. She comes from a deep family history of breast cancer. Trudi approached the breast cancer journey in a unique way. A firm believer in holistic medicine, she talks about how yoga, meditation and the use of vitamin and hormonal supplements strengthened her immune system as she went through chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiation. She speaks frankly about hair loss, fatigue and the effects cancer had on her sexual life. Continuing to work was an important diversion for her during her journey.

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ContributorDr. Ruth WilliamsonRead Full Bio

Biography

Dr Williamson graduated form the USC School of Medicine in 1989, and completed her residency as chief resident in radiation oncology at USC in 1994. Dr Williamson talks about why her medical career became focused on breast cancer following the loss of her sister to the disease. In her in-depth interview, she talks about the importance of radiation and how it significantly reduces the rate of recurrence for her patients. You will learn about the preparation for radiation, the various forms of radiation therapy treatment and the side effects that a patient can expect with treatment.

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Trudi is a 63 year-old woman, married for forty years with two children. She comes from a deep family history of breast cancer. Trudi approached the breast cancer journey in a unique way. A firm believer in holistic medicine, she talks about how yoga, meditation and the use of vitamin and hormonal supplements strengthened her immune system as she went through chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiation. She speaks frankly about hair loss, fatigue and the effects cancer had on her sexual life. Continuing to work was an important diversion for her during her journey.

Hi. I'm Trudi. I'm 63 years old. I have been married 40 years this year. I have two kids. They are grown. One is 30. One is 24. I used to work in publicity; had kids; and I started working as a church secretary just to keep things going with the kids and have close proximity to where they were at school and so forth. And I just wanted to act and write, and after I had cancer, I started doing that; it became really important, to get off my duff and do what I had always wanted to do.

I have three cancers in my family already. The third one was my sister who came after me. Two years after I got it she came down with a very fatal case of breast cancer. She did not get regular mammograms. It was in her bones when they discovered she had cancer. They discovered it because she broke her bones during an examination. She was so over the top. I had never heard of anything like that happening. So that was her case.

My mother had many, many fibrocystic tumors when she was a young woman. At that time, that was 1961, her doctor recommended a double mastectomy, which is what she had. They thought that was standard care at the time. So I always knew about her case and was worried about mine because I was high risk so consequently there was a lot of kind of paranoia in me about breast tissue.

My father died of liver cancer but he had worked in the factory where there were a lot of solvents and there was no protection for the workers at that time.

I'm a blood type A; we're very prone to breast cancers; so I always felt I needed to be on guard, and I actually had a benign lump in 1991 when I was 40. They removed the tumor and they biopsied it right there in the operating room and said it was grossly benign, but from that point on I had mammograms every year because I was considered high risk and my OBGYN prescribed these for me. The one year I didn't have a mammogram I had a sonogram instead because I had had breast reduction surgery. They didn't find anything but the very next year there was a lump there…I felt it myself; I found the lump because I do breast exams, self-exams; felt those were very important to do, and I found this thing that I thought, is this scar tissue or is it actually a lump? So I waited about a month to see, and it just seemed to get a little bigger and a little scarier, so I called my OBGYN. He set me up right away with an appointment at the Breast Center where they did the complete diagnostic mammogram, sonogram and the needle core biopsy, right there.

I went to see my chiropractor and he examined it, and he said, oh, it kind of moves around; usually the cancerous ones don't, and then he went back, he said, on second thought I think this could be cancer, and that scared me.

So, anyway, when I actually did get into the HIll Breast Center it was not that surprising when they had to do all those things. I was scheduled to have those things done, but the doctor thought the pieces he extracted looked benign and then I called him three days later for the diagnosis and he said, no, it's a ductal carcinoma in situ, which is a carcinoma, that's cancer. The floor falls out from under you.

Right away gave me the name of surgeons at the City of Hope Center…two or three weeks before I actually saw the breast surgeon.

