My Battles With Breast and Lung Cancer
Hi, my name is Susan and I'm a 23 year breast cancer survivor.. In 1990 I found a lump in my breast while I was taking a shower and doing a self-breast examination. If you've never done a self-breast exam I cannot stress enough to everyone the importance of doing this. I've had breast cancer three times, and each and every time I was the one that found the lumps. Please do a self-exam. If you are unsure of how to do this I've included a video below.
I'm writing this article in hopes that many reading it will find it informational and helpful.
Photo source: All photos used in this article are the property of the author Susan Zutautas unless otherwise stated. If you'd like to borrow or use any of the photos please do not do so without first getting written permission.
How to Perform a Self-Breast Exam
This exam should be done once a month right after your menstrual cycle. If you find anything abnormal immediately call your doctor. Don't wait until the following week to see if whatever you found goes away. The sooner you do something about it the better.
The first time I had breast cancer a lumpectomy was done. The lump was malignant, but the lymph nodes that were removed during surgery came back benign. Because the doctor felt that she'd removed the lump and the lymph nodes came back negative, I did not have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy.
Unfortunately the lump did come back within five months. At this time a full mastectomy was performed along with six rounds of chemotherapy. Prior to the lump coming back I my husband who I've been happily married to now for 26 years. Al has been my rock and biggest supporter. I've heard so many sad stories where men have walked away when they've heard that their girlfriend or wife has breast cancer.
Al and I were married and shortly after saying our "I do's" a miracle happened. I was pregnant. We were not sure that I could even conceive due to the chemotherapy. Worried that somehow the chemo might affect the baby, I questioned my doctors and my mind was put at ease that I should not only be able to have a normal pregnancy but that the baby would not be harmed in any way from the past treatments. Double miracle; not only was I pregnant, I was carrying twins.
Two healthy baby boys, Allan & Matthew, were born in June of 1988 on their father's birthday. The pregnancy and delivery (natural birth with help of an epidural) were a piece of cake for me, and I loved being pregnant.
When the twins were 2 years old I found a lump in my remaining breast. I was devastated. We were on our way to my step-sisters on boxing Day, the day after Christmas. I had found the lump on Christmas Eve and called my oncologist. He instructed me to stop in at the hospital before driving to Ottawa. Al and the boys waited in the car while I went to see the doctor. After doing a needle biopsy it was confirmed that I once again had breast cancer. An appointment was set for me to see my surgeon to discuss my options in January.
Returning to car quite upset, I told my husband the news. I remember turning and looking at my baby boys in the back seat and saying, "All I want in my life is to see my boys grow up."
In January I saw my surgeon and it was recommended and decided that I have a mastectomy as soon as possible. Before the end of the month I had this done, followed up again with six rounds of chemotherapy.
For the next 23 years everything went along smoothly. Shortly after I finished the chemo I conceived again, and gave birth to a healthy 8 pound baby boy in December of 1992. I look at all three of my boys as miracles.
Garth, my third son was my last egg, or so my oncologist informed me. After giving birth to him I went into menopause, which was due to the chemotherapy.
My Three Little MiraclesClick thumbnail to view full-size
My Story so Far
This year in September I was diagnosed with stage IV inoperable non-small cell lung cancer. I was having neck pain and thought that it was a stiff neck due to sleeping with too many pillows. After two weeks the pain worsened and I noticed that my neck was starting to swell, and that there were a few bumps on it. Rather than going to see my family doctor (long story) I went to emergency on August 31st. After felt seeing my neck and finding out my past history with breast cancer the ER doctor felt that there was a strong possibility that I had lung cancer. He sent me for a chest x-ray and it came back showing a mass or tumor in the center of my chest. An appointment was set up for me to see an ear nose and throat specialist.
The ENT did several tests which included; a needle biopsy, and one where a tube went up my nose and down into my throat. Then the grueling wait began. The doctor suggested setting up an appointment with a team of specialists at the Stronach Cancer Centre in Newmarket Ontario. He felt that doing this would be better than sending me around to different specialists in Orillia that may end up sending me to Newmarket in the end. If it happened to end up not being cancer this would be great, but if it did end up being cancer then the time savings could mean a world of difference to me in the end.
On September 30th I was diagnosed with lung cancer. At first I thought okay you can operate and take care of this right away right? ..... Wrong. The words that followed hit me like a ton of bricks. The news of having lung cancer was bad enough but finding out that it was inoperable, in both lungs, and a tumor in my chest was quite the shock to say the least. On top of all of this I was told that I have emphysema too. It must be the beginning stages as I do not have any of its symptoms.
