"My story has been a bit of a roller coaster. When I was 36, I found a lump in my left breast (upper, outer quadrant). I was a nurse (nurse practitioner, actually) and had even worked oncology for a couple of years (and had gone through breast cancer with my mom) but had not had a mammogram yet, since I was only 36. I saw my PCP, who sent me for a mammogram and IMMEDIATELY called me (before I even made it home) and told me that it looked like cancer and I needed a biopsy ASAP. Biopsy confirmed cancer, had a mastectomy which revealed two positive nodes and was deemed to be stage IIB, ER/PR positive. I did what they called at that time (2003) 'dose-dense' chemotherapy, followed by radiation, followed by tamoxifen. I did not go into menopause, and at that time I was not ready to lose my ovaries, so I was closely monitored over the years, with no signs of recurrence.
"Well, about 7 years out, when I was 43, I found a rock-hard lymph node above my left clavicle. I had an excisional biopsy of that node at a small hospital in a small town in Ohio and the pathologist there immediately declared it to be 'recurrent breast cancer.' I consulted with an oncologist at a major medical center in Columbus and she agreed that it was likely recurrent breast cancer, but said they would get my tissue for further testing.
"I spent an entire month thinking I was stage IV, crying everyday. After one month (on the day before I was scheduled to start chemo) my oncologist called to tell me that this, in fact, it was not even breast cancer, it was papilliary thyroid cancer! So, at 43 I celebrated that I had thyroid cancer! (Crazy! But better than stage IV breast cancer!) I had a total thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment, and then went on with life as normally as possible.
"Well, about 4 years after that, when I was 47 (I will be 49 tomorrow) I began to have extreme fatigue and just some aches in various places, specifically my posterior ribs, mostly one spot on the left, and my hips. I went to my PCP and mentioned my history of the cancers but she felt that since it had been over 10 years since my original breast cancer diagnosis recurrence was unlikely, so she encouraged me to get more exercise. I took her advice and became more disciplined about walking/biking/running.
"Several months passed and my energy level did improve, but pain in my ribs seemed to come and go (weird!). By June of 2014 the pain in one posterior rib seemed pretty much constant and pretty severe and I also had pain in my vertebrae which took my breath away any time I went over a bump in the road, while driving or riding in a car. So, one day in June of 2014 the pain was so bad (and I was doing home visits to patients) that as soon as I saw my last patient that day, I went straight to my PCP's office and said, 'If she can see me today great, if not then I'm going to the ER.' She saw me, thought I had a kidney stone, and ordered a CT of my abdomen and pelvis. This showed a pleural effusion of my left lung, which lead to doing a CT of my chest, which showed a large, boney mass on my left, 8th, posterior rib.
"To condense this a bit, after multiple other tests and a bone bx, I was diagnosed stage IV, metastatic breast cancer, spread to MULTIPLE bones, probably my lungs (though that area was never biopsied), and later a lesion was found in my left eye. That was all at age 47, more than 10 years past my original breast cancer diagnosis.
"Once diagnosed, I resumed tamoxifen until after having a total hysterectomy with bilateral oophorectomy, and then I switched to an aromatase inhibitor. I was not able to tolerate the first AI (severe joint pain and just a sick-all-over feeling), so switched to another one which also has its issues, but nowhere near as bad as the first one I tried.
"I just pray that I can remain stabilized long enough for them to come up with better and better options for stage IV...and also for a miracle! I have never married or had kids, so do not have those reasons for wanting to make it a bit longer, but my parents have already lost one child, and it would be very hard on them to bury another. I am a Christian and I have the hope of knowing that this (often disappointing) life is not what we were originally meant for and I look forward to spending all of eternity with my Savior, dressed in a body that will never become diseased or die, so that is where my hope truly lies."
-- Marynp, diagnosed metastatic in June 2014
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