J.B. shares, first-hand, her breast cancer journey.
On November 17, 2020, I was officially diagnosed with Grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma breast cancer. This was after a routine yearly mammogram that had been delayed for seven months because of the pandemic. Luckily, it was caught in time so that with a lumpectomy and radiation, my prognosis was excellent. I had been getting yearly mammograms at Lovelace Women’s Hospital for years and never worried about breast cancer since no one in my family had ever had it. I remember sitting in the waiting room and being called back after the mammogram. Instead of an “all clear, you can go home now,” the radiologist was waiting for me along with an intern, both masked. I sat there listening to words that I thought I’d never hear; words that hovered in the air like birds of prey. I remember feeling like I was floating above the room watching the interaction but not really being there. But with four eyes focused on me behind their masks, I regained my composure and began asking questions about what was next and would I need surgery. And that was the beginning of my cancer journey.
Lovelace Women’s Hospital had been highly recommended by other friends who had gone through breast cancer, and I later learned that Dr. Calvin Ridgeway was one of few surgeons in New Mexico who was able to offer radiation during the surgery as opposed to the protocol of five weeks radiation, five days a week. Luckily, I was a candidate for radiation during surgery, so along with that option and with the introduction to the team of professionals who would be taking care of me, I remember feeling a huge weight lifted. The feelings of shock and fear dissipated as I learned more information, and I began to access an inner strength that I didn’t know I had. I was ready to “fight for my life.”
As a writer, I began writing poetry, journaling, keeping a detailed log of every appointment and interaction and conversation with the Lovelace team. I told them that I had never been in a health situation where I felt energized. The entire model of having a team of people look after me gave me a sense of comfort since I had always been the one who helped my family and friends through hard times. I had never really needed to be “taken care of,” since I had always been the STRONG one. Sometimes, when things happen that are out of our control, we find our inner strength from the most unlikely situations. A cancer journey can be one of those events. In order to get through to the other side we must allow ourselves to delve deep into the dark, murky waters of the unknown. I knew after meeting the Lovelace team that they would be there for me throughout this journey. I knew I wouldn’t be alone. My family all live in other states, and it felt like I had found a new family at Lovelace.
In April of 2021, I was finally able to have the lumpectomy. COVID-19 vaccines had become available, and I waited until my second dose before having the surgery. I had also been taking Anastrozole, an estrogen blocking medication which kept the small tumor from growing until the surgery. I remember coming home after only a few hours in the hospital feeling minimal pain, and by the next day I was able to do everything on my own. The cancer had not metastasized, and the margins were clear. Great prognosis. But the most important thing that came from this cancer journey was how it affected me in terms of my attitude. I’d always assumed being diagnosed with a deadly disease would be a terrible thing. When you tell people you have cancer the first thing they say is, “I’m so sorry.” It puts you into a slot where cancer defines who you are. It is especially difficult when you must inform your family. But sometimes it takes a drastic event to allow for a change of perspective. If it hadn’t been for the support and care I received from the Lovelace team, I don’t think I would have had such a positive attitude. The compassion and caring that came from the nurses, the doctors, my patient navigator, even the aids who opened the door or wheeled me to my car, gave me new insight into what it means when people dedicate their lives to helping others.
I am now almost six months post-surgery and have stopped taking Anastrozole, which protocol suggests as a preventative for the cancer returning. The side effects were more than I was willing to endure. I feel at my age (77), quality of life is more important. I have a renewed respect for healthcare workers in all fields of medicine, as they dedicate themselves to their patients, especially now as we are still in pandemic mode. My sense of gratitude fills me with a new-found peace of mind as I realize how fortunate I was to have found the Lovelace care team. In some ways, cancer has shown me an entirely new part of myself that I am learning to respect. I had always been an overachiever, a take-charge person, a leader, an organizer, the one who cleaned up others’ messes, etc. Now, as I age, I am finding that I can be the sage, the elder, the woman my grandmother was to me. And now that I have a new granddaughter, maybe I can offer her some of my wisdom and hope that she has the strength that it will take to navigate through the chaos, the unknowns, and the hopes and fears of an uncertain future.
Since my diagnosis, three of my close friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have recommended Lovelace Women’s Hospital to them and have told them of my incredible experience. I commend the professionalism, compassion, sensitivity and team approach that Lovelace offers their patients with cancer. I believe this model offers unique opportunities to help patients through a holistic approach that addresses more than just the cancer itself. Half the battle is the patient’s mental attitude. Remaining hopeful, positive, hearing other cancer patients’ stories, joining cancer support groups, and realizing that living with cancer is better than thinking about dying from cancer. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”
Mammograms are the best way to prevent and detect breast cancer. To schedule your mammogram today, call 505.727.6900.