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Sage Stories: Leanna
Diagnosed with breast cancer after receiving a mammogram through the Sage Program in 2022, Leanna has advocated for her needs and wants others with breast cancer to feel empowered to do the same.
I believe, in hindsight, that my journey with cancer began long before I realized it. In my 30s, I had a benign tumor biopsied. I remember my mother saying that she wasn’t worried because I was such a healthy eater. No one thought that this tumor was a warning and a call to action. Now, I know that it was.
Fast forward 15 years; I’m 54. I get mammograms regularly and they aren’t painful, just a tad uncomfortable. I think that mammograms are less uncomfortable for women with larger breasts. I noticed a lump months before my diagnosis but I wasn’t too worried about it. I got my mammograms regularly.
I moved to Minnesota and unfortunately didn’t have a job that provided health care. I sought out a discount clinic and got an annual physical, got my prescriptions filled and made an appointment for a mammogram. The entire time, I notice the lump that doesn’t seem to be getting bigger but causes me to wonder if the Big C is present. I also learned about the Sage program which had been a tremendous help with my medical costs even before my diagnosis.
I go for my mammogram in November 2022, two months after my physical; it’s the earliest that I can get in. They contact me to request that I return for more tests. I ask,”Do you see a change?”. They affirm that they do but are still waiting for my prior records. It’s a couple of weeks later that the prior mammogram records are received and I make an appointment to get a biopsy. The biopsy was stressful simply because I knew there was cause for concern. To make matters worse, I have to get two different types of biopsies. On December 20th, 2022, I got the dreaded call that yes, my biopsy is positive. Although I knew with certainty that I had cancer, to have my intuition confirmed caused tears. Thankfully, my son and daughter in law came right away to comfort me and offer their support. Things moved quickly from there. I met with the surgeon, scheduled surgery, and met with the radiation oncologist in the radiation department.
In December of 2023, I will be at the one year mark for one the hardest years of my life. I see my oncologist monthly along with monthly blood tests to monitor the effects of the two cancer medications that I take on my blood counts. I’m scheduled to take one medication for five years and the other for two years. I completed 30 rounds of radiation with severe skin reactions in June 2023. On the horizon are infusions for three years to strengthen my bones, to combat yet another side effect of the medications, and to reduce the chance of reoccurrence by another 4 - 8%. I expect to have another mammogram at the end of this year, in December 2023.
I changed both my radiation oncologist and oncologist because I didn’t feel heard. It seems that the “professionals” want patients to take their recommendations without questions. They expect patients to celebrate and accept their recommendations to abuse our bodies to fight cancer without concerns for the long - term side effects and the new normal that cancer forces on us, the patients. I wish that doctors would really see patients as individuals and not ‘copy + paste' their treatment recommendations without regard to the patient’s personalities and belief systems. I found too often I’ve discovered side - effects that the doctors knew were possible but didn’t see fit to warn me about.
At the end of the day, patients should feel that they have all the necessary information to make an informed decision and not to feel forced to react out of fear, ignorance, or desperation. In my opinion, patients should experience a sense of satisfaction that they are doing what’s best for them, as an individual, fully - informed, with the full picture of their treatment journey.
My advice to those newly diagnosed:
Ask questions. Don’t be silenced by doctors' impatience or frustrations with your questions. You must advocate for yourself.
If a provider doesn’t respect you as an individual, ask for a different doctor and don’t stop until you feel comfortable and feel heard and seen. It’s perfectly reasonable to seek a second opinion on the treatment plan despite the push by doctors to act quickly.
Finally, be gentle with yourself and be vulnerable. Accept that your body has a huge fight ahead and needs you to be at your best in all realms: physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Ask for and accept help.
Rest when needed and take it one day at a time.
Be vigilant in seeking out the sunshine during this difficult, and sometimes dark, time in your life. The ease in your diagnosis is there and sometimes you’ll find them in the most unexpected people and forms.
Cry when you feel the need because I’ve found that I’m blindsided by tears fairly regularly for a variety of reasons.
Never believe that you have to go through this alone or that you are alone.
Take advantage of all of the support groups, medical professionals, including auxiliary practitioners, and individuals that ask, "How can I support you?".
It might be difficult to accept your new normal but it does get easier, I promise!
-Leanna, a cancer warrior