Getting Through with Support - Bearnadean Britton
Attitude: My Secret Ingredient to Survival by JoAnne George
Gaining Strength through an Unexpected Journey - Janet Kulbeck
My unexpected journey began in August 2008 when I scheduled my yearly mammogram screening. Once the technician took the initial pictures and the radiologist looked them over, they decided to take a few enlarged pictures. After comparing my current mammogram results with the previous years, it was determined that I had developed more micro calcifications. It was the suggestion of the radiologist that I have a stereotactic biopsy. While waiting for the biopsy appointment and wondering about the results, I tried to keep a positive attitude and not focus on the “what ifs.” The radiologist even told me that it would probably come back benign, so I wasn’t too worried.
A week later, my primary care physician, Dr. Wendy Rashidi, called me to schedule an appointment to go over my test results. Since I had a few other tests taken around the same time, I was still not overly concerned. On Friday, October 3, 2008, I met with Nurse Practitioner Mary Strubhar-Brown who is in charge of my care at Dr. Rashidi’s office. She gently gave me the news—my biopsy came back positive for breast cancer. The diagnosis was Multifocal Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. As I sat there in shock, she discussed what she knew of my condition and then recommended a couple of surgeons. My choice was Dr. Lori Vanyo. After a couple of hugs from Mary, I walked numbly back to my car. When the initial shock wore off, my mind started racing a mile a minute. How did this happen? Will I be o.k.? What kind of treatment will I need? How will I break the news to my family and friends?
Now the hard part began—I had to start making those difficult phone calls. The first one was to my husband who, unfortunately, could not be with me when I received the news. He answered the phone and asked how it went. “It’s cancer,” I said. “No, it can’t be,” he replied and said he’d be home as soon as possible. I had told my sisters about my biopsy but not my Mom, as I did not want to cause her any unnecessary worry. The next call was to my sister Nancy. I let her know my diagnosis, explained what it was, and told her it looked like it was caught very early. My biggest concern at this point was my Mom. “How am I going to tell Mom?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she replied. We discussed it further and decided that I should probably wait and tell her after meeting with Dr. Vanyo and obtaining additional information about the treatment. After we finished our conversation, I headed home and made the call to my two other sisters, Susan and Diane. Throughout, I tried to stay positive, informing everyone that I was going to be alright. The next call I had to make was to Rhonda, my best friend of over 30 years. My husband, sisters, and best friend were all quite shocked but were very supportive right from the start. I then turned to the internet soaking up as much information as I could find on my condition. As I read, I realized that I was very fortunate that my breast cancer was detected early, though I was still unsure of the road ahead.
On Monday, October 6, 2008, I had the hard task of telling my friends at work that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Some patients decide to tell only a few people about their diagnosis; for me, I knew I was going to need all the support I could get. I also wanted to educate my female friends about the need for yearly mammograms. As I continued to tell my family and friends about my diagnosis and treatment, I was becoming more and more confident that I would be a breast cancer survivor.
On my first visit with Dr. Vanyo, she explained the surgical procedure to my husband Scott and I in great detail. She explained that although my cancer was detected very early and that it was ranked at Stage 0, I would still need radiation treatment after my lumpectomy was performed and if the cancer had traveled to my lymph nodes, chemotherapy would also be necessary. Dr. Vanyo then explained the different types of radiation and stated I would be an excellent candidate to receive the MammoSite Targeted Radiation Therapy treatment. Mammosite, she explained, is localized and targets only the area where the lumpectomy is performed, which greatly reduces pain and fatigue. The icing on the cake was that the treatment would only last five days instead of six weeks. Dr. Vanyo referred me to Dr. Sri Gorty, a Radiation Oncologist at the Robert and Beverly Lewis Cancer Center for my radiation treatment. My husband and I met with Dr. Gorty prior to surgery to discuss the MammoSite procedure and it was decided that this was definitely the best option for me.
Of course, the most difficult part for me was still ahead—I had to tell my Mom I had breast cancer. My sisters and I decided that a scrapbooking day at my Mom’s house would be the best time to tell her. My husband and I arrived early to give her the news in person. We started talking about everyday things and then explained that we had something to tell her. “What’s wrong?” she asked. She knew something had to be wrong because my husband had come with me that morning, which was very unusual when only the girls were getting together. “Next week I am having a minor medical procedure,” I said. She asked, “What type of procedure?” I replied, “I need to have a lumpectomy.” She let out a gasp, as she immediately thought the worst. I went over, knelt down in front of her, took her hand, and explained that the cancer was detected very early and I was going to be alright. My husband and I continued to explain my diagnosis and treatment and I showed her all the information I had collected from the internet and the very informative packet of information I had received from Dr. Gorty’s office. As expected, it was the right decision to wait and tell her after I had received all of the facts especially since she did not get much sleep the few nights leading up to my surgery.
My surgery date, October 29, 2008, came quickly. My husband, Mom, two of my sisters, and one of my aunts were there for support. Once admitted, I was taken to radiology where a guide wire was inserted and I was injected with a solution that would lead Dr. Vanyo to my sentinel nodes. All I had to do now was wait for the scheduled surgery time. The surgery took approximately one hour but for my family it seemed like hours. When I awoke from surgery, I was given the news that I was so anxious to hear —the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes! While in recovery I asked two times to verify what I thought I had heard the first time. I asked a third time when I was being wheeled down the hallway to recovery where my husband was waiting for me. “It was not in my lymph nodes, right?” “No, it is not in the lymph nodes,” he said.
The MammoSite balloon was inserted ten days after surgery and about a week later, my radiation treatment began. My husband went with me for the first treatment at which time they explained the procedure to us in detail. I was then connected to a radiation machine, which injected radiation seeds through the tubes to the balloon inside me. The seeds remained there for about 10 to 15 minutes, after which time the machine removed the seeds. The treatment consisted of two treatments per day for five days with each office visit lasting approximately 30 minutes. The balloon was removed immediately after the final treatment. During the MammoSite treatment, I was able to continue with my normal daily activities, including driving myself back and forth to my treatments. I continued to work full time and even managed to finish the classes I was taking at college that semester. My family and friends were amazed at the fact that I was able to continue to work and attend classes and asked, “How do you do it?” For me, I was in adrenaline mode, and maintaining my normal routine was the best thing I could do to keep from falling apart. I did have a couple of moments when I broke down, but my husband was always there to cheer me up and keep me thinking positively.
