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Patient StoriesBreast Cancer

Listening to Yourself: Lessons from My Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Ann Glover found a lump on her chest in 2020, and learned the negative emotional impact a doctor can have on a patient by delivering news in an uncaring manner.
October 2022 Vol 8 No 5
Ann Glover
Baytown, Texas

I had a normal mammogram in December 2019, and I was told it was fine, so I didn’t think I would have to worry about it for another year. Then in 2020, the pandemic started, which was hard enough to handle. At first, I was scared, but I got into the groove of things and dealt with it in my own way. As the months dragged on, it became the new normal.

Waiting Too Long

Then came the night of July 8, 2020. When I was lying in bed watching TV, I had this urge to scratch my chest. It’s a good thing I did, because that’s when I found the lump. I was sick to my stomach and said a nasty word. I was not happy, but knowing that I did not have any risk factors for breast cancer, I did not check my breasts.

The next day I called my gynecologist to make an appointment to check the lump, but it took 2 weeks before I could see her. I met with her nurse practitioner, who I really didn’t care for, but at that time I thought I only had to see her once a year.

So, I waited for what felt like years. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have waited, but I was in such a daze that I wasn’t thinking straight. When I finally had the appointment, the gynecologist checked my breast and said I did have a lump and sent me to get a diagnostic mammogram.

Too Distraught

The people at the radiology department were very nice, but the breast imaging radiologist was not. I talked to him on the phone, because he was not there in person.

The first words out of his mouth were, “It’s a solid mass, and it will have to come out, no matter what it is.” I thought he must have lost his humanity, because his attitude showed he was not caring at all. He then talked to me about my doctor and my insurance, and told me to call him again so he could give me the number of a good male breast surgeon to perform the surgery.

I hung up and waited to get the CDs with my mammogram results, which were needed for the biopsy. I had to go to another place for the biopsy, because the place where I had the mammogram was no longer doing biopsies after COVID-19. I felt sick.

The next day I should not have gotten out of bed. I couldn’t drink my coffee or read my paper. I didn’t eat all day; I was upset about what he said and the way he said it. I had to find a place to do my biopsy, but I was too distraught because of him.

I was unable to find a place close to home, so I went to the place that was recommended by the place I had my mammogram.

Hurry and Wait

So, my dad drove me over to deliver my CDs. Then it was hurry and wait. All I did was hurry and wait. Finally, I got a call telling me that my biopsy would be on August 6, 2020. Of course I was nervous, but I had to do it.

The radiologist at that place was so very comforting. I needed that. She made me feel relaxed and comforted. I felt good when I walked out of there. The whole weekend I felt good. She was a special angel to me, and she will never know.

On Monday, my gynecologist’s nurse practitioner called to tell me that I had breast cancer, but the way she did it was not pleasant. She could have been a lot nicer. She told me to go to an oncologist they recommend, but I had to go to a place that was covered by my insurance.

So, I had my meltdowns while I was trying to find an oncologist. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I found a wonderful oncologist. She wanted me to have my surgery first, which was fine with me. I wanted the surgery out of the way.

Surgery Drains

The oncologist wanted to do another test on the lump to see what she would be dealing with. She was treating it as a triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of breast cancer. The surgeon was very nice, and I really liked her. The problems started after the surgery.

After the surgery I had damn drains placed to collect fluids, which are used in some patients for a few days or 2 weeks. I hate those drains; they are the worst things ever.

I had to milk the drains to see how much fluid would come out. I had 2 drains at first, after the removal of my right breast and lymph nodes. Then a wonderful person gave me a special shirt for those drains. I used that shirt and it worked, but she lost her battle with breast cancer.

After 2 weeks, I was able to get the drains out, which made me very happy. It was very hard to do anything with those drains in. After my checkup with the surgeon and the removal of the drains, I went home, had a great shower, and felt good. The next day was my birthday.

Then the surgeon called to tell me that I was going to need another surgery to remove more lymph nodes. One of the lymph nodes contained cancer cells, so for precaution and to confirm the stage of my breast cancer, I had to have more nodes removed. I had a total of 11 lymph nodes removed.

Chemotherapy and a Meltdown

The oncologist told me that the tumor was more aggressive than the biopsy showed, and that it was stage II triple-negative breast cancer. I was going to need chemotherapy, which scared me. On the Monday before Thanksgiving 2020, I started chemotherapy, and I had a meltdown.

I had strong chemotherapy for only 4 treatments. Then I started another cycle of chemotherapy, which was done every Monday, for 12 weeks.

Chemotherapy wasn’t fun or easy, but I am very thankful that I didn’t get any horrible side effects from it, maybe thanks to the steroid medication I got to deal with side effects. But the steroid bothered me more than the chemotherapy.

Radiation

I finished chemotherapy on April 26, 2021, and then started radiation. I had radiation for 6 weeks, every day. The first 3 weeks were okay, but the following 3 weeks were tough. I was dragging. At the end of all that treatment, I sat and waited. I thought about all that I had been through, and I got depressed. I have been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

When the radiation treatment was over on July 1, 2021, I was told that I was cancer-free at that time, and was very thankful and grateful. I did another mammogram in December 2021, and it was clean. So I thought I did not have to have another mammogram for another year.

But then, at the end of May 2022, I had a distant recurrence, meaning that cancer cells were found somewhere else in my body. I now have stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer. I have to deal with it and keep going. I will not give up.

My Suggestions to Others

I have some suggestions for other people.

  • First, if you find a lump or something that isn’t right, do something about it as soon as you find it. Don’t wait around and let it get out of control.
  • I also recommend that you choose doctors you like, because if something happens, they will be the ones to tell you if you have cancer. If you don’t like your doctors and they don’t care, it makes the process very difficult. Find a doctor you like, whom you feel comfortable asking questions and who doesn’t tell you important information over the phone in a hurried manner.
  • When you are receiving chemotherapy, listen to your body, but also stay in a routine. Don’t just lie there doing nothing. Get up and move around. I stayed in my routine, because of my cats, who wanted their canned food. I’m thankful for them and for my parents. Always have a support system too. That is very important.
  • Above all, stay calm: I know this is hard, but it is crucial. Be patient with yourself. You go through hell when you are diagnosed with cancer; it’s not an easy journey.
  • When you finally come out of this hell, you are still dealing with difficult emotions, in addition to everything else. Just hang in there, and please don’t give up! Always be positive, but it doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time.
  • Always have hope. Enjoy the good times and remember the bad times: you never know how you will be able to help the next person.
  • Remember to tell yourself that you are a survivor. You will come out of this journey a totally different person. Good luck on your journey, and may God bless you.

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Last modified: November 3, 2022

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