My experience with breast cancer
By Karen Bova
While sitting in my recliner one evening, I felt a hard lump on my chest above my breast. It didn’t hurt, but felt hard and ominous. I asked my husband to feel it because it did not seem to be on the breast itself. He wasn’t sure either, but thought I should have it checked. I made an appointment with my primary doctor right away for advice. He sent me to an oncologist who said I needed to have a lumpectomy. After nearly a month of waiting, they did the procedure and found I had cancer that had already metastasized and spread into my lymph nodes! Time was of the essence. University of America Cancer Clinic doctors told me I would need eight rounds of chemotherapy and then 30 rounds of radiation. It was a nightmare come true!
“I can get through this”, I thought to myself positively. I believe that helped. I also think it helped because I didn’t sit home feeling sorry, but continued to sell real estate and socialize.
After my first round of chemotherapy, I felt surprisingly fine, but then spent the whole night throwing up! However, during the second chemotherapy, I was given more anti-nausea medication and I never had any nausea again! To my dismay though, I had hiccups when eating, but disappointingly, nothing spoiled my appetite. I had actually gained weight!
Several weeks later, I developed a sore throat on a weekend and was sent to Emergency. The doctors assigned me to a room for patients with lowered immunity. Feeling sad in bed with a sore throat, I overheard several children with leukemia in nearby rooms crying. Quickly, my attitude changed. These children might die, but I didn’t believe my bout with cancer was likely to be fatal.
My hair began falling out in the hospital shower, making a big mess. By that evening, I was bald, but luckily my husband had insisted I buy a great looking wig. He told me I looked like a movie star. Antibiotics improved my Strep throat pain, but nothing helped the mouth sores until a nurse said to gargle half Milk of Magnesia and half liquid Benadryl. What a relief!
At home, scarves and hats were more comfortable. The wig was warm in October even with vents, but my bare head was too cold at night. So I ordered a bed cap in black and discovered that I looked like Ayatollah Khomeini! My husband was a big support and even was daring enough to learn how to give me injections in my stomach to avoid trips to the clinic.
While injecting the third round of chemotherapy, the needle leaked out into my arm veins and down into my hand. A massive swelling developed, too scary to be believed! That Thanksgiving weekend, I was back in the Emergency. I began to realize the stuff they were giving me was poisonous! Arm veins were now permanently ruined and so under mild anesthesia a “port” was installed in my chest and used for chemotherapy infusions and blood draws.
After my final chemotherapy, I started radiation treatments. I was asked to pose for the “zap” while holding one arm up like the Statue of Liberty. To mark the target, the technicians drew all over my bosom with semi-permanent blue and green markers…not very sexy. Did you know radiation (unlike x-ray) actually burns the skin? The effect of the radiation builds up slowly. Although not a fun episode, my skin did heal very quickly. But the return of my hair was maddeningly slow, as was the return of my dangerously thin eyebrows and non-existent eyelashes! Eyebrows can be drawn, but flirty eyelashes can’t and are important! My hair returned curly and thick and I loved trashing those hats and scarves!
Complications from cancer vary, depending on the kind and size of the tumor, how early it is detected, and each personal health. Some women suffer more discomfort than necessary by not requesting aid, so I decided early to speak up about my needs. Request copies of your blood tests and records, and don’t rely on others – your health is up to you! My own self-exam found my cancer, not a mammogram, making me furious when I heard anyone suggest women need not do self-exams.
We did find my second breast cancer 5 years later by mammography. It was a completely different type of cancer so it was not related. The breast needed to be removed, but it was not an awful thing to happen. These days they do it easily and nearly painlessly. They gave me an artificial one without much fuss. This cancer had not metastasized.
I urge women to do a thorough breast check on the same
Formerly a manager for Old Tucson Studios and Hampton Inns, Karen was a Realtor in Vail for 15 years. She and hubby moved to Corona de Tucson in 1996, living on 9 acres with two Rotts. Working as a substitute teacher in Vail schools since 2004, she loves to travel and write.
(In 2003, while recuperating from her breast cancer, she wrote an autobiography of her life in California as an avocado rancher which was published and still available on Amazon.)