The very first thing that my new doctors wanted to deal with, were the swollen lymph nodes that were causing me pain in my neck. Kind of gives you a new look on the saying "Pain in the Neck". They wanted to see if the tumors that were there could be shrunk, so a five day radiation treatment started three days later. I was told that I may not notice any difference right away and that it could take up to one month for the tumors to shrink. In the meantime I was prescribed Hydromorph for the pain.
Following the radiation, chemotherapy began on November 8th. To date I've had two complete rounds, and I have two more to go. A round consists of a three week period. Week one I have 2 types of chemo and the appointment takes roughly 5 1/2 hours. The following week I have one type of chemo and this appointment is shorter taking 2 hours. Week 3 is chemo free, and the following week I start the next round. The drugs that I'm currently on for chemo are: CISplatin and gemcitabine.
I'm not sure exactly what will happen after I've completed the 4 rounds other than a CAT scan will be done to see if the tumors have shrunk or not. At this point my doctor has mentioned that he'd like to do a biopsy to see if I'm one of the small percentages of people that can take chemo in the form of pills rather than through intravenous.
Photo source: By MesserWoland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
How I Personally Deal With Lifes Many Challenges
I always try to look on the bright side of things.
Having a positive attitude is half the battle.
Support from family and friends makes my life so much easier.
My motto is "Live each day as if it were your last"
Life could be worse whether you realize it or not. There is always someone out there that is far worse off than you are.
Life is full of choices, and I choose happiness. (Borrowed off a Facebook page)
When I wake up each morning I'm happy to have another day to enjoy.
Victoria's Quilts Canada
Quilts For Cancer Patients
My cousin Norma called and asked Victoria's Quilts Canada to make a quilt for me. This is an organization that was started by Betty Griffin in October of 2000. A group of volunteers hand make quilts for cancer patients.
Quilt from Victoria's Quilts Canada
Update February 1st, 2014
My Lung Cancer Battle Continues with Good News
A week ago yesterday I went for my first CAT scan since starting the chemotherapy treatments. I've had four rounds that each consisted of two weeks of chemo and one week off. There were tumors in my lymph nodes, in my neck, one in my chest area, and tumors in both lungs. For the last week I've been anxiously awaiting the results. Yesterday I was quite happy to find out that one lung is now clear. In the other lung the tumor has shrunk a bit. I should have written down everything my oncologist said to me, but I didn't. The tumors that were in my neck and the one in my chest have all shrunk in half.
I am so happy to learn that the chemo has indeed worked. The next step will be a change in the type of chemo drug. On February 14th, Valentine's Day, I begin an intravenous drug called pemetrexed. This will be administered once every three weeks, and takes a little less than an hour to administer. I'm quite happy about this as the last treatments took anywhere from 2 hours up to 5 hours to administer. Along with this new drug I will also be receiving vitamin B12 shots, folic acid, and corticosteroids to decrease chances of side effects.
CAT scans will continue every three months to check on the tumors.
Photo Source: Photo by Susan Zutautas. Flowers my son had waiting for me when I got home on the 31st of January.
February 28th, 2014
Lung Cancer Update
It's been one month since I last updated this article. I've had one chemo treatment and I'm scheduled for my next treatment next Friday. So far so good and my body seems to be handling the new drug quite well. I still have aches and pains, which is to be expected but happy to say that the swelling in my legs and feet has disappeared.
One of the side effects of this new drug is fatigue and I find I am taking many long naps. Some days I'll get up at eight in the morning, go back to lie down at ten and sleep the entire day away. This has happened several times. I've never been one to take naps so I'm finding this is little different. Apparently one can experience some hair loss on this drug, and I have noticed my hair thinning quite a bit.
Some of you have asked me how long I'll be on chemo. As far as I know I will be on chemo for as long as my body can handle it. My oncologist discussed the new drug that I'm on with me telling me that I may be on this one for up to nine months. After that who knows.
Trying to keep my spirits up and plugging along day by day. My positive attitude keeps me going as well as all the support that I receive from my family, friends and all of you.
June 6, 2014 Update
Still Alive and Kicking!
Back in March I noticed after one of my chemo treatments I was feeling very depressed and anxious. I had the symptoms of a clinical depression such as; lack of appetite, nothing tasted good (this can also be a symptom from chemo), no motivation to do anything, not wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, sad and miserable, etc. Anxious in a way I'd never felt before, meaning that I didn't feel comfortable being alone. Hubby was sure that everything was due to chemo and that I'd come around in a few days.
Two weeks passed and everything I was feeling seemed to only get worse. I went to the emergency room at the hospital and talked to a crisis councilor. She felt that it was due to the chemo and I should talk to my oncologist. Two days later I woke up feeling a bit suicidal. Back to emergency I went. I saw the same crisis councilor and she had the doctor prescribe an anti-depressant. She sent me home and told me I should try to have someone with me rather than being alone. Some days I would ride along with my husband to work and sit in the truck for hours rather than staying at home. Talk about feeling like a dog.
