What will be, will be.
My name is Jude and I am a 53 year old wife, mother to 3 boys, and registered nurse who works in the field of oncology.
I had been having regular mammograms for several years. In October 2005 I had a routine mammogram. Even when they kept doing extra pictures I did not think that there was anything wrong. I received a phone call from my GP the next day and 2 days later I had an appointment with a surgeon that I had heard good things about. The biopsy showed that there were cancer cells present and I proceeded to a partial mastectomy. The pathologist discovered a microscopic deposit in one of the sentinel nodes, so I also had an axillary node dissection. At this point I still was not too worried. I had been upset at the time of the biopsy results, but thought that whatever it was had been caught early and was unlikely to be a major issue.
The defining moment was sitting in the surgeon’s office hearing the histology result- Grade 3, ER/PR –ve (no chance of tamoxifen) HER2 positive. I then realised just how serious this was. I think that because of my background in oncology I was more aware of the implications of what this result meant and at that time I became seriously scared. I have very little recall of that time other than sitting out on our deck high up in the Waitakeres, nibbling away on berries and other organic items high in anti oxidants, gazing into space and wondering how long until I died.
I was told that I would benefit from chemo and radiotherapy. I received 4 cycles of Adriamycin and Cyclophosfamide through the public system. Extra benefit could be gained from 4 cycles of Taxotere (privately) and then there was Herceptin (also privately),so I had those too. I tolerated the chemo very well and was able to work through it all with only the odd day off. My work was extremely supportive and I was given clerical based jobs to occupy my time. I was very tired at the end of the Taxotere. The 5 weeks of radiotherapy went well also and I had no problem at all with this. I hated losing my hair and I always wore a wig.
My parents helped financially with the Herceptin. I felt so lucky to be able to have it. There were no side effects. It gave me a sense of hope and security. However after 5 cycles I developed moderate- severe heart failure and ended up in coronary care for 2 weeks. The Cardiologist thought I was heading for a heart transplant, but I actually felt okay, just a bit tired.
It has been 2 years since the Herceptin was stopped. My heart has improved some, but I will always be on medication. The Doctors think that it was the Adriamycin that did the most damage and that the Herceptin exacerbated it. The Oncologist and Cardiologist both agree that if the cancer returns, I will not be offered Herceptin again.
This year I walked the Tongariro Crossing. I exercise a lot and feel pretty good. My diet is not all organic and full of antioxidants now, but I do eat carefully. I still get a bit nervous if I have a sore back or a twinge here or there, but I have learned to live with that and I feel very positive towards the future.
I feel lucky that I had the Herceptin. I knew I only had one shot at fending the cancer off and so I went for everything on offer. I don’t know if it is because I work in the Health Service or not, but I have never really been upset about PHARMAC's decision to fund the short course only. I trust my Doctor and if he says that I have probably had enough Herceptin to do the trick then I choose to believe him.
I am back working in Oncology. Sometimes I wonder if it is good for me - having that constant reminder of what may happen, but generally I can put those thoughts aside and get on with doing the work I love
What will be will be.