Tonda Bettner – Cancer Survivor story
Around January, 2017, I felt a lump in my right breast. It didn't really concern me that much because it was soft, oblong, movable and kinda 'squishy'. It didn't feel like a lump typically associated with breast cancer. Thank goodness I had to see my GYN for a medication refill because I told her about the lump during my office visit with her. She ordered a mammogram/ultrasound. Well, it's never a good sign when the radiologist comes in during the test to look at it himself and says right away that what he was seeing was not normal. I had a needle biopsy the next week and the pathology report came back positive. Talking about having the breath knocked out of me! Then a cascade of tests...PET scan, bone scan, breast MRI and a cascade of emotions. The not knowing was the worse---what kind of cancer, has it spread, what is my prognosis, will it come back, should I have both breasts removed, etc..... I have to admit, I had some very dark moments. Some moments that I wondered if I was gonna make it through. I have been a hospice nurse for 10 years-I certainly wasn't ready to face the possibility of being a hospice patient myself. i have way too much life left. I decided to no longer feel sorry for myself but to brace for a fight to win! Nearly a month after my mammogram, I was able to receive some answers I so desperately needed, when I met my oncologist. He told me I have triple negative breast cancer, which is an aggressive, fast growing type cancer. He also said the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes under my arm and that chemo would be our first step. Soon after that, I had a 'Wig and Wine' party at a local beauty shop and invited many of my friends and family. It was a blast, trying on wigs, drinking wine and acting silly. After that, I had a port placed and started the dreaded chemotherapy. I started losing my hair exactly 13 days after my first treatment, which was a shocker at first, but ended up not being so bad - I saved a ton of money on shampoo...not to mention how quickly it took me to get dressing in the morning. I actually embraced the baldness, decided not to wear the wigs I purchased but wore scarves and hats. After all, being bald was who I was. I did not like, however, not having eyelashes and eyebrows but with some make up tricks, it wasn't so bad either. Plus I lost ALL my body hair, so the blessing of not having to shave was very nice! So, five months of chemo was in my future, which was not so pleasant. As a matter of fact, it was the worst thing I had ever been through. Relentless nausea and vomiting, mouth sores, extreme fatigue, body aches, dark finger nails and the list goes on. Many, many missed days from work followed and I finished my chemo treatment with a week long stay in the hospital due to anemia, low white blood cell count, dehydration. A PET scan after chemo showed complete radio graphic response - promising, right? But the pathology report following my lumpectomy (which by the way, used to be called a partial mastectomy for good reason...5 inches of breast tissue removed) showed cancer cells. Sooo, 32 weeks of radiation treatments ensued, which created negative issues as well. I developed burns on my chest and breast and such extreme fatigue, but it was one step closer to hopefully closing this chapter in my life. I ended up having to file bankruptcy unfortunately, but it was really a way to 'start fresh' with no financial worries. A follow up PET scan showed no cancer and my follow up mammogram was clear. Although, the chance for recurrence with this type of cancer is highest the first 18 months up to 5 years of treatment, I am hopeful and confident that I will live a long, happy life with cancer in remission. I have so much to be thankful for...to God, my friends, family, coworkers, physicians, nurses, cancer organizations - even strangers, because without their prayers, love, financial support, emotional support, household support, I couldn't have made it through this ordeal. As cliche as it sounds, what didn't kill me, made me stronger!