The treatment did not cause any fatigue or pain and I was finished with all treatment by Thanksgiving. My family and I sure had a lot to be thankful for! While I was undergoing the treatments, my Mom was admitted to the hospital for a mild stroke and my sister Nancy’s home was in the area of the wild fires, which were occurring at the time. I was there to support both of them, just as they were there to support me. After my radiation treatments were completed, Dr. Vanyo referred me to Dr. Linda Bosserman, a Medical Oncologist, also at The Robert and Beverly Lewis Cancer Care Center. On my first visit, my medical history, breast cancer diagnosis, and treatment were reviewed in depth. All of my test results to that point were discussed and explained to my husband and me, and we were told that the results of the pathology testing following my lumpectomy determined that some of the cancer cells had broken through the ducts and that I was no longer at Stage 0, but was now ranked at Stage 1A. With the surgery and the radiation treatments behind me, she informed me that I was more than likely “breast cancer free.” As a precaution, it was suggested that I start a five-year regimen of Tamoxifen to lessen the likelihood of the breast cancer returning.
All of my doctors, and their staff were extremely helpful and always very nice to my husband and me, making my journey a lot easier and much less stressful. I learned a lot about myself during this unexpected journey. I found a strength in myself that I didn’t know I had and learned that with a positive attitude and the amazing support of family and friends, I could overcome any situation. If I was faced with these hard decisions again, I would absolutely select the same method of treatment and would recommend this treatment to a family member or friend who was in the same situation. My name is Janet Kulbeck and I am a breast cancer survivor thanks to the MammoSite treatment and the support of my wonderful husband, family and friends.
So Much Happened in Such a Short Time - Doreen Swaze
I guess you could say that it all began on April 25 while I was in the Carl’s Junior drive-thru with my granddaughter. There we were waiting when Joe, my husband, called to tell me he was leaving work to come home and I would need to take him to the emergency room. He complained of a headache and explained to me that certain movements made him feel as though he would faint. Quickly, I dropped my granddaughter off at school and hurried home.
After many hours of waiting we were told that he had a brain aneurysm and that if not operated on he would die. A craniotomy was scheduled for the next morning. The surgery seemed to last for an eternity. But after five and a half hours of waiting the doctor came to tell me he had made it through. I don’t believe I have ever felt such relief. But that was only the first step. Next would be a long recovery.
The morning after his surgery, I had a Dr.’s appointment with Dr. Vanyo. I had been referred to her from my gynecologist after a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound showed signs of an abnormality, which required a biopsy. There I was in her office with my follow up tests in hand wondering why now? All I wanted to do was be next to Joe in the hospital as he recovered. Dr. Vanyo met with me and told me she would need to schedule me for a biopsy to confirm but she was certain I had breast cancer.
A few days later I met Dr. Vanyo at her office again and she performed the biopsy procedure. Unfortunately, due to the stress of Joe’s situation, it was inconclusive and I was scheduled for surgery on June 3 for a Lumpectomy.
As the day of my surgery arrived I was thankful that Joe had recovered exceptionally well and was able to be with me. I had never been put under a general anesthesia and my nerves were getting the better of me. So it was good that I had Joe to lean on. Although the surgery essentially confirmed what I already knew it still wasn’t easy to grasp —I was a cancer patient?
The next step in the process was surgery, to assure the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. The surgery was successful and thankfully the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes.
Although, I met with Dr Gorty, the radiation oncologist, who would be handling my radiation treatment prior to the second surgery, it wasn’t until after that I knew I would be a good candidate for the SenoRx Contura. Because of the size of the tumor and because the cancer had not spread, I was able to have this type of a treatment option. I chose SenoRx Contura for all intents and purposes because of my work schedule. I just could not continue to be off work. With Joe having been out of work for a month and just starting back and my work schedule having been off because of doctors’ appointments and Joe’s illness the bills were piling up. I knew that SenoRx Contura was the best option for me because it would be a five day treatment of radiation as opposed to traditional radiation that could last more than a month.
It was all handled in the doctor’s office. I went in on a Thursday to Dr. Vanyo’s office, and they inserted the SenoRx Contura balloon catheter into my breast. There was some discomfort during the insertion, but it was bearable. I got a little nervous over the weekend, when there was quite a lot of drainage from the insert wound, but found out later this was normal and all was fine.
The following Monday morning I went to the Cancer Care Center to see Dr Gorty. They performed a CAT scan; I believe to measure the position of the balloon catheter. They would use this information to calculate how much radiation would be given to me. This would be done every morning and every afternoon when I arrived for the radiation. The radiation would last around 10 minutes.
At the afternoon session of my Friday visit they removed the SenoRx Contura balloon catheter. Although not unbearable, it was slightly painful. As they removed the tube there was a burning sensation that lasted about a minute. The wounds have since healed nicely.
It’s hard for me to imagine that so much has happened it such a short amount of time but here I am today—I am a cancer survivor!
Living Life with No Regrets by Tina Carden
It was May, 2008 and I was standing at Hopi Point at the rim of the Grand Canyon enjoying the morning sunrise with friends and I looked forward to the summer being filled with weekend trips up the coast, hiking, camping, and landscaping the yard. But soon after that I received the WAKE UP call of my life… My breast cancer journey began on June 12, 2008 when I was diagnosed.
After having a routine breast exam, Dr Ameeri found a small lump and sent me in for a mammogram which detected a small tumor. Due to the density of the tissue I was given an ultrasound, and looked like it was possibly cancerous. A needle biopsy was done to confirm the suspicion.
The results took three days so I went back to work and tried to stay positive. Three days later I received a phone call from the doctor’s office telling me to come in and bring a friend.
My dear friend Lila met me at the doctor’s office and the look on Dr. Ameeri’s face told me it was cancerous but in my mind I wondered how bad it was. I could feel my eyes starting to water with tears of fear as I heard those words, "You have breast cancer." I began to cry as they both embraced me and said everything would be ok. My life was about to change in many ways. After watching my sister fight breast cancer over 15 years ago at the age of 30, I knew with new and more effective treatments I could beat this. When I arrived at my parent’s house to tell them the results we all cried together and then called the rest of the family to let them know. They all told me not to worry about anything and that they would all pull together to do whatever needed to be done. My Mom and Stepdad Frank assured me that they would take care of me. They are both retired and have busy lives of there own which they unselfishly put on hold to help me. There is nothing like having your Mother at your side during your most difficult times—I am so grateful she is here.
I have always been an independent women, so having so many come forward to help me with housework, shopping, cooking and taking care of me has been very humbling. The flowers, emails, cards, phone calls, firewood delivery, visits, and short day trips just to get out to breath some fresh air from those who truly care was overwhelming and made me realize even more than before the special people I have in my life.
Since my sister had already gone through what I was about to face, she bought me a Journal and suggested I start journaling. What a fantastic idea! It not only helped me release some anxiety but gave me a place to keep my daily feelings, thoughts, and treatment info. I will always remember writing the first few words, "God, Family and Friends will help me get through this" - and so I began journaling.
