It was a sunny day in August 2006 that would start the hardest and most horrible year of my life. I was a healthy 42-year-old woman, looking forward to having a complete hip replacement in just 29 days (I have had hip dysplasia since I was born.). What I discovered that day would postpone hip surgery for two more years. While doing a breast exam in the shower, I found a lump that I had never felt before. I became nervous and very scared. This couldn't be happening to me! Could it be that dreaded word, CANCER? After all I had no history of cancer in my family that I was aware of and I don't smoke or drink. a lump.

I made an appointment for my first ever mammogram. As I was taken in the next morning I tried to imagine what this machine was that was about to "mash" my breast like I had heard others say. The test took about thirty minutes and yes, it was uncomfortable to say the least. I asked the attendant what the test showed and all she could tell me was, "IT DIDN'T LOOK GOOD". I was told that a biopsy would be needed. The biopsy took place the following Monday. I was placed in a room with my mammogram results staring me in the face. When the surgeon entered the room, I asked, "What do you think it is?" And again I heard those dreadful words, "IT DOSEN'T LOOK GOOD". The biopsy left me in pain and unable to use my right arm for a time. They said I should have the results in about four days. Needless to say, that seemed to me to be the longest four days I have ever experienced. On Thursday, I went out shopping, because I was about to go stir crazy in the house. My cell phone rang while I was in the store. I began shaking and getting sick to my stomach. The voice on the other end said, "IT IS CANCER". Even though I had been warned that it might be cancer, I broke down and cried over the news. Those words would now start me out on a new adventure. I had never before understood what people felt when they were told they had cancer but I guess it is my turn to find out.

My next step about a week later was to visit the surgeon. At this appointment I was examined again. This time however, I was told something I wasn't expecting. The surgeon told me that my cancer was 'HER-2 POSITIVE' (a fast growing invasive type) but that it was very treatable, HOWEVER the type of treatment would be UP TO ME! I was told I had one week to choose one of the following options: 1) An immediate mastectomy (complete removal of the breast) 2), An immediate lumpectomy which would remove the tumor and just enough surrounding tissue to be assured of getting all the cancer cells. (This could possibly end up being a mastectomy if too much tissue had to be removed), or 3), Hold off on surgery and do chemotherapy first in an attempt to shrink the tumor. If shrinking the tumor were successful the following operation would leave me with very little loss of my breast tissue leaving only a slight indentation. Of course the six weeks of radiation would follow either option.

I went home with my mind reeling with this information. If I opted for the mastectomy, I would have to consider reconstruction after the healing was complete. Also, if one breast were removed, would the reconstruction of one breast match the other? Or, should it be a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction. If I opted for the lumpectomy, there was a chance that I could lose my breast anyway. If I chose the relatively new option of receiving chemotherapy before surgery, there was a great likelihood that I might not lose much tissue at all. Whichever decision I made would change my life. My decision would not affect me alone but all those I lived with. What would be best for everyone involved? Of course everyone I talked with told me the decision was up to me and they would support me no matter what I decided. One older lady I talked to told me I should have the mastectomy because "it's just a piece of flab anyway." I took all week pondering my options. I had an appointment to see a new doctor, an oncologist. With the oncologist's advice, I decided to try to save my breast by going with the option of receiving chemotherapy before surgery, then follow surgery with six weeks of radiation.

When I left the oncologist's office my brain was filled with all kids of information and words I had never heard before. I had been expecting that I would be having my first treatment in just a few days. But I was wrong. During the next four weeks I was put through what seemed like every test under the sun. I had Echocardiograms, X-rays, bone scans, an MRI and blood work. Then there was the minor surgery to place a port in my chest through which I would be receiving my chemotherapy and accompanying drugs. I chose to have the port inserted because I hate needles. Without the port I would have to be stuck every time I had an infusion.

The day finally came for my first treatment. Scared and overwhelmed I lay in a chair while some of the nicest nurses prepared me for the first dose of "poison" as they called it. The name of the "poison" (chemo) I was taking is called Adriamyacin or "AC" for short. This drug is the main chemotherapy drug. The nurse called it the "BAD BOY" of the chemo drugs. I would return once every three weeks for the next twelve weeks for this chemotherapy. I was told that this drug could have any or all of the following side effects; nausea, vomiting, loss of body hair, loss of taste and subsequent loss of appetite, and loss of approximately 50% of both white and red blood cells.

Shortly after my first treatment I began to notice strands of my hair in the shower. I began to panic even though I had been warned it would happen. At first I did nothing, but soon the clumps of hair were larger and I could grasp my hair and pull it out easily. I was afraid of what I would look like if I started to lose large amounts. My six-year-old daughter was learning to cope with my situation and came up with a suggestion that when my hair did fall out, she be allowed to draw on my head. Soon she was occasionally pulling on my hair to "help it come out". Since the hair was still coming out in small bunches, I decided to have my head shaved and wear a wig. I had a long-time friend cut my hair first before shaving the rest. At first, the shaving operation left short bits of fuzz on my head, but these too eventually came out After my scalp became bald, my daughter did her artwork on my head. She drew butterflies and flowers and wrote, "I love Mom" on one side and "I love Dad" on the other.

On the days I had the chemo things were quite bad for me. I was practically a zombie from the treatment chair through to the next morning. The next morning I could function, but very slowly. The rest of the week went fairly well, so I was able to get though it. I had good and bad days. I did have just about all of the expected symptoms and then some. On my twelfth week when I thought I had come though the hardest part I experienced a setback. My white cell count fell from 7000 on Thursday to 700 over the weekend landing me in the hospital for three days.

After the twelve weeks of Adriamyacin, I was switched to the chemotherapy drug, Taxol. Taxol wasn't quite as bad as the AC was. I experienced some fatigue and body aches but other then that this one was tolerable. With Taxol the infusions were once a week for twelve weeks.

While receiving Taxol, I was scheduled for an MRI to check the progress of the shrinkage of the tumor. The results showed that the cancer was no longer evident to the naked eye. Three experts examining the report could not spot it. I was scheduled for surgery in February.

The surgery was successful and the site healed well. There were a few incidences where fluid had built up at the surgery site and had to be excised. The lasting effects I have after surgery are in my arm and shoulder where the lymph nodes were removed. At six months from diagnosis I could finally believe I was on the road to recovery. In the world of cancer terminology, I am considered a "SURVIVOR" from day one, but it will take five years without a reoccurrence before I am considered completely cancer FREE. So I have come a long way but have a long way yet to go.  --Mrs. Gloria Ann Shepherd, Archer, FL




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