Lori’s Breast Cancer Journey
- Lori C. – Age 55
- Diagnosed – August 2013
- Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, BRCA2 positive
My week started out like any other week until I received a letter asking me to schedule an ultrasound as my routine mammogram appeared abnormal. I wasn’t overly concerned as I had been called back in previous years with good results. The ultrasound revealed three different types of masses in one area. That didn’t sound promising.
A few days after my biopsy, I received the anticipated news that I had early breast cancer. I never thought, “Why me?” because both my brothers were diagnosed with late stage cancer so I thought, “Why them and not me?” I guess I was just lucky I had a type of cancer with early screening tests and that Dr. Erica Guzalo (radiologist) was very meticulous.
I was anxious about telling my mother and adult son since I had already lost one brother to cancer and my other brother now had terminal cancer. How do you tell your mother her third and last child has cancer? My son was understandably concerned, but relieved that I was handling the diagnosis well emotionally. A friend advised me to tell my mother via e-mail to keep emotions at a minimum and after thinking it over, I did just that. I sent her a positive and carefully worded e-mail asking her to digest the news then we would talk the next day. She later confirmed that was a good strategy to keep her calm.
Now my apprehension turned toward treatment, recovery and time off work. I asked three different people for surgical referrals and Dr. Lisa Curcio’s name was mentioned all three times. She was obviously well respected and it made sense to me to go with a surgeon specializing in breast cancer.
Dr. Curcio spent a great deal of time with me during my initial consultation and patiently listened to my laundry list of concerns due to my quirky medical history. She also provided a great deal of information which was comforting and satisfied my need to be informed. Throughout my journey, she responded to my questions and concerns promptly through the patient web portal.
The most draining stress and frustration for me was what felt like an endless cycle of tests followed by the wait for results. I told Dr. Curcio I felt like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” living the same day over and over again.
Finally, the last results were in. My genetic testing revealed I was BRCA2 positive (hereditary breast/ovarian cancer syndrome). Dr. Curcio immediately called me to discuss treatment options and we agreed that a prophylactic double mastectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy (tubes/ovaries) would be the most prudent option for me given the genetic mutation.
I dreaded the thought of recovering from one surgery only to schedule another and wondered how my career and finances would survive two leaves of absence in one year. To my surprise, Dr. Curcio immediately offered to coordinate with my gynecologist to perform the surgeries consecutively minimizing the burden to one hospital stay, one recovery period and one leave of absence from work. She took care of everything. This time-saving, cost-efficient plan convinced me she believed in total care for her patients.
I had serious concerns about recovering from all-encompassing surgeries due to my history of slow healing, excessive surgical pain, and being unresponsive to pain meds. However, on the day of surgery, I felt very relaxed as I knew I was in good hands and the waiting game had finally come to an end so the healing could begin. The light at the end of the tunnel was getting brighter!
I’ve always been self-reliant and reluctant to ask for or accept help for fear of being a burden. Fortunately, friends and family anticipated my needs and did not take no for an answer. Without being asked and without hesitation, they cheerfully came to my aid as caretakers, gift-givers and dog walkers throughout my recovery. Breastlink counselor, Kelley Yasbek, had advised me to accept help when offered as it can keep others from feeling helpless. I had a long and arduous recovery due to my pre-existing medical issues and I could not have survived without all the help. It was very heartwarming and much appreciated!
Sarah Baca (physician’s assistant) was so kind and thorough during post-op visits. She also referred me to a wonderful physical therapist who helped me immensely with post-surgical issues and taught me the error of my ways regarding general body conditioning. She set me on a new path to be physically fit!
After surgery, I also had visits with Dr. John Link (oncologist) who was so kind while he carefully studied my medical history and ordered blood tests to determine my optimal treatment plan. He gave me the wonderful news that since my cancer had been caught early and I had a double mastectomy, I would not need radiation treatments, chemotherapy or even hormone-blocking medication.
Imagine how lucky I felt! He informed me my survival rate was about 99.2 percent then hugged me and released me back to my life. I have been encouraging all my friends to schedule their routine mammograms as just a one or two year delay could have resulted in a very different story.
For years I’ve longed to find opportunities where I can directly assist others on a personal and rewarding level, but time can easily slip away as you maintain the status quo.
Having cancer brought new life to this quest. I plan to train my next dog to be a therapy dog that will bring smiles to those in need of the love and cheer a dog so eagerly provides. In the meantime, I’ll continue with charity walks and look for other ad hoc service opportunities. My end goal is to maximize my service footprint so when I eventually leave this world I will be comforted to know I had a positive impact on other lives.
My best advice for those embarking on their own challenging journey is to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and find the humor in it all. I’ve always been able to find humor in any situation. That helped me deal with stress and allowed me to laugh with friends and family about my situation rather than making our visits sad or awkward.
Rest assured you will discover silver linings along the way that may ultimately outweigh the hardships. And finally, turn the tables on cancer not only by fighting back, but by using it as an opportunity and a catalyst to redesign your life!
I’ll leave you with a limerick and hopefully a smile:
There once was a lady named Lori.
She came here to tell you her story.
Breast cancer was her plight,
But she survived the good fight.
Now her life is once again hunky-dory!