The next step on this journey was to see my surgeon, Dr. Vanyo. From the moment she walked into the room I had a good feeling about her. She just seemed to be very down to earth and explained everything in detail.
Having my sister there with me gave me a sense of calmness. Dr. Vanyo suggested a Lumpectomy and explained that due to the size of the tumor, this would be best for me. A few weeks after the surgery, Dr. Vanyo told me I had Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma with no affected lymph nodes.
That was better news that I thought, but it would still require Chemotherapy. Again I felt the anxiety of the unknown. She gave me a list of oncologists at The Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center and I chose Dr. Chanduri. I met with her and she explained the whole procedure and how the chemo works. Due to the stage and type of the cancer she recommended eight rounds of Chemotherapy. The first four would be a combo of Adriamyacin and Cytoxin followed by four rounds of Taxol. I was feeling overwhelmed with fear and I was so grateful my parents were there with me. Three sets of ears were better than one since I had probably only absorbed less than half of what the Doctor said. I knew this was going to take every bit of courage I had to get through this.
Shortly after that I met Martha Osborne, the Breast Health Nurse. She was like seeing a bright sunshine shining through the darkest of clouds.
She sat with me and my parents and explained in detail what to expect, both good and bad, and I realized it was important to have a good attitude to get through this. Martha quickly became and would continue to be my breath of fresh air. I read all of the literature she gave me and more. I wanted to know as much as I could about this cancer and the side effects. After my surgery I attended a function called Power of Pink in Claremont. I sat with my Breast Cancer sisters and realized I wasn’t in this alone. They were living proof that this could be beat - What a powerful experience! There, I met Karen who encouraged me to attend the support group at the Center and it was one of the best things I could possibly do for myself. I met women who went through the treatments over 15 yrs ago and were still going strong with no recurrence. This gave me hope as we shared our journey with each other.
I then had a Medi-port put in which would make the administering of chemo easier. This wasn’t the most appealing thing, as it stuck out above the skin in my chest, but if it was going to make things easier then I was for it. So many things were coming at me so quickly and hearing medical terms I had never heard of before filled me with anxiety. I have always thought of myself as a strong woman but this was going to be my life’s biggest challenge. It was time to just start living "One Day at a Time" and put the rest in God’s hands.
Knowing the possibility of losing my hair, I decided to cut it to just above my shoulders. It was a cute, sassy, stylish look and it was me.
Martha helped me get set up for a wig fitting at the Center and I got the most awesome wig. It was so close to my existing hair cut that you could hardly tell it was wig. Now I was prepared to lose my hair.
Before I began my chemo treatments my parents and I made a plan to spend the first week at my house in Hesperia right after the treatment so I could be comfortable at my home. Then we would spend the next week and a half at their house in Whittier—we would be a team for the next eight months.
My first chemo was probably the toughest as I was dealing with the unexpected. I felt the anxiety building before I even walked into the building. Breathing deeply and praying helped release some of the anxiety. After seeing Dr Chanduri, her nurse, Maria walked me into the infusion room to begin my first treatment. She was so caring and full of compassion and it gave me a sense of calmness. Anitha (clinic coordinator) was so friendly and explained everything they were going to do—before I knew it the chemo was started. I now knew what my sister had went through and how she felt. Courage has a whole different meaning to me now. My first experience wasn’t a good one as the chemo made me very sick and the anti nausea drug wasn’t the right one for me. So I started Zofran which worked much better and helped me through what felt like the flu 50 times over.
I remember lying in bed wondering if I would ever make it through all the treatments as the first one was rough. Next, I had to take shots for seven days to help build my immune system. They were nothing compared to the chemo. My stepdaughter, who is a nurse, was kind enough to come by each morning before going to work to give me the shots. I hadn’t talked to her for almost five years due to a divorce, so this was a nice way to rekindle our friendship.
The first two weeks after chemo were the toughest and then a week of relief. Just about the time I started to feel ok it was time for the next round of chemo. At least now I knew what to expect from the next three treatments. A few days before the treatment I spent time at the beach to clear my mind and meditate, basically preparing myself for the next one. The sound of the waves and the feel of the warm sand gave me peace of mind. I remember about a week after my second chemo my hair began to come out and I remember Martha telling me that I needed to be in control of what was happening, so I had a good cry and went to have my head shaved. It wasn’t as devastating as I thought it would be but I did miss my hair. It’s a woman thing. Somehow, having Cancer makes you a stronger person inside.
I made it through the first four rounds of chemo, and it was now time to start the second set of four with Taxol. It was less brutal, in the sense I didn’t feel like I had the stomach flu, I just had the achy bones and muscles. This made it sometimes hard to walk or lay down for any length of time—but it was tolerable. I no longer had the shots to worry about. Thank God! I was just dealing with the neuropathy and fatigue.
Finally on Dec 22nd I finished my last chemo! What a great Christmas gift! I am fortunate to have had such a caring medical team, family and friends to support me.
Now it was time to let my body heal and rest to regain the strength I lost during the treatments. I had about four weeks or so before I would begin 35 days of radiation so I took a much deserved trip to Hawaii with some family. We spent a very relaxing week enjoying the beautiful shoreline and crystal clear waters of Waikiki Beach. For the first time in about six months I could actually get out and find a sense of normalcy. I had a special surprise in Hawaii; two sea turtles had beached themselves on the north shore. The marine biologists gave me the opportunity to get close enough to get a nice picture with them. That made the trip for me. This trip was like the calm after the storm.
I decided to do the Genetic testing, if for nothing else my own peace of mind. The results came back negative and I’m glad, just a little baffled by all of this. My personal opinion is that cancer is caused by the pollution and the pesticides used on our food.
A week after my trip, I met with Dr. Rao, my radiation oncologist and began my radiation treatments to be done everyday except Saturday and Sunday. First they marked the area to be treated with permanent marker. Honestly, I looked like a road map!
The radiation staff was so friendly and full of compassion and that set me at ease after hearing horror stories about burning and blistering. I was told to use Aloe Vera to prep my skin for the radiation. That was great advice! Each day I made up my mind to be happy about being alive and greeted the staff with a friendly hello and smile. They deserved that, at least. About half way through my scheduled treatments Martha offered me a chance to attend a "Living Well After Cancer" class at the Claremont Club to help me rebuild my body. WOW! What a great opportunity! So I signed up with seven other ladies and we attended classes on Tuesday and Thursday with our personal trainer Antoinette.
She is awesome and compassionate in knowing the struggle we have all been through with this disease. She has created a very doable program for us all. In the beginning I wasn’t sure I could do this in the middle of my radiation treatments, but with Pilates, yoga, balance and weight lifting my body is starting to reap the rewards of this program.
