I need all the energy for the fight of my life…

Angela M. LaPlante

 I was 64 years old, the year this all happened to me.  In December 2012, I felt a small lump in my left arm pit that was the size of an alley.  It was soft, moved and did not hurt.  I had had a mammogram not too long before so I did not worry.  By Easter 2013, that lump was now the size of a tennis ball so off to the doctor I go.  The events that happened next – happened so quickly.  I had ultra sounds and mammograms at the Breast Screening Clinic.  Things did not look good. 

April 24th I had a biopsy done.  They put me on a table that you lie on and your breast falls through.  The radiologist is under the table.  They went into four calcifications, hit a vein and this I bled out the chip that they would normally leave in so the surgeon can find the tumour.  As a result, the morning of my lumpectomy,  I had to go in early for a wire insertion so the surgeon could get to the correct area.

My surgeon suggested a lumpectomy over a mastectomy.   I needed six rounds of chemotherapy  and 25 radiation treatments.   I went with her suggestion.  Now at this time I did not know anything about being HER positive or negative.  I was told that I was HER positive for estrogen and progesterone and that I had invasive ductile carcinoma.  I was stage 2, grade 3.  Grade three is aggressive.  At this point I wish I had insisted on a mastectomy.   I was also sent for a bone scan, a cat scan and chest x-ray.  They seemed to cover all bases.  Those tests came back negative so I was very happy.

During my lumpectomy the surgeon had taken the auxilla node and 6 other nodes.  Two nodes were found to be positive. 

An appointment was set up for me to meet my oncologist and my radiologist.  I then had to go for a PICC line insertion in my right arm.  This is the port that the chemo goes through to all your body.  I am right handed so I was told not to do anything strenuous with that arm as the line is very near your heart.  I had the PICC line for 5 months.

I was told by my oncologist that I should have one Newlasta needle for every chemo as this drug would help build my immune system.  What do I know?  I went with it.  The drug cost three thousand dollars a needle and I needed six.  Another stress.  How are we going to pay for this?  We called our insurance company and they agreed to pay $14000 of it.  A pharmaceutical company paid the rest.

June 13th, 2013 I had my first chemo.   Ten days after first chemo my hair was coming out in clumps.  I had to go and have my head shaved.  One emotional thing after another.

Through this first couple of weeks, I was very numb.  This was like a bad dream.  I started to read everything I could find about breast cancer.  Marla Shapiro’s book is very interesting.  Knowledge is power so they say.

Actually this information was very interesting.  I should also mention that you can get a copy free of charge at the cancer treatment center of your pathology report,  cat scan and any other test they do on you for your own records. 

The support care services at the centre are wonderful.  You can speak with a dietitian, social worker, etc.  They will set up a meeting for you.  I also went to the makeover session they offered and learned a lot of tricks with hats and scarves to deal with being bald.  You also receive a free cosmetic kit.  All the items are donated by cosmetic companies such as Clinique, Cover girl etc… Very nice.

Chemo is an experience.  Remember everyone is different.  I had mouth sores, stomach pain, sore throat and at times became very red in the face.  A friend told me to use Utremol for my face.  It helped. 

The side effects of Newlasta  made every bone in my body hurt, the day after I received it.  Remember it is to build the immune system.  I could hardly walk the day after receiving it.  However on a positive note I did not have nausea, did not have a fever,  did not have to have a blood transfusion , so I guess it did its job.

I completed the six chemo treatments are done and then was told to have 20 treatments of Herceptin as a preventative.  They are given three weeks apart from each other.  Herceptin is a drug that latches on to the cancer cell and kills the protein that makes it grow.  This is given to women who are HER positive just in case some cancer cells are in other parts of your body.  Herceptin has the side effect that it can weaken your heart muscle so you have to go for a MUGA scan periodically to see if your heart is being damaged.  While on Herceptin I had to start radiation.  I had 25 treatments.  The organic aloe vera jelly  really helped with the redness as radiation went along.  I bought it at the health food store.  Make sure there is no alcohol in it and keep it in the fridge and put it on cold.    It was so soothing.  I finished the radiation at the end of November.   Now I am on Herceptin until July.

