Wife, nurse’s assistant, grandmother
ABOUT DIANE, IN HER OWN WORDS:
- I’ve been married to my husband Rich for 42 years, and we have three grown children and six beautiful grandkids.
- Everything about my life and how I looked at it changed in October of 2011, when I went in for my routine mammogram.
- I also continue working in my nurse’s assistant job—only now with a much greater appreciation for the patient on the other end of the phone.
A Little About Me
When I tell people about what I’ve been through, some of them will tell me, “Diane, you rock,” or “You’re my hero!” That’s what keeps me fighting; I’ve got so much I still want to do! But I also want to help other women in their own fight against mBC. That’s my passion.
I’ve been married to my husband Rich for 42 years, and we have three grown children. I work in a gynecologist’s office as an assistant to the nurse; going into the medical field just felt natural to me. I love it, and I love helping people.
Comprehending Breast Cancer
Life before cancer was the usual hectic, run here, run there, and run to work. But everything changed when I went in for my routine mammogram. They’d found a “highly suspicious area” in my left breast and I needed a biopsy. I immediately knew that meant the news was not gonna be good…and it wasn’t. Part of my job is calling patients and telling them they need additional views on their mammogram, or they need to see a surgeon. In a moment, I became the patient, and suddenly I knew all the first thoughts that went through their minds: This doesn’t happen to me! Get this out of me! And so much fear. I called my husband from work right after I got the diagnosis.
After we talked and he got me calmed down, I started to wonder how I was going to tell my children. I decided to tell them at the end of that week. I tried to be honest but not alarm my family, and they tried to show me they were okay. My husband was obviously very concerned, and I knew from my son’s silence that he was not okay…seeing my family’s reaction made me realize this wasn’t just my cancer…it’s everyone’s cancer.
When I went back for the biopsy, it confirmed what I already knew: I had breast cancer. The next few weeks were a parade of doctors’ visits and testing. I made all the arrangements for myself because so much of this was second nature to me from my job. I was told I could have a lumpectomy, but that wasn’t the aggressive option I wanted, so I moved forward with a bilateral mastectomy.
Thank God for my great support system! I slept on my reclining couch for the next couple of months with my husband at my side every morning to get me up, give me my pills, get me showered, and make my meals. I got great overall support from my kids, and my best friend was a great support and inspiration, too.
As I was recovering from the surgery, all the test results came back in and I got a full diagnosis of Stage IIA, HR+, HER2- breast cancer. The gene testing came back low risk for recurrence, so no chemo and no radiation, just a hormone blocker. That was fine by me! I picked myself up and moved forward. I worked on eating right, exercising, losing weight, and tried to adjust to a new normal.
Getting Diagnosed With MBC
Things were going well for a few years until I went in for my usual tests and labs. My gut said, “Something’s not right.” I called my oncologist, whom I love and trust, and asked, “What do you think?” He thought since my testing had said that I was at a low risk for recurrence, we could stick to the protocol of repeating my labs in three months. But I trusted my gut and told him I wanted a PET scan to see if my cancer had metastasized. A few days later the results came in. My gut was right: The beast was back. All the fears I’d tried so hard to put behind me came rushing in.
Learning I had cancer the first time was tough, but being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer really hit me hard. I found myself crying all the time and I just couldn’t focus or think. I was so angry! I’d done everything I was supposed to do! How had this happened?
Once again, my great support system rallied and came to my aid. Rich was with me for every chemo treatment and was there for every step of the way. When I lost my hair from chemo, we joked that at least now our hairstyles matched! My coworkers brought in meals on the days I had chemo and pitched in to help out however they could.
This time bouncing back emotionally was a lot harder, and I felt overwhelmed. I decided to seek professional help because I was crying every day and having a much harder time coping. But after a few visits with a counselor, I decided I was gonna be the boss, not cancer! I was not gonna let it stop me from living life!
My doctors wanted to go at it aggressively: Chemo, radiation, and then back on hormone therapy. I’m on what they call second-line treatment to hopefully keep the beast away for as long as possible, which includes injections of a hormonal therapy called fulvestrant. My doctor also prescribed IBRANCE, which I take for 21 days, followed by a week off. She explained the possible benefits, as well as common and serious side effects of IBRANCE, and that I’d also need to take medications to put me into menopause. I did my research and, after learning more about how the drug worked and what the trial had shown, I decided to move forward with it.
So far, it seems to be working for me, I’m doing well and my scans have looked good. I have experienced side effects, including low white blood cell counts, hair thinning, and fatigue. And in the beginning, I took some notes of things I’d notice, like how I’d get nauseous sometimes. This is my experience, and others’ could be different. Other patients may experience common side effects, including low red blood cell and low platelet counts and infections.
Making The Most Of Today
Today, I enjoy spending as much time as I can with my kids and grandkids. At the same time, our kids know that Rich and I need time to ourselves, too. On weekends, you can usually find us out on his motorcycle, with him driving and me riding on the back! I like to tell him, “I’m not going anywhere for now, because you’re not spending my 401-K without me!”
I also continue working in my nurse’s assistant job, though I’m now looking forward to retirement and continuing to enjoy my family. I realize I have a much greater appreciation for the patient on the other end of the phone, too. Today, when I have to call a patient and tell her she needs to get an additional mammogram, or needs to see a surgeon, I can tell her, “I know you’re scared. I understand the waiting and the frustration. I’ve been there, I know.”
Yes, some days are challenging. And some days I have meltdowns, or I’m tired. I find myself resting a lot more, but I pretty much feel like that mouse on the wheel: I gotta try to keep going. I’d say most of the time I’m trying to enjoy my life to the fullest, and there’s no room for negativity or negative people! That doesn’t mean I’m not realistic—I know I still have mBC, and I just hope they find the answer to breast cancer soon. In the meantime, I’ll keep making noise for more research. And I’ll keep telling other women to be proactive. Doctors are great—I work for them!—but they don’t know everything. If something doesn’t feel right, push harder and be persistent about what you want, because sometimes our guts are right. Be tough, take control of your care, and enjoy life. Don’t ever give up, because life is beautiful. And together we’re stronger!