Cathy’s Plano Race Blog: Treatment Then and Now

Treatment-Then-and-NowA message from Cathy, our Plano Race for the Cure blogger:

This year, Komen North Texas is celebrating its 25th year serving the North Texas community.  Breast cancer and the way we treat it looked completely different 25 years ago compared to today.  This week I want to compare the stories of 3 survivors:  Peggy, who is coming up on her 21st anniversary of breast cancer diagnosis, Jessica, who is still going through treatment, and me.

I will start with the similarities:

  1. We each found a suspicious lump
  2. We each had a mammogram and biopsy
  3. We each underwent surgery (mastectomies) and chemo to treat our breast cancers

It may seem like our treatment took very similar paths, but they couldn’t be more different.

When Jessica and I had suspicious mammograms we were given a needle biopsy.  A local anesthesia was applied to the site and small tissue samples, about the size of a grain of rice, were collected.  It was quick and easy.  When Peggy had her biopsy done, it was an actual surgical procedure.  She was given a general anesthesia, and a large tissue sample was collected.

For diagnosis, Peggy’s doctors just assumed that her breast cancer was hormone based.  For Jessica’s and my cancer, they were able to determine that Jessica’s was HER-2 positive (protein based) and mine was triple negative (not hormone based).  For hormone positive breast cancer patients, today there are hormone therapies that work by blocking the action of the hormones and effectively prevent recurrence.  Peggy didn’t have that option twenty years ago because those blockers weren’t available.

Surgery also was very different for Peggy compared to Jessica and me.  First off, Peggy’s mastectomy was done by a general surgeon, while Jessica and I had mastectomies performed by a breast surgeon.  After Peggy’s surgery, she had to heal before then asking for help to find a plastic surgeon to perform her reconstruction.  Jessica and I both had expanders inserted after our mastectomies, which lay the groundwork for later reconstruction.  In some cases today, the mastectomy and reconstruction can even be completed in a single surgery!

The last difference between our three experiences was the way we talk about breast cancer.  Despite the support of family and friends, Peggy felt alone while going through treatment without the support of other survivors; twenty years ago, people just did not openly discuss health issues.  In comparison, Jessica and I actually met via social media and I was able to support her through her treatment.  In turn, she is now supporting a friend who was recently diagnosed.

The way we talk about, diagnose, and treat breast cancer has changed dramatically over the past 25 years, thanks in large part to Komen and its supporters.    Let’s work together to help bring an end to breast cancer in our lifetime!

Cathy Signature