Meg is a 52 year-old woman married and a mother to three children. She comes from a long family history of breast cancer with both her mother and older sister having been similarly diagnosed. She talks about the importance of getting second opinions and how that convinced her to have a lumpectomy followed by radiation versus a double mastectomy. Meg was lucky to have a strong network of friends and family that helped her through her journey. She now works for the Cancer Support Community to aid those less fortunate.
My name is Meg. I’m 52.
My mother had breast cancer in her early 40's. My sister had breast cancer in her early 40's so I was a teenager when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn't know why she was going to the hospital. My parents didn't tell me and she had breast cancer. They told me that afternoon she had a single mastectomy. A year later she had a second mastectomy because the doctors back then said chances are if she had it on one side she's going to have it on the other so we're going to go and take the second one. And then a year later she had a hysterectomy and unfortunately for my mom she never really recovered from it all. But she was cancer-free for four or five years and then she had spinal cancer after that. The radiation zapped her spine so hard that she was handicapped the rest of her life and used crutches and a walker to get around and was never able to walk on her own again after the radiation.
It had a huge impact on her emotionally, severe depression, and a really hard thing because none of us understood what was going on with her. None of us understood it. We thought once the cancer is over you should be fine but she had a really hard time coming out of it, never really did.
So with my mom having breast cancer when I was so young, I was told that I needed to start doing detection early so I started having mammograms at age 30. I have a mammogram every six months and then I have a sonocine on the other six months and I've never missed an appointment and I never will.
So I started at 30 doing that, and then one day I went in for my regular mammogram and was called back a couple days later and they said they found calcifications on the right side and I needed to come back in for more pictures, and I thought today's the day, it's finally going to happen, and I went in a couple days later and they did an ultrasound and determined that there was a tumor and scheduled me for a biopsy right away.
So I went in a couple days later for a needle core biopsy and a day later it was confirmed that it was malignant.
Then I had an MRI after that and I had more ultrasounds. The MRI showed another spot, another hot spot on my same breast on the right breast. I had a needle core biopsy the first time to confirm the first spot and then after the MRI, when we went to go check the second spot, that was an MRI-guided biopsy and that was I had to go into the tube and they had to do it from underneath, the biopsy it was very uncomfortable but they ended up being negative.
At 48 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was…it changed everything. It 's just a range of all emotions and very confusing, lots of choices, lots of doctors to talk to, lots of questions, lots of answers, lots of opinions, so my choices were a lumpectomy with radiation or the mastectomy. I was told that my survival rates would be the same. I chose the lumpectomy followed by radiation, and actually the reason I made that choice was because another doctor had said to me, and it was the best advice I got, was just get the tumor out, just go ahead and schedule the lumpectomy, and then get to pathology, and then you can always go back and have the mastectomy afterwards.
I actually also could never say the word 'cancer'. I always called it 'my thing'. I couldn't use the word…I couldn't say the word. I called it 'my thing'.
I followed this doctor's advice cause I was thinking I had to do either the lumpectomy or the mastectomy. I thought I had to make that decision right away but when this one doctor said to me just get the tumor out, get it out and figure it out afterwards. The decisions were lumpectomy versus double mastectomy. I was not going to do a single mastectomy. If I was going to do one, I was going to do both. I wasn't going to play around with it.
And I did talk to every person I know who had breast cancer. I had a long phone conversation or lunch or dinner with every single one I had known who had it and what did they do; how did they make their choice; how did they make the decision; and I had a very good friend who had been diagnosed with the same kind of cancer I had just six months earlier, and she did the lumpectomy and radiation. That made perfect sense to me.
We scheduled the lumpectomy right away. It as a very emotional process…very emotional.
I woke up from my surgery just sobbing hysterically, but I did wake up with my surgeon just holding my arm and rubbing my arm and just being there in my face, and she was really wonderful as I was sobbing.
My husband was with me every step of the way.
Radiation was not painful. You start out your first radiation appointment and you get four tattoos. They go to mark the site for the camera, for the radiation, so I have four tattoos. They're here [motioning to upper right chest area]; they're here [motioning to lower area]; they're on my chest [motioning to center of chest]; and one's on my back [motioning to back]. Little tiny black tattoo dots.
