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My Story

Rosie | age 67
Math Teacher
Tempe, AZ
13 years, 4 months since her MammoSite treatment.

In early February, 2006 I had a few sharp pains in my right breast but like most women I reasoned through what it could be – I lifted something heavy, pulled a muscle, anything that wasn’t cancer. It happened again the next night and I shrugged it off again. When I felt no pain on the third night I decided to brave the “self breast go ahead and touch the area exam” since I was sure, as always, I’d find nothing. Needless to say I was devastated when I found a lump just under the nipple in my right breast. After getting over the initial shock and crying through the night I called my OB-GYN. Not being able to schedule an appointment with her I opted to see an office associate of hers. During that office visit, he pretty much assured me it was nothing, just my hormones out of whack since I’m 54 and pretty much through menopause. Nonetheless he told me to schedule a mammogram and an ultrasound with a diagnostic center. I was somewhat comfortable that it was nothing because I chose to believe the “hormone” theory. So the delay in getting my mammogram appointment didn’t bother me too much. But after the mammogram I was told…he was wrong. It definitely was “something solid and it would be best to follow up right then with the ultrasound”…fear started to come back, but still I thought it was nothing.

The technician who administered the ultrasound called the doctor in when she was finished. The doctor was frank with her diagnosis. It was a mass and it needed further consideration, either removal or needle biopsy. She would follow up with the doctor who sent me and I’d hear from him. I waited to hear from him until I couldn’t stand it anymore, then I finally called his office. They took the message and returned the call with this response: “the doctor said here’s the name of a breast surgeon or here’s a center you could go to – your choice.” I was devastated. I asked what that meant exactly since what I thought it meant was that I needed my breast removed. I was sure I was going to die, as I believe most women feel when they get this report. But I didn’t. Instead I got mad. How dare him just blow this off like it was nothing? I called to speak with my regular OB-GYN who has a fabulous way of calming your fears. She reassured me once again. She told me 80-90% of these masses are just that – masses. But it was something that did need further examination. The surgeon that the other doctor told me to call (Dr. Edgar Hernandez) was a doctor she said she would go to herself if she were in the same position as I was. She told me he was fabulous…and she was right. I made an appointment for the following week and worried just as long.

Dr. Hernandez explained my choices – needle biopsy or lumpectomy. To make the story short, as it pretty much follows every other breast cancer story, I had the lumpectomy…waited…found out it was cancer and this is where my story changes.

Dr. Hernandez told me, of course, he would have to go back in and take wide margins and lymph nodes – not much different from the thousands of other cases. But…there was a relatively new procedure (it’s been out for 5 years, I believe) called MammoSite radiation therapy. Luckily I was a good candidate for MammoSite. My cancer was early stage, nothing in the nodes and located such that the MammoSite balloon would sit properly. This treatment would be painless and eliminate the 7 weeks of full beam radiation. Basically he explained that MammoSite is a small balloon that is inserted during the surgery after the wide margin removal. It would be inflated with saline solution and attached to a catheter that hangs just outside the body next to the breast. It didn’t sound horrible just different than anything I had ever heard about in dealing with breast cancer. Dr. Hernandez was excited to make this available to me as he had been working with the doctor who would actually oversee the treatments (Dr. Olyejar.) Dr. Olyejar, he assured me, was a pioneer in this field and was just fabulous. He was right too! Dr. Olyejar was brand new at the Ironwood Cancer treatment center that I would go to. In fact I had to wait an extra day to get started since he was arriving on a Monday and was booked for the day. I saw him on Tuesday where we discussed the MammoSite opportunity as well as other options (none of which sounded as painless both physically or emotionally as the MammoSite.) After Dr. Olyejar checked the position of the balloon – which is painlessly done by CT scan – and verified that this was a viable treatment for me.

There was absolutely no pain in these treatments. Each session started with a CT image of the position of the balloon. You’re then treated to a rather relaxing 15 minutes from start to finish. I simply laid on a table – like the CT machine table – got hooked up to the machine via the catheter and then waited for the doctors to leave. With background music in the room, I would hear the machine kick off and wait for the doctors to come and “retrieve” me. Apparently the doctors go behind a big thick metal door to not be exposed to any radiation, which is kind of funny because I always wondered what would happen if radiation did escape since I was “exposed” in more ways than one??? But in the scheme of things, it was a joke and nothing more. (I noticed that even though I am a relatively modest person, it seems that everybody and their brother sees your breast from the time the lump is found right through – well forever! – and after the first week or so, you just don’t mind whipping them out!)

