Every breast cancer case is different, so there is no one-fits-all treatment. Women who have had breast cancer, however, universally agree on one thing: a woman needs to gather as much information as possible to help her make many decisions.
Beth Garst: Like being put on a ‘conveyor belt’
When Beth Garst found “a strange place…an indentation” in her left breast, she chalked it up to aging. “I was getting older, and the boobs were changing,” she says.
Garst, 53, who owns Howl ‘n Dog Designs, a website-creation and hosting business in Boones Mill with her husband Barry Briggs, put off seeing a doctor for more than two months.
Finally, she saw her physician, who sent her for a mammogram and then a biopsy that confirmed she had cancer.
“The thing I discovered about the breast cancer system is it’s like being on a conveyor belt fast-tracking through the steps,” she recalls.
Those steps included meeting with a surgeon to discuss her options in removing the cancerous tissue, with the plastic surgeon to talk about breast reconstruction techniques. Her options – which are available to most women with breast cancer – were to have chemotherapy, then a lumpectomy and more chemotherapy. Or, she could have a lumpectomy, then radiation and chemo. Or, if she chose a mastectomy, she could avoid radiation, but might still need chemotherapy.
Deciding which option was best was difficult.
“I got to the point where there were decisions to be made that I was not qualified to make,” she says. “But, I really liked my doctors.”
Garst used the internet to do research, but narrowed her search to sites she most trusted, cancer.org, breastcancer.org and the Mayo Clinic.
“I avoided the forums. I didn’t want to hear what other women had been through. Their decisions wouldn’t influence me.”
Garst also wanted to avoid radiation because she had family members who had encountered side effects from radiation treatments of cancers.
The affected area of her breast was large, which meant the best way to avoid radiation was to have a mastectomy. She also would need reduction surgery on her other breast so they would be symmetrical.
She had the mastectomy in October 2010, spending one day in the hospital. The surgeon also removed some lymph nodes; cancer was found in only one.
In December, she had the reduction surgery. “I started exercising after each surgery as soon as I could lift something,” says Garst, who lives on a farm and enjoys outdoor activities.
Because she was pre-menopausal and her cancer was hormone-sensitive, her oncologist recommended that for the next five years, she take tamoxifen, which blocks the effects of estrogen.
Garst says she tried to address her cancer like it was any other illness.
“I did not want to tell people I had breast cancer because it gets treated like a martyrdom disease, and I didn’t want to be lumped into that. Why is it different from a heart attack? I have mixed feelings about the whole hype around it.”
She has participated in one cancer walk, but doubts she will do any more.
“I do see a need to donate money to the American Cancer Society,” she says.
Missy Dye: Cancer found during fertility treatment
What could have been one of the happiest times in Missy Dye’s life became an extremely challenging one.
For two and a half years, she and her husband Brad had tried to have a baby. She had taken several rounds of clomid to stimulate her ovaries to produce eggs. They went through three rounds of artificial insemination unsuccessfully and then decided on in vitro fertilization. To prepare for that, Missy Dye took high doses of hormones.