When I got an appointment with my oncologist he referred me to a doctor to speak with. She put me on a medication for anxiety (which worked after taking one pill), and Abilify to boost the anti-depressant. She feels that all of this was brought on by a drug I take for 3 days every 3 weeks called Dexamethasone. I take this before chemo for anti-nausea and it is a steroid. It can cause depression and anxiety along with a lot of other symptoms.
I can happily say that this week I'm feeling like my old self and onto the good news.........
Newest CT Scan report from May 20th.
The right apical lung nodule which previously measured 15 x 9 mm now measures 9 x 6 a spiculated nodule inferior to this towards the right apex which previously measured 10 mm now measures 6 mm. No new lung nodules are seen.
No mediastinal node greater than 8 mm is identified.
Basically all this means is that there is significant decrease in the nodules.
I will be continuing with the current chemo treatments every 3 weeks, and another scan will most likely be done in 3-4 months.
June 20th Update - Now Waiting on a Port
- Mini Cancer Update Now Waiting on a Port
A port that was scheduled to be inserted back in March had to be cancelled and has now been re-ordered.
Port Has Been Installed
July 20th, 2014 Update
On July 10th I had my port installed. I was awake for the procedure, which not only frightened me but surprised me as well.
I was given a local and the area was frozen. The insertion areas have healed already and I’m set to try out the port on the 30th of the month.
I’m sure that this will be much easier and time saving for chemo, CAT scans, and MRI’s. The port can be used for obtaining blood as well if ever need be.
On July 30th I had my chemo delivered via my port. I could not believe how quickly and painlessly this treatment was. I'm now wishing I would have had the port installed last November when chemo started.
It Has Now Been One Year
October 2nd, 2014 Update
Things are looking up and I'm still positive if not more so than when I was first diagnosed. The cancer is still in my lymph nodes but on x rays you can no longer see the lung tumors. We will not know if the tumors have totally gone away until my next CAT scan.
Yesterday I had an appointment with my pain management doctor. When I described the pain I was having to him he asked me if the hydromorphone was helping. I never do notice any difference in the pain I experience when I take the drug. The pain is quite bizarre to me in the fact that it comes and goes in intervals. The best way for me to explain it is, the feeling of being hit my a Mac truck. It doesn't matter where you touch me, it hurts like hell. Doc suggested that I may be suffering from fibromyalgia.
He is weening me off of the hydromorphone and has prescribed a new drug called teva-pregabalin and I should know within a week if this alleviates some of the pain.
Cancer In My Lungs Has Disappeared
November 3, 2014 Update
On October 21st I had a CAT scan done of my lungs and abdomen. This past Friday my regular oncologist was at a conference so I saw one of his team members. We discussed the outcome of my latest scan, and miracles do happen. The nodes and or tumors have all disappeared from not one lung, but from both lungs. My body has responded so well to the chemotherapy and I'm so thankful to all my healthcare providers at the Stronach Regional Cancer Centre in Newmarket Ontario.
My oncologist told me that once the cancer is in the lymph nodes it will always be there. I still have a fight ahead of me but I've made it this far and I plan to continue to fight this disease.
The new drug that I'm taking for the fibromyalgia is working quite well and the pain that I was having has drastically gone down.
Life is good.
"Live each day as if it were your last"
December 2014 Update
I'm thrilled and happy to say that since my last CAT scan showed no cancer in the lungs and I'm officially now in remission. My oncologist has ordered 12 more rounds of chemo as a precaution and I'm happy with that.
October 2015 Update
Thought I'd stop by to give you an update since it has been awhile. I'm still in remission and receiving Pedmetrexed every 3 to 4 weeks. My oncologist feels that I'm doing so well that he only now needs to see me every second chemo treatment.
All in life is good!
July 2016 Update
Things are going well and I've received 35 treatments now of the Pedmetrexed. I'm getting close according to my oncologist of breaking an all time record.
CAT scans are coming back clear and I have another one the beginning of August. I'm always nervous about them coming back with bad news, but so far so good.
April 19, 2017 Update
Yesterday I saw my oncologist before having my 44th Pemetrexed chemo treatment. He happily told me that a CAT scan that I had last week came back clear. Not only were my lungs clear, but also my neck was showing no signs of cancer in the lymph nodes. I am thrilled and so happy about this great news.
I am still going for the pemetrexed treatments but only once every two months instead of once per month.
Thank you everyone for all the good wishes and prayers.