Friday, October 30, 2015

Holly's Story

The next story comes from Holly.
Before reading, here's what you need to know about Holly
Married 35 years
2 adult children
professional job in the legal field
Hobby: avid knitter (maybe make that rabid knitter)
And now, Holly's story
My story began in April 2014 when I had a mammogram on the way to a tasting for my daughters wedding. I was called back for an ultrasound on a second date but didn't think anything of it because I have dense breasts and often get a call back for an ultrasound. However, this time the radiologist said he thought I should have a biopsy on my left breast. I still wasn't concerned as I'd had a biopsy in the mid 1980's that came out clean and I resisted the biopsy because the biopsy was a very unpleasant procedure (I was sitting in a chair in a mammogram machine and had a large needle (no lidocaine) inserted in my breast to guide the surgeon. I passed out due to the pain and my chair rolled back with my breast still in the machine). The radiologist was insistent and I scheduled the biopsy for May. I was so convinced this would be another false alarm I told the radiologist to call me with the results. A week later I got the call at work that the biopsy was positive for breast cancer. I was absolutely paralyzed with fear, anger and depression. I called my husband and 2 friends and then proceeded to make an appointment with a surgeon and oncologist.
My surgeon is young and beautiful enough to be a model. She was wonderful and told me that I'd live to my 90's and die of something other than breast cancer, this would be a bump in the road. She recommended a partial mastectomy or lumpectomy because my tumor was small, 2cm. My consultation with the oncologist was not quite so pleasant, she explained I had HERS2+ breast cancer, it was aggressive and I should start chemotherapy ASAP. I refused as my daughters wedding was a month away and I didn't want that joyous occasion marred by the side effects of chemotherapy.
While sitting on my surgeon's exam table waiting for a lymphedema pretest I got a call from the hospital that my father had been admitted and I needed to immediately get there with his Health Care Proxy and Living Will. I rushed to the hospital with documents in hand and had to make difficult end of life decisions for him. The doctor didn't think he would last the night at that point. Less than a week later I had my first lumpectomy and the following day my father died. The next day, while still on pain medication I was planning my father's funeral. Prior to the funeral I received a telephone call from my surgeons nurse that the pathology report showed I had DCIS in the margins and I would need more surgery. After another consultation with my surgeon and an MRI that showed nothing, I had another lumpectomy and the DCIS was removed.

My daughter was married July 12th, I had my port put in July 17th and started chemotherapy with Taxotere, Carboplatin and Herceptin on July 18th, 2014. The side effects of the chemo were flu like symptoms and diarrhea but they paled in comparison to the bone pain from the Neulasta shot. I was grateful that the shot boosted my red blood cells enough to work but the pain was horrible for 1 1/2 days. Luckily through a cancer buddy from work and What Next I learned that Claritin taken before, during and after the day of the shot helped with the bone pain. The first time I saw my oncologist after chemo I complained about the diarrhea but hadn't kept track of the frequency so couldn't tell her how bad it was. I missed a family wedding that required a plane flight because I couldn't be that far from a bathroom. I spent the weekend of the wedding depressed and angry that I couldn't be with my family. After my second infusion I kept daily track of side effects on a calendar I found on line and was able to demonstrate how bad it was. We postponed my third chemo and discussed switching from Taxotere to Taxol. I refused the change because my research indicated Taxol has a greater likelihood of neuropathy than Taxotere. My dose of Taxotere was reduced by 20% and I was given a prescription for Lomotil.
I started losing my hair a week after my first chemo infusion and was bald by August 1st. I decided I would not be a victim to this dreaded disease and threw myself the first of 2 henna parties. I got a beautiful henna tattoo on my head and it gave me the courage to go out bare headed. The wigs itch like crazy!
I finished my last strong chemo November 11th and began the radiation part of the journey. I discussed hypo fractionated radiation with my radiologist as it was winter in New England and I didn't want to be trudging through the ice and snow in the early morning for radiation. Luckily he agreed I was a candidate and I had 16 radiation treatments and 4 boosts to the tumor area. I finished radiation on December 31st, 2014 in time to celebrate the new year.
In February my husband who had been my rock during my treatment was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was told to lose as much weight as possible and surgery was scheduled for June 2, 2015. He was able to lose 25 pounds and the surgery was successful. Thankfully he made a rapid recovery and was almost his old self in July 2015.
 A beautiful court reporter I worked with cut her hair really short, similar to a man's butch haircut. She looked sleek and stylish and gave me the courage to ditch the wig in March 2015.
My Herceptin infusions lasted until June 29th, 2015 and I finally finished all the recommended treatments for my HERS2+ invasive ductal carcinoma. I was really glad to be DONE with treatment!
We celebrated both of us being NED (no evidence of disease) by going on a 12 day trip to Ireland in August 2015 that had been postponed from 2014 due to my treatments.
The things I found helpful during the horrible year were journaling my thoughts and feelings, keeping a breast cancer board on Pinterest, doing daily guided meditation, my wonderful family and friends who kept telling me "you can do this" over and over and some short term therapy in March 2015 when I had a scare that cancer spread to my bones. Luckily, a bone scan revealed it was arthritis and bursitis. I thank the researchers, doctors and patients in the early clinical trials for Herceptin every day. Were it not for them and their efforts it is likely I would not be here to tell my story.

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