Wife, mother, grandmother
ABOUT CINDY, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I had never been a person to dwell on the negative, and I wouldn’t be that someone now.
- I’ve always handled tough times and challenges with a lot of strength—not without first getting really overwhelmed and stressed. This is where my husband has always been there for me.
- I am happy when I am helping people. I am happy when I see others happy.
My First Diagnosis
Cancer has taught me a lot about myself and how I want to live. It has taught me to appreciate my life and those I love. I think the hardest thing for metastatic breast cancer patients is to stay positive and not allow ourselves to go to that negative, ugly place. We all need love, understanding, and encouragement—but most importantly, we want hope.
The month I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, May 2007, I had been dating the love of my life for six years. We were both looking forward to a seven-night Hawaiian cruise. A few weeks before flying to Honolulu, I had a routine mammogram. The radiologist told me they had found a dark “suspicious” shadow in my left breast, so to be safe, they wanted to do a biopsy. The next day, the biopsy was done, and they said they would contact me in a few days. They told me to go on my cruise and not to worry.
But when I got the call from the nurse saying the biopsy showed cancer, I started to panic. I was Stage 0, she said, and encouraged me to continue enjoying my cruise without concern. John proposed to me on that trip, and I, of course, said YES! It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
When we finally got back home, we went to see a surgeon. He told me matter-of-factly that I should have a mastectomy on my left breast. Just like that. My world changed instantly!
I was starting a new life with the man of my dreams, but I felt as if I was cheating him out of having a “complete” and healthy wife. Cancer was definitely not part of the “happy” plan we had made together. My range of emotions went from feeling angry to feeling scared to feeling devastated. But John’s love and encouragement helped. I had never been a person to dwell on the negative, and I wouldn’t be that someone now. We were both just thankful that it sounded like I was going to be okay. My oncologist decided I would not need chemo or radiation. But, since both he and my surgeon had said there was the chance of the cancer showing up in my right breast, we opted for a double mastectomy.
Learning I Have MBC
Four years later, after several reconstructive surgeries and hormone therapy, I, as well as my family and healthcare team, felt as if I had beaten cancer. We went on with our lives. We spent time with our grandchildren, made memories as a family, and made plans for our future. John and I decided I would retire in 2016, we would sell our home and all of our belongings, and set out in an RV to explore the country. Cancer wasn’t on my mind at all.
Then, one day, when our RV adventure was just within reach, I felt a lump the size of a walnut in my armpit. I had my husband feel it, and he agreed that I needed to get it checked right away. Fear, panic, and desperation set in. There I was, getting another ultrasound and a biopsy that confirmed the cancer had not only returned, but also spread to sections of bone in my hip and my back.
I will never forget that phone call from my doctor. I was in a toy store with my son, purchasing Christmas gifts for my grandchildren, when my phone rang. A part of me was hoping the doctor would tell me how long I had to live so I didn’t have to ask. I was terrified of the answer. My husband needed his wife. My kids needed their mom. My grandkids needed their grandma! All I could do after I hung up was get out of that store and call John. How had I gotten cancer again? I couldn’t help but think that I, or maybe my healthcare team, could have done something to prevent it. I had to work really hard to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault.
I took to the Internet for answers—WRONG thing to do! It only increased my anxiety. That’s when John suggested we go to a friend of the family’s oncologist for a second opinion and hopefully more information.
When I finally spoke with my new doctor and her team, she gave me so much relief. I didn’t ask about my prognosis, because I needed to move forward. John and I felt that with treatment, a diligent healthcare team, and self-advocacy, we were doing all we could.
Treating With IBRANCE
My doctor told me about IBRANCE, a first-line treatment option for postmenopausal women with HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer, taken in combination with letrozole—which is an aromatase inhibitor. My doctor told my husband and me about the benefits and the risks, including the serious and common side effects like low white blood cell counts, infections, and nausea. John did the research on IBRANCE for me, since I had learned my lesson on looking up information on the Internet. I knew I had to have faith in my treatment plan and hope for the best.
The nurse told me that Pfizer has a program called Co-Pay One Savings Program to help those who are eligible, commercially insured, and need help with their co-pay. After contacting them, the process to determine eligibility was underway, and my co-pay is manageable. As for my experience on IBRANCE, today, I can say my oncologist and I are pleased with the results. I’ve experienced side effects, including some hair loss, mouth sores, hot flashes, pain in my lower extremities, a small rash, tiredness, indigestion, and my white blood cell count has been lower than normal at times, but I have worked with my doctor to help manage some of my side effects. My dosage was reduced and I'm doing my best to be as strong as possible. This is all just my experience, and others’ could be different.
Focusing On The Good
What has been absolutely amazing to me is that everyone in my life has been so kind, positive, and supportive throughout my entire journey with cancer. The facility where I see my doctors goes beyond my expectations with their advice, concern, and organization of my treatment plan. I’m encouraged to ask questions and get answers, which has helped me in being my own advocate.
And then there’s my sweet husband, John.
I would like to say I’ve always handled tough times and challenges with a lot of strength—not without first getting really overwhelmed and stressed. This is where John has always been there for me. He is so logical and soothing. He helps me “get a grip,” sometimes just by letting me cry it out. He turns my weaknesses into strengths and brings out the fighter in me. Because of him, I have found out how strong I actually am. I want to live a good and happy life with him by my side—whether we’re at home or on an adventure.
I try to be happy. I am happy when I am helping people. I am happy when my grandkids put their arms around me and tell me how much they love me. I am happy when my husband interrupts my cooking to slow dance with me in the kitchen. I am happy when I’m singing out loud—only in the car, only by myself! And I am happy when I see others happy.
The advice I would give to someone living with MBC would be to live each day with love and appreciation. Be positive always, negative never. I know that’s not an easy task, whether or not you’re living with MBC. But trying is better than not trying at all. Cancer will not take over my thoughts, my life, or my hope.