Breast Cancer Survivor

My story starts at age 17 when I discovered a mass in my left breast, the year was 1977 and I was a senior in high school. I remember being taken to the family doctor office where he numbed the area and removed a cyst approximately 2cm in diameter from my left breast. It was a fibroid tumor and I was told I had fibrocystic breast disease and to keep a close watch on my breasts. As a teenager you don’t think about cancer and what it entails and honestly I had no clue what cancer was back then. Zoom forward to age 35 when I discovered a “pea size” lump in my right breast. A biopsy revealed it was benign and I began my yearly mammogram/ultrasound regimen and all that was ever seen for the next several years were the typical fibroid cysts. 

In 2009, the year I call my wonder year because I wonder how I got through it, I had my annual mammogram and ultrasound in the month of February which didn’t show anything abnormal. In March I celebrated my 50th birthday, in May I celebrated the finalization of divorce of a bad 10 year marriage and was also diagnosed with stage 2A breast cancer. A few months after the mammogram I began to experience an uncomfortable feeling in my left chest wall. I contacted my doctor about it and he had me come in for an exam. He questioned me about the feeling and I told him it was a soreness deep within my breast. After trying to aspirate a large cyst with no success he recommended a breast MRI because as he said “you have very dense breast tissue”. I had that done at a local hospital which had just begun doing breast MRI’s in January of that year. The results were that I had cancer in both breasts. I was devastated as I have a sister who had just been diagnosed with recurrent breast cancer after a 6 year remission, my father had passed away from lung cancer, my oldest brother was a survivor of base of tongue cancer and his wife had passed away at age 51 of stage IV ovarian cancer. I was the nurse in the radiation department at our local cancer center and was referred to a breast specialist in Baton Rouge who, after reviewing my films and reports, requested we repeat the test on their equipment and have it read by their radiologist. What we discovered was that it was not cancer in both breasts, but 2 areas in the left breast. This ruled out having a lumpectomy with radiation and a total mastectomy was performed with reconstruction since the lymph node biopsy was negative. I consider myself one of the lucky ones, even though I lost my breast, because I didn’t have to go through radiation or chemo and “only” had to take Tamoxifen for 5 years. Tamoxifen had its side effects which were not pleasant but I got through those 5 years with the support of family and friends.

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When I took the job as a radiation nurse it was because I had sympathy for patients because of my strong family history and then 10 months later I now had empathy for them because I understood the fear of the diagnosis and all that it entails. During this time I met other patients that were diagnosed with breast cancer and feel that I was able to convey to them the challenges of the diagnosis as well as help alleviate fears like those I had gone through. The one thing I tell women to this day is don’t solely rely on tests! Know your body, do self breast examinations at the same time every month and when something doesn’t feel right see your doctor immediately, and always, always get a second opinion before undergoing any procedure or treatment. Please don’t ever be afraid to contact your doctor no matter how minute you feel the area is. I have seen women who waited far to long to be seen and are no longer with us. EARLY DETECTION is the key!

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When you have a diagnosis of cancer, any cancer, you always have that nagging fear that it will come back either as a recurrence or metastasis somewhere. I am encouraged by other women and enjoying listening to their stories and sharing mine. Breast cancer is sisterhood that no one wants to be part of but one that we need as fighters and survivors. I hope my story will encourage women and if just one of you is saved because of early detection then my heart is happy! Be “self” aware and listen to your body, it will tell you when something is not right. Fight like a girl and Survive like a warrior. 

I would also like to add that my motto has been “my breasts do no define me as a woman” and I am proud of the scars I have because those scars mean I am still here to tell my story. 

Sincerely, 

-Vickie

Tina DeSalvoComment