My Breast Cancer Is Different from Your Breast Cancer


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By Jacki Donaldson, Gainesville, FL

After I Heard Those Words “You Have Cancer”

Nothing was more urgent after my breast cancer diagnosis than finding women just like me. Just days after my doctor called me to say, "You have cancer," I started scouring the Internet for survivors who were young and married—and, more than anything, I wanted to connect with moms of little ones. My boys were almost 4 years old and 18 months at the time, and my head was flooded with the fear that I wouldn't see them grow up. 

I found just what I was looking for—my female counterparts, whose stories convinced me I was not alone, that surviving my disease was a real possibility. What I didn’t find was someone with my exact same breast cancer. That’s OK. I mean, shared experience is pretty powerful stuff, and I’ll never forget the advice from one survivor that I drink lots of water before each chemo session, and the suggestion from another that I buy Hats With Hair. I bought two, and I wore them on my shiny scalp for months, then loaned them to others seeking comfort from those traveling similar paths.

Similar, but Not the Same

Similar—that’s the key word. My friend who borrowed one wig had a tumor like mine, which over-expressed a protein that made our diseases aggressive. As a result, we both received infusions of the drug Herceptin over the course of 12 months, but that’s where our match-up ended. Our most striking difference is that her cancer came back fairly quickly; mine did not.

Every woman’s breast cancer is different. There are differences in pathology: my tumor was 1.1 cm, stage I, grade 2, ER/PR-, HER2+, and my cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. There are variations in treatment: I had a lumpectomy, followed by dose-dense chemotherapy, then radiation, then Herceptin. I went for physical therapy and counseling, and I took an antidepressant for a year and half.

A Breast Cancer “Someone” Just Like Me?

Breast cancer just doesn’t look the same on everyone. Look at Julia, who shares graphic details of her mastectomy, hysterectomy and weight gain (some women pack on pounds; some don’t). And Angi—the scar left from her port tells a powerful story. Kara and Tracy reveal some universal and very individual feelings about losing their hair. 

Will I ever find a breast cancer someone just like me? Someone hospitalized not once, but twice, because of the ravages of chemo? Someone who swallowed the same at-home medications as I did? Someone who just can’t remember to pull on her compression sleeve while traveling by plane? Someone whose skin still has a violent reaction to the sun because of treatment given nearly five years ago? 

Nope, I’ll probably never find that person. But I have found some really super spots for finding common ground—like Navigating Cancer, and Fight Pink, and the Young Survival Coalition—and really, I think I like it better knowing everyone is not exactly like me. That would just be boring.

To learn more about Jacki’s experience with breast cancer, visit her blog cancerspot.org.

Medical Reviewers: Richard Alteri, MD Last Review Date: Mar 1, 2010

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