During my annual mammogram and subsequent testing of suspicious calcifications, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 DCIS BREAST CANCER. Stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is non-invasive cancer where abnormal cells may be in the lining of the breast milk duct. In Stage 0 breast cancer, the atypical cells have not spread outside of the ducts or lobules into the surrounding breast tissue, and it is 98 percent curable.
Because I prioritized regular health care, I was still getting mammograms at 72 when the standard convention says women can stop getting mammograms at 70. No matter what reassurances the doctors provided, a cancer diagnosis at any stage is life-altering. Following the medical team’s recommendation, I underwent a lumpectomy on my right breast and eighteen radiation treatments. On the last day of radiation, I rang the bell, which symbolizes relief that the day-to-day grind of radiation was over and a sense of accomplishment that “I made it through this part.”
Throughout my life’s challenges, I crave instant results and unambiguous outcomes which no one can provide. Is the cancer gone? Will it return? What happens next? While meeting with my radiation oncologist to discuss the radiation after surgery and my next steps, I asked him, “How will I know when I’m cancer-free?” He responded, “We’ll continue to do the scans and the regular follow-ups. You will change your diet, exercise, follow health care instructions and continue to pay attention to your body. Most importantly, live each day.”
I did not realize that although I was no longer required to make the daily three-hour round trip to the hospital, my radiation treatment was not concluded. Within a week, the skin around my breast darkened visibly, and a rash developed at the bra line. In addition, I experienced the tiredness and pain that I had expected earlier in the treatment protocol. I was finally miserable enough to call the radiation oncologist’s office. The administrative assistant kindly reminded me that symptoms were to be expected post-radiation. Continue using the prescribed skin cream and Tylenol. Sleep in a bra for extra support. Eat healthy foods and drink enough fluids to allow my body to heal.
As part of the cancer follow-up, my next appointment was with a cardiologist specializing in treating breast cancer women. It seems there is a connection between breast cancer and heart health. Radiation therapy for breast cancer can lead to blocked heart arteries, heart valve issues, and abnormal heart rhythms in some patients. My health care team has expanded to include a cardiac specialist knowledgeable about my breast cancer and my defibrillator. Fewer health care silos will result in better-coordinated health care.
Impatience versus patience. I am balancing the odds with optimism that this diagnosis does not negatively impact my hopes and dreams for life. In retrospect, looking back at my journey through heart disease, the past ten years have taught me to slow down, to enjoy each new opportunity, and live in the present. I was anxious, depressed, and frightened at times when I could not see the path forward. Yet, I am drawing on the lessons learned over the past ten years facing this new health challenge.
- Invite trusted family and friends to journey with me. To share their wisdom and experiences with me rather than trying to do everything alone.
- Learn everything I can about innovations, newer treatment protocols, and, more importantly, where the latest innovations are pursued in research and treatment. The health care playing field is not level. Not all doctors have access to the latest treatment protocols or even in-service training to stay abreast of the rapid healthcare changes.
- Do not be afraid to change health care providers. You are not just a consumer. You are an active partner in your health journey. Write down your questions and seek answers from a variety of knowledgeable professionals.
When confronted with life’s challenges, one of my favorite songs reminds me of God’s promises… “I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.” He sends us the people we need to get through the inevitable trials that come not only with a new health diagnosis but the challenges of living a full life.
I might finally be learning patience through the words of the prophet Isaiah … “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their spirit. They shall mount up on wings like eagles. They shall run and not get weary. They shall walk and not faint.”
– Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in contemporary fiction novels she pens.