After seeing the radiation team everyday, I had mixed feelings on my last day just as I did when chemo ended. I was glad to be finished but I would definitely miss seeing them each day. I sure appreciated Bernitta in the lab—she really knows her stuff when it comes to drawing blood! Her friendliness and positive attitude can brighten anyone’s day.
It has now been a month since my last radiation treatment and I am starting to feel the fatigue more and more. This too, shall pass in time. This has been quite an experience and one I hope to never revisit.
I feel like one of the lucky ones as I am here to share my story. The words ‘Hope’ and ‘Courage’ have a whole different meaning to me now.
Life is short; you can’t wait to do the things that mean the most to you. I’m living life with no regrets!
Today is a Gift by Mary Jane Waldron
During our wonderful cruise to Alaska in September of 2006, I couldn’t understand why I was so very tired. I kept asking my husband, Mel, ‘why am I so tired? - It’s not like me!’ One week after returning home I found a lump in my left breast. Needless to say, we were devastated, but we knew we had to see the doctor ASAP. After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, I was told it was cancer.
Those were words I never wanted to hear, and after we got over the initial shock we decided to fight this with everything we had. By ‘we’ I mean my husband of 53 years and me, because we are a team and haven’t been apart since marrying. I first saw Dr. Vanyo, who in turn, sent me to Dr. Chanduri. Both doctors felt I was a candidate for neoadjuvant treatment. My tumor was large and I would have needed a mastectomy, but with neoadjuvant chemotherapy before surgery there was a chance it would shrink the tumor so I could have a lumpectomy. After some thought, we felt it made good sense to try this approach.
I had eight cycles of chemo and found it not as difficult as I anticipated. I felt tired, strange and generally not good the first week after chemo, but each week got better. I had no nausea due to the new medication now available to prevent it. The most traumatic result of chemo was the loss of my hair. Whoever said "bald is beautiful" did not see me! I was not a pretty sight. The Cancer Care Center provided me with a cute short wig in dark red and it was like a life saver. My family thought it looked so good I should dye my own hair red (when it comes back, of course).
I completed six months of chemo on March 26th and was scheduled for a lumpectomy on May 1st. When Dr. Vanyo did the surgery my tumor was completely gone! Talk about success! I put myself in my doctors’ hands and could not have asked for a better outcome. Both Dr. Chanduri and Dr. Vanyo were elated, as only three other patients to date have had such great results.
Looking back on this journey I can hardly believe what has transpired. It has been a roller coaster ride from the depths of despair to total elation. I never let myself feel I would not beat this and I feel a positive attitude is half the battle. Family, prayer, attitude and a sense of humor are deciding factors in getting well. My wonderful husband and I have raised three sons; Steve, Gregg and Michael in the home we have lived in for 42 years. With three sons, daughters’ in-law and six grandchildren there is never a dull moment! Steve is engaged to Wendy Wilkenson and we are hoping for a wedding soon. Steve’s two children, Alexandria (Alex) 16 and Andrew 10 will then have a new step-sister, Alexa who is 14. Gregg and his wife Jennifer live in Phoenix and they have, Lacey 21 and Spencer 16. Michael and Rose live in Beaumont and have two sons, Ryan 14 and Zachary 12. We are so proud of our family and love to spend time together. They were all so supportive during my treatments.
Mel and I have taken trips to Mexico, Hawaii, New Orleans (one of our favorites as we love Jazz) and several other places—we also love to go on cruises. We have cruised to the Caribbean and Alaska and hope to go again soon. Probably our favorite thing to do is to go to Las Vegas and Laughlin, as playing the slot machines always makes me happy. My husband has been my rock through all of this. He has been by my side every step of the way. He got dishpan hands, vacuumed, made beds, cooked and took such loving care of me during this journey. He read everything he could about my type of cancer and searched the internet for nutritional information. I now call him the ‘food police’ because he watches everything I eat!
I have made so many new friends along this journey and have never met so many positive people. No matter what they are going thru, or will have to go thru, they seem to always have a smile. I have gained strength from each one I have met and I pray for each of them. I especially pray for the young mothers who have cancer while trying to raise a family. I feel blessed that my cancer did not come until late in life.
I was honored to be a speaker at this year’s Light of Hope—what an inspiration event. I will forever be indebted to the Center, the Doctors, Nurses, Martha and everyone involved in the care of patients. I know of no better place to receive treatment with such loving, caring people. I hope to become a volunteer in the future so I can, in some small way, contribute to others. My final thought—Yesterday is the past…Tomorrow is the future…Today is a gift…That’s why they call it the present!
A Teachers Lesson
Interview with Debbie Eyer
Debbie Eyer is 43 years old. She had no family history of cancer, did monthly breast self-exams and had a mammogram in February 1999. Statistically, her chances of getting breast cancer were slim. But in April, 1999 she found a lump.
Her primary care physician didn't return her phone message. By the time she connected with the doctor and got an appointment, six weeks had passed and the lump had tripled in size. A needle biopsy was performed a couple of weeks later, after the antibiotics that she was prescribed didn't made the lump go away.
Unfortunately, this lump did not have fluid in it, so another mammogram and ultra-sound needed to be ordered before a referral to a surgeon could be requested. Both the mammogram and ultra-sound showed the lump, but cancer cells were not evident. It took five weeks to get an appointment with a surgeon.
Debbie is fortunate to have a sister who is a nurse in Radiation Oncology (our very own Shellee Reese). Her sister accompanied her to the appointment with the surgeon. It was decided that an incisional biopsy would be performed. Unfortunately, the biopsy revealed the cancer.
The surgeons words, "Well, you have cancer," did not come as a great shock, as Debbie knew there was something definitely wrong. She was more frustrated that she was not being taken seriously. The surgeon stated she needed a mastectomy due to the size of tumor. She left his office in a daze, not really understanding the implications, as the surgeon didn't explain much.
An Internet search helped her form a list of questions to ask her doctor. Debbie is a teacher at Landmark Middle School in Moreno Valley. She teaches band to 6, 7 and 8th graders. Knowledge means a lot to her. Her quest to learn about her disease and impending treatment was squelched by her surgeon, as he felt she didn't need to confuse herself with all the information that is available on the subject. But Debbie needed knowledge. Her surgeon's insistence that the mastectomy needed to be scheduled immediately, due to the tumor's rapid growth, frightened her into agreeing before getting a second opinion.
On August 4, she had the surgery. During the time that Debbie healed from her surgery, her sister untangled the HMO system, enabling her to have her medical oncology appointment here at the Center with Dr. Linda Bosserman. She knew she would feel comfortable here, as Dr. Bosserman encouraged questions, made notes for her to take home, and established time frames for treatment.
