I am a 41 year old single mother with a 7 yo little girl. My health had not been amazing over the past 15 years, but I've had few serious problems.
I have a duplicated renal system, so childbirth was a real danger for me. My daughter was born very premature, due to my preeclampsia, but we both survived and eventually thrived (she's in perfect health today).
About three years ago, I decided to get serious about getting back into shape. My MD at the time suggested I suppliment my diet and workout plan with Phentermine (the good twin in the bad PhenFen combo we've all heard so much about). I lost about 40 pounds in just over 3 months. Because Phentermine is a stimulant, I also regained my focus and had a new drive at work and at home I'd never had before. Except for during my pregnancy, I was also a smoker for about 7 years and drank coffee by the gallon. I was really pushing my body, hard. I felt great.
In July of 2008, I found a small, pea sized, hard lump right in the center of each of my breasts. I saw my gynocologist, and he said he thought it was just "hardening of the breasts." I know now that he misdiagnosed me, as I had not breast fed for over five years. Having said that, he's still my doctor and still one of my heroes.
Within a week, the lump in my left breast was the size of a golf ball and extremely painful. I was only 40, so I had just begun to think about scheduling my first mammogram. Despite everyone's reassurances that cancer was not painful, so it must be something else, I rushed to have my first mammo. After the pic was taken, the radiologist sent a PA in to ask me to wait to talk to him instead of going on home. She told me to brace myself for bad news.
The radiologist told me that he could tell by looking that I had "at least three cancers in there."
Everyone reacts in their own way to hearing something like that. Because I lost my best friend, Helen, to breast cancer only two years previous, all I could think to say was, "Cut it out of me. Take them. Do it now."
Despite my protests, the radiologist and the oncological surgeon urged me to wait for a true biopsy to see what we were dealing with and to make sure this was what I wanted to do. All I could think of was my daughter. These doctors were wonderful, caring men, but for her sake, I put on the pressure and became the squeakest wheel in history. I got my biopsy in the next two days and my surgery within the following week. I had a bi-lateral, radical mastectomy and three lymphs removed. I didn't have time to think of losing my breasts, and everytime I look at my little girl, I don't see how I could ever even miss having them.
A biopsy of my breast tissue found four cancers: three in my left breast, and one in my right. I had invasive ductal carcinoma, non-invasive ductal carcinoma, and mucinous carcinoma in my left breast. My right breast had only non-invasive ductal carcinoma and it can be argued that a lumpectomy would have been enough in that breast, but I don't regret losing it. I had to do everything I could do to be sure to be here for my little girl.
My surgeon was nothing short of a miracle worker. If I thought I could, I would tell you his name. He used techniques that are typical in open-heart surgery to close my surgical sites, and he was there for me throughout my recovery. He even paid a HOUSE CALL on me one afternoon because he didn't like how I'd sounded on the phone. He has retired this last year, and though I know he deserves his time with his family, I think it is a great loss to the medical profession. He will be missed.
Here's where it got fun: Finding the Oncologist.
If I've learned anything in the past two years it is that not all doctors are created equal and we should never ever be afraid to fire someone and hire someone new. I needed chemotherapy in short order. My cancer was HER-2/Neu2 positive. The prognosis was not good. My chances of recurrant cancer were very high, and I was scared.
The first two oncologists I spoke to were like a bad practical joke television show. One of them reminded me of Belushi in "Animal House" and his office was filthy. The second one kept rescheduling my first appointment and had his nurse remind me over and over what a busy man he was and how important his time was.
When I called my surgeon for yet a third recommendation, I knew I was trying his patience, but I was not in a popularity contest. I wanted to live.
My third try was the oncologist I have today, and he IS the only oncologist I want to ever have (of course, he's another older doctor nearing retirement. Why are all the good ones getting old on me?). His entire staff has become my family, and the chemo nurses... well, let's just say that I can never repay them for their kindness to me. They are amazing people who work long, hard hours dealing with scared, angry, sick people who abuse and belittle them everyday. And they take it all with a smile and a kind word. I don't think they're human.
