Detecting Breast Cancer Early – Penny’s Story

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Follow Penny’s journey from breast cancer diagnosis, through making her treatment decisions and undergoing treatment and to her life after treatment for breast cancer. Read selections from her diary below

June 15, 2004

I’m worried. I had a mammogram today that raised some questions about my right breast. The doctor recommended some additional mammograms to give us a better idea of what’s going on. I’ll try not to get too anxious until we know that there’s definitely something wrong.

June 23, 2004

I went in today for those additional mammograms, including some with magnification. The results were a mixed bag. The good news is they didn’t show that anything is definitely wrong. The bad news is they were inconclusive. Well, unless we find out for sure that something’s not right, I intend to keep enjoying my retirement. The garden is keeping me really busy these days.  I’m moving on with my life!

December 12, 2004

I wish I had better news to write about. I went in today for my annual gynecological exam, and my doctor found a lump in my right breast. He thought it felt like a cyst. He wasn’t overly concerned; I had had some benign cysts in my left breast several years ago. But he did recommend an ultrasound to be sure. 

December 19, 2004 

Right now, the worst thing is not knowing whether I have cancer. 

January 4, 2005

 I went in for a new round of mammograms and an ultrasound. They confirmed that I have a lump. A biopsy was taken. Now, I have to wait a week to hear back from the surgeon.

The waiting is the hardest part, so this week is going to be really tough! I told my doctor not to call me in for an appointment when he gets the results; I just want a phone call and I don’t want to wait. If I need to schedule surgery, I want to be able to do it right away. 

January 11, 2005

I have cancer.

The surgeon called today and gave me the news. I hung up the phone and walked outside, where Phil was mowing the lawn. When I told him, “It’s cancer,” we both lost it.

I feel like I’m dying. I feel like I have no control. 

January 12, 2005

Enough. I have cancer. And I’m not going to let it take over. 

March 9, 2005

I went in for surgery a few days ago. I had a modified radical mastectomy of my right breast and a simple mastectomy of my left breast. I’m happy with the decision I made, even though it was very tough to settle on what to do. I talked to my surgeon so many times, and Phil and I spent a long time talking about it, and I’m glad we did.

The surgery revealed that I had lobular breast carcinoma. The good news is that it hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes.

March 17, 2005

Now that my surgery is behind me, I’m working with my doctor to decide what kind of additional treatment is right for me. The thing is, it’s been a challenge to really understand what kind of cancer I have. All sorts of terms like ER and PR are being thrown at me, so I’m working on understanding all the terminology. 

March 23, 2005

I’m so glad I told Diane — from my winemaker’s club and Bible study — about my breast cancer. Her husband works for a company that does breast cancer research, and he’s really helped me understand my cancer.

He also told me about the Oncotype DX® test. He explained that most decisions about breast cancer treatment are based on women who have a diagnosis like mine, and what percentage of them had which treatment. But instead of using average population numbers, Oncotype DX looks at 21 genes in my actual tumor tissue, and predicts how likely my cancer is to spread.  Even better, this test will tell me whether I am likely to benefit from chemotherapy or not.  I had no idea that not everyone benefits equally from taking chemo!  I’m definitely asking my oncologist about Oncotype DX. 

March 25, 2005

I met with my oncologist today and asked to get the Oncotype DX test. She verified that I was eligible for the test and ordered it. Now to wait for the results. 

April 10, 2005

Great news! My Oncotype DX Recurrence Score® is 13, which means I have a low risk of the cancer returning. I’ve decided not to have chemo, because it doesn’t look like I would benefit from it. Instead, I’ve chosen hormonal therapy and radiation therapy. 

April 17, 2005

I’ve begun treatment. My radiologist said I didn’t need radiation therapy, but I decided to have radiation anyway – that was my choice.

Now that I know my Recurrence Score result, I’m starting to feel like I’m back in control again. I know I’m getting the appropriate treatment. 

August 20, 2007

I just read my diary entries from two years ago, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and deciding on treatment. I’m so glad those days are behind me, and I’m

happy with all the decisions I’ve made.

I will say that treatment seems to have affected my short-term memory. I forget little things here and there. But thank God, my overall prognosis is very good.

I’m back to enjoying my retirement. And goodness knows, there’s plenty to do, between raising all the animals on our six acres, tending the garden and the vineyard, and making wine. I’ve actually had to cut back on my hobbies since retiring in 2001!