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Kidney donor to breast cancer

3 yrs ago I was scheduled to donate a kidney to a longtime friend and coworker. I went thru a year long process of physical testing which included a mammogram. I was 54 years old and always had yearly mammograms so I wasn't expecting anything abnormal. The hospital I used had the newest equipment that displays the result on a computer screen right away. I noticed the technician zeroing in on a particular area and even I could see tiny white specks all over my left breast. She told me there was something there but it was so small she wanted the doctor to read the results. After the doctor looked at it he said it was likely nothing but he wanted me to come back every 6 months for the next two years.

In the meantime additional testing showed I had scar tissue on my kidneys so I was not a suitable donor for my friend. We were both devastated but he did get a kidney from another friend and is doing fine now.

When I went for my last 6 months checkup at the end of the 2 yr period I was told the spots were larger and I needed a surgical biopsy. Results indicated invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The cells were growing aggressively and my best option was a double mastectomy.

I had a double mastectomy with immediate implants and just yesterday I had fat transferred from my stomach to put around the implants to give them a fuller and more realistic look and feel. People tell me they are surprised by my matter of fact attitude about the situation. I don't see it that way. I feel like my life was saved by my friend who needed a kidney. If it wasn't for his situation they wouldn't have found the cancer so early. I was lucky. They saw something abnormal, watched closely and when it changed they immediately ordered a biopsy. I'm thankful for the skilled technician that did the mammogram and I cannot stress the importance of this yearly testing enough. Just do it!

Swanee Owen
Atlanta, GA

Tea Parties

2005 was a very trying year for me. We received word that our office where I had worked for 9 years was closing in December. Turns out it was a blessing that saved my life.

Knowing we would lose our health insurance I decided to get a mammogram while it was still paid for. Never did I think on that October day I would hear I had cancer.\

I had a partial mastectomy in November and started chemo in January. I had chemo from Jan. to May and radiation July to October.

Never once did I look at my diagnosis as anything other than an illness I had to conquer.

I had 3 year old twin Granddaughters who doted on me like Mother hens. I babysat them 2 days a week.

They looked forward to coming to my house, spreading a blanket on the living room floor and having tea parties.

They truly were the best medicine I could have ever had.

I remain cancer free and we still have tea parties at the dining room table.

Diane Willis
Dover, PA

My first year of marriage

On 08/20/13, only 25 years old, and married 11 days I received the call that forever changed my life.

Breast cancer. My doctor calmly explained that I would need to either have treatment of chemotherapy and radiation, or a mastectomy in order to remove the tumor. She didn't realize I was at work at the time. Once she found out, she immediately faxed over a doctor's note and told me to get home, and to come into her office the following day. I immediately crumbled to the floor and cried under my desk. My supervisor picked me up and led me to a conference room so I could be away from other people. Before I knew it my husband was calling me on my cellphone. I still don't even know how he knew to call me.

Just 11 days before, I was saying I do to my best friend and love of my life. That day I was telling him I had breast cancer.

I opted for the bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. It was determined that I am not a carrier of the cancer gene. On 10/18/13 I had both breasts removed. I went through the process of expanding my skin where my breasts once were and on 02/14/14 had another 2 operations to exchange the expanders for implants. I unfortunately had a hematoma on my right side requiring my doctor to go back in within 24 hours of my first operation.

2 weeks later I found out I was pregnant, and that I had been 2 weeks pregnant at the time of my surgeries. We were worried that the baby was harmed because of the operations, as we had been told I wouldn't be fertile for about 1 year. We were given the go ahead to have the baby and were advised that there wouldn't be any harmful side affects as it was so early into the pregnancy.

10/28/14 I gave birth to my first child, a healthy baby boy.

We were told the first year of marriage is always the hardest. That was an understatement.

Anna Vela
San Diego, CA

A call from my doctor saved my life!

August 15, 2014 started as any normal day. Only, at age 46, I was a bit nervous about having a mammogram that was 3 years late. Since breast cancer took my mother's life at age 45, I was always diligent about mammograms since the age of 26. But somehow had let 4 years slip by without one. It was only because my doctor called to remind me that I went in at all. Well...thank God I did. If I had let another year slip by...it easily could have cost me my life.

About an hour after returning home the radiologist called saying he was seeing microcalcifications on my mammogram. My heart STOPPED. I had read up on the subject and knew what that meant. He requested I come in that day for an ultrasound and biopsy. He was so kind to rearrange his schedule for me. He knew how frightened I was and got me in that afternoon. The calls to my husband and father were extremely difficult. They both came with me to the biopsy. I cried the entire time. It hurt. And deep inside I knew what words were coming. I finally got the courage to ask,"Doc what do you think it is." He said, "I think it's cancer." Pure terror struck me like I've never experienced.

Ended up having widespread DCIS and three micro tumors in left breast. Had double nipple sparing mastectomy on 9/15 with immediate reconstruction. Not in lymph nodes but because I was her2+, oncologist recommended herceptin and chemo. I started chemo Nov 3. As of now, I only have 1 chemo left. Losing my hair was very hard. I will start radiation in march following a surgery to replace my left implant. It's been a long road but that mammogram saved my life!

Laura Muckey
Elk Grove, CA

My journey

I have stage 2A Negative 3 breast cancer. Have had my surgery and will start chem on Jan. 2nd. after 16 weeks i will start radiation. My cancer developed from nowhere. Chemo and radiation will hopefully take care of it. I am 61 years old and only have one cousin who had breast cancer many years ago. Everyone, if you feel something different get it checked out. You never know.

Sheryl Rainbolt
Oklahoma, OK

Triple Negative

I was 31 when I found my lump. I say lump but it was a mass and so big that I knew what it was right away. Breast cancer runs in my family and I knew that I would get it but I had hoped it would be later in life. At least past the point that I wouldn't have to change diapers. I went to the doc and she set up a mammogram for the next week. I remember telling my doc that I would be ok as long as it wasn't Triple Negative or Inflammatory. When we got the biopsy back he called to tell me he was sorry but it was triple negative. I soon started chemo and went every week for 3 months and every 2 for A/C. My mass went from 6cm to 1.5. I had a double mastectomy and 25 rounds of radiation. I haven't had reconstruction but can't wait to get something back and feel somewhat normal again. I hope that I can be one of those women who beat this aggressive cancer. I want to be able to give someone else hope. Check your boobs!

Big Lake, TX

BTHO Cancer!

BTHO Cancer has become our entire family's battle cry. Our 3 children and niece all graduated from Texas A&M. The Aggies are always BTHO whoever they are playing. When I found out I had breast cancer my niece rallied us with, "It is time for us to BTHO Cancer!" My family has supported me in this battle. I had just retired after a 37 year career as an educator. Finding out I had breast cancer did not fit into my retirement plans!

Lesson #1 - Get your annual mammogram. I had dense breast tissue and was frequently called back for more screening. I went in with no worries; I had done it all before. However, this time it was different. The radiologist ordered more diagnostic views and an ultrasound. He found cancer in my right breast.

I went to a breast surgeon who biopsied the right side and confirmed invasive lobular carcinoma. Through many hours discussing my options with my doctor, my supportive husband, our adult children and experienced survivors, I made the decision to have a mastectomy. However, one thing kept coming back up, and my gut would not let it go. I felt that I needed a double mastectomy because the tissue in the left breast also had very dense fibrocystic disease. I was so grateful that I asked for a second opinion. Two more suspicious masses were found in my left breast tissue. One had grown to 11 centimeters. The second opinion surgeon did a bilateral mastectomy on November 11, 2014. It became known as "New TaTas" Tuesday. The pathology report after the surgery confirmed cell changes already occurring on the left side. My cancer was stage 2. Lesson #2 - Be your own advocate, and pay attention to what your gut is telling you.

My oncologist decided that I did not need any chemo or radiation. I am cancer free! However, I will need to take the hormone blocking medication by mouth for 5 years.

Lesson #3 - We are rich in Faith, Family & Friends as we BTHO Cancer!

Kathy Carruth
Fort Worth, TX

My story...

Being diagnosed with breast cancer has given me a chance to show what I’m really made of. I am a young single mom who works full-time, with no family in the area other than my ten-year-old son. I went through the chemo, radiation, illness, weakness – all of it. The treatment was successful and I went into remission. A year later, though, in May 2013, I learned the cancer had metastasized to my ovaries, lungs, and brain. An oncology treatment facility in Massachusetts gave me a year. A year? My son was nine years old!! How could I possibly leave him alone at such a young age? I vowed to fight, and got a second opinion from a facility in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, they were ready to help me fight, and they did. It required traveling out-of-state nearly every weekend, and sometimes during the week as well. I am so grateful for the wonderful support provided by my church and my friends, but leaving my son behind was difficult to do. I underwent a gamma knife procedure to have the brain tumor removed, and it worked. Then I had surgery to remove the tumor in my ovary. Two down! During this time, I had the added distraction of being diagnosed with Lyme disease and also having shoulder surgery. I have just undergone radio-frequency ablation for the lung tumor, and I am waiting to hear the results. I took disability from work for a while, but that has run out and I’m back working full-time. In addition to the traditional approach to cancer treatment, I believe in holistic medicine and am having regular intravenous infusions of vitamin C. I am well past “a year”, I'm well on my way to recovery, and I'm proud to be the warrior woman that I am!!

Sheila Ortiz
Enfield, CT

My Feelings

Brendas Feelings

it in the first place...I guess I just need them all a tad longer than expected. I have never been someone who thinks negatively — I have always focused on the positives. I never had too many anxieties or worries,, and never held onto stresses for too long.

I would always figure out what needed to be done and then did the best I could to move on, happy and worry-free. But now, not so much. I worry about my health, along with every ache and pain. I think about all the possibilities of what could attack my body. I think about my hubby, and my family.

I think about cancer finding its way back into my life. Although I am a strong person and live a healthy lifestyle, I feel vulnerable all the time. What if the cancer never left? I sometimes fear that it will never be gone. Is anyone ever truly "cancer-free?

"How do you explain to your loved ones that it isn't as easy as it seems, when they say "Get over it", "Don't think that", or "It's gone, so focus on that". Yes, we try to do that, but without wanting it, we think of the negative and darker stuff and especially of all those "what if's." Then we struggle with the guilt of thinking those negative thoughts, so we start to lie when asked "How are you doing?"

If you ask me how I'm doing, and I answer honestly by telling you that I'm worried, please accept my answer. You asked and I answered. It might not be all sunshine, rainbows or fluffy puppies but it is where I am at.

Yes I am grateful for my life and my health but I want to be OK with this second stage of feeling scared, worried, and anxious. I can't quite explain why these thoughts are poisoning my mind but I want to be allowed to go through this part and hope I can continue to have the same support I had at the beginning. My support systems are what got me through

Brenda Bremner
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

My story

I am 31 years old. Back in September 2014 I had noticed that my right breast started to look noticeably different than my left. I felt around and discovered something hard near my nipple. I really didn't know what I was supposed to be feeling for, so I had my husband feel it as well. He encouraged me to get it checked right away. I was going to postpone until my next cervical exam, but something in the back of my mind kept insisting to listen to my husband. I finally made the appointment and went to the radiology department on October 20, 2014. After 3 hours of ultrasound, mammograms, and biopsy, it was confirmed to be cancer. The official diagnosis after 2 surgeries is stage IIb invasive carcinoma with mixed ductal and lobular features. It spread to 2 lymph nodes plus some surrounding tissues, thus requiring the 2nd surgery lymph node dissection. I will start chemo in about 4 weeks, to be followed by radiation. I believe that the mind is more powerful than the body, and I have drawn my strength from the power of positive thinking, and from all the love and support from my friends, family, and co-workers. I fight for my husband and three children, ages 11, 3 and 2. I fight for and give hope to all the women out there that are in the same boat as I am in. And ladies, please do your self-checks regularly and pass this powerful knowledge on to your daughters as well.

Tracy Garcia
Sacramento, CA
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