My Grandma and Her Breast Cancer

I interviewed my Grandma on January 31, 1999 about her breast cancer. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1996. ~Brandon

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
"My primary care physician found the lump in my breast during my normal check-up".

How did you decide your treatment option?
The doctor laid out all the choices. California law lets the patient decide what their treatment will be. "Because the lump was small, I went for the lumpectomy".

What happened because of your choice?
"I had to have chemotherapy and radiation".

What was your chemotherapy like and how did you receive it?
"I was terrified at first, but it wasnít as bad as I expected". Her first round of chemo left her sick, sleepy and really dragged her out. She lost all of her hair in a short amount of time. With her second phase of chemo, (more about that later) she was left wondering why they didnít give her the drug "Taxol" the first time. It made a big difference in the way she felt after the treatments. My grandma received her chemo through an IV.

How long does one chemo treatment take, and how many have you had?
It takes about 4 hours for each cycle. Each cycle is given 3 weeks apart, on average. The first time she received three cycles of chemo, then 8 weeks of radiation, and then three more cycles of chemo.

How long does radiation treatment last?
Each radiation treatment lasts only 15 minutes, but you have this treatment 5 days a week for 8 weeks in a row. "Radiation leaves you very tired!"

Why did you stop getting chemotherapy?
"My treatments stopped in December of 1996 because they didnít find any more signs of cancer. I thought I was cured, I later found out what remission was".

Did you have to go back to the doctor?
"Yes, I went every 3 months for checkups, exams and to see the radiologist. Everything looked great for a long time".

What happened next?
As my grandma says, after a 16 month remission, "I went into Phase 2". She went in for another regular checkup. Since she had postnasal drip and a nasty cough, the doctor ordered a chest x-ray. The x-ray showed a small spot on her right lung. More tests were taken. A catscan showed tiny cancer growth in the right lung and worst yet, in the liver. A bone scan showed that cancer was also in her bones.

Phase 2 Ė The Cancerís Back

Chemotherapy started again. She began a new drug, which is called Taxol. Taxol was used for 2nd time cancer for my grandma, but it is now used for first time cancer patients. The side effects she feels are numbness to toes and hands, nerve ends and sore joints.

It became harder and harder for the doctor to find a vein that would allow the IV for treatment, so she went into the hospital and they inserted a tube into her chest. This is how she has chemo now. This tube will stay in until she doesnít need chemo anymore.

Since my grandma already knew that loosing all her hair was a side effect of chemo, she had her head shaved right away. She said that with the first phase of chemo, she tried to hang on to it as long as possible, even though her scalp hurt as it fell out. An interesting fact with this new drug is that her hair is actually growing back during her treatments. She is very proud of the fact that she is also growing her eyelashes back!

Aredia is given 2 days after chemo to help strengthen the bones. The same night or the following day is when the side effects kick in. Those side effects are aching, painful knees and weakness to the legs.

My grandma is on her 13th cycle of chemo treatment for this phase. After every 3-4 cycles of chemo treatment, she has a catscan and a bone scan to tell if the cancer is changing. There has been no change in her cancer. It has not become smaller nor has it grown bigger. She is in the process of trying to go to "The City of Hope" to see if there is something else they can do for her. At this point she is up for anything. My grandma says that "treading water is better than dying". She says she will continue treatment until she dies or the cancer dies.

What keeps you going? What helps you get through the day?
"Faith, family, love and prayers from everyone around me!"

"Your grandfather, or as I like to refer to him, my side kick, has been with me every step of the way. For that I am very grateful!"

"It is also extremely important to like the doctor you are working with. With the doctor I have now, Dr. Lym, hope is always there!"