A Year Later

Laura Zigman Health Guide October 19, 2007
  • Author Laura Zigman    Last year, about a week before I turned forty-four, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Normal people would find this news shocking but I didn’t. I’d always known, deep down, due to my strong family history of breast cancer and my genetic predispos...

12 Comments
  • PJ Hamel
    Health Guide
    Oct. 19, 2007
    WOW, what different opinions you're liable to get depending on what doctor or institution you land at... Stage 0 DCIS and a double mastectomy - holy mackerel, that's incredibly aggressive treatment. Now I'm anxious to hear whether you decided on the double... I'm always struck by the different experience each woman has with her cancer. We're...
    RHMLucky777
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    WOW, what different opinions you're liable to get depending on what doctor or institution you land at... Stage 0 DCIS and a double mastectomy - holy mackerel, that's incredibly aggressive treatment. Now I'm anxious to hear whether you decided on the double... I'm always struck by the different experience each woman has with her cancer. We're guided by our medical team, but we also have to follow our own feeligns, and sometimes the two clash in a major way. Looking forward to your next post- PJH
    • Laura Zigman
      Health Guide
      Oct. 21, 2007

      Hey PJ,

       

      I guess it was aggressive -- it sure sounded that way at the time -- but there were two patches of DCIS in the left breast and, well, with my family history (my mother and my paternal aunt), that's what they told me.  I didn't need much convincing, actually, to have the double mastectomy since the last thing I wanted to do was go in...

      RHMLucky777

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      Hey PJ,

       

      I guess it was aggressive -- it sure sounded that way at the time -- but there were two patches of DCIS in the left breast and, well, with my family history (my mother and my paternal aunt), that's what they told me.  I didn't need much convincing, actually, to have the double mastectomy since the last thing I wanted to do was go in every six months and worry about if and when they would find something.  Funny, though -- it was only after the final pathology report came in a few weeks after surgery that I found out that there was DCIS in the right breast, too -- only it hadn't shown up on antyhing (not the mammogram; or the MRI).  Certainly made me glad about my decision but still kind of scary that it can be lurking around without being caught...

       

      Will post more and I look forward to catching up on all your posts...

       

      --Laura 

    • PJ Hamel
      Health Guide
      Oct. 21, 2007

      Hey - now that I'm catching up on your brants, I see you had reconstruction, too. "The whole nine yards," which, being a Boston-area resident, is an expression you probably recognize. "Lurk" is a great word for cancer. I'm six years out, yet still wonder... where is it? Hiding somewhere, I believe. Despite the chemo and radiation...

      RHMLucky777

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      Hey - now that I'm catching up on your brants, I see you had reconstruction, too. "The whole nine yards," which, being a Boston-area resident, is an expression you probably recognize. "Lurk" is a great word for cancer. I'm six years out, yet still wonder... where is it? Hiding somewhere, I believe. Despite the chemo and radiation and surgery I'm betting one sneaky little cell escaped... But I made my peace with it long ago. We live together, and the more time passes, the better the chance that by the time cancer tries to shoulder its way into my life again, there'll be some other treatment to prevent it.

      Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your stuff. This is a neat site; I've enjoyed just writing and writing and writing... it's a nice change from cookbooks and catalogue copy and newsletters and recipes on the side of flour bags. Hey, do you know Jodi Picoult? She's a friend of mine, up here in the Great North...

      Cheers- enjoy this incredible weather.

      PJ 

    • Laura Zigman
      Health Guide
      Oct. 21, 2007

      Ah, yes. TRAM-flap reconstruction.  Now that's  a whole OTHER story. I'm not sorry I did it but it sure isn't the 6-8 week recovery they tell you it is.  Try a year!

       

      It's funny you mention Jodi -- she and I met years and years ago at a friend's wedding in DC, when Animal Husbandry had just come out and she was on her...

      RHMLucky777

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      Ah, yes. TRAM-flap reconstruction.  Now that's  a whole OTHER story. I'm not sorry I did it but it sure isn't the 6-8 week recovery they tell you it is.  Try a year!

       

      It's funny you mention Jodi -- she and I met years and years ago at a friend's wedding in DC, when Animal Husbandry had just come out and she was on her 5th or 6th book.  What an amazing career she has; I've been keeping tabs on her incredibly success the past few years and have more than a few of her books in my "to read" pile (I'm very very behind in my reading).

       

      Curious what brought you up to Hanover -- something to do with Dartmouth?  (And yes, the whole Boston accent thing is my passion.  I live for going to Dunkin Donuts and hearing people complain about how "retaaaaaaaaahded" everyone is.... 

    • PJ Hamel
      Health Guide
      Oct. 21, 2007
      Hi - never can tell is this is public or not so I'm taking it offline just in case- sending a message to your email address...
  • Anonymous
    Suzanne
    Nov. 07, 2007
    Many thanks, Laura.  I'm 13 years past "those days" - and in Columbia, South Carolina - not exactly Boston-like in terms of medical sophistication.  My initial surgeon took all the right tests and determined that my DCIS was strongly hormone driven and put me on a hormone blocker. The hormone blockers are great for...
    RHMLucky777
    Read More
    Many thanks, Laura.  I'm 13 years past "those days" - and in Columbia, South Carolina - not exactly Boston-like in terms of medical sophistication.  My initial surgeon took all the right tests and determined that my DCIS was strongly hormone driven and put me on a hormone blocker. The hormone blockers are great for interfering with breast cancer development in the future, but they often make us temporarily dumb, depressed (and kill our libido as well) WHILE we are trying to make difficult decisions.  I strongly recommend women hold off of the hormone blockers until the decisions are made.  Who needs to be dumb and discouraged while absorbing an array of new facts and choices.  I also recommend going to a really good oncologist after the initial biopsy.  Mine knew which sugeons were most skilled and the trade-offs re lumpectomy/mastectomy and the importance of followup.  I still see her every nine months or so, and treasure her vigilance after all these years.  Staying in touch with an oncologist - NOT a surgical oncologist - is important.  Too many options and tests and developments out there for a regular doc to keep up with.
    • Laura Zigman
      Health Guide
      Nov. 08, 2007
      Hi Suzanne,