You're like in suspended animation. You've got this thing going in the back of your head. I am now a cancer patient. What do I do? Well, you don't do anything; you wait. And because I tend to be proactive I started looking and reading about other supplements that help. My chiropractor gave me a few pointers. I started doing things that I thought would improve my immune system as a way of at least helping myself a bit. And I even started doing meditations. I went to an Angelic Healing Circle, and at that time I actually got this really profound meditation of some nuns surrounding a little black figure on a gurney, and it was like in fetal position, and black stuff was oozing out of the figure, and it was getting smaller, and when I got out of the meditation I thought, why, that's really pertinent; I'm going to have to keep using this one. And I did keep using it every time I sat down consciously to meditate about healing myself of the cancer.

So I think that was a very proactive thing I did, and when I actually met with my doctor, the surgeon, he decided that the first thing he wanted to do was to get an MRI because the image was a little kind of shaky, so we had that scheduled. That scared me cause I thought I had to go in the tube and I'm claustrophobic but I didn't have to. And when we got the results, he said, I got some good news and I got some bad news. This is a ductal carcinoma that has spread outside of the breast so it's an invasive…it's a stage two. Okay, what we can do, since you had expressed an interest in preserving the breast, is we can do neoadjuvant chemo and that will shrink it.

And I heard the word chemo and I just kind of flipped out; that was the last thing in my life I wanted to have because of the poisons…because nausea is such a difficult thing for me…I have a hard time actually vomiting; so it was a horrible thought.

The first batch of chemo, the Adriamycin and Cytoxan, those are the ones like I said they called those the big guns. They give those to you so that you get accustomed to that really sick feeling right off the bat cause then subsequent drugs they give you are not so hard on your system…or they don't feel as bad to you.

When they give you an infusion, they start with saline which makes your body very receptive and full of fluids which is a good thing and then they give you something so you don't have a lot of allergic reactions and that's another infusion, and then they actually start with the drug itself. And the Adriamycin is scary because they tell you if your IV gets even slightly misplaced and that stuff gets under your skin, call us right away because it will burn you.

I kept myself busy during chemo. It took about four hours total. I felt good the whole day because they give you an antiemetic that also has a steroid property to it. So I was always surprised that I'd come home feeling really energized. And then it would start to wear off in the evenings. By the time I got home I knew I was going to be nauseous so the night was spent vomiting more or less.

Oh, there was some problem that developed. By the time I had the second infusion I would have the worst heartburn I've ever had in my life, and it's because the antiemetic can give you severe heartburn. So I didn't know this. The doctor didn't warn me about it, so I called in that night and said why do I feel like I have a volcano in my throat. They said, well, the antiemetic can do that; get some Prilocec; get some milk of magnesia, whatever you can. And I did and of course vomited that right up but then it was out and it was over with, so I told the doctor; we adjusted the dose; from that point on I didn't have trouble with that.

So I think the lesson I got from that is you really, really have to communicate with your doctor; ask why am I having these reactions; what exactly are you doing; what can we do about this; do you have any explanation for what just happened to me. So when you listen to the explanations and you work with them, they are very compliant about making you as comfortable as they possibly can.

I was always done with my chemo. I'd have it on Thursday late in the afternoon, well, Thursday afternoon. Friday I was home from work, anyway. Saturday, Sunday I was recovering. And then Monday I was back at work. My period over the weekend consisted of not eating cause I didn't want to risk having to throw up again, so even if I tried liquids the first day it would come up, so I very gradually by Sunday was eating crackers and tea. Ginger tea is really good for that; it helps suppress nausea; so I drank a lot of ginger tea.

And then during the week my chiropractor had suggested I take Chiorella, Chlorophyll, digestive enzymes, all of these things were meant to alkalinize my body and boost my immune response. So I did those things. I don't think my doctor wanted me to but as I said, I was very proactive. They don't like you taking anything when you're on chemo. They pretty much feel that chemo has to do its killer job without anything to impede it, and the chiropractor felt I needed to build my immune system so that my own defenses could also fight the cancer.