I have one issue at the moment.  I have a fluid build-up in my breast that is quite uncomfortable.  My surgeon says it is not lymphedema.  I see a physiotherapist at the cancer treatment centre and she is trying to help me get rid of this fluid.  I go for my mammogram in April and we will see if the cancer is back.  I have lost about 14 pounds to date.  I am so grateful for all the support I have received.

Thank you to my wonderful  group of friends, both male and female who were so there for me.  Most of all my wonderful family, and my beautiful niece who had battled this 11 years ago.  She relived her experience with every call she made to me.  My wonderful sons and daughter-in-laws…I can’t say enough for all you did and are still doing to help me get through this.  My husband who has come to most o f my appointments, my nephew Bill and Joby, thank you so much.

You don’t have to have the disease to be affected.  When someone in your family or circle of close friends is affected – it affects everyone in that circle.

I give thanks to all those people who were and are still are there for me.  I don’t give the others a thought as I need all my energy for the fight of my life.

Just when she thought she BEAT IT…

CathyI’m a breast cancer survivor.  I was diagnosed  in June of 2010.  At that time I was newly widowed and living in northern Ontario.  Our only cancer center was in Sudbury which was over 3 hours away by car.  I was sent to the Breast Diagnostic Center in Sudbury where I was shocked at how busy this place was and how many women were facing the same thing I was.  I started writing everything down.  All my tests and doctor appointments and feelings. Soon it became to be my breast cancer journal.  I also joined an online support group for others dealing with all aspects of diagnosis of breast cancer and all that follows.  I found it very informative and the more I learnt the more I felt I had control with understanding what was happening to me.  After a core biopsy I was told  insitu cancer or DCIS (non invasive breast cancer) was found and that I would only have to have a lumpectomy and possible sentinel node biopsy may be required later depending on what was found in pathology report.  I worried about how my family was going to take it.  I decided I would deal with the facts and not  what may happen.   I had the lumpectomy and waited for the pathology report and it is always the hardest part.  Waiting for the tests and the results are always so hard for me and my family. I had a lumpectomy in June 2010 and waited.  When I got the pathology results back I was told that DCIS was found but also IDC (invasive ductal carcinoma).  It also showed I was grade 3.  I was told I would need further surgery for sentinel node biopsy before a possible 5 weeks of radiation and possible chemo.  After the biopsy of the node showed some involvement I was staged at stage 3 grade 3 breast cancer.  I was told I would require very aggressive chemo and radiation.  Since there had been node involvement I was also sent for further scans such as pelvic scan and bone scan.  No further cancer was found.  I started chemo in Sept. 2010 and finished Dec. 30, 2010.  I found it very difficult and although the medications stopped me from vomiting they didn’t stop me from feeling next to dead after each chemo and I would be in bed mostly for days  The tin taste and the bone pain were also side effects of my chemo and of course lost all my hair.   A few days after finishing chemo in early Jan. I took very sick and found that it was extremely hard to breath with any activity at all I was out of breath.  I was admitted to the local hospital and given many tests and released only to admitted again the next day.  Every test possible was given and yet no answers.  Doctors came to the conclusion that it had to be the chemo.  There was nothing else it could be.  I had not yet been able to start my radiation and now it was unknown if I would be able to due to the condition of my lungs.  I was put on a high dose of steroids and when I asked the doctor if this gets better his answer was “sometimes”.   I told him I didn’t like that answer.  He said I would never have 100% lung capacity again.  I said it may slow me down but I won’t let it stop me.  It became my motto through all my journey.  I pushed myself to walk which was difficult as l would lose breath.  I kept going and kept pushing and was told it helps to strengthen my lungs.  I seen my radiation oncologist who told me that she was unsure if I would be able to have the radiation due to the condition of my lungs but she would do the “set up” to check and see if it would be possible but she had her doubts as if the radiation touched my lungs I would be looking at further damage which I could not afford.  She told me I may be looking at a mastectomy.  As it turned out to her shock the set up showed it would not affect my lungs and as of Mar. 1, 2011 I started my radiation.  I was required to stay at the Daffodil Lodge due to the distance from home and daily treatments of radiation for 5 weeks.   April 1, 2011  I had my last radiation treatment and I said “April Fools Cancer –  I BEAT You!”  I continue to have some difficulties with my breathing but it is much better and I can do almost anything I just have to pace myself.  I also found the chemo was hard on my arthritis and due to such a aggressive chemo it seems to have done some damage to my bone marrows ability to produce healthy blood cells as I’m told they still are not as large as normal and I still have to take 2 iron pills daily as my iron is also still low.  These things I can live with as I do consider myself lucky to have won the battle.    I would love to give hope to all those that are also in the same battle with cancer that I was.   I was diagnosed by my annual mammogram.  So yes they are important.  I was given hope and strength when I would hear of others survivor stories so I’d be happy to share mine.  The advise I would give is fight for your life!  Don’t give up… it can be won and only deal with the facts and don’t let the what if’s carry you away!  A positive attitude can only help.  Also inform yourself as the more you learn about your breast cancer the better you  will be able to feel that you can could take control of it and understand what was happening to you.  I found a new appreciation for the gift of life afterwards.  I know what is important and what is not, there are some positives that came from my fight.  I am a survivor!  I moved back to my home town Simcoe, On. after finishing my treatments.

