I was forty years old, running a successful business, comfortable in my finances, and feeling ready to settle down and start a family. Suddenly, a breast cancer diagnosis upended my sense of contentment and sent me on a journey of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, a preventative double mastectomy, and, ultimately, reconstructive surgery.
For Andrea Sveinbjornson of Regina, the Canadian Breast Cancer Network’s new SurgeryGuide is an invaluable tool, one that she wishes she had when she had to make decisions about breast surgery in 2016.
In August 2014 I found a lump in my left breast. This is unusual for inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare and very aggressive cancer where cancer blocks the lymph vessels.
Typically Stage IV triple negative breast cancer metastasizes to the bones, lungs, liver, and brain; however, mine is not in any of my organs. Mine was only in the left breast, both axillary lymph nodes, two on the left side of my neck, as well as two spots on my chest wall near the lung.
It was just another typical morning in our house, trying to get my son fed and dressed before I take him to daycare. As I am multitasking, getting myself dressed and making sure my son is actually brushing his teeth, I notice he’s watching me. He’s still trying to process those two large scars across my chest. The incisions are still fresh and slowly healing and turning to scars. Scars that represent where my breasts once were but now is just an empty space. He finally pipes up. “When are your boobies going to grow back, Mommy?” He asks so innocently.
“Abject terror floating in the back of my head.” That’s how Shelley Moore of St. Albert, Alberta describes her reaction to her 2014 diagnosis of Stage II triple negative breast cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2016. My understanding of the language of breast cancer that allowed me to fully comprehend my diagnosis and treatment options, came long after the news. Long after the radiologist told me that my mammogram was “highly suspicious for cancer.” Long after the surgeon doing my breast biopsy spelled out that I had a mass in my left breast, at least two enlarged lymph nodes, and was facing “a very difficult year.” Using that language now, I had locally advanced, hormone responsive, HER2 negative, stage 2, invasive ductal carcinoma: T2N1. After that difficult year (and more), my cancer is in remission.
As a breast cancer survivor and board member of CBCN, I am very interested in how biosimilars will be used in breast cancer treatment in Canada. While not commonly understood today, biosimilars will soon be a household discussion among breast cancer patients. As patients, it is important for us to know how biosimilars will be used to treat cancer, especially if they are going to be used as effective alternatives to brand name treatments. Here are some of the points that I think are important for us, as patients, to consider.
I have been living with metastatic breast cancer for over eight years. While I am usually averse to using battle analogies for living with and dying from cancer, finding the best care has required a fight, considerable perseverance, and hard work. Fortunately, my ER+/PR+ tumours (pleura/liver/lymph) have responded well, but not great, to hormonal therapies. I’m onto my seventh line of treatment.
I went for my regularly scheduled mammogram in April 2014. The notice I received for my mammogram stated that I was to be screened annually because I had 'dense breast tissue’. This was the first time I had heard that term. When I went for my mammogram in Regina, I told the tech that my letter stated that I had 'dense breast tissue’. After the mammogram, she looked at the images and said yes, “dense breasts.” I had no idea what this meant for me, but I was to find out soon.