How did you become aware of your cancer?
I noticed there was an itchiness on the nipples, and I decided to read up to see what would cause my nipples to be itching. And having read [about it], it was either eczema of the nipple or Paget’s cancer. And as a result of that, I decided to go do a 3D mammogram. The result of that came back that everything was normal, but I still had the itching. [The doctor] referred me to the dermatologist to go and get her to assess what he thought was the eczema. Having seen the dermatologist, she took one look and she kind of held her head like that and I said, are you thinking Paget’s? And she said, yes. I said, are we doing a biopsy? She said, yes. That got it started. The results came back confirming it was Paget’s cancer and I chose to have my surgery done at (Baptist Health South Florida).
It sounds like you really had to be your own advocate.
Yes, I do believe I know my body better than anyone else. So I’m able to identify if there are changes and to investigate the changes.
Of course, I’m no medical practitioner. But if something doesn’t feel right, I do suggest that you should check it out. Don’t stop until you get a proper answer and when you get the right answer then, how do we move ahead? What do we do? You’ve got to be your own advocate.
How did you proceed with treatment?
I was prepared to just cut them, clean out everything and slap in two implants and just move on with my life. But with the lymph nodes being affected, that meant chemotherapy and quite possibly radiation. So we got started. I did a double mastectomy with reconstruction and I came home, came back here, to do the chemotherapy and I went back to Baptist to do the radiation. That was 2016 and so far, I’m still in remission, but I’m being maintained and I follow up with my appointments.
What was it like going through a mastectomy and reconstruction?
I always kind of read stuff and I decided years ago, in the event that it came knocking, I was going to remove both, get two implants and just move on with my life. So, when I read about the type that I have, I said, OK, it’s going to come back within 18 months if I leave one breast. And instead of having to fight it twice, why don’t I just go ahead and get rid of it? And I used to be quite busty. But for me, it was just like, OK, goodbye girls, I’m going to replace you with some new, healthy ones. So that was kind of my attitude toward it.
How has this experience changed you?
Now I’m more inclined to be more spontaneous. I’ve learned to appreciate each day for what it is and to find some sunshine. If I’m able to point someone in the right direction, inform somebody or just give a listening ear, I do that. I’ll stop whatever else I have to do and I’ll just try and make some kind of positive impact on whoever he or she is and whatever they’re going through, especially as it relates to this experience.
What would you tell others?
For some people, it can be quite daunting. Because of that, sometimes they don’t really want to know the ins and outs. But I think the best thing to do is to stay informed and listen to your body. Do not consider having this disease as a death sentence. Because modern medicine, if you will, has come a very long way. So, just stay informed. Speak to your doctor. Don’t stop seeking to speak to the right person until he or she can listen to you and say, OK, I can help you.