I had just finished a run last October when I noticed a lump in my breast. It turned out to be a benign tumor, and I had surgery to remove it. At my follow-up appointment, however, I learned that there was invasive breast cancer next to the benign tumor that had been removed.
Here's the ironic thing: I'm a forester with the U.S. Forest Service, and 20 years ago I helped coordinate the harvest of the bark of yew trees to help develop promising new cancer drugs such as Taxol. When I was doing all that work, it was very intense and I remember thinking, "I wonder if what I'm doing today will pay off for someone I know." I never thought it would be me.
When I learned it was cancer, I went to the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and saw Dr. Kathryn Shell, who shared all my treatment options. She was very good at explaining information in understandable terms and listening to all my questions. She also guided me through genetic testing; I'm now the third first-degree relative in my family with breast cancer. The staff at the clinic was all outstanding: efficient but compassionate. You didn't feel like a patient. You felt like a person.
I ended up having a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction in December, and Dr. Shell was there for me. We did more tests to determine the chance of my cancer recurring, and ended up going forward with chemo—the Cytoxan and Taxotere cocktail. I did four treatments, once every three weeks. My sister went through treatment 17 years ago and I knew how sick she was. Dr. Shell kept reassuring me, and she was right: I was not sick.
While I did have some side effects including hair loss, rashes, fluid retention, occasional double-vision, they are fading. My hair is growing back into a short, edgy style. I'm looking forward to getting back to what I used to do, like running, hiking and swimming.