From the very first day of school, she told her students about her breast cancer and what sort of treatment she would be having. She didn't want her students to be unaware of what was happening, and used her own story to educate them on cancer. "I want my kids to know you can have cancer and live," she said.
Her first chemotherapy treatment was the second week of September, on a Friday. Not knowing exactly how the chemo would affect her, she was a little nervous for her first treatment. But, feeling well, she had spaghetti for dinner and went to a football game that evening. Saturday was spent doing yard and house work. Sunday she felt tired, and Monday, in retrospect, she should have stayed home, but she went in to work.
She has found her students, their parents, her co-workers, and principal all to be immensely supportive. "Being very up-front with people and giving them all the details of what's happening makes it easier for others to understand and support me," she explained. When she realized her hair would fall out, she had an idea. Her students were participating with her through all of this process, but they had no control over any aspect of it. So, after asking permission from her principal, she sold raffle tickets for 50 cents apiece and the winner would be allowed to shave her head during a lunch time! Well, $475 was raised (to help support the band program) and the students truly felt a part of her experience.
On September 20, Bryce Parker, the lucky winner, shaved her head! "The idea was to make it fun, and now the kids are very accepting of my bald head," Debbie stated. After finishing her last chemotherapy treatment in February, she will begin radiation treatments which will be followed by a trip to Branson, Missouri with the band (which is partially funded by the money raised in the raffle)!
Debbie's outlook on life and ability to take life's challenges in stride is truly amazing. She uses a large calendar to track the days she feels good and bad or needs to call in sick to work. Whenever she feels that things are going rough, she just looks as at her calendar to see exactly how many times it has been necessary to miss teaching due to her treatment. The reality of it only being a few days total, helps her keep her positive perspective! She also uses the calendar as a way to take her treatment in manageable "chunks" of time. The enormity of diagnosis and treatment is minimized when it is looked at in pieces of time.
"I want to thank my best friend, Terri Morrow, my students, the staff, and the teacher in the district who donated sick days for their support of me during this experience. A big thanks to Dr. Bosserman's office and the chemo nurses for the fun time!! And a very special thanks to my sister for her knowledge and support and the rest of my family for their support and love."
This experience has taught Debbie a few things, and she would like to let others know that they should always get a second opinion and whenever possible, have fun! We can all learn a lot from Debbie Eyer.
Happy to be Alive!
As told by Dora Morales
In 1995 when Dora Morales was 26 years old and expecting her second child, she noticed a lump in her breast. Doctors assured her that it was probably just a blocked milk duct and nothing to be concerned about.
When Dora's son, George, was eight months old, she stopped breast-feeding and began feeling sharp pains where the lump was located. She went to the clinic where she received her medical care. They ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. A week later she received a letter that stated the tests were inconclusive and she should have follow-up tests in three months. Because her pains had been getting worse, Dora immediately went back to the clinic who ordered the tests. After seeing another doctor, she was referred to USC County Hospital for a needle biopsy. As soon as the procedure was over, the cells were tested and the doctor told her that she had cancer.
"I cried for two weeks," Dora recalls. This young mother had many things to contend with. She needed to apply for Medi-Cal insurance and she needed information and support. Her mother, Tita and father, Lalo were in Guatemala, along with her sister Brenda. Although she has friends and other family living in the United States, her greatest support came from her husband, Jorge. He had an aunt who had breast cancer and was a 27 year survivor, so he had great confidence that Dora would get better.
It wasn't until April 1, 1997 that she had a lumpectomy to determine the type and stage of her cancer. Only one lymph node showed cancer cells. Dora then called the American Cancer Society who connected her to another Spanish speaking breast cancer survivor. That woman told Dora about the Cancer Care Center's library and all the information that was available. When she came to the Library, she saw that there were doctors here and as soon as she received her Medi-Cal insurance, she saw Dr. Douglas Blayney.
Shortly thereafter she had a mastectomy. During the next few months, Dora had four cycles of chemotherapy. She also started attending the Breast Cancer Support Group and saw Susan Carter, Ph.D., for some psycho-social counseling. "Going to the support group and seeing Dr. Carter made me realize that I wasn't dying - I just have to work harder to be here." She still attends the group when she feels a little depressed because it makes her feel better.
Her mom was able to come for a visit and help with her young children. At that time her daughter, Estefanie, was 3 years old and George was only a 1 year old toddler. She also received loving support from her mother-in-law, Raquel, her brother Carlos and her neighbor Lennor. "Lennor called me on the phone every morning to see how I was and would invite me to have coffee with her." "My husband was so wonderful. As soon as I would start to feel better after my treatment, he would take me out, even if I didn't want to go at first. Sometimes it was just for a car ride, but he made sure I felt better. He loves me, says I'm pretty and makes me laugh."
In August 1998, Dora was able to make a trip back to Guatemala. She loved seeing all her family and old friends. When she had last been to Guatemala, she had long straight hair and a few extra pounds. This trip, some people didn't even recognize her - she was thin and had short curly hair! Her loved ones welcomed her and she felt very happy to be alive.
She now has a closer relationship with her father. He is a 22 year survivor of bone cancer and he too, had chemotherapy. They now have more to talk about, together. Her children are now 5 and 7. They have seen Dora's scar. It seems very natural to them. "Estefanie wondered if she would only have one breast too, but I explained that she would grow up and have two! Cancer is still a big word in our family, but my kids know that I am OK now." The children are very comfortable coming to the Center with their mom. "It feels like home to them and they know everyone."
Dora feels it was a miracle that she had so many people help her through this crisis. She's very grateful to Dr. Blayney and his nurse, Nancy Thompson. "Nancy was so kind and patient with me when she gave me chemotherapy." She is also thankful for Martha Osborne and the breast cancer support group who have helped her so much. She feels that everyone at the Center is now a part of her family.
She sees Dr. Blayney every three months for a follow-up and is awaiting new health insurance coverage so she can have breast reconstruction surgery. With sparkling eyes and a huge grin, Dora looks very happy!
By Veronica Madrid
At my annual well-woman exam last year, I explained to the doctor my familyhistory of breast cancer. She asked if I regularly did self-exams. I really hadn¹t started doing them since I was only 37, so she taught me. While she was examining me she found a lump underneath my left arm. I was scheduled for a biopsy, but that doctor thought I just had a pulled muscle and told me to come back in six months.
I could feel the lump grow and by the time I got all the referrals (I have Kaiser Insurance) the six months had passed. On a Monday in May 2002, I went to another doctor for the biopsy. By Wednesday, I was called at home and told I had breast cancer and that Friday I had a mastectomy. I was only 37 years old.
It all happened so fast! When I looked in the mirror, I didn¹t even recognize myself. My mastectomy was followed by eight sessions of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. I struggled through the chemo. The first two treatments ended with me in the ER and being admitted to Kaiser. All I could do was live just one day at time.