I noticed this on my first day at the treatment center when the lady sitting across from me wasn’t too well covered and she just chatted away with both my husband and me. Since she was undergoing the same treatment, just before my first treatment, she assured me it was painless. She was the second person to begin these treatments at Ironwood and I was the third. No matter what she said – or any doctor, nurse or technician – I still worried. My first treatment did go fine but there were 9 more. This treatment requires 2 sessions a day for 5 days, with 6 hours in between. I went at 6 am and again at 12 noon. Session 2 went fine – but I still worried. By the time session 3 and 4 rolled around we had another lady joining our group and now it was my turn to reassure her that this really wasn’t going to hurt. You simply lie on a table, a specialist connects your catheter to the machine, everyone leaves, they close the big thick door and you hear the machine kick on. Treatment takes about 10 minutes, the machine kicks off, the door opens, and they come back in and disconnect you. It’s fabulous – if you have to go through any of this in the first place. After the last treatment, Dr. Olyejar removed the balloon. He gave me a few shots of Lidocaine, counted 1, 2 pulled it out on 3. I felt no pain then or after. Actually I felt joy since I knew I had done the most I could do to get rid of any lingering cancer cells in the area of the tumor. For the next few days I had to clean the puncture from the site of the catheter and put some ointment on it along with taking an antibiotic to ward off any infection that might try to mess up my recovery. The wound healed nicely and I have very small scars from the catheter as well as the lumpectomy.

In all the bad that comes with a cancer diagnosis, I feel extremely lucky to have gone to Dr. Hernandez who was aware of this new treatment. My friend was diagnosed a year before me and it was never offered to her. She underwent 35 days of full beam radiation. This treatment has been around for 5 years and she was surprised to hear about it when I told her of my opportunity. I really feel I was lucky – right place at the right time! The cancer would have come no matter what but getting rid of it could have been altogether different. I was scared – still am because this beast doesn’t always die. But I’m so thankful for having had the opportunity of this treatment because I was lucky enough to arbitrarily run into the right doctors. I want to let women know that should this beast we call breast cancer ever turn up in their life, it doesn’t always mean horror. This is a new and exciting option to deal with destroying leftover cancer cells in the area of the tumor. Again I say I was lucky since my post treatments have only been Arimidex pills. For me, chemotherapy was offered as an additional option unlike others to whom it is given as a necessity. I had no traces of cancer in my lymph nodes. Some women experience a little redness at the site and I understand you might get something like a light sunburn. For me all I ever experienced was a little redness and for about 2 weeks the breast was warm to the touch but it wasn’t nearly a sunburn. My areola has darkened so both breasts don’t match but – who cares?!? There’s a small scar where the catheter was removed, but, again, I have scars from everyday cuts that are worse. I religiously take my medication and I enjoy everyday of my new life. This whole ordeal has really made me aware of how much I have. I experience every day as if it is a gift. Last year I thought I wouldn’t live to see my 54th birthday. This year I’m planning on what I want to do for my 100th! In October a “MammoSite friend” better known as my bosom buddy, my son and I all walked in Phoenix’s Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure”. We only did the 1-mile walk but what a time we had. Even Dr. Olyejar said he was there but he and his family did the 3-mile run! Dr. Hernandez may have been there too but needless to say, there were a few too many people there for me to just spot him in passing. And yes, I wore the pink shirt that says SURVIVOR. And I am.

Recently I received an email that ended with “I’m planning on living forever – so far so good.” The more I read it, and I did read it many, many times, the more I like the philosophy. I also read in some article…“I can be busy dying or I can be busy living.” I’m working on the latter and am having a ball doing it. Yes, I’m still scared every time my checkups are scheduled but I just keep reminding myself, I’m here, I’m healthy and I’m surrounded by friends and family. I’m confident that if I survive, no…having survived this encounter with breast cancer, if it should return there will be even newer, better technology out there to get me through it again. But for now, MammoSite treatment was a blessing.

MammoSite treatment is not a “cure.” But it is an option and I want everyone to know about it. Because of me, my daughter knows. My sister knows. My mother knows. My best friends know and a few women I don’t even like know! Now I want all women to know. I’d like to feel that I’ve gone through this ordeal for some good reason. Maybe helping others get through it too is what I’m meant to do. If I help just one person overcome the fears that come with this diagnosis, I’ll feel good. Knowing I can help many others makes me feel great!

This profile is solely the words of the person who received MammoSite Targeted Radiation Therapy to treat breast cancer. Note that this profile is specific to this particular person, and experiences will vary.