Once upon a time, there was a young, healthy professional who worked at one of “The Big 4” professional service firms. She was in a cohort of peers considered the rising stars of her practice with significant leadership potential. She traveled full-time and worked long hours, but generally enjoyed the corporate jet-setter lifestyle (including a corporate apartment in Hawaii) and found satisfaction in her work designing enterprise IT systems for State governments. Things were going really well for this professional and her future was looking bright. If you haven’t figured it out by now, that professional is me and this was my life the moment I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
In May 2014, I found a lump in my breast while getting dressed, went to the doctor out of an abundance of caution, and was surprisingly diagnosed with Breast Cancer after a whirlwind of diagnostic tests. I was only 29 at the time, lacked a significant family history of the disease, and was in otherwise fantastic health (like “not-to-brag-but-sometimes-worked-out-twice-a-day” good shape). Breast Cancer was not something I saw coming.
At the time of my initial diagnosis, I had been heavily traveling for work (to Hawaii, I know – poor me) and was often gone from Sacramento for extended periods of time. This allowed me to fly (literally and figuratively) under the radar from most of my social network while receiving all of my initial treatments. I worked full time for the most part (at my own preference), with some days off dictated by the side effects of my treatment schedule. By February of 2015, I was done with the series of recommended treatments and the scans that most accurately allow the doctors to look for cancer in my body showed no evidence of the disease. Yay!
From there I followed a “maintenance treatment schedule” designed to minimize my risk of Breast Cancer coming back. This included regular pokes and prods to monitor my health and a daily pill, but for the most part my life began to return to normal. I focused on regaining my previous levels of physical fitness and re-growing my hair (Yes, I wore a wig until my hair was grown out to a pixie-style cut and wigs actually weren’t that bad, but it’s still *super nice* to have my own hair back).
In September 2016, I got the news I had been hoping never to hear: my Breast Cancer was back and it had spread beyond my breast region, which is more specifically called Stage IV or Metastatic Breast Cancer. There are treatments available that should keep the disease under control for years, if not decades, but there is no cure and I’ll always be under some form of treatment. Many of the treatments have very minimal side effects, but they are not effective for everyone whereas the treatments that are more effective across the board tend to have worse side effects (primarily nausea/fatigue). Basically, I work with my doctor to manage my Breast Cancer as a chronic disease.
This sets the context for my current health situation: Using the doctors terms, my cancer is currently not “well-controlled”, meaning my cancer has not stabilized on a treatment option. I’ve fairly recently (March 2016) had to switch to a more aggressive treatment – in this case an oral (pill) chemotherapy (cancer treatment category that systematically kills cancer, but also a lot of perfectly good cells). The goal is to kill the existing cancer and keep it from growing moving forward. Please wish me luck and I’ll keep you updated one step at a time!