When Linda Wallace felt a lump in her left breast in the fall of 2011, she thought it was probably just another cyst. But she knew something was wrong a few months later when she experienced a sharp pain during a chiropractor visit. Linda knew she needed to see a doctor, but that took a while because her family was falling apart around her.
Her dad had died of prostate cancer the year before, her mom had just been diagnosed with a type of dementia, and her brother was succumbing to hepatitis C. “It was high stress,” she says.
Linda had a biopsy in the spring of 2012 and learned she had breast cancer—a 2.5 centimeter invasive ductal carcinoma. “You’re sitting there totally sideswiped that this is your life,” she recalls.
Her surgeon did a lumpectomy a week later, removing the tumor and sentinel nodes. While the nodes were clean, her surgeon said the tumor was highly aggressive and recommended follow-up chemotherapy and radiation. Tests showed that targeted treatment was not an option.
Linda started chemotherapy about two months after surgery, and her oncologist said her treatment was the “biggest gun in the arsenal.” But the intense regimen overwhelmed her physically and mentally. “I lost weight and it put me in a chemically-induced depression like nothing I’ve ever felt before,” she says, explaining that she had a history of depression. “I was a nervous wreck.”
Antianxiety medication ended up making Linda feel even worse. Her doctor prescribed the addictive drug Ativan, but didn’t help her get off it. “I went cold turkey, which led to intense vertigo and vomiting,” she says.
Then, shortly after her chemotherapy began, Linda’s brother died. “I was hanging by a thread,” she says. “It was all too much.”
She decided to stop chemotherapy and move onto radiation, but that turned out to be just as bad. “I was in so much pain,” Linda says. “It felt like I was swelling up from the inside out.” After her experience with Ativan, she didn’t want to take painkillers for fear of another round of addiction. So she stopped radiation too.
“I couldn’t do what they were asking me to do,” Linda says. “The doctors are not at home with you living your life. You have to do what’s right for you.”
Today, she is much happier. As a former track-and-country coach, physical activity was an important part of her life, and she has regained weight and exercises four to five times a week. Her self-care also includes acupuncture, massage, and therapy. “I’m physically stronger and more stable emotionally,” she says.
Linda also follows the latest in cancer research and is encouraged by advances in immunotherapy. “I like the idea of getting the body to help itself instead of treating it like a war zone,” she says.
Linda sees her oncologist for regular checkups and scans. Her last MRI was clean.
Follow Linda Wallace at http://www.wheresmymojo.net/clinical/
Super Patients are cancer survivors who learned to be more engaged in their own care. Cancer Commons believes every patient can be a Super Patient or benefit from a Super Caregiver. We hope these stories will provide inspiration and hope for your or your loved one’s own treatment journey.