I can still remember the day I got the call from Dr. Andrea Madrigrano, my breast surgeon at Rush.
“Deb, I’m so sorry, but it’s not going to be what you want to hear,” she said. “The lumpectomy confirms it is DCIS. You have breast cancer. The good news is, we caught it early, but we recommend a bilateral mastectomy.”
I don’t remember much after that. I tried to stay calm and ask questions on next steps. I’m a doer. Instinctively, I just set out to get this treated. My “let’s do this!” attitude kicked in.
But suddenly I felt my heart racing faster, my breath shorter, and I could not hold back the tears any longer. I started to weep uncontrollably.
I blurted out, “Oh my God. How do I tell my mom? How am I going to tell my parents I have cancer?”
On this Mother’s Day, as I plan a day with my mom, I cannot help but think back to this moment when I was finally diagnosed and staged out for surgery. How do you tell your loved ones you have cancer?
Testing and diagnosis have been key parts of this wild ride I am currently on.
Like most women, I dreaded the idea of having to take time out of my busy schedule to get a mammogram.
In my career as a media relations expert covering breast cancer stories, I have filmed many mammograms.
They looked uncomfortable and unpleasant.
The doctors and technicians are so nice and make such a huge effort to make it seem less scary, but let’s be real. Who wants to have their breasts examined and squished in a machine? Definitely not me.
So, when it was time for me to schedule my first mammogram, I wasn’t really up for it. I could have made every excuse to put it off or ignore it.
I had a good excuse, too! I just had an unrelated major surgery and was recovering from it. I had a huge abdominal scar that hurt and was still healing, and I had just started back at work. Did I really want to be back in the hospital for more tests and procedures? I just wasn’t in the mood to do it, and I didn’t want to take the time off to get a mammogram.
People don’t always realize that clinical research trials are very interactive, and there’s a lot of individual patient care that goes on with clinical research as well. You need someone who’s willing to share with you all the details of how their body is responding to help us understand the up and downsides of what they’re going through. It’s a very personal experience.
When a patient came to Rush for a second opinion on her metastatic breast cancer, the team let her know there were many options to manage her cancer, including ones in clinical research. We asked if she would be willing to learn about some of these studies we had to offer.
She was excited about being in a clinical trial, and that enthusiasm is great for us as a team. She wanted to closely follow the protocol, listen and learn about her care.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast and in some of the lymph nodes on the left side. I had a successful surgery and treatment with chemotherapy followed by reconstructive surgery. They removed 12 lymph nodes, and I had radiation. Everything was going well.
As I approached the five-year mark that would have given me a clean bill of health, I started not feeling well. I had a lot of pain in my upper back, and I felt a lump under my right arm. But my dad was dying at the time, and I was at the hospital a lot. I thought it was just fatigue.
When I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in my bones. It was very, very aggressive. I went to the same hospital near my home where I’d received my first round of treatment. The doctor there told me that there was nothing they could do. That it was hopeless, and I only had a short time left to live.
Thelma Gant with her Pink Diva’s Pink Project partners
My name is Thelma Gant. I’m a breast cancer survivor.
Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with DCIS — ductal carcinoma in situ. DCIS is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts and has not yet spread into any normal tissue.
I received the best care here at Rush University Cancer Center, under the care of Dr. Ruta Rao. I was very lucky to detect it early by having my mammogram. I can’t stress enough the importance of having your annual mammogram check, which is key to early detection if diagnosed. Also knowing your family health history is important.
Once I was diagnosed, my team of doctors discussed my treatment plan, which consists of lumpectomy (removal of tumor), chemotherapy and radiation. After completing all my treatments, I wanted to find some kind of way to help women by educating them about breast cancer awareness.
In 2011, I created Pink Divas Pink Project. This group started out with me and four other women. The group has now grown to 11 members strong. We are starting to reach out to different community getting the message out. I was just invited out to Mount Moriah Baptist Church Health Fair in Harvey, Ill., and it was a great experience. I was able to make contact with this lovely lady who promised me she would schedule her mammogram.
The Cancer Integrative Medicine Program team recently received exciting news: The Susan F. Lasky Cancer Foundation has provided funding so that patients with breast cancer can participate in a series of acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling or yoga sessions, at no charge. The Cancer Integrative Medicine Program team is honored to receive this donation, as it creates opportunities for people who may not otherwise be able to afford our services, with a chance to be involved in their own care.
As the practitioner of Chinese medicine for the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, I am thrilled to have this resource available to breast cancer patients. For those who elect acupuncture, the ability to receive a series of weekly treatments can make a significant impact in helping reduce the side effects related to cancer and cancer treatment. As one of the most studied forms of complementary medicine, acupuncture has been found to be safe, and play a very useful role in symptom supportive care. In research studies, acupuncture supports the immune system, and is known to help with symptoms like fatigue, depression, pain, vomiting, radiation-induced xerostomia (i.e., dry mouth), and chemotherapy-induced hot flashes.
If you or someone you know has a breast cancer diagnosis, and is interested in integrative medicine, please contact the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at (312) 563-2531 to learn more about this wonderful opportunity.
Angela Johnson, Dipl OM, MSTOM, MPH, LAc, is a practitioner of Chinese medicine with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at Rush.
In this video, Cobleigh talks about her involvement in research of the medication Herceptin, which is now part of the standard of care for breast cancer treatment.
“We were dealing with some patients who were extremely ill who got better right before our eyes,” she says, “and that was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life in medicine.”
To watch the chat live or submit a question, visit Rush’s Facebook page on Oct. 12 or sign up now for an event reminder. You can also submit questions in advance on Twitter by including the #rushhealthchat tag or via email at email@example.com.
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, I have the privilege of providing care for many women with breast cancer. In my discussions with patients, hot flashes are among the most common symptoms people ask for help with, as they cause both physical and emotional distress. In observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s a little more information about hot flashes, and some helpful tips on how to reduce the heat — inside and out.
Hot flashes are sudden, and many times, an intense sensation of heat in the body. They are often accompanied by a red, flushed look on the face and sweating. Many women also experience sweating at night (aka night sweats), a rapid heart rate and chills after the night sweats subside. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), they are “a problem for many menopausal women and a common side effect of breast cancer treatment.” Unfortunately, hot flashes aren’t just quick bouts of heat sensations that come and go quickly. They vary in intensity, duration and frequency, and interrupt sleep, often causing a sense of discomfort, anxiety and decreased quality of life. Continue reading →