Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
My journey with cancer started with my yearly mammogram in October of 2014. A week or so later, I received a letter stating that the mammogram showed an area of concern in my right breast and I should schedule another mammogram as soon as possible. After the second mammogram I received another letter stating that an area of concern was identified by the radiologist, and it required immediate attention. I spoke with my doctor, who informed me that two suspicious clusters of micro-calcification were found in my right breast and I was going to need a stereotactic biopsy to exclude potential malignancy. The biopsy was scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving. The following Monday, the doctor called to tell me I had been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in-situ.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
When I heard the news, I felt terrified and completely confused. Prior to receiving the DCIS diagnosis I was also dealing with the sudden death of my mom, who had passed on October 29. It was a tough time in my life, needless to say.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
My diagnosis is a tale of two breasts. The DCIS was first diagnosed in my right breast and was located in two different areas. Due to this circumstance my surgeon recommended a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. My oncologist also prescribed a daily dose of Tamoxifin for five years. After tissue expansion, another surgery would be performed to remove the expander and to place a breast implant. I was able to participate in a clinical research study using a device for the tissue expansion known as AeroForm. The AeroForm is being tested as an alternative to the traditional use of saline tissue expanders. With the saline tissue expanders, a weekly visit to the doctor’s office is required to fill the expander. This form of tissue expansion can take several months to complete and then the patient has to wait a month or so until they can get the follow-up surgery to receive the breast implant. The AeroForm is unique because it uses carbon dioxide to fill the expander and the patient is in control of how much they want to fill (up to 30cc each day) and where or when they want to do it. Using this device helped me to feel like I was in charge for the first time in my treatment and the learning curve was minimal. I was able to complete the tissue expansion in a month as opposed to several months using the traditional saline expander.
At the time of the exchange surgery I was given a breast reduction and lift on my left breast. A short time later I learned that DCIS had been found in my left breast. I was devastated because it had not shown up in the mammograms, ultrasound or MRI. My oncologist decided to treat it with radiation and Tamoxifin.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
What surprised me about the treatment was how quickly everything progressed. I was diagnosed on December 3, 2014 and had the mastectomy on December 24, 2014.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
I would advise to always bring someone with you to your appointments. A second set of ears will help to catch details you might miss. It is also nice to have someone there to help comfort and support you. I was also advised by a nurse to get a large three ring loose leaf binder and use it to keep all the test results and other information acquired throughout treatment in one place. This piece of advice was very useful and whenever I needed to find test results, prescriptions, or referrals, I knew exactly where to find them.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
My last radiation treatment was on August 31, 2015.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned I was strong person and if I could get through this, I could get through anything.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Cancer is awful but please don’t let it define you. Also, get those mammograms! Early detection saved my life.
Jan Themann is a native New Yorker and presently resides in sunny South Florida with Nate, her husband of 22 years; Elliot, their sixteen year old son; and Baba O’Riley, a Jack Russell Terrier with a serious attitude problem. Prior to motherhood Jan was a reference librarian in a public library. She spends her free time rooting for the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers and visits Walt Disney World as many times as her husband will possibly tolerate.