Not My Mother’s Journey

Today begins a three-part series by Living Beyond Breast Cancer‘s newest blogger Heather St. Aubin-Stout, author of the book Not My Mother’s Journey. Family-oriented and fun-loving, Heather is also fiercely stubborn when it comes to the things she believes in like early detection, being your own best advocate and the empowerment that comes from sharing stories to help others. Heather, a former runner who now walks, bikes, lifts weights and practices yoga is also an animal loving vegetarian. She is the proud mom of three sons, enjoys traveling, architecture, writing and drinking wine with her husband at the end of the day!

This is the first of a multi-part series Heather will be writing for LBBC.

After experiencing my mom’s decline and death from breast cancer I followed the health guidelines to avoid this disease, knowing in the back of my mind I still might face it one day. I thought that day had come in 2000 when I found a b-b sized lump in my left breast as I was doing my monthly self-exam.

This completely undid me. Memories of my mom’s experience flooded my brain; I thought of my three sons only five, eight and ten at the time. I was almost in hysterics trying to get the surgeon to remove the lump after he told me he thought it was benign. All I could think of was my mom finding her lump and her doctor telling her to keep an eye on it. Within a month my mom’s lump grew so large it couldn’t be ignored. When it was removed the cancer had spread to the majority of her lymph nodes nearby.  This wasn’t going to happen to me.

He removed the lump and it was benign.

In 2006, my routine mammogram showed changes and a biopsy was ordered. My youngest sister usually had a biopsy after her mammogram as it always showed something but so far each biopsy turned out to be benign. My biopsy turned out to be malignant – a mixture of DCIS and IDC. Although centralized to a small area, it was high grade and aggressive. “This is the kind of cancer we like to see, we can help you,” one doctor told me.

This time I wasn’t hysterical, but I was concerned and needed help. I talked to many survivors who helped me through the process. I had friends who helped me find surgeons and oncologists to interview. I had people who prayed for me, brought me food, sent words of encouragement and I had the Internet at my fingertips. Twenty years since my mother had gone through this, technology made it possible to find information and support online. I was able to connect with survivors without leaving my house.

I had a lumpectomy on October 30, 2006, began radiation a month later and started taking tamoxifen because I was estrogen positive.

“Cured! Good to go,” my doctors told me. But, mentally I wasn’t. I worried about a recurrence. I was concerned about what caused the cancer in the first place. I also felt guilty because I didn’t have to have chemo or have a disfiguring mastectomy. My cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes. I know this is a strange idea, to feel guilty because I didn’t have to experience something as horrific as someone else. But, I did. Yes, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but it was nothing like what my mom had gone through. My cancer wasn’t anything like my mom’s and I just wanted to get past my one year mark because it was at that point after her diagnosis she learned her cancer had metastasized.

I was getting diagnostic mammograms now. It was fine. The nurse told me the radiologist would call me within a few days to tell me the results of my MRI. Driving home, fifteen minutes into the hour drive my cell phone rang. I turned down my sappy love song music I was listening to, missing my husband who left on a trip that morning and answered the phone. It was the radiologist. There were changes since the last MRI six months ago.

They wanted to schedule a biopsy.

Heather’s story continues with Part II of her blog series on Friday, February 24.

6 thoughts on “Not My Mother’s Journey

  1. Yes, this is a very tough and cruel disease and while I know a double mastectomy can be disfiguring, I need to say that I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and you know what, my oncologist’s nurse practitioner could not tell. She had to check my chart to confirm. All she had to do was ask me. She said she thought I had one. I think the trick is to find a very good skilled doctor. I had the best as far as I am concerned. I went to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia where all they deal with is cancer, all day every day. I don’t know how I could possibly thank Dr Patel, my plastic surgeon. He did a tram procedure on me and there is no evidence of me ever having this surgery because all of the scars are tucked underneath and the hip scar is nicely faded. Four years out and I still worry but not as much as I would have if I stuck to my original decision to have a lumpectomy after I had a BRCA2 diagnosis. So much can be done now that ladies to know that a little faith and prayer can go an awful long way.

    I have to say though what really bothers me a lot is watching other women suffer through this journey and it seems to me that I hear of someone else everyday. Women go through so much but in the end it is so worth it to know that all is well and that you can move along with your life.

  2. Heather,
    Every case is different & each patient’s treatment plan and decision-making along the way is specific to them & defies comparison’s with others. Do what your head & heart guide you to do.

    You seem intelligent enough you’ve gotten different opinions & educated yourself via the internet & other sources. Feeling you are in charge of your cancer treatment can be a big part of successful recovery.

    I have Stage IV Breast cancer (bileterally; Lobular on the L & Ductal on the R) with bone mets & I am living life to the fullest… enjoying each day & putting a lot of faith in my hormone treatment as I’m ER/ PR+ also, Since i’m post-menopausal, Tamoxifen is not the drug of choice. I started on Femara & recently switched to Armidex. I was diagnosed in Oct 2010 & hope to be around for a long time.

    Best of luck to you Heather….Carol

  3. …and think about it and take your time making those decisions…they are tough ones so be sure you are satisfied with your decisions. I took almost 4 months to decide what to do after I had the lumpectomy originally before moving ahead to a hysterectomy and mastectomy and reconstruction……I had Invasive ductal carcinoma and was estrogen positive as well. I take Arimidex which is the drug of choice by me since I am through menopause.

    I don’t think for me I would do anything differently but I have had a very exceptional outcome.

  4. Pingback: Not My Mother’s Journey: Part 2 of a Multi-Series « LBBC's Blog

  5. Pingback: Not My Mother’s Journey: Part 3 of a Multi-Series « LBBC's Blog

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