      That's great advice -- and glad to hear you are 13 years past your diagnosis and thriving.
      --Laura
  • Anonymous
    Online Cancer G...
    Nov. 02, 2007

    Hi Laura,

     

    You are story is very insightful, With full-filled digital mammography, it is possible to use advanced computer and electronic technologies to change the image in order to detect certain breast cancers, which are difficult to visualize through film screen mammography.

     

    http://www.onlinecancerguide.com/blog/
  • debra
    Oct. 23, 2007

    Dear laura,

    I am so sorry to read all that you have been through.

    It never is easy even when we think it will be.  I am going through something similar as you but different.  16months ago (June 2006) I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast that had been followed for three years in the early 1990's. It was a routine yearly exam. ...

    RHMLucky777

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    Dear laura,

    I am so sorry to read all that you have been through.

    It never is easy even when we think it will be.  I am going through something similar as you but different.  16months ago (June 2006) I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast that had been followed for three years in the early 1990's. It was a routine yearly exam.  Just the year before I was cleared of breast cancer concern in my right breast after watching that one for two years.  I was advised by my surgeon from a top University who is known for their expertise in Breast Cancer that to have a mastectomy would have been overkill since my biopsy show early ductal invasive cancer (1.2cm).  So after many delays and complications I had a lumpectomy in Oct of 2006.  Everything looked great.  Pathology report showed an early cancer  with a few Lobular Insitu areas.  Which I was told is really not a cancer but a prognosis of high risk for future cancer in the other breast. However, the surgeon and the other doctors on my team were confident that they got it all, had taken exra tissue for a wide margin and best of all I was node negative.  Within 8 months from surgery and one week before my one year anniversary for cancer, I was

    diagnosed with a 7mm cancer in the same breast.  I chose a bilateral mastectomy this time since this cancer was showing a red flag for being aggressive. By the time I had surgery the end of August, the pathology report showed I had a 1.6cm cancer that was grester than 1.8cm in circumference  with suspicious dermal invasion.  Further the cancer still no node negaative was now in my white blood cells and lymphatic system.  The pathology report also showed several different cancer type finding in the left breast with a wide spread of several lobular insitu.  my right breast also showed two suspicious masses ready to turn along with lobular insitu.  Why one would ask - what happen that cancer was showing systemically invasive with such a large growth from a microscopic cell in less than 8 months.  It can be argued that this new cancer is a secondary primary or one can say that it is a occurence of the same.  The bottom line though is that even though my margins were clear last October with the lumpectomy, they were less than 0.1cm in clearance. I should have been taken back into surgery and had a mastectomy.  So, my point is and my advice is to others, doctors differe in opinion and they are not infallible.  Patient be informed.  I thought I asked all the right questions and asked for my pathology report to be explained to me. None of my doctors ever mentioned that the margins were too close.  When I had the surgical tissues re excised with a new pathologist this year at a different hospital, the findings were clear.  The margins were to close and I should of had a mastectomy a year ago.  Remember I was told that it would have been overkill and i followed my doctors recommendation to have a lumpectomy.  What was duable and controlled last October is now systemic invasive breast cancer.

    • Laura Zigman
      Health Guide
      Oct. 26, 2007

      Hi Debra,

       

      I'm so sorry to hear about your experience -- I can't imagine the frustration you must feel at having been given medical advice that turned out to be so problematic. You certainly underscore the sense of confusion so many patients feel when they're diagnosed and trying to determine what their treatment plan will be, and the difficulty...

      RHMLucky777

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      Hi Debra,

       

      I'm so sorry to hear about your experience -- I can't imagine the frustration you must feel at having been given medical advice that turned out to be so problematic. You certainly underscore the sense of confusion so many patients feel when they're diagnosed and trying to determine what their treatment plan will be, and the difficulty we all face when we try to figure out who to listen to and who to believe. Medical experts and doctors disagree on so many things, and it is that disagreement on interpretting research findings and treatment statistics that makes our jobs as patients so difficult.

       

      Clearly, getting second and third opinions are important, but ultimately it comes down to who to believe and why. An incredibly difficult and risky decision.

       

      Hope your treatment plan now is duly aggressive. Good luck and good health.

      --Laura

  • Maria Gifford
    Oct. 19, 2007

    Hi, Laura. Thanks for sharing your experience with a diagnosis of "pre-cancer" with us. Your story is interesting and important for other women to hear. Looking forward to hearing more from you. Write again soon.

     

    Best regards,

    Maria 

    • Laura Zigman
      Health Guide
      Oct. 21, 2007

      Thanks, Maria.  I'll be posting more soon.

      --Laura