Rui's Breast Cancer Journey

An introduction to a new blog series written by a breast cancer survivor on prepping for chemotherapy and surgery.


 

Editor's Note:


Hi, This is Rose, the current Content Managing Editor!


I'd like to introduce a new blog series that will be written by a local survivor who wanted to share her experience on how to prepare for different phases of her breast cancer treatment.


This series will be split into 3 parts:

  • Surgery

  • Chemotherapy

  • Resources

We hope that you will find the series informative over the next months as this series is published. Thank you and now let me introduce Rui!

 

Rui's Journey: The Beginning


My name is Rui and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2019. How did I know? I found a grape-sized lump. LADIES – CHECK YOUR BOOBS! I used to do monthly self-breast exams and noticed a small lump in October and it did not feel right. I let it go for a couple of months. Heat sensitivity in the shower was my biggest sign. I had been getting annual mammograms and seeing my OBGYN but they didn’t catch it.



BRCA Gene


After the biopsy, I was also tested for the BRCA gene – mind you, I have no breast cancer history in my family. So, imagine my surprise when it came back to BRCA2+. Final diagnosis: invasive ductal carcinoma, BRACA2+, stage 2B.

BRCA stands for BReast CAncer Gene. There are two types, BRCA1 and BRCA2 and they are hereditary.

Normally, these genes protect you from getting certain cancers. But some mutations in the gene prevent them from working properly and you are more likely to get breast, ovarian, and other cancers. Not everyone who gets the mutation will develop cancer. But if you have the gene mutation, the likelihood of developing cancer in your lifetime goes up significantly (45-69% in my case).


The + stands for estrogen receptor-positive. What this means is that my cancer cells need estrogen to grow. This will affect future treatment and other preventative surgery. But I will get to this later in a separate post.


Because I am BRCA2+ the surgeon’s recommendation was to get a double mastectomy. This cancer grows on breast tissue. So even if I decided to keep one breast, the chances of it recurring in the other breast in my lifetime were very high. While the decision was not easy to make, in the end, I decided that the chance of recurrence was too much of a risk.



Post Surgery


At the end of February 2020, I had my surgery. They removed both breast tissues and also checked my lymph nodes for cancer cells on the left side because this is where my cancer was growing. They do this because when the cancer cells decide to leave the area where they are growing, the first place they spread to is usually the lymph nodes. Unfortunately, my cancer had spread out of my breast and they found traces of the cancer cell in my 1st lymph node. In the end, they removed 4 lymph nodes. Luckily the pathologist only found very small traces of the cancer cell in the 1st lymph node and they did not find the cancer cells in the next 3 lymph nodes.


Before chemo could begin my medical oncologist had me undergo several tests. I got an echocardiogram to see how healthy my heart was. And I got a CT scan and bone scan. This was to make sure the cancer had not spread to other parts of my body (aside from my lymph nodes). Once breast cancer leaves the breast area, it can spread to your bones, liver, lungs, and brain. Fortunately, mine was not detected in other parts of my body. But because it had spread to my lymph nodes and the size of the cancer tumor, I was told that I would need chemotherapy and radiation.



Chemo Experience


I think of chemo like “washing” the inside of your body.

It kills the cells that might have escaped and prevents new cancer cell growth. The radiation is a targeted attack and was necessary because the mass they removed was large enough to cause trouble.

In April 2020, I began my chemotherapy treatments. I got 4 rounds of Doxorubicin and 8 rounds of Taxol which ended in August. I was given 4 weeks of rest and then from September to October, I went for 8 weeks of daily radiation treatments. Rested and recovered for 2 months and started working part-time again in December of 2020.


So now what? I underestimated how much time the cancer was going to take from me. I figured one year. Everybody’s case is different. At the time I am writing this I have been cancer-free for a year. I had a couple more preventative surgeries which I will talk about later. Every day is a step forward albeit much slower than I would like. The pandemic has definitely made the recovery process a bit complicated. And I tend to want to have everything done NOW! But it’s important to take it easy, one step at a time.

Focus on your body and repairing it. Eat well, sleep, and hydrate.

More tips coming soon!



Definitions


BRCA: most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. In normal cells, these genes help make proteins that repair damaged DNA. Mutated versions of these genes can lead to abnormal cell growth, which can lead to cancer (Source: American Cancer Society)


CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: this shows images of your bones, organs, and soft tissues which helps doctors find cancer and show things like a tumor's shape and size. (Source: American Cancer Society)



Disclaimer


The views and opinions of our blog writers represent their personal views and opinions and not those of Breast Cancer Hawaii. Through our blog, we merely seek to give individuals creative freedom to share their personal experiences. Do not rely on this information as a substitute for a professional's medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.

 

Rui Sasaki is a breast cancer survivor and volunteer with Breast Cancer Hawaii. She got involved with the organization hoping to help women in Hawaii by sharing her cancer journey. She also just accepted a position working for a medical group on Oahu and hopes to do better for the community.