When you start radiation, you go into the bed and then in my case my position was arm up and here. You go into the room, change your clothes…you take your clothes off, you put your robe on, you go in. It's all very clinical. Nobody is looking at you. Nobody is even thinking about anything. And then they lay you down on the bed and then the radiation starts and it doesn't hurt. I did get very red and raw underneath my arms.
And I was pretty good leading up to the start of radiation in terms of emotion. I don't think I cried a lot during the process because I was too busy making decisions and thinking about what I was doing. But when it came down to my daily appointment at radiation, every day I had to check in and go take my clothes off, or my shirt off, and lay down on the bed and put the cameras on me, I did not do well. I cried and cried and cried on the first few days of radiation. This is my life. I have to do this every day, for six weeks. It's not a big deal but it was more the reality that this is something that's happened. And my radiologist was wonderful. She said, I didn't think you'd do well with this, and she was right. I didn't like it. But once I got into the habit it was fine.
It was exhausting. My husband got up with our children every morning to get them ready for school so I got to sleep in every morning which was great. I did exercise a lot. I mean like every day…and then I would rest during the day. I had to put cream on my breast and kind of just air it out, let it air for a little while every day, and it was…it was okay. I was glad it was over but it was okay.
My doctors were wonderful. Every doctor was amazing. The radiologist was amazing. The mammogram lab was amazing. The breast center doctors were amazing. My surgeon is amazing; she is the most compassionate, wonderful doctor. And every doctor had time for me. I never felt rushed at any appointments. They all gave me their cell phones…you call me anytime you have a question. These doctors were all…everyone was amazing.
My tumor was…I was told contained. I was told the horses hadn't left the barn yet. After the pathology report came in and it turns out that the barn doors had actually opened, that the horses would have started to leave the barn had I waited much longer for the surgery, so knowing that I just felt so grateful that I was checked every six months and we acted on it right away.
And because the horses had left the barn, I am on medication for five years. I did Tamoxifen for three years and now I take Femara every day, so I'm four years out. I only have one more year to go to get off of the medication.
After I went through radiation, I did choose to have a hysterectomy because there were other signs happening. When they were giving me biopsies…my gynecologist was giving me biopsies..I thought I don't ever want to hear the word biopsy again, and when my gynecologist said if you get ovarian cancer there's nothing I can do for you, I said.. that's all he had to say to me is I said then let's do it. So I was very happy I did it.
Our son was 15 at the time and a sophomore in high school. He didn't understand what was going on, and we didn't do a very good job explaining to him. And the way I found out that we hadn't done a good job explaining this to him was that on the last day of my radiation I sat at the dinner table and I said to my family I'm done, radiation's over, I've finished radiation. And my son looked at me said, so does that mean you don't have cancer anymore? And I thought, oh my gosh. He thought all this time that I still had the cancer and I just felt horrible. My husband and I looked at each other and just said how did we miss that one? It was really awful for him. His grades were falling at school. He thought all this time that I still had had the cancer, so for 12 weeks after the surgery he still thought that I had cancer, which breaks my heart.
The girls were 20 and 22. They're very fatalistic about this for them with their grandmother, their aunt, their mother, which is the same way I felt about cancer. That it was a matter of time. I think if anything we've learned through all this that with early detection is it's going to be fine; it's going to be fine; and the girls just need to stay on it and get checked every six months like I have; never miss an appointment; do the self-checks; and just have to stay on top of it.
Our parents' generation did not have the support that we have and they didn't understand how important the support is, the emotional support is, to have when going through something like this. It's just not something you can do alone, and my mom did kind of go through it alone, and we as the kids didn't understand what was going on and how it impacts everything from now on. And so, no, my mother did not have the support system that Cancer Support provides and she could have really used Cancer Support Community. She would have loved Cancer Support Community. She could have really used it.
I feel very lucky. I am so lucky and I have felt like the luckiest person ever from the beginning because of the early detection and having such amazing doctors.
I love Cancer Support Community so much because we believe that nobody should face cancer alone, and I was blessed to have this incredible support system but not everybody has that great support system and you can't go through something like this alone; you can't do it; it's too hard.