Treatment: Stem cell transplant, radiation
My idea of relaxing is to take a long, hot bubble bath and then hop into bed and watch a little TV. However, on a Sunday evening in April of 1998, I reached over to set my alarm and felt a hard lump on the left side of my breast. I immediately examined my left breast, praying with every touch, and yelled to my husband to come to the bedroom.
My world started to fall apart and it felt like my heart stopped beating. My husband told me to contact a doctor first thing in the morning. I did, but my family physician could not see me until Wednesday. I was panicking.
Wednesday came and I sat in the doctor's office in a state of shock—words were just mumbo-jumbo to me. On Thursday I was having a mammogram and ultrasound, and on Friday I was sitting in the surgeon's office talking about a biopsy. The time between appointments, doctors and waiting for results seemed like an eternity.
The biopsy was done and everything went into slow motion for me. I do remember coming out of the surgery—still groggy, but asking my family, "Was it in my lymph nodes?" This was our biggest fear, and the answer was "Yes." I remember crying out loud—I just knew my life was over. The biopsy revealed that 14 out of 24 lymph nodes were cancerous, and I was already at stage III.
I was given a 50/50 chance of survival, but that wasn't good enough for me—I wanted to live! My oncologist, Dr. Jan Gray, suggested to me and my husband that I have a stem cell transplant. He said it would increase my chance of survival to 85 percent. At that point, we talked to Dr. Robert Rifkin at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center in Denver. What a doctor! I thank him and Dr. Gray for they hope they gave me.
Since the cancer hadn't spread to any of my vital organs, I was a candidate for the stem cell transplant. In September 1998, I had the stem cell transplant, followed in December by 30 radiation treatments. Even though I was sick and weak from the transplant and radiation, I was hoping that the worst was behind me, so I went back to work at the end of January 1999.
More problems arise
By April of that year, I started feeling very short of breath. This scared me so I went to see Dr. Gray and learned that I'd had a massive heart attack! My heart was pumping at only 62%; the front wall of my heart was damaged, the main left ventricle artery was blocked, and there was a blood clot in the point of my heart. I just knew I had a mass in my heart, not a clot. And, because of concerns about damaging my kidneys, they could not do an angioplasty.
Wow! Talk about seeing your life flash before your eyes. All I could do was cry and ask, "Why me?" First, the diagnosis of stage III cancer, with 14 out of 24 lymph nodes positive, then a heart attack with a blood clot in my heart, and now my kidneys were not healthy!
I was so sick and on so much medication, yet I worried about not being there to hold my family together through this ordeal. Even though my husband, daughter and son went in different directions as they dealt with my illness, they never left my side.
And here it is six years later and, thanks to the good Lord above, a lot of prayers and a wonderful husband, daughter, son and fantastic friends, I am here to tell my story. I am feeling great—no cancer, no problems with my heart or kidneys. I am very lucky to be alive. All of my doctors have told me that I am one in a million, and I truly believe that.