It was so hard on my family to see me, the strong one, in need of their care. Radiation at the Cancer Care Center was a piece-of-cake compared to chemo! I met so many wonderful women going through the same thing I was going through. We had our own 'mini' support group in the waiting room and became very close. We looked forward to seeing each other every day!
I could never have got through this journey without all the loving support from my husband, Ray and children Melonie (21 years old) and Adam (17 years old). The strong spiritual foundation we gave our children helped them cling to God when they couldn¹t cling to me for support. My unwavering faith in God has given me strength and courage throughout this ordeal. I have also had wonderfully loving friends and family who supported and nurtured me.
Before this experience, I could always count on my smile or charm to get me what or where I needed to be. My physical appearance has changed so much, but I feel my heart, my spirit, and soul are the same- maybe even better than before. Maybe the Lord wants me to learn that beauty is vain and there is so much more to a person than the outside appearance. Ray reassured me that I would always be beautiful in his eyes. His loving tenderness made me feel whole again.
My friend Christina chronicled my journey in a photograph essay titled "Cancer Sucks - One Woman's Journey." These photos were on display at Azusa Pacific University's Fire Hall Gallery last December. I did not intend to have my pictures displayed in an art gallery. They were to be looked at once, put in a shoebox, and tucked away, not to be seen until sometime later when my health was restored. If a trial was to come my way, I could dust off the old show box and be reminded of just how far God brought me. When Christina heard my idea for documenting this journey, I don't think either one of us had any idea what these photos would covey.
I think we both would agree jut how pleased we are that they reveal exactly what God intended; love, tenderness, strength, and a future, but most of all - hope. I donated these pictures to the Cancer Care Center after completing my radiation treatments. They were displayed at their 10th Anniversary celebration. Now they are hung outside the Breast Health Center across from the Breast Health Nurses office. I think Christina¹s photos of my journey are very revealing and captured the spirit and emotion I felt. I used quotes and biblical scriptures to title each photo. I wanted people to know that it¹s not just a physical battle, but it's a spiritual battle, too.
I am so relieved to have my treatment completed, but I know I still have much to go through like reconstruction surgery; CAT scans, and doctors appointments. God keeps surprising me with his power and the strength I receive. I have been blessed so abundantly throughout this time, it almost doesn't even seem painful anymore. So many blessings have been revealed. My family has been so supportive, especially my brothers.
I have been asked to reach others by telling my story. I have spoken about my journey to groups of women, had an article written about the photos in the newspaper, been a model in a fashion show and look forward to speaking at Light of Hope! The journey continues...
There is a Rainbow After Every Storm...
By Raquel C. Garay
In 1966, a month after turning 40 years old, my mother, Caridad, felt a small lump on her left breast, the result being a malignant tumor. With five children to raise, she did not want to die, leaving them alone. During those years, the surgical procedures were not as advanced as they are today. At that time, she did not receive any chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
In July 1979 due to civil war in Nicaragua, my brothers and I had to leave the country. My parents stayed. A week after our departure, my mother experienced the same nightmare of 13 years earlier, when she felt a small lump now on her right breast. Dr. Carcamo who operated her the first time, gave her the bad news: it was cancer. My mother is devoted to “Jesus Sacred Heart,” and she has a strong character. She did not hesitate to have a second mastectomy. This time, after surgery she received chemotherapy and radiation.
My brother Jose and I returned to our country to take care of her. A second battle had been won and Hope succeeded. A couple of years later we all immigrated to the United States. In April 1996 she again did not feel well. After many tests, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had surgery in May of that year. Dr. Hernandez (an angel on earth from Hospital California in Los Angeles) recommended nine cycles of chemotherapy. Her treatments required that she stay in the hospital once every three weeks, for seven hours. After her treatments, she did not experience any side effects. She was able to attend her ceramic classes and bake her pineapple pies back at home. Her hair came out completely. She never wore a wig. She continued taking her classes, going bald in the bus. She also attended a wedding of her granddaughter’s friend in San Francisco.
In September 1999, it was my turn. I felt a lump in my right breast. The mammogram and biopsy were conclusive: it was cancer. I learned for myself the bravery and faith shown by my mother on her three previous occurrences. Two weeks later I had a mastectomy and had to take four cycles of chemotherapy. God loves unconditionally, and he presents us with blessings and hard tests.
A month after my surgery my father, Jose, fainted while grocery shopping. He was taken to the hospital, and after numerous tests and a MRI it was found that he had a brain tumor. I already had taken my first cycle of chemo. When my dad was released from the hospital I accompanied him to obtain the test results, as he did not speak English. The doctor informed me that he had a Glioblastoma (an incurable brain tumor) and only had six months left to live. He had to take chemotherapy and radiation. Even now I do not know how I was able to stay calm. I did not tell my dad what the doctor said. It was too hard for me to do that. Unfortunately, our treatments coincided every other week.
For my 14 year old daughter, Raquel Alexandra, this was a challenging experience, but helped her in getting more mature. She promised her grandpa to get good grades and she did. She took care of us with deep love. Every weekend our family gathered in our house. We barbecued and shared memories of our childhood. The laughs of our cousins, grandkids and friends around us, were our best medicine.
I took four cycles of chemotherapy. My dad had only three cycles and 16 radiation treatments. My father passed away on June 17 of 2000. He was 75 years old. He touched deeply, many people during his lifetime. He was friendly, outgoing, had a noble heart and was the best human being. During this challenging time we were touched by many special people. Mrs. Lucrecia Levitt, who is my Mother’s best friend, Mercedes Borgen who, without knowing me, used to call us every week from San Francisco and our auntie Rosita (95 years old) who knitted me a blanket to warm me up during the winter. I have much gratitude to my coworkers and friends from the bank that supported and prayed for us. I feel blessed in having my family (my sister Cary, my brothers; Danilo, Jose and Ronald and all their families). Their support, love and positive attitude were decisive in getting through this moment.
My mother Caridad is my hero. I admire and love her for her strength. Actually, I am looking forward in working as a volunteer with children who have cancer or with a Hispanic group at the Cancer Center. Every day is a miracle. And there is a rainbow after every storm.
The Story of Two Friends
Linda Dixon and Linda Mundy
Linda Mundy on left, Linda Dixon on right (February 2001)
The year 2000 started out to be a wonderful year. Two of my nieces were married during the summer and my first grandchild was due to be born the end of August. Kristopher arrived right on his due date – August 24th. My husband of 31 years, Craig, and I flew up to Seattle for four days to meet our new grandson. We had a wonderful visit!
