Interview with a Breast Cancer Survivor Part 2: Treatment and Recovery
As part of Pink October and Breast Cancer Awareness, we recently spoke to breast cancer survivor Maria Camilleri* who shared her story about her diagnosis with breast cancer back in the early 2000’s. Almost a year and a half after she had first felt a lump on her breast, Maria was diagnosed with breast cancer. Maria shares her story with the hope of giving readers who might be going through the same process an insight on what to expect, and to encourage women to get checked.
After the Diagnosis
Following Maria’s positive diagnosis, the next step was to clear the lymph nodes in order to make sure that the cancer hadn’t spread any further than the breast. “Luckily, my lymph nodes were clear, which means that the cancer hadn’t spread, despite the fact that a year and half had already passed since the first detection of the lump. Then the treatment started.”
Maria was prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy to be performed through intravenous injections. Chemotherapy is designed to eliminate or reduce cancer cells, in this case, in the breast. It is usually given in short doses and its side effects may affect different people differently.
“I felt nauseous and tired after Chemo, but I was never physically sick. After the second round of Chemo however, I started to lose my hair. I had to explain this to my kids, who were still young at the time, without alarming them too much.” Throughout the process of Chemotherapy, Maria was also prescribed pills, and with that, the onset of menopause was immediate.
“I also had Radiotherapy once I was done with Chemo, but it was not as exhausting on the body as the Chemo was. I even drove myself to the hospital and back each time.” Like Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy is administered in order to kill any cancer cells, as well as those that cannot be traced and in doing so avoid the risk of the cancer returning.
Signs of Returning Cancer
After the exhaustive treatment, Maria made a full recovery but needed to have mammograms done on a yearly basis to catch any sign of the cancer returning. “After around 2 years since my initial recovery, some microcalcifications showed up on the mammogram.” Microcalcifications are small white lines that appear on a mammogram and can be one of the initial signs of breast cancer. “This time I had no lump at all, but the microcalcifications on the mammogram was concerning, although they were later cleared.”
“As part of the treatment, I was instructed to have Radiotherapy done to shrink my ovaries, in order to reduce my hormones since it is thought that my cancer was related to such hormones.”
An Inevitable Mastectomy
Yet another year on, when the microcalcifications showed up once again, that Maria was advised to undergo a double mastectomy in order to remove all her breast tissue and eliminate as much as possible the return of the cancer.
“Since the cancer had repeatedly shown up on the right breast, I first had a mastectomy on my right breast and spent a year with just one breast. I think today, procedures are different as I’ve heard of cases where the tissue is immediately replaced with a breast implant.”
After a year or so, Maria had a second mastectomy on her other breast and two breast implants inserted to replace the natural breast tissue.
When asked about whether she had a history of breast cancer in the family, Maria states that, “Although my mother had also been diagnosed with breast cancer years earlier, and my grandmother at the ripe old age of 82, none of my brothers or sisters have had breast or related cancers so the doctors said it is unlikely that I have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
Today, almost two decades on since the detection of that first lump, Maria visits an oncologist every 6 months for manual checks. “I am just happy to see my girls develop into lovely young women because I truly never thought I would.”
If you would like to enquire about health insurance that covers oncologist fees and cancer treatment, as well as insurance that covers preventative care, speak to our health team today.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
Maria’s story is told from experience, and certain procedures might have changed from the time when Maria was diagnosed or technical different may be slightly inaccurate as are recalled from memory.