It was August of 2008 and life had never been better: my daughter was getting married, I had vacations planned and a young son beginning his high school career. I was eating healthy, exercising and growing as a person. Then my life changed.
It all started when I found a painful rash on my ribcage right below my breast. I was concerned enough to go to urgent care at Park Nicollet Clinic. The doctor gave me medication with strict instructions to follow up if significant improvement didn’t occur within 24 hours. Needless to say, the medication did not improve matters. My breast was now swollen and red. It was literally hot to the touch.
My family practice doctor scheduled me for an immediate appointment at Park Nicollet Jane Brattain Breast Center. After having a biopsy there, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer is commonly misdiagnosed as an infection, sometimes for many months, because of the redness of the breast. Thanks to the knowledgeable doctors at Jane Brattain Breast Center, I received a quick diagnosis. I learned that my breast cancer was at Stage 4, and had metastasized to my liver. With the support of my family, I underwent chemotherapy every week for six months at Park Nicollet Frauenshuh Cancer Center.
The physical changes were very difficult for me, including my hair loss, pale skin, dark and sallow eyes and repeated bloody noses. I easily could have starred in one of Hollywood’s famous sci-fi movies without having to have the five-hour makeup session. At one of my chemotherapy appointments, I pulled out my work ID badge, and with tears rolling down my cheeks told a nurse, “Hey, I really used to look like this person.”
My conversations with Karen Carlson, a social worker and psychotherapist, helped me deal with some of my initial anger and frustration. I also found the Renewing Life™ classes to be worthwhile because they helped me bond with other cancer patients. I’ve been impressed by the staff at Jane Brattain Breast Center and Frauenshuh Cancer Center. They are so knowledgeable, and take the time to honestly answer any questions you have. They reacted so rapidly to my condition and immediately established a point of contact for me, Judy Campbell. During those initial days and weeks when I was struggling with my diagnosis, Judy worked hard to seamlessly schedule the onslaught of urgent tests and scans I needed.
My journey with cancer has taught me a lot. I have learned that patients with cancer have personalities and souls that cancer can’t take away. The best way to stay optimistic is to live life fully each and every day and to keep passion and hope in your heart. I have learned to have an open heart and to see all that is around me. Nobody is promised tomorrow.
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