I work for a nearby school district and new school year started on Tuesday, September 5th. The next week, on September 14th, I went in for my yearly mammogram. The following Monday, September 18th, when I got home from work there was a message on my answering machine to call back Hill Breast Center, as they saw something suspicious and wanted to do a sonogram on Thursday. I called them back made an appointment for September 21st.
During the previous 10 years I had been called back two other times for a sonogram – being told I had cystic breasts – so I wasn’t overly concerned and didn’t have anyone accompany me on the 21st. When I went in they did two additional x-ray views of my right breast followed by a sonogram. The technician went out of the room and returned with the doctor.
He kindly, but mater-of-factly told me the x-ray and sonogram looked suspicious and for me to expect a malignancy. I couldn’t believe my ears! He said that they had authorization to do a needle core biopsy while I was there. He removed 3-4 small samples – they were in a small jar and he again said he was fairly positive that I would need to expect a malignancy.
I didn’t even cry, I was so shocked. The only person I told was my husband, and the next day I went to work in a daze. When I got home from work at 2:00 pm – I called the doctor at his office and he said to me, “I’m sorry dear, but there is a malignancy.” Panic now was beginning to set in! I called my primary care doctor’s office and they were already closed for the weekend. I didn’t know what to do.
This day, September 22nd was my sister’s birthday and I decided to wait until Sunday to tell our six children, my parents and other friends and family members. It was very hard and sad telling our loved ones such news. They were all so heart broken. But it was a comfort to me to receive their love and support. I was able to see a surgeon the following week and had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection on October 5th.
My 50th birthday was on October 10th – I wasn’t happy about turning 50 – but now felt my priorities changing – I had a new grandson; my youngest child was just turning 14. I had a lot to live for! On October 12th my husband and I went in to have the bandages and drain removed and hear the pathology and lab results. This was gong to be a tougher battle than I had imagined!
First, out of the 14 lymph nodes removed – one tested positive – and I knew that meant I needed to go through chemo. I was so sad! Second, instead of finding one pea-sized tumor that the mammogram and sonogram showed – the surgeon found three pea sized tumors and another piece of suspicious tissue that also was malignant. I was shocked and scared!
He said I had lobular cancer – which is slow grown. (I probably have had this for 2-3 years or longer) He also said I had both infiltrating carcinoma and carcinoma in-situ and that he did not get clean margins during the lumpectomy. Without any hesitation I, along with my husband, decided to have a mastectomy. My surgery was on November 15th. I knew I wanted reconstruction, and a tissue expander was implanted at this time. I was also put on the drug Tamoxifen, which suppresses estrogen and I expect to take it for five years.
My first visit to the Pomona Valley Hospital Cancer Care Center was in early November, 2000. I attended a morning support group and met Martha Osborn, the Center’s Breast Cancer Nurse Educator, for the first time. I immediately like her – she was so understanding and supportive and such a good listener! The next week I began attending the Monday evening support group. I felt so much peace and hope from the women who shared their experiences, and I benefited from the magazines and nutrition and health information sheets that are handed out.
I felt God’s peace and had a wonderful Christmas season with my husband and family. My little grandson came down to California for a visit and that really cheered me up! I began chemo in late January and had four cycles of CAF. I got pretty ill with my first and fourth chemo treatments. The hardest part for me was losing my hair – that was even harder than losing my breast. I bought a couple of nice wigs and that helped my self-esteem a great deal.
I didn’t need radiation – but did continue to have saline injected into the tissue expander to stretch my skin. In May 2001 I told my doctor that I wanted a silicone breast implant – which started me off on a summer filled with confusion and frustration. It seems my doctor wasn’t a plastic surgeon, as I thought he was, but was a cosmetic surgeon. I had to wait and get a referral to a Plastic Surgeon who could do the implant legally.
After finally getting authorization, I had a breast lift on my left breast on September 24, 2001 and will finally get my implant on October 18th. The nipple reconstruction will probably be in December. In my Christmas 2000 newsletter that I sent out with my Christmas cards, I shared with my friends and loved ones about my cancer diagnosis and in late January my childhood and high school friend, Linda Mundy, called me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection two days before.
I was so sad for her, knowing how heartbroken she and her family were! I went to see Linda on February 5th – which turned out to be the day before my hair started falling out. It was wonderful visiting with Linda and sharing together our experiences. I remember thinking how “lucky” Linda was – her lymph nodes were all clear and they got clean margins in her lumpectomy. But she did decide to go through chemo because of her tumor size and also had to undergo radiation and developed lymphodema, a swelling disorder associated with the lymph node dissection. So, she’s been through a lot!
I invited Linda to go with me to the gift shop and the Cancer Care Center one day after lunch in February. I introduced her to Martha and encouraged Linda to come to the Monday evening support group. In March, Linda and I were able to attend the “Look Good…Feel Better” make up class together at the Cancer Care Center. We had a lot of fun putting on make up and trying on wigs. Linda and I continue to attend the evening support group whenever we can.
We both hope we can help other ladies by sharing what we’ve been through. It has been a blessing sharing this trauma with a friend - especially during the chemo. We called each other often to encourage and check-up on each other. I have a strong belief that god has His hand on my life. I am thankful that my cancer was found at an early stage and that I have a good prognosis.
Finally, I’m so thankful to have such a supportive and loving husband and family and for my friends. Praise The Lord!
In the spring of 2000 I became aware of two lumps in my left breast. I wasn’t really alarmed because over my previous 49 years I had experienced an occasional fibrocystic lump, which had always eventually left. It did occur to me that I was due for my annual exam, so I scheduled an OB/GYN check-up at Magan Clinic.
I saw the doctor in March and he ordered a mammogram, instructing me that it was probably fibrocystic again and if the mammogram came back clear, he’d “see me in a year.” It did come back clear and I went on with my busy life as a wife and mother of two. Somewhere in mid-summer I noted that one lump and disappeared and I felt that the other would soon do the same. Right about this time I was offered a temporary assignment as a full time instructor and was asked to assume the role of Program coordinator for the dental assisting department at Chaffey College, where I had taught part-time for the previous 18 years.
I felt the time was right and accepted; thus began the whirlwind of preparing for the new 2000-2001 school year, as well as my young daughter’s 6th grade year, and my older daughter’s senior year of college! Luckily I have a very supportive and self sufficient husband. By the time I came up for air it was late fall and I noticed that the other lump was still there. I decided to make an appointment for a re-check, just to be safe, and was able to see a new OB/GYN, who took a look and promptly supported my inquiry as to what this was. In fact she had me make an appointment at Magan’s Radiology department immediately, and told me to also make an appointment with the surgeon, Dr. Kutner, for two weeks after, and have him do the evaluation.
