October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Breast cancer can stir fear in women and men alike. For many, the idea of losing one breast or both to cancer is unfathomable.
When I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in June, I wasn’t necessarily afraid in that gut-punching moment. I was heartbroken. My husband and I looked at each other and cried.
The fear came later.
Since last spring, when my medical journey began with a mammogram, I have been under the watchful eye and care of various Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center medical professionals, including a gynecologist, surgeon, radiologist, oncologist, oncology physician assistant, oncology and infusion nurses, a dietitian nutritionist and a physical therapist.
There have been many steps in my walk with cancer. After the mammogram came an ultrasound-guided biopsy, which confirmed I had invasive breast cancer. Soon after the diagnosis, I met with surgeon Dr. Karen Johnson and then underwent an MRI for more definitive imaging in preparation for surgery.
Dr. Johnson performed a double mastectomy. After recovery, I had a series of appointments to fill my tissue expanders. I then met with oncologist Dr. Wendy Oatis to discuss further treatments, including the option of surgery or radiation followed by chemotherapy.
I underwent a second surgery in which the margins were checked for floater cancer cells and a port for chemotherapy was inserted. On Aug. 29, I began a 12-week chemotherapy treatment plan. The fourth and final treatment is scheduled for Oct. 31.
Next steps will include at least one consult with my oncology team and surgeon, at least one more chest-tissue expansion, implant reconstruction and then seven to 10 years on hormone therapy.
I’m 45 and my age is considered young in the world of breast cancer. My age played a key factor in my care plan.
It is important to note that not all care plans are alike, nor are all breast cancers alike. There is no single formula that applies to all cancer patients. Every situation is incredibly unique, much as each individual is unique.
From 2006 to 2010, the number of new breast cancer cases in females in Chaffee County was an average of 13 cases each year. In Colorado, the annual count was 3,203, according to Susan G. Komen.
In the United States in 2018, Susan G. Komen estimated that 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be found in women and 2,550 new cases will be found in men.
Speaking from experience, there really is no easy way to get through having breast cancer and the musts of treating it. Whether the breast cancer is Stage IA (like mine) or Stage IV, it’s a devastating blow.
Moving through the foggy ins and outs of clinical discussions, breast checks, blood draws, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone treatments and possibly more is exactly that: one big fat fog.
The fog is real, much like the fear.
The average breast cancer patient will probably go through many appointments, needles, devices, medicines, conversations, as well as times of uncertainty.
In my own struggle, I promptly devised my own motto that it’s best to not layer misery on top of misery.
As I see it, one must choose courage and joy every single minute, hour and day. Again, I believe there really is no other way to get to the other side of cancer.
Getting through cancer is not about fluffy, self-help chatter. Rather, a determined, chosen mind-set can lead to healing, whether it be emotional, mental, physical or all three.
I personally have plowed ahead sustained by my faith combined with the ongoing support of my husband, family and friends, big doses of humor and the willingness to wholeheartedly trust and follow the plan of care recommended by my medical professionals.
Even though breast cancer has nearly taken over my entire life, I’m not planning on it taking my life anytime soon, or hopefully ever.
A former Mountain Mail staff writer, April Obholz Bergeler now works as a marketing and public relations specialist at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center.