In mid 2012, the sudden death of a colleagues’ husband spurred me to do something I had not done in 10 years. I went to the doctor.
I’ve worked in healthcare since 1986, and I fit the stereotype of a healthcare worker who didn’t always pay enough attention to her own health. So, for more than a decade, I hadn’t had a mammogram, blood work, routine checkup or even a sick visit to the doctor. I didn’t even have a regular physician anymore.
But that unexpected death was a wake-up call that made me realize I had better get a physician and get a checkup. I chose a family medicine physician at Touro and made an appointment. She told me what I knew, and that was I really needed to get caught up on all of my screening exams and tests.
I have a history of very dense breasts and had previous biopsies of cysts that were benign, but because of many benign cysts, a physical exam is very difficult. The doctor wrote my orders and I had a screening mammogram, which turned into a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound on the same day, which I had gone through twice before with benign cysts. This time, the news was serious. A biopsy revealed that I had breast cancer.
I had always said that if I was diagnosed with breast cancer I would have a bilateral mastectomy to make sure there was no ability for recurrence. I met with my surgeon, who explained that due to the location and the size (very small and on the lower portion of my breast), there was no need for a mastectomy and he would have no problems obtaining clear margins with a lumpectomy.
I had my surgery and doctors found that in addition to the tumor in my breast, the cancer had already progressed to one lymph node.
Had I not had my wake-up call, I would probably had gone another few years without testing and the cancer would have at that time been throughout my body and I would not be here today.
I received chemotherapy and radiation treatment post-surgery which put me into early menopause. Since my tumor was hormone positive, I can’t take hormone treatment for menopause and therefore hot flashes were a huge issue.
Throughout the experience, I was determined to not let my diagnosis rule my life. I went to all of my testing and treatments alone except for the last 3 in which I had neuropathy and couldn’t drive and had what I call “chemo brain.”
I gave myself my own Neupogen shots after every treatment to keep my white blood cell count up and continued to work until I was unable to drive.
During the treatments, I would bring a book, a pillow and a blanket and read until the Benadryl made me sleepy, take a nap, then drive home. One day, when I was receiving my treatment, I heard the patient across from me who was getting her first one (who had 3 people with her) ask the nurse if I was getting Chemo. The nurse later came to me and asked if I could speak to the patient who was very scared. I introduced myself and told her that I was on my 4th of 8 treatments and that I had never been nauseous or sick and used the time to relax and read. She was so surprised because I had “hair”. I laughed and whipped off my wig and showed her that I was bald as a cucumber.
Most people didn’t even realize I was undergoing treatment. My philosophy was to take each day at a time, don’t worry about something that hasn’t happened, and continue living. I feel strongly that the strength to persevere helps outcomes.
I am an example of why it is so important to have your annual exams and testing. I would not be here today if I had waited even another year.
Please join all of us at University Medical Center in saying #YesMamm to an annual mammogram. Scheduling a screening is easy, and if you are over 40 years old with no known breast problems, you won’t need a physician’s order to get your screening mammogram at University Medical Center. For more information, visit www.umcno.org/mammograms or to schedule an appointment, call (504) 702-5700.
Lisa Miranda is University Medical Center’s Chief Operating Officer. Prior to joining University Medical Center, she worked for 27 years at Children’s Hospital New Orleans in a number of roles, including Administrative Director of Laboratory Services, Hospital Safety Officer, and Emergency Management Coordinator.