October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with our Co-founder, Daniella, who shares with us her survival story for the first time.
My Journey Begins
Five and a half years ago my HMO sent me a message reminding me that I was overdue for a mammogram. My last mammogram had been two years before but until then life had been very busy and I had kept putting off the appointment. When I received the SMS, I made an appointment right away.
There is no history of breast cancer in my family so I was not worried, but after the mammogram I was asked to wait for a specific doctor and I started to suspect that something was up.
I was diagnosed with a tumor in my left breast. The cancer appeared to be limited to the breast and further tests in the hospital confirmed this. The initial prognosis was jarring for me but I was very grateful that the cancer had not spread.
During different tests in the hospital I remember two young male doctors asking me in surprise if I had not felt the bump. No, I answered them, I had not. They were so surprised that they asked again. Although I did monthly self breast examinations, I had breast calcifications (small calcium deposits that develop in the breast tissue) which apparently had made it hard to detect any lumps. What I did not know is that one can make a yearly appointment with a breast surgeon for a professional breast exam. The breast surgeon is able to distinguish between calcifications and lumps. Now I make an appointment with a breast surgeon once a year for this simple breast exam.
Surgery to Start
To treat the breast cancer I first had a lumpectomy. The lumpectomy went very smoothly. My surgeon sat with me a few weeks before the surgery and explained everything that he was going to do. When I arrived at the hospital for the surgery, each member of his team explained each step that they took as they prepped me for surgery in the operating room. It made me feel very calm.
The surgery was a success. After a post-op visit to my surgeon to make sure that all was well and then waiting a few weeks to fully heal, the next step was chemotherapy.
On to Chemo
I was scheduled to have a grueling chemotherapy treatment followed by a less toxic chemotherapy and then radiation. My husband and sister both reviewed a lot of research about my type of breast cancer and found that doctors on the east coast of the US gave more aggressive chemotherapy to their breast cancer patients than the doctors on the west coast of the US with similar results for their patients. I decided to bring this research paper to my oncologist in the hopes that we could drop at least one of the chemotherapies. My oncologist read the paper and then checked the tests that I had been through to confirm that I had no cancer in my lymph nodes. After that, she excused herself to confer with two other oncologists in her department. When she came back she told me that we could skip the first chemo and go right to the second, “lighter” chemotherapy. I was very thankful that I had asked. I was proud that I had been my own advocate and grateful that my husband and sister had found the studies that I needed.
My oncologist explained to me that even with the “lighter” chemotherapy, I would lose all my hair within two months. My hair did become thinner but every month when I saw my oncologist (whom I liked very much) the first thing she would do was exclaim in surprise that I had not lost my hair.
Alternative Medicines to Complement the Chemo
In tandem with the chemotherapy I was receiving, I had sought out the expertise of a nurse practitioner who is a specialist in Chinese herbs. She gave me a cocktail of ten herbs to take every day to lessen the side effects of the chemotherapy. I believe that the herbs prevented me from losing all my hair. Although I did feel tired during the chemotherapy, I also never experienced any other major side effects.
A friend, who had also been through chemotherapy for breast cancer, strongly suggested that I take magnesium to prevent neuropathy which can be a bi-product of chemotherapy. No one in the medical field had mentioned this issue. I took the magnesium throughout my treatment and it seemed to be effective as I only experienced very mild neuropathy in the bottom of my feet.
And Finally Some Radiation
After the chemo was done, It was time to start radiation. An acquaintance , who had also had radiation on her breast, wrote a book about her experience with breast cancer** and in it she strongly suggested (on the advice of a doctor) that one should apply calendula cream to the breast before each radiation session to prevent or lessen the burns that occur. (She used the cream during her radiation and suffered no burns.)
I spoke to my oncologist and to the radiologist about using the cream but they were both adamant that I should not. I didn’t use the cream and sadly received a very painful burn that took about a month to heal. I saw my dermatologist who told me that she had seen much worse but that she did not see any issue with using the cream during radiation. I went back to my oncologist to discuss this with her and she agreed to suggest the cream to her patients going forward. I hope she will.
I count all my blessings throughout this journey: that I was treated at one of the top hospitals in the country, that the cancer was limited, that my family plowed through the relevant research to make sure that I was getting the best treatment for my type of cancer, that I was able to advocate for myself, that I felt well enough to continue working and socializing during this year, that I had my family and friends there for me.
My husband and I became grandparents for the first time that year and I was strong enough to spend quality time with our new grandson. Since then we have been blessed with many more beautiful grandchildren. I try to count my blessings everyday and be mindful of living in the present. I also make sure that I am on top of all my medical appointments.
Daniella Peyser Teutsch
* My medical team’s approach to possible neuropathy was that they would not suggest taking any vitamins and if the neuropathy became uncomfortable, they would stop the chemotherapy for a few weeks.
** Naomi Baum: Life Unexpected: A Trauma Psychologist Journeys Through Breast Cancer https://www.amazon.com/Life-Unexpected-Psychologist-Journeys-Through-ebook/dp/B00KAKLPRM/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Naomi+Baum&qid=1603360359&sr=8-2