May 2, 2014 I received the worst news possible.  My breast cancer had spread to my lungs and that put me at stage IV.  My previous oncologist had told me that if they find it anywhere else there would  be nothing they could do for me.  Now I was there.  Facing a terminal illness.  I was in shock and kept getting these horror rushes flooding over me.  It took me about 2 weeks to wrap my head around this new diagnosis.  However I wasn’t about to give in to it and would do all I could to extend my time.  I saw a new oncologist at London Victoria Cancer Center and I found him to be wonderful.  He answered all my questions like what about surgery?  He said I would not have enough lung left to survive.  Trust me you have many questions when facing this head on.  He asked me a million questions too or so it seemed.  Then he asked me if I would be willing to consider drug trials.  I said YES!  He told me of one that was having very promising results coming in so far and he was following it closely.  He said that he doesn’t have his patients do drug trials normally unless it looked very  promising.  He told me that so far I fit all the requirements but I had to have a bone scan, a total body scan after the orange drink that lights up cancer.  And other tests and requirements had to be met but he had my interest.  I also would have to be accepted for this trial by Pfizer drugs.  If I was accepted then I would be randomized as only 2 out 3 patients get the trial drug plus Letrozole (another bc drug).  The other 33% would get a placebo and Letrozole.   Neither I nor my doctor would know which I was receiving.  I  then met with the trial team at this hospital and I said sign me up.  There was a lot of reading and signing before I could even send in my application to be sent in for approval which it was.  I considered myself lucky as there was only 400 patients accepted world wide for this trial.  I started the drug combo and followed an online support group that had a room for just those on this trial.  I met maybe a dozen of them here but a couple dropped out when the combo was not working for them and they figured they must be on the placebo and that is our option if we do not want to continue.  However for many when they got there first scans back after approximately 3 months they found not only stability but regression in their tumors.   One oncologist had stated that she thinks this could be the break through drug for treatment of late stage breast cancer.  She compared it to when Aids was taking many lives and now they have drugs that they can “manage” it with and patients can live many years on them.  That is very good news for me.  I saw my oncologist and trial team yesterday and they have named the drug finally (rather than a number), its called Palociclib.  My oncologist asked me how I was feeling and how I was managing side effects (lots of them).  I am managing them pretty well and am fortunate considering what chemo can do.  He asked me how my breathing was and if I have had any change.  I told him I think I’m actually a bit better when going up stairs which before left me out of breath.  I have also lost some weight since this (side effect) which also may be the cause of that I told  him but “better is better” he responded.  I will know how this trial drug(s) have worked when I get my next scans in mid Sept.  Keeping positive and hopeful and have many praying for me.

