Coconut Grove, Fla.
I am a 15-year metastatic breast cancer survivor. Although I didn’t know it at diagnosis, because at that time no one knew about its important role in breast cancer, my cancer is HER2-positive. As a result, during the course of my many treatments, I’ve been able to benefit from all the research breakthroughs that led to the development of drugs that target HER2, like trastuzumab (Herceptin) and a new drug called T-DM1, which is only available through clinical trials.
My journey with cancer started in 1997. I had recently moved to Florida for my job, and I was doing the basic find-your-new-doctor thing, and I found a gynecologist. He found a lump, and said, “You need a mammogram.” I was completely shocked and disoriented: I was too young to have cancer, no one in my family had cancer, and cancer wasn’t even in my vocabulary.
I had the mammogram, which led to a biopsy, and then all of the sudden I had to make decisions like mastectomy or double mastectomy — things I’d never thought about. The hardest part for me was my age. I was 32, and thinking, “You want me to do what?” I chose to have a left mastectomy. After the surgery, I was still planning to have children, so I wanted to make sure I would be able to nurse someday.
Because I was young and I had an aggressive cancer my oncologist said, “If you’re facing the enemy, do you want an Uzi or a pop gun?” Of course I chose the Uzi. So we went down the path of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell recovery. It pushed me into menopause, so children were out of the question. That wasn’t part of the literature I received. A nurse pulled me aside and said, “You know this will make you sterile” I had no idea. But on the other hand, I really believe that having undergone that treatment helped hold off my cancer recurrence.