So I did that. And by the time I finished the first four infusions I had noticed that the tumor was considerably bigger and actually by the time I had the second needle core biopsy at City of Hope where they took the 12 samples, the nurse said, you know, this is smaller than when you had the first one. I said but it feels bigger, and she says you grew a capsule around that and that's an immune system response. So I believe some of the things I was doing helped that response along.

I honestly feel that my aggressive approach with the supplements I took and the meditating I did..,I took something called Iodoral, which is an iodine compound that prevents any extra estrogen in your body from going to breast tissue because the iodine receptors receive estrogen, as well, so if those receptors aren't filled, they will fill with any available estrogen, and that can help tumor growth. Well, I was blocking that from happening by taking the Iodoral. And it's a lot more than the recommended daily allowance, and I actually took an iodine-loading test to see how much I needed, where you take 50 milligrams on a Friday; you save your urine for 24 hours, and then you send a sample to a lab, and they told me I had used of the 50 milligrams 24 milligrams so I knew I needed two 12.5 milligram tablets a day per my requirements, for my thyroid, for my reproductive organs.

So I just feel it's really important for women to know about Iodoral. Anytime I've talked to breast cancer patients I have told them about this because I think it's like a lifesaver.

I also continued using Progesterone…Bioidentical Progesterone…cause I had heard that it's protective of breast tissue. My doctor said, well, I'd really like you to stop but I'll just keep asking you if you've stopped or not; and that's it, fine; you needn't keep asking but I'm going to keep using it. And so I did those things for myself, and I felt they were helpful.

And because they did the lumpectomy surgery, they had to follow up with radiation. So I had a full protocol of radiation therapy after that.

There were a couple of things that impacted my physical relationship with my husband. One of those was that because my tumor was hormone receptor positive, they took away my estrogen and I had been on Bio-identical Estrogen and Progesterone just because I felt better that way. Your libido goes down a lot. I didn't have any disfigurements as far as there was no surgery done during chemo, so I could not say that my appearance was an impediment to sexuality with him. He wasn't crazy about me bald so we'd wear the wig during sex, whatever made me look attractive we did.
But, you have a lot of problems with your organs. You get very dry, especially with the later chemo that I was on. That made sex painful because of the abrasion to the mucous linings of the body. So closeness was important; cuddling; doing whatever I could for him but I wasn't always willing just to have full-on intercourse because it hurt, and that took a while for the body to recover from that.

After cancer, once you're over not feeling so well and by the time you've finished radiation actually, all you have is a little bit of tiredness and you've recovered. You start to have this energy. You want to do something with your life because you've had…even if it wasn't really a close call, something in your head thinks of it as a close call and you look at your life and say did I do everything I wanted to do? And I decided that I hadn't. I knew I hadn't cause I had always wanted to become a creative writer. I had always wanted to be an actress, and so I started pursuing those things; went back to school and had a lot of fun with the acting, got some roles, and I love it. I really enjoy it.

But the thing that I did actually while I was sick with cancer is I wrote a novel. I created a fictional character. I wanted to make her a little more interesting than me so I made her a cougar who had kind of an interesting love life. And the boyfriend and she find the lump in bed... whoo hoo! I love fiction. I love drama. I love fiction, so I needed that vehicle to tell the story, and I published it. This is my book. It's called "Rickie Redeemed". That's Ricky [pointing to the book]. And I actually had used her in a prior book, my practice novel; she was a heroine in that. So It thought, well, I can borrow her for this because she's a suitable character, right age, right type. And the thing I am proud of in this book is that I tell women all the things I learned about what I know about prevention.

As I said I'm proud that I did this, and it's my baby, and I hope women read it because the ones who have really, really felt it was not only enjoyable, but helpful to them.

Because I feel it's so important to share with other women what I went through, I want them to know what they can do; that it isn't something in a box where you're part of a formula, where the doctor applies everything in his bag of tricks to you the same as he would to everybody else. Everyone's an individual. They have to know what's going to work for them. They have to be informed about breast cancer. It's as much in your hands as it is in your doctor's; you have to take responsibility for yourself; you can't just turn it all over to them.

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