As with many of the ladies who have recently shared their stories, I've been following posts for quite some time. I decided that it was time to introduce myself to this incredible group of women who have helped me deal with the last few months, since I reluctantly retired after 30 years as a school-based speech-language pathologist. Although the breast cancer primarily metastasized to my bones, it also caused a significant loss of my voice, which is devastating to an SLP. Laryngeal plastic surgery, along with voice therapy, helped me regain some speech, but certainly not enough to conduct any type of effective therapy sessions. In the first few weeks after retirement, I found myself withdrawing from people because I could not speak clearly enough to be understood on the phone, or even in person. I also discovered that augmentative communication systems are not nearly as effective out in the public as I had thought when I recommended them for some of my students! Things have improved, but I still spend a great deal of time at home. I discovered this forum earlier this year, and have learned much about how all of you deal so well with your individual situations. I admire your optimism, resourcefulness, humor, and spirit of camaraderie!
When I was first diagnosed in 2007, I was the fifth of seven educators in my school to have been diagnosed with breast cancer since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Interestingly enough, the disease seemed to target the administrative and support staff, including our principal, school secretary, both school nurses, our librarian and her assistant, a school counselor, along with me. Fortunately, no one else has been diagnosed to date; all of my peers are doing very well; and I am the only person who has since been diagnosed with any progression at all.
After a very tiny tumor (.2 centimeters) was discovered in the fall of 2007, my treatments included a lumpectomy, followed by a mastectomy due to an unclear surgical margin, and several reconstructive surgeries. No radiation or chemotherapy was recommended, and I took Femara for five years. I was seen regularly for clinical visits, as well as for mammograms. Several times I asked my former oncologist about PET Scans and tumor markers, but she indicated that they weren't necessary because of my excellent prognosis (I've since found a backbone and am much more assertive about my treatment plan).
Thinking back to that time, I remember that I started having bouts of back and hip pain a few months after I stopped taking Femara. I attributed that pain to probably muscle strain due to 'overdoing it' in my yard. During that same time (2013-14), I experienced chronic hoarseness (not such a great thing for an SLP) and scheduled an appointment with an ENT. He discovered a paralyzed vocal fold, and ordered a CAT Scan of the neck and upper chest area. The results showed a tumor pressing on the nerve which innervates the vocal folds, along with many other suspicious growths in the chest area. He contacted the oncologist and I was seen for a PET Scan, which showed involvement of the spine, ilium, scapula and sternum. A biopsy indicated that it was a progression of breast cancer. My husband and I immediately started searching for another cancer treatment center and were fortunate to find a wonderful facility near our home. After four chemotherapy treatments in spring 2014, a follow-up PET-CT scan showed NED. (I listed all of the past and current treatments on my profile, so won't reiterate here.) There has been some uptake in the ilium within the last few months, along with gradually rising tumor markers, so my oncologist has pushed my PET-CT scan up to next week. With your help, I'm prepared to deal with whatever happens!
I'm attaching a picture from my last day of work. Since then, I've tossed out all of my professional clothes and am usually totally unpresentable due to grub and grime from the yard or paint from household projects!
-- AngelaO, diagnosed metastatic in January 2014
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of Breastcancer.org nor are they intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians.