“My mission going forward is to educate and inform others about the breast cancer… All of us know someone affected by this disease in our Families, Friends, Co-workers and even strangers. My personal experience has forever changed my life and the lives of those around me. The most important piece I know about any health issues is to “Tell someone, family or friend (THAT DAY), that something is wrong with your body!” You must speak up, no matter how scared you may be. Can’t ignore it!”
My journey started on Friday, New Years Eve, 2010. I woke up looked in the mirror and my breast had completely changed from the night before. I told my husband Johnny and my friend Bealinda, on my way to work. My right breast was red, larger in size. It looked exactly like an infection, but I had no pain and no fever. It was a very exciting day, (being New Years Eve), with lots to do and places to go later. I don’t have time for this is what I was thinking! I wasn’t able to get a hold of a doctor until Monday and my OB/GYN did see me that day. Dr.Amina Sayeed Memorial Hermaine Katy. She evaluated me and felt, that I needed to have a mammogram and ultrasound, asap. She also referred a Breast Surgeon Dr. Liz Lee Southwest Surgical Associates. She was also able to do a biopsy, if needed. I know now Dr. Sayeed knew that day what I had, but she didn’t want to scare me. She needed the proper tests to confirm. I did indeed have the tests that Friday. It came back abnormal on Monday. I immediately scheduled a biopsy with Dr. Lee the next day and she fit me in. She asked that I bring my husband with me to my appointment, the following week. She said if everything is fine, you can spend the day with your husband. But if something is wrong, you will have a lot of questions. This could be a very rare, but dangerously aggressive breast cancer called Inflammatory Breast Cancer – IBC. Only 2% to 5% of all cancer patients have this. Not much is known about it, because most people are misdiagnosed as an infection and given antibiotics. That allows the cancer time to spread in 2 to 3 weeks. This particular type spreads through the body as a liquid mass, through the blood stream and lymph nodes. It travels to all parts of the body and has what they call feelers. Everywhere the feelers touch, leaves the cancer cells to grow. It only needs a few weeks to spread. I was indeed diagnosed with IBC Stage 3 and Dr. Lee was incredible. She leaped into action, scheduling me that same day to see my Oncologist, Dr. Ronjay Rakkhit with Oncology Consultants and Radiologist, Dr. Kuan Yu with Houston Precision Cancer Center. Everyone put together an immediate action plan a with braca test, (check genes for my children & family members- was negative), test for Herceptin (Her 2 positive), MRI, bone scan, PET/CT scan. Dr. Lee placed a port in for chemo to be administered through in 2 days. I started chemo on Friday. I was indeed a candidate for Her2 chemo treatment. Only 25% of population is Her 2 positive, but it completely changed my treatment and increased the chemo effectiveness from 50% to 85%. I wore my Camouflage gear to my 6 chemo treatments. I did have a double mastectomy on June 1, 201, with 30 treatments of radiation. I felt physically strong through most of the process, with the radiation being the hardiest for me. I was able to go to Utah to see my son graduate from college Memorial weekend. I thanked God for that. Incredibly, I had 100% cure with all 17 lymph nodes on the right and 3 on the left removed along with the breasts. I have since had reconstructive surgery with a TRAM/DIEP flaps, using my abdominal area by Dr. Patrick Hsu located in the Museum District.
It had been one year on August 12, 2012, I completed all my treatments. Unfortunately the same day, I started having eye problems and headaches. I did see an eye specialist the next day and nothing was wrong with my actual eyes. The symptoms were exactly like a severe migraine – flashing color lights, headache in eyes and nauseous. I had an appointment with my Oncologist the following week and he indeed send me to have an MRI. A brain tumor was discovered on the surface of my brain on top of my vision and is from the IBC. It has since been removed and I am undergoing radiation, a new type of chemo. It should not have many side effects and testing every couple months. I have had the most incredible doctors that have truly saved my life. I could not have gone all through this without my husband Johnny. He keeps me grounded, so I don’t play the “what if game!” My children Vanessa, John and Amanda are a true inspiration to us. I thank both sides of our family Giries & Pompa, my friends and my Kroger family for being there for us! We will keep fighting to find a cure! Most of all, don’t be afraid to seek medical attention, right away as soon as you feel or look different! It is what saved my life today!
Did you know much about breast cancer when you were diagnosed? Did you have a family history?
I have only known the basics of it. Having a mammogram yearly and checking my body regularly. My Aunt Rose and my cousin Lorianne, both had a type of breast cancer, but not the same. My mom had cervical cancer in her 30’s but she is doing great today!
How involved was your treatment?
With IBC, there was not an option, chemo, surgery and radiation.
What were the most important factors that help you through treatment and recovery?
Family and friends all gather around us for endless support. Keeping positive outlook and a lot of prayers will keep you going through the journey.
What did you learn about yourself as you went through this difficult experience?
I am stronger than I thought I was. I don’t like to dwell on the negative side and I still want to enjoy my life with family and friends and plenty of laughter.
How do you feel today? How has your life changed since facing this disease?
Keeping strong through treatment will help heal my body. Learn to slow down a bit and pay attention to my body.