Pat and the Bulldozer - A Breast Cancer Survivor Story

How a Second Opinion Saved Her Life

Pink Ribbon Bulldozer
Pink Ribbon Bulldozer. Art © Microsoft
Pat's story proves that vigilance and persistence pays off. Like another survivor, Herb Wagner, Pat was told that although she had an easily discernible lump, there was nothing wrong. Both Pat and Herb consulted other doctors for a second opinion, that turned out to be life-changing and life-saving! I admire Pat for keeping good health records, and remembering to take her mammogram images along with her – a vital part of getting a clear comparison with newer images. Kudos to Pat for being pro-active and asking lots of good questions of her doctors.

Pat's Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Age at diagnosis: 69
Type of breast cancer: Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC)
Lymph node status: 8 positive nodes
Tumor Description: 1.7 cms, HER2 positive
Surgery: Lumpectomy and excision of axillary lymph nodes
Planned Treatments: Dense dose chemotherapy with ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol) for 16 wks, Neupogen or Neulasta injections, Radiation, Herceptin, Tamoxifen
Newly Diagnosed: July 23, 2008

A Bulldozer Hiding in an MRI
I felt like I was hit by a bulldozer when I was told the diagnosis. My gynecologist felt a lump when she palpated my left breast in early June, but said it might be an enlarged lymph node. She ordered a repeat mammogram and an ultrasound. I took my films from Florida and made an appointment with my former women's radiologist in New Jersey since we were leaving for New Jersey in three days. I got an appointment with her the following week. She showed me the enlarged lymph node but stated she wanted to do a breast MRI.

A doctor friend of mine ordered that and had it done the following week. My own radiologist was on vacation, so the doctor who is in charge of MRIs in that practice read mine. He recommended rechecking everything in six month because "results weren't normal, but weren't malignant".

My Angry Surgeon
Both my doctor friend and I decided that I didn't want to wait six months - so he recommended two breast surgeons in the area.

I chose one and called her office and saw her the next week. I brought all the reports and records with me. She studied them before coming in to see me in the examining room. When she walked in she stated, "Pat, I have to tell you that you have breast cancer." I almost fell off the table. I said, "In the lymph node?" She said, "No, you have lobular invasive breast cancer. Hold your arms up." (She could see puckering on the under surface of my left breast.) She saw it clearly on the MRI!!! She showed it to me and I could see it clearly. Needless to say, she was upset and angry that this could have been ignored if I had waited six months. She did biopsies that day in her office and they confirmed her diagnosis. She then sent me for a PET-cat scan to rule out metastasis to other organs. Then she scheduled my surgery for July 28, 2008.

Starting Treatments and Physical Therapy
I began chemotherapy on September 3, and have been going to physical therapy (PT) for decreased range of motion (ROM) of the affected arm. I have developed lymphedema (slight) and started lymphedema therapy on September 22. Chemotherapy has been fine.

Family Health Challenges
This whole thing has been an odyssey. I am the caregiver for my husband, who went into renal failure out of the blue about five years ago.

He was medicated with high doses of prednisone and cytoxan to try to reverse his crescentic glomerulonephritis [kidney inflammation]. But instead of helping the kidneys, it caused diverticulitis with symptoms masked and his colon ruptured, resulting in a massive infection. This was supposed to be our first summer to travel. I had set up dialysis treatments in 8 different places. It was not to be!!!

Staying Positive, Planning on More Golf Games
Anyway, I am grateful for my inner Being that forced me to seek answers now, for my surgeon, and oncologists, nurses, family and friends. I will survive with bells on and a better golf swing, thanks to a positive attitude and my support system.

Reflections on Pat's Survivor Story
Even though Pat is currently in treatment, and is facing radiation, and other follow-up therapies, she maintains a positive attitude. She's handling not only her own health care, but also her husband's kidney crisis, and planning on having a good, healthy future. I wish her and her family well, and hope for the best outcome for all of them!

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