Life Changing But Not Life Ending: Connie's Story
Although she was once routine about getting mammograms, it had been some time before Connie Dreger had received a current one. A program at UW Health called to remind her she was due and she scheduled an appointment right on the phone. As she later learned, it may have helped save her life. She shares her story below.
I was religious about getting my regular mammograms for a long time and then I lapsed. On June 21, 2010 a little voice called me from UW Health and said they would like to set up an appointment for my mammogram. I agreed and set up the appointment for Monday, June 28.
The day after my mammogram I received a call that I needed to go back for more magnified views because I have dense tissue. I was not worried because I have been told this before. I went in for the magnified views and was then called and told that I needed to have a biopsy. So on July 6, I went in for a stereo tactic biopsy completed by Dr. Roland Vega. He had a great bedside manner and was very reassuring.
A Life Changing Phone Call
On Friday, July 9, 2010, I was having lunch with some friends getting ready to celebrate our class reunion that weekend. I received the call that froze me in my tracks. I had cancer.
July 13 was my pre-surgery visit. At that time I was given the book, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. Dr. Vega told me it is the bible for women with breast cancer. He marked pertinent areas that would explain things a little further before my surgery. It was a wonderful book and helped relieve some of the fear.
My surgeries, a breast localization procedure with Dr. Daniel Arndt, and a partial mastectomy with Dr. Roland Vega were scheduled for July 15, 2010. When I arrived that morning I was brought in and explained what was going to happen. After being brought into the surgical area I was introduced to all of the people on the teams involved with my procedures. They were all very professional.
The surgery went well but I had a hard time coming out of recovery with the anesthesia so I was admitted to the hospital. Around midnight I finally felt better and was starving so I asked for crackers and 7-Up. The night nurse got them for me and she was so nice. She chatted with me and kept me company. That morning I took a wonderful shower and was discharged by 11:30am. I was told to take it easy and come back in a week.
After a month I started radiation. My radiation oncologist was Dr. Bethany Anderson. She answered all my questions and was very positive. The techs got to know me and made the treatments very personal. They always had the music that I like playing. I had a total of 32 radiation treatments and 2 CT Scans. My last one was September 16, 2010, it feels good to be done. I do feel my car was on automatic pilot to the hospital, going 5 days a week for almost 7 weeks.
I got to know the other people that were also receiving radiation treatments. So you notice the new people. I always made it a point to talk to them and try to help them feel at ease. I let them know that there is staff there to help them and they should take their advice.
Getting Back to a Feeling of Wholeness
On October 20, 2010 I met with Dr. Michael Huie, my oncologist. After an exam he suggested I go on the drug Tamoxifen for five years. It would decrease my risk of recurring Breast Cancer. I started the daily pill on Oct. 21. It does come with side effects: (hot flashes-I have about 12 a day, fatigue-I started needing a daily nap and was having trouble with my night job, and a return of a mini period.) The alternative is always worse.
I was given a prescription on Oct. 20, 2010 for a Breast Prosthesis. It was necessary to wait at least a month after the radiation, to give the skin a chance to heal. I went for a fitting at the UW Hospital Carewear Center on Oct. 21, 2010. The fitting took about an hour. I didn't know you could be measured in so many ways. I left that day with an Amoena Balance Breast Form, and a mastectomy bra. The bra has pockets where the prosthesis fits in. I ordered 2 additional bras which arrived shortly after. The prosthesis helps restore shape and symmetry, while giving a positive body image, confidence, and self esteem. I do have a feeling of wholeness again, which I am thankful for.
At my 6 month post operative appointment Dr. Vega told me that everything looked good and that I do not have to come back for six months. Then I will be on a yearly schedule. I was also very impressed because Dr. Vega said that he, or his successor, would see me for an exam following my mammograms for life. Most clinics will only send a note after someone has read the mammogram.
At a 3 month post drug regimen follow up, Dr. Huie had me add a B Complex to fight the fatigue. It has helped me with a little more energy. I recently picked up a cleavage cooler from the Carewear center, I hope this will give some relief from the hot flashes.
Everyone through this process has been great. No one made me feel trivial. They listened to my questions, and I had a lot, and took the time to answer them all. It is amazing how many people were involved in this process and every one of them has been friendly and helpful. I was not treated as a number.
I have maintained an upbeat attitude. When I would leave work daily for my radiation appointments, I would jokingly say I was off to see the wizard, and that I would be coming back glowing. Asking, "Why me?" is not going to help or make things better. I want to pass on my positive attitude. People that are just diagnosed need to know that 9 months later I am still here. I am not a quitter.
Life Changing But Not Life Ending
There is not a history of breast cancer in my family. I am actually the only one. So it was quite a shock. One out of eight people are touched by breast cancer. That is a high number. There are eight of us from school that are still very close. I was the first with Breast Cancer. At work there are eight full time women in our Dental Hygiene Department, and again I was the first with breast cancer. Women need to get their regular mammograms so they have the peace of mind knowing the results. If there is something detected, the research and treatment gets better all the time.
I appreciate the fact that people continually ask me how I am doing. Every time it causes a flashback to the summer of 2010. I keep them informed of my progress, and long term goals for a continued survivorship.
I will be volunteering with the Susan G. Komen Race on June 4 in Madison. Due to a bad back, and bursitis in my hip-my running, or long distance walking days are over.
But I still feel I can be an integral part of this whole process.
Thankfully I had that little voice call me to set up my mammogram. My hope is that other women stay on schedule and take action rather than wait. I have been working on a scrapbook with photos, pamphlets and other things to help my family understand this journey. It will help them see the faces of those that helped me. I want them to see that this has been life changing but not life ending.