February 5, 2015 Good news for us late stage breast cancer patients. In June of this year I started a started a drug trial of Palbociclib along with the drug Letrozole. Not only has it stopped my metastases dead in its tracks but has given me slight regression in my largest tumor in my lungs. Today I learned that it has been passed by the FDA. If you goggle this drug it says BREAKTHROUGH drug. I’m ecstatic that I have been lucky enough to have been a part of this. It gives us Stage IV patients hope of long term survival by managing our metastases. I can’t express how happy I am for all the other ladies this will help! A huge day in treatment of breast cancer.

March 24, 2015 I was diagnosed with progression to the liver. Then to the bones. Both hips, spine and then ribs. My treatments were changed to Faslodex Injections (inter muscle injections – long and painful). However they failed too. June 8th Cat Scan showed extensive progression. Another liver lesion, extensive left lung progression and extensive progression in the spine and bones. I expected it this time as my pain was getting extensive also. I was put on very strong pain meds that seem to be working pretty well now. My scan also showed a cancer related blood clot close to my heart. I was sent to see a clot specialist and now on daily Fragmen injections to break up the clot and thins the blood also will prevent more clots. I was put back on weekly chemo. Taxol treatments and had my first yesterday. My oncologist said this is my best shot to get my cancer under control now. I am on many prayer lists and have great family and friends for support. I remain positive and upbeat. I have lost the one great support and friend my brother recently and will miss him dearly. However I know he is up there guiding me to the best of treatments with my other angels in heaven.


The Glass is Half Full…

Sue Lekun. Manager, Celerity Staffing

I was 45 when I found the lump. I had just returned from a weekend with my husband and I was sitting at my desk when I felt this very large
lump. I asked my co-worker to feel the lump and the look on her face
was enough for me to get in my car and drive to the doctor’s office. My
doctor scheduled a mammogram right away and, to tell you the truth,
I was very impressed at how quickly my journey began. I had my mammogram on Jan. 2, 2010 and was sitting at the hospital seeing my surgeon two days later. I had my biopsy a week after that. The surgery was on Feb. 9. A lumpectomy and one lymph node were removed (nodes were not cancerous). The cancer had not spread. Thank God!

The results came back that I was Stage 1. No family history. My cancer was estrogen and progesterone positive. Because of my age, I qualified for a study and they sent my tissue to California where they tested it to see if chemo would make a  difference. The results came back that I only needed 16 radiation treatments and to be on Tamoxifen for five years. My pathologist had told me I was very lucky and I had won the “breast cancer lottery”. I am so grateful to all my doctors, specialists and especially my family and friends for their amazing support. I believe we have the most amazing team and research in Sudbury and Northern Ontario. Cancer is one of the scariest words and I never thought I would have to say that word to anyone. I remember telling my boss that I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was so scared but he turned that whole experience around for me and my view on life into a very positive outlook. He sent me a single rose and the card said, “The glass is half full.” “I now look at life and pretty much everything that way. I believe that through positive  thoughts,” and a great attitude you can get yourself back on the path to living a healthy happy life for however long we have on this Earth. If I can help anyone, I would tell them stay positive and not ask, “why me?” I never missed a day of work. That was one of the ways I dealt with the stress of what was ahead. My friends and family were amazing with positive words and special gifts. You truly know how much you are loved when you go through something like this. It has now been three years cancer free. I have lost some very special people to cancer. So please buy this calendar and think PINK and BLUE.