A Survivor's Story

It was Monday, September 11, 2006. I was sitting in my office talking to a colleague with my arms crossed when I felt a lump on my left breast. When my colleague walked away, I investigated further.

I had played three games of soccer that weekend and thought perhaps I got elbowed there and just didn't realize it. However, I did not see any bruising or swelling, just a solid hard lump that seemed to be the size of the top of a salt or pepper shaker you'd find in a restaurant. I called a girlfriend to see if she would go to the doctor with me.

My Diagnosis

On September 21, 2006, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. With no history of breast cancer in my family, and at only 34, this news was a shock. I can vividly remember when I received the call. It was right before lunch on a Thursday while I was at work. I stayed composed until I shared the news with my boss. When I spoke the words out loud, I broke down into tears.

Chemotherapy

With my parents, my brother and sister by my side, we met with Dr. Michael Park of the Texas Oncology network. I'll never forget it--all of us crammed into a room where Dr. Park explained the treatment program and the possible side effects. Because my tumor was aggressive and the margins of my tumor were unclear, Dr. Park wanted me to undergo chemotherapy first, followed by surgery, radiation, and then reconstruction surgery if I wanted.

So how does one prepare for chemo? You don't, really. On October 17, 2006 I had some blood work done, and then went to the infusion room where they started with Adriamycin (the red stuff credited with making you lose your hair) and Cytoxan. While undergoing the treatment, I fell asleep.

When I woke up an hour and a half later, my parents, sure enough, were right there by my side as they had been the whole time. Later that night I started to feel sick but it was really the only time that I didn't feel good. After all, my body had been injected with anesthesia the day before and had approximately two hours of chemotherapy drugs injected that afternoon. No wonder I got sick.

Side Effects

When you hear that someone has cancer, the most common side effect you know is hair loss. But there are a couple others that I was not expecting.

For example, did you know that you could lose your fingernails or develop super dry skin on the hands? Corn Huskers oil was the only thing that worked to relieve the dry hands but nothing prevented the fingernails from coming off.

The hardest part of losing your fingernails is that you don't realize how much you actually rely on them in your every day routine--buttoning your pants or shirts, tying your shoes, or simply picking things up from the table. I tried to put a bandage around the last couple of nails I was about to lose but eventually they came off too.

Ever heard of chemo brain? Well it's like having a brain freeze. You will encounter times where you will forget something that you would not typically forget. At first, you will think you are losing your mind, but then you realize, "Oh, this must be what they call chemo brain!" They say that this could continue for years after treatment. So, not only is this a natural part of the aging process, but is also associated with cancer survivors.

I also remember having is a metallic taste in my mouth, which made everything taste different. Chicken tasted like paper and I quickly became a fan of brie and crackers. Now, I can't stand the smell of this fine cheese. I don't know if it's because my taste buds went back to normal or that I associate brie with chemo. I just know that I can't eat it anymore.

Other side effects for me were few and far between. I didn't experience nausea or mouth sores, but did have a slight case of anemia. The skin under my eyes turned a purplish color that made me look sick, so I had to use a lot more make-up to cover that up. I lost most of my eyebrows and eyelashes but just covered it up by penciling in my eyebrows and using eyeliner.
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