I did two very horrific chemotherapy drugs, but I'm not going to discuss them here. There are many prescription drugs now that combat the side effects, and I think no one should be discouraged from battling cancer with chemo. It is a proven method that saves lives, and I would do it over and over again. I have a port in my chest that is a line into my heart that I will never remove. It reminds me how medicine saved my life, and it feels like a part of my body now. Also, your hair grows back fuller and thicker and WITHOUT THE GREY, if you were greying. Chemo made me look about 10 years younger.
Okay, enough gushing about my cancer center... because of abnormal paps and the hormonal nature of my cancer, my oncologist and my OBGYN sat me down and told me I needed at full hysterectomy right away. I was taking a chemo called Adriamycin (aka "Red Devil" or "Red Death"), so I was unable to undergo surgery until it was finished. Four months later, I had the hysterectomy and they took out everything.
Well, hello early menopause!!! Nice to meet you. Hot flashes are not so bad, and my hormone levels going down meant that my emotional problems of the past went down as well. Who knew menopause could be such a blessing?
Remember the duplicated renal system I mentioned earlier? Well the hysterectomy was the last straw. The stress of my pregnancy combined with the surgery finally caused one of my ureturs to tear away from my bladder.
Back to the lesson about being unintimidated by someone's credentials... My first urologist told me and my OBGYN that he must have nicked the uretur during surgery and called me a "malpractice suit risk."
1) I WOULD NEVER DO THAT TO MY DOCTOR. Even if he made an honest mistake, he has saved my life repeatedly. I'd rather keep him and have him feel the need to fix me than sue him for a risk I'd agreed in writing was possible.
2) My OBGYN was so baffled and confused that I just didn't believe the urologist. Granted, I've known my OBGYN longer, so I am biased, but I think he would know if he'd nicked a uretur. I do.
The urologist recommended extensive reconstructive surgery, starting with rather painful exploratory surgery to discover the extent of my injuries. Following the first surgery, he would not return calls to me when I had excessive bleeding and nausea. His nurse said, and I quote, "Dr. ____ spent a good deal of time talking with your family after the procedure. He does not have any more time for you."
Now this doctor is "THE BEST" in my state. He's very well liked and very well known, and he's the head of certain boards. No one fires him. However, when I went to other urologists for help with my bleeding, no one would see me. They seriously did not want to cross this man.
My OBGYN called around and found someone. This new urologist took me and had an Interventional Radiology team (the height of new medical science - these guys are amazing!) look into my condition without being too terribly invasive. Turns out the uretur was not nicked. It was clearly a stress tear, and it is a common occurance after a hysterectomy. A simple surgery was done to put a stent into my system to allow the uretur to heal itself. During this procedure, it was discovered that my lower lobe of that same kidney was nearly dead, and had not functioned for years. A second stent and two nephrostomy bags were added, and my life was saved YET AGAIN.
The nephrostomy bags weren't too bad to deal with, and I only had them for a little while. I've had only one stent for about six months now, and just last week it was removed. My kidney and ureturs are completely healed and functioning beautifully, and no major surgery was required.
In each of my experiences, it came down to acting quickly and finding the right doctor with the right ethics about the job. I am alive today because I have had wonderful medical care, period. Cancer survivors get called, "strong" and "brave" but I'm just a character with a lot of good people working hard to take care of her. I'm here because they were there. I'm so glad I chose them.
My future? Getting back into shape, without the help of any drugs; growing out my hair; possible reconstructive breast surgery; learning to live without hormones; another year of Herceptin; and years and years and years to play with, teach, and learn from my daughter.
Thank you doctors and nurses and P.A.s and front desk assistants that I cannot name here. You are super humans, and I love you for what you do and the sacrifices you make. I can never thank you enough, but I can fight loudly for you when politics and media get you all wrong, and I will. Thanks to you, I'll be around a long long time to do it too.
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