Tale of Two Survivors

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By: Tia Lynn Lecorchick

My name is Melissa Ward and I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on February 1, 2011.  I would have never thought at the age of 31 that I would be told I had breast cancer.  In January of 2011, I was scheduled to meet with the gynecologist to discuss having a second baby.  The following month of February that same year, we were discussing dates for having a double mastectomy.  Life definitely throws some curve balls.    I found my lump on January 21st in my right breast after checking myself when we found out that my sister, Glenda, had breast cancer.  It had to be a coincidence that both my sister and I had found lumps.   When I met with the gynecologist he immediately said I needed to schedule a mammogram and/or ultrasound.  The local hospitals of Rockdale and Newton weren’t able to schedule my mammogram until Feb. 9 and knowing that my sister had already been diagnosed, I didn’t want to wait that long.  With the help of my husband and mother-in-law, Athens Regional was able to see me on January 28th, only a few days later.  After having a mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor was very concerned and ordered an immediate biopsy that same day.  On February 1, 2011 I found out that I was positive for breast cancer.  My diagnosis was infiltrating ductal carcinoma. Then the fight began. On February 2nd, I was already meeting with the general surgeon after hours to discuss all of our options.  The doctors began to move us quickly through to our surgeries because the cancer was growing so rapidly and they had never experienced a case like ours.  On February 17, I had a double mastectomy with eight lymph nodes being removed from my right underarm.  Two of those lymph nodes were cancerous, which meant I had to have chemotherapy.  I had eight rounds of chemo starting on March 21st, 2011 and ending on June 27th,.  In November 2011, I underwent reconstructive surgery.  Since my breast cancer was hormone positive, I have been able to take a “breast cancer preventative” pill to help prevent reoccurrence for five years.  I ended up getting lymphedema in my right arm after my surgery and had to wear a compression glove and sleeve for about two years to help with swelling.  I did lose my hair and sported wigs and hats.  When my hair grew back, I ended up with curly hair instead of my straight hair.  The chemo also changed my eyes from hazel to blue. After chemo was completed my family and I wanted to ensure this would not happen again.  Under the advice of my oncologist, I agreed to genetic testing to find out if I carried the gene for breast cancer.  The results came back that I am a gene carrier and at a very high risk of developing ovarian cancer. Later, I decided to have my ovaries and tubes removed as a preventative measure.  With the help of my family, friends, and prayer I was able to beat this horrible disease.  I am happy to say that I do not have to be treated for the lymphedema, my eyes are hazel again, my hair is straight again and most importantly on February 17, 2015 I will be four years cancer free!  In December 2010 I was helping move some furniture. Afterwards my right arm grazed my right breast and it was a little sore. I assumed that I had pulled something. For a week if you messed with it (the lump) it would get larger and when left alone, well it would get smaller. After it had been there a week I called my gynecologist, who was on vacation so this had to be sometime before Christmas. They said they would get me in with some other doctor so I went ahead and made the appointment. After the first of the year I decided to call them back because I really wanted to see my doctor, Dr. Allen. So an appointment was made for January 7th. On that Friday I went to see Dr. Allen and she smooshed around my breast and said she felt a little lumpy area but it felt like a Cyst. It did not get larger while she was examining me and did not hurt at all. She insisted that I get a mammogram and ultra sound and possibly an aspiration just to be safe. A few days before the mammogram the “cyst” was hard and it hurt. January 21st I had my appointment to get the mammogram. I will tell you I was terrified of the mammogram. I had this idea in my head that they were going to smash my boobs like a pancake in-between two silver plates and it was going to hurt like hell. It actually was not that bad. The doctor decided to take a biopsy of the area. UGH! That was very painful even though they had numbed the area. On January 25th I received the call that it was positive for cancer, the lymph nodes were negative the lump is 1.7cm! The day after all of that fun with my mammogram, my sister came over and said she had a lump, same breast, Melissa’s felt like a gumball. The following Friday she went in to have a mammogram and that following Tuesday received the call that her’s was positive for breast cancer. Now the whirlwind starts. I’ve never seen so many doctors at one time! Melissa and I both went to see Dr. Gunn, breast surgeon and we both decided that we would have bi-lateral mastectomies. My cancer was Grade 3, fast growing (growing@ 90%) I went to see Dr. Dhruva, an oncologist, was still seeing Dr. Allen, gynecologist, and at some point added Dr. Shah, radiologist and Dr. Moore plastic surgeon! February 18 I had the mastectomy; Melissa had her surgery the day before, and we were across the hall from each other! They tested the left breast tissue and there was a 3 mm mass that was cancerous! So glad I opted to have both breast removed. My right tumor had grown to 3.5cm by the time of the surgery. 14 lymph nodes were removed. 6 were positive and the sentinel node was negative. My cancer was triple negative, Infiltrating Ductile Carcinoma. Several weeks later we both started chemotherapy, 8 rounds, every two weeks. They put in tissue expanders at the time of surgery and every few weeks Dr. Moore injected saline to expand the tissue, muscle and skin. The chemo was AC/T (Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxal) At the second treatment I started losing my hair. That was worse than loosing my breast. The chemo ended in July and in August I started 31 treatments of radiation. Beginning of November the tissue expanders came out and implants were put in. 3 weeks later I got an infection in my right breast and had to have emergency surgery to have the implant removed. So, now I’m a one-breasted woman… and have been since then! This is when all the surgeries start… March 2012 I had a TRAM; they took the muscle out of my stomach and put it into my right breast. January 2013 began the fat grafting to help build up my right breast. In April I had a hysterectomy as a precaution. July and November had another fat grafting. The last one was in March 2014. I’m now going to a plastic surgeon in Augusta that is going to put another tissue expander in my right breast and then do a few more surgeries in hopes to help build my right breast area so that I can have another breast!!!! One day I will have two boobs!! WOO HOO!!! Advice I can give to people going through cancer of any kind is to STAY POSITIVE! When I was diagnosed I researched numerous things but one was how positive thinking people had better outcomes that those that thought negative. Cancer does not mean it’s the end of the road. I use this in everything in my life now. I know that is how I’ve made it through all of this. I don’t stress about any of it because… hey I can’t change it but I can be positive and believe me it has helped me get through the past nine surgeries.

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