Breast Cancer Grad- Erica Martin
Name: Erica Martin
Age at Enrollment: 29
Major: Breast cancer - IDC/DCIS stage IIA, triple negative, grade 3
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? It was actually two things - I had gotten blood drawn for a genetic test to see if I had the same BRCA1 mutation as my mom. Between the blood work and the results appointments, I had also felt a lump on my breast.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? When I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation, I knew I wanted to have a prophylactic mastectomy and I had a standard breast MRI and mammogram. Three questionable spots were found, one of them being the lump I felt. I had them all biopsied and the lump I felt turned out to be malignant while the other two were benign. (Then, during the mastectomy one lymph node was found to be affected. I had 12 removed and only the one was cancerous.)
Courses Completed: Surgery: Bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction using tissue expanders plus left axillary lymph node dissection. Chemo: Adriamycin/Cytoxan followed by Taxol, all dose dense. Monthly Zoladex injections to try to preserve fertility for the future. Clinical trial to begin in the spring for a PARP inhibitor called olaparib. Exchange surgery for implants in the next month or two.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them? The first week after my first treatment was awful. The fatigue and nausea hit me hard about two hours after treatment and I couldn’t function. I got severely dehydrated and a bit malnourished and had to be treated at the hospital. I had never felt so sick before and I begged my husband and family to let me back out of chemo and quit. I didn’t think there was any way I could go through that again.
Also before I started chemo, my husband and I had to make a tough decision about fertility. We were offered to do a round of IVF to harvest embryos and freeze them for the future. This was an insanely difficult decision for newlyweds and due to many factors, we decided against the IVF. Instead, I got injections monthly to put my ovaries into “hibernation” to try and protect them from the chemo.
What advice would you give to someone who is newly diagnosed? Do your homework and be informed. I spent tons of time reading about different mastectomy types and reconstruction options, and I went into my consultations with my surgeons prepared and knowledgeable. I knew what I wanted and they agreed it was the right choice. I also took advice from them and took their professional opinions into consideration. This leads me to another piece of advice - don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed to speak up about something you’re uncomfortable with or disagree with.
What advice would you tell them to ignore? I see a lot of young women seem to come out on the other side a “changed” person and have more confidence and positivity. I try to be very positive and have fun whenever I can, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be a top-notch version of their previous self after going through something traumatic like cancer. I feel like I’ve been changed, but I’m not pumped about it. I’ve had a good experience, but it’s still cancer and I still could have done without it. I struggle sometimes because I was doing everything I could to prevent cancer, and I was just too late.
How did your family and friends respond? I have had nothing but love and endless support from family, friends, and coworkers. My husband has gone above and beyond since all this began. He has really taken the “in sickness and in health” vow seriously! My parents have done so much to support us, and my mom is my best friend. She had a very similar breast cancer experience to mine 18 years ago (same type, same breast, both triple negative, and we both had bilateral mastectomies and A/C chemo). I’m so grateful to have her as a confidante and she truly understands what I’m going through.
Are there any bad platitudes/bad recommendations that you’ve heard from other people regarding your diagnosis? Luckily, most of the people I know were very mindful and even knew a lot about breast cancer. I got maybe 3 or 4 “oh, my aunt had cancer, she died/is fine/whatever.” Someone told me my diet and eating habits were a contributing factor. I never took it to heart.
When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, what do you do? I try to take deep breaths and calm myself. If I’m at home I pet or play with my dogs. Sometimes I start baking or even cleaning as a distraction!
Have you created any meaning out of this experience? If so, what was it/how did you do it? Not yet. Hopefully I do at some point but for now it’s still a bit surreal. My marriage is stronger than I thought possible and I am grateful for that, so maybe that’s my meaning.
How did/do you find joy during this experience? I found joy by spending time with my husband and our two dogs. Being with my little family is comforting and can be distracting from the crappy days. My husband can always manage to make me laugh, and nothing beats a good laugh when you feel lousy! I also love to bake, and when I have the energy, I put time into exploring some new recipes (and then enjoying them)!