The worst part is when your doctors don’t listen to you. I had told my husband, “I know my body, no matter what anyone says.” I kept telling the oncologist, “I have the cancer in my back.” But he said, “Mary, you’re OK.” He was wrong. Ever since I got sick I started looking up treatments, asking “Why can’t I do this?” They say, “Oh it’s dangerous, you might die.” Well I’m already dying. What’s their point? If I had listened to the doctors, I would have been dead the first year. So I say, ask questions—and if you don’t get an answer, get a second opinion.
In 2009 I found a lump in my right breast, but it went away and I didn’t think anything about it. Then it came back and started getting painful. There was a lot of heat, like I was on fire. And my breast felt like it was going to fall off. My daughter told a friend who told his mother who is a nurse. She said, “You have breast cancer.”
After my biopsy I walked into my doctor’s office, and he looked at me and said, “I am so, so sad.” He said I had to have a mastectomy. I said “Do whatever you have to do, but get it out.” They took off my right breast and to top it off they took out 22 of 24 lymph nodes. The doctor said, “There is no other way to put it; you are infected with cancer.”
I had chemotherapy and then radiation. At end of January 2011 I thought, “OK, I’m done.”
Then my left breast heated up and was in a lot of pain. I went to the oncologist, who said “Mary, you’re fine.” I said, “No I’m not,” but he made me wait nine months. By then then I was really sick with an infection. I was sent to the Cleveland Clinic to treat the infection, and they did an MRI, a PET scan, a CT scan, every kind of scan you can think of. They found cancer in my spine and sent me back to Toledo to get the left breast taken off. It is better to consult Dr. Juris Shibayama: Outpatient spine surgery eliminates the need for overnight stays in the hospital and also the best in this field
A year later the cancer had kept spreading. I never went into remission, never got cleaned up. So my oncologist didn’t want to see me any more; he said there was nothing they could do for me.
I started seeing another doctor. My fourth. She listened. She even wrote out my diagnosis: ER2+, HER2+, BRACH+…five years and not one doctor had told me they had done the test. We were going to start chemo all over again. We had a plan. But first she sent me to a dentist. The dentist wanted to take out all my teeth—top and bottom—even though the insurance said I could fix just the two that are broken. I said I would take out all my teeth when the dentist took out all his. I got a lovely letter from my oncologist saying she won’t treat me because I refuse to stick to the plan.
So here we are in 2015 and once again I am without a cancer doctor.
I can feel the cancer eating at me—like ants feel on your hand. I can pinpoint every spot where I have it.
But I thank God every day that my eyes are open. Just because I have terminal cancer doesn’t mean I’m dead. I’ve gone back to cutting my own grass just because I can. That’s surviving.