I did as told, having the sonogram the next week. I was impressed when the technician came back in the room and told me the radiologist didn’t feel he’d seen enough, so I was getting squeezed in next door (no pun intended) for a mammogram. That night my new doctor called me at home and told me the radiologist was concerned and wanted me to see a surgeon, to which I replied, “I have my appointment in two weeks, as you asked.” At that point she informed me that they had just made me an appointment for two days hence.
OK, now I was getting a little bit nervous. To take my mind off things I opened some Christmas mail and found my annual newsletter from my good friend Linda Dixon. As I read, I couldn’t believe my eyes…she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer! I decided to wait before calling her, so I could tell her I was fine, and see how I could help her.
Well, the whirlwind began. I saw the surgeon, who ordered a biopsy, which I learned the next week, with my husband at my side, was positive. We were both stunned, and as he drove us home I cried under the rainy skies, that mid-January day. I gathered the strength to finally pick up the phone and call my friend Linda, and though we’d both been too busy to meet very often over the recent years, we found ourselves as close as ever, and a blessing to each other.
Linda has been a wonderful, supportive friend, and traveling companion, as we’ve journeyed through our experiences. I mentioned that I feel very blessed, starting with that little voice inside that led me to get re-checked, because if I had waited until the following March, as the first doctor directed, I may not have been as lucky as I was. I wound up having a 4 cm. Tumor, with clear margins and negative lymph nodes. If I had waited the additional six months, I think it likely could have progressed. I’m glad I trusted my instincts and I’m grateful that the radiologist wanted a better look than the sonogram had given, or the tumor could have been missed a second time.
I was happy to receive a very good prognosis, but was informed by my clinical oncologist that I would need to have chemotherapy, as well as radiation, following my lumpectomy. I cried for two days, then did a lot of praying, and realized that God had been holding my hand so far, and I knew He wouldn’t fail me.
I’ve gotten through a breast infection, coming the day after my first chemo, and lymphedema (swelling) to my arm, and am just finishing radiation treatments. I’ve been blessed with a loving family, and wonderful neighbors who have prayed, cooked, driven my child to school, and supported me in every way possible. I’ve been blessed to work with a wonderful group of teachers, who have also helped in so many ways that I’ve been able to work and be busy and productive, through the many months of surgery and treatments. I couldn’t have kept gong without their trust and support.
I know that not everyone chooses to work during cancer treatment, but that was something I really wanted and need to do. It really helped me keep a sense of who I am, not just a patient. Linda Dixon invited me to join her support group and I was very blessed again to meet Martha Osborne, who got me on track for the physical therapy I needed for my problems with lymphedema. Martha has been very supportive and enabled me to meet many wonderful people, and learn a great deal about this disease I’m dealing with.
This has been the greatest challenge of my life, but has awarded me tremendous strength and abundant gifts. I have grown spiritually, from a luke-warm Christian, to one who is really seeking to live my faith, and reach out to others with this comfort and guidance. I’ve been given an insight to what is really important in life, and learned how important it is to live every day to the fullest. It has also brought our family closer, meeting this as a family challenge. My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary and both daughter’s graduations, from college and 6th grade, along with my “graduation from chemo” with a family trip to Hawaii in late July and enjoyed one another as never before. I hope to use what I’ve gone through to help others in the future.
An Unexpected Life Change
Kerri Kleinschmit was 40 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2004. A lumpectomy was followed by chemotherapy in December 2004. When chemotherapy ended in April 2005, Radiation Therapy followed for two months. The summer of 2005 found Kerri still recovering but working full-time (Kerri is a Certified Public Accountant).
In the Fall of 2005, she started attending the "Living Well After Cancer" program that the Cancer Care Center offers in conjunction with the Claremont Club. Exercising with other breast cancer survivors brought her a new confidence and the camaraderie of others really boosted her self-esteem. Kerri shared her cancer experience at the Cancer Care Center’s annual "Light of Hope – Honoring Those Touched by Breast Cancer" in October. She was ready to offer hope and encouragement to other survivors.
In November she started experiencing nausea and attributed it to the drug Tamoxifen that she was taking to help decrease the chance of her breast cancer returning. She finally decided to quit taking the Tamoxifen in January, as her nausea was not subsiding.
Then in April 2006, she was feeling some unusual abdominal symptoms. When Traci, the Nurse Practitioner with Dr. Linda Bosserman, (Medical/Oncologist) saw Kerri for a follow-up appointment, she suggested a urinalysis to see if she had an infection and encouraged her to see her primary care physician. The next day she saw Dr. Alpiner who ordered an ultrasound. He thought she had a "growth" in her abdomen that needed to be identified and depending on the results, a CT scan might be needed.
With great anxiety, Kerri had the ultrasound. She absolutely could not believe it when the technician told her she was pregnant!! Kerri had stopped having a menstrual cycle when she started her chemotherapy. It is very common for women her age to go into immediate menopause when having chemotherapy. She was warned by her doctors not to get pregnant during chemotherapy treatment, but she had not had a period and had never been able to get pregnant previously, the thought of pregnancy never crossed her mind.
Instead of a tumor or a stomach disorder and chronic exhaustion, Kerry was not just pregnant; she was already seven months pregnant. April 20, 2006 Kerri’s whole life changed. The baby’s due date was set for June 1, 2006.
Her parents were shocked and so very excited at the thought of having a grandchild. The next couple of weeks were full of making plans, buying baby things and preparing for the birth. She immediately began seeing Dr. Armada, an OB/GYN. From April 20th until June 1st, Kerry took Lamaze classes; Infant CPR and child care classes.
In those six weeks Kerri bought maternity clothes, had a baby shower, lost her job, set up the nursery and had several doctor visits. She also found a way to tell all her friends that what she had worried was a tumor was going to be a healthy baby girl!
She was having non-stress tests twice weekly to monitor the baby. Then, on June 1, 2006 during a non-stress test it showed the baby’s heart rate dropping. Dr. Armada ordered her to go to the hospital for observation.
The baby, Sarah Lyn Kleinschmit was born that very day by cesarean section, weighing a healthy 6 lb 5 oz! Her lungs were a little underdeveloped, so she did need to be on a ventilator in the NICU for one week. She then spent a couple of more days under special lights to combat jaundice. During the rest of Sarah’s stay, she spent time sleeping, growing and learning to nurse effectively.
She got to come home on Father’s Day! Baby Sarah’s Daddy was also very, very shocked and excited about this unexpected delightful bundle!
Kerri is just now thinking and sorting out this sudden life change! She plans to focus on and enjoy Sarah before finding another job in the near future. Kerri is able to breast feed Sarah on the unaffected breast and supplements her with a bottle of her pumped breast milk if Sarah is extra hungry. We can only imagine what beautiful and unexpected gifts Kerri’s life will be full of in the upcoming years!