You're in Control of the Cancer, It's not in Control of You

August 3, 2011

Janet George is a mother of three, grandmother of seven, and a breast cancer survivor. Her story began after a routine mammogram. Janet's mother died of breast cancer, so regular mammograms have always been part of her healthcare. Janet was notified that a small tumor had been found during a routine mammogram, and her cancer was diagnosed after a wire localization biopsy.

Name:  Janet George

Age at diagnosis:  55

Year diagnosed:  1996

Janet George is a mother of three, grandmother of seven, and a breast cancer survivor. Her story began after a routine mammogram. Janet's mother died of breast cancer, so regular mammograms have always been part of her healthcare. Janet was notified that a small tumor had been found during a routine mammogram, and her cancer was diagnosed after a wire localization biopsy. 

That was the day she began her research.  Janet called the national, state and local breast cancer organizations for information about treatment options for her type of breast cancer.  Janet is a firm believer that women should read all the information available about their healthcare.  Janet says, " I have to be in charge of everything in my life, including breast cancer."

Janet consulted three surgeons before deciding on what treatment regimen she wanted.  She found it interesting that two male surgeons recommended mastectomy, while a female surgeon suggested lumpectomy. Janet did some more research and found that survival rates were equal for the two procedures.  She decided to have a lumpectomy.

Janet then decided to check out the radiation therapy department at her local hospital.  She is terribly claustrophobic, and worried about being placed in a small chamber similar to an MRI machine.  Her tour of the radiation bays and laboratories assured her that claustrophobia would not be on her list of worries.  It was one more piece of information she needed to take control of the cancer and her life.

Janet's pathology report confirmed Ducto Carcinoma In Situ.  She had 11 lymph nodes removed with the cancerous lump and calcifications from her right breast.  She then began four months of chemotherapy, followed by seven weeks of radiation.  She says that despite all her research, she still wasn't ready for the side effects of treatment.  Janet says, "It's just like delivery, everyone can explain what will happen and how it will feel, but you just can not understand until you go through it."  Janet says the tremendous support of her medical team just couldn't prepare her for the loss of her toenails, or extremely painful mouth sores.  Her balance was affected, and the nausea reminded her of morning sickness. She also had strong cravings for tomato sauce.  Since the chemo, her veins have collapsed, and she wishes that a shunt had been used to administer the treatment. She says these are all things that the nurse oncologists could have told her about, and she still wouldn't have been prepared.

Janet decided ahead of time that the loss of her hair would not be a long process.  As soon as her hair began to fall out, she called her hairdresser and had her head shaved.  Janet said she didn't want to be crying in the shower, all alone, with clumps of hair in her hands.  "I believe in you being in charge, not the cancer being in charge," she says.

Janet felt the mental fight was just as important as the physical one. Janet would spend her time reading about current research, talking with friends and family about her cancer, and doing research. That ended at 3 o'clock every day.  She put aside the cancer and tried to have a normal evening, free of any discussion or research. She even refused to answer the phone, in case it was someone calling about her health.  Her husband answered the phone instead.

Janet also made sure she dressed every day.  It was important for her to have as normal a life as possible, and for her to be in charge of her life. The excellent support she received from her family was vital, and she only now understands how hard it was on her spouse. Her husband, Deryl, went with her to all her treatments and stayed by her side. She says, at the time, all she could do was heal herself and not worry about the other family members.

Janet says she often used imagery to help her get through the treatments and side effects.  She imagined the chemo as a pac-man game, with the little pac-man going through her body eating the cancer cells.  Since the radiation looks like a light beam, she imagined it was a fairy in a bubble floating through her body taking care of the cancer cells.  She also kept a journal of her thoughts and feelings, which she used to report to her doctors.

Janet believes not enough is done to prevent lymphedema from returning.  She asked to see a physical therapist.  Physical therapy after breast surgery, especially removal of the lymph glands, is designed to stretch and strengthen arm muscles, prevent excess scar tissue formation, and reduce swelling and stiffness. Janet says, "You don't realize how involved lymphedema is, you just don't want to mess with it, you could get it 20 years later."  Janet does not like to have any procedures done on her arm where the lymph glands were removed.  She requests that all blood pressure and blood be drawn in her unaffected arm, and wears a medical bracelet to prevent such procedures from being performed on that arm.

Janet has been taking tamoxifen for four years now, and continues to have good reports. She felt that her best information came from the PDQ Report from the National Cancer Foundation, and encourages others to use the information available on the internet.  She says, "Now that women's illnesses are more researched, by golly do it."