I know first-hand what it’s like when a family goes through a diagnosis of breast cancer. My beloved aunt, Laura Margulies, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, 2011, after a routine mammogram detected a tumor in her left breast.
Aunt Laura is a bankruptcy attorney and mother of five. Her youngest daughter was a senior in high school at the time of the diagnosis, and the news was difficult for the whole family to digest. She called me when she was diagnosed and we talked about what she should expect from her surgeon and oncology team near her home in Maryland.
She was faced with the choice of a lumpectomy or mastectomy, but Aunt Laura first needed to be tested for BRCA gene mutations because her mother had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ breast cancer in her 60’s. If genetic testing was positive for BRCA she would need a double mastectomy. Unfortunately, the time period during which she was waiting to hear about which type of breast cancer she had and whether or not she tested positive for BRCA markers was extremely difficult.
Aunt Laura says, “My surgeon did us a disfavor by giving me and my husband a lecture of all the various types of breast cancers before I even had the biopsy to determine which type of breast cancer I had. Some types of breast cancer are especially devastating, and I didn’t know what type I had yet so it was a very scary time. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and I was thinking of the worst case scenario. I was in shock, and they had to prescribe medication to help me sleep.”
My aunt’s surgeon told her that estrogen-positive breast cancer would be the best case scenario, and the biopsy revealed that that’s indeed what she had. However, the time period of not knowing was understandably excruciating.
Aunt Laura’s advice to any woman who has been newly diagnosed with breast cancer is, “Don’t panic until you know what you’re dealing with. Even if it’s something besides estrogen-positive breast cancer, there are a lot more different treatments today than there used to be. Wait until you hear the treatment options before panicking.”
It also turned out that Aunt Laura had no markers indicating the BRCA gene, which was good news. However, she had another unfortunate and unnecessary scare. She says, “During the initial diagnosis when they did the scan they saw something on my back and wanted to get a sample of it. They did that and saw nothing, but kept poking and taking samples. Everything was negative, but during an MRI the technician whispered in my ear, ‘Just because we don’t find anything doesn’t mean you don’t have bone cancer.’”
Needless to say, this insensitive remark only increased Aunt Laura’s fear and apprehension during the month of testing between her diagnosis and her surgery. Fortunately, she eventually found out that all those scan results were ok and there was no indication of bone cancer.
Aunt Laura opted for a mastectomy of her left breast, which was done about a month after her diagnosis. Her treatment included a mastectomy of the left breast and removal of a few lymph nodes that had cancerous tissue. She then endured chemotherapy and radiation from December, 2011, to May, 2012. The experience was grueling, but she found comfort in the support of family and friends.
For any women going through breast cancer treatments, Aunt Laura says, “Take care of yourself. I didn’t stop working but I did slow down, especially during treatment times. I let friends help us, and my daughter-in-law set up an online site where people could sign up to help by bringing meals or going to treatments with me if I needed. This was so helpful because especially after a treatment I would be wiped out. Family and friends also got together and everyday someone was saying prayers, which really comforted me. My nephew, Dr. Aaron Margulies, was extraordinarily helpful in giving us the benefit of his knowledge and experience during this difficult time.”
She adds, “I have since found out a lot of people in my neighborhood had breast cancer but they didn’t want others to know. I guess they thought there was a stigma to it, but I didn’t care. I had my friends, my whole community, and my family involved and that was very beneficial. My doctors and radiologist were also very positive and uplifting throughout everything, which really helped.”
I’m delighted to say Aunt Laura remains cancer free nearly seven years after her diagnosis. Following her treatment, she was on an aromatase inhibitor for five years, but has been off of that for a little over a year now and continues to do well. She believes that her exercise routine of working out with a trainer three times a week, and going to Zumba classes twice a week, has also been helpful to her post-surgery success. She’s right, an active exercise regimen lowers the risk of cancer recurrence.
She’ll continue to see her oncologist once a year for ten years, and still has mammograms on her right breast. In the meantime, she’s helping her youngest son, my cousin, plan for his wedding in May and says she’s busy enjoying life. “My message for anyone facing breast cancer is that there’s hope,” she says.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer or are wondering if you should seek a second opinion on your diagnosis or treatment plan, I am happy to consult with you. I have a solo practice in Breast Surgical Oncology and General Surgery with offices at Tennova Turkey Creek in West Knoxville and another office adjacent to Tennova North Knoxville Medical Center just off of Emory Road in Powell. My extensive research and dedication to continual learning have distinguished me as a leader in the field. To learn more about my compassionate surgical care approach visit www.aaronmd.com or call (865) 692-1610.