Contributor Joanne Hampton blogs about the importance of speaking up about your concerns and sharing them with your healthcare provider.
I moved from New York to Florida 6 years ago and on a recent visit to NY I was compelled to visit my oncologist. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33. My children were 2 and 5 at the time, the ages where mommy isn’t allowed to be sick. I didn’t know anyone who had breast cancer. I was so alone and scared. I didn’t know what any of it meant or what to expect. This was 11 years ago when I felt it was shameful to say breast cancer and the internet offered little information. What I did know was I had two beautiful children who needed their mom.
I put my life in the hands of my oncologist, Dr. Michael Buchholtz. He took me into his office for over an hour and explained as much as he could to me. Looking back, I remember the sweet tone of his voice and his kind and positive words. He made it easy for me to understand what was going to happen and what to expect. I realized I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t so afraid. He gave me that. I knew he wasn’t going to give up on me and I was going to be ok. I don’t know how else to explain it except to say I could feel his heart, as strange as that may sound.
If you have gone through chemotherapy, or if you haven’t, it’s a place we visit so often for treatment, blood work, follow up, shots, and if I have forgotten anything else, I’ll just blame it on chemobrain. In an odd way, the treatment center becomes almost like a second home, but a positive is you’re on a first name basis with almost everyone in the office. I remember one day when I was having an especially rough time, Liz, one of the nurses, was kind enough to go out to her car and brought me a CD of soothing music and some headphones. It was small gestures and support like this that made a difficult experience a little more bearable.
Finally, treatment, surgeries, and radiation were over, and I was a few months out when I felt that I heard a whisper. This whisper gave me the feeling that something was wrong and I wasn’t going to see my children grow up. I shared this feeling with a friend who said that after the scare and all I had been through, it was a normal fear to have. Family members felt it was time for me to close the book on cancer, put it behind me and move on. All this seemed reasonable. I had been through a lot. It was normal to be afraid, and it was over so I should be moving on.
But the whisper continued. Was it my own fears? Was it intuition? Or was it a message from a higher place warning me? Honestly, that is what I felt–that someone up there was trying to tell me something. You can imagine how crazy I sounded when I told people, and trust me it was only a select few.
When it came time for me to return to my oncologist for a checkup, all tests showed I was perfectly fine. Before he left the room Dr. Buchholtz looked at me and asked how I was feeling. I paused and I thought, well, he might put me on some loony meds, but I had to tell him about my concerns. I said, “This might be crazy, but I am having this feeling that something is still wrong and I am going to die young.”
He looked into my eyes and told me I was not crazy. I wish I could remember the exact words he used, because it was beautiful. He told me about a new test that I qualified for. He explained it was a genetic test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation. He had me sit with one of the nurses and go over my family history of cancer. He took my blood and sent it on to be tested. It turned out I was positive for the BRCA1 mutation. With this mutation, the percentage of possible recurrence is about 87%. I was also found to be triple negative which means a recurrence would bring about a much more aggressive cancer.
In life, I believe if we all look back we have people that I like to refer to as angels. They are put in our path for a purpose – whether they held our hand or were our source of strength when we needed it most. Dr. Buchholtz was the only one who listened to me and from the very beginning. He touched my heart in a way that I needed most. I’m not just grateful –I love this man with his beautiful soul and heart of gold, and I can’t thank him enough for taking care of me the way he did.
I am so glad I had the strength to speak up and voice my concerns. So please, do not be afraid or embarrassed because asking questions and listening to your instinct is not silly or dumb. It could save your life. It did for me.
Joanne Hampton is a mom of two, a breast cancer survivor, community advocate and Public Relations and Marketing Director for Breast Investigators.