by Jennifer Hintz
Note: Jennifer's story was submitted in response to our recent XRAY review published July 2017: Can Breast Cancer Come Back? If you have would like to submit a blog post related to one of our XRAYS articles, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was thrilled to finally hear the words from my oncologist:
“You’ve done everything you need to do, so congratulations! Unless you have any questions or anything changes, you don’t have to come back anymore.”
I felt amazing and such relief from those words. It had been a long journey, and I was finally done. Then the uncertainty kicked in: What do I do now?
Yes, I was proactive. Yes, I did everything I could to prevent “the cancer” from coming back. And yes, I asked all the questions that a BRCA carrier should ask, and many more.
A quick history of my story
- December 2015: First mammogram
- January 2016: Diagnosed with breast cancer (DCIS, stage 0) at age 41
- February: Lumpectomy followed by radiation in March
- April: Genetically tested “just in case” on my doctor’s recommendation. Test result came back as a BRCA2 carrier
- May: Full hysterectomy
- September: Double mastectomy, TRAM flap breast reconstruction
- October and December 2016, January and March 2017: Minor follow-up surgeries for cosmetic reasons
Let me say this: I have been SO blessed and thankful, and really have no reason to complain, so, I feel guilty when I do. My diagnosis was stage 0, I didn’t have to go through chemo, and the only time I felt sick or ill was after surgery; even then, for only a very short time. I felt so strong and rock star-like through most of the process. I bounced back quickly, didn’t need drugs for pain, and was back to “normal” almost immediately. Case in point: My last radiation treatment, I got off the table and drove straight to the airport for a two-hour flight to take care of a tradeshow for three days. “Boom,” I thought, “I’ve got this!”
I’ve found the physical recovery is much easier compared to the emotional and mental recovery. I would love to be elated and without a care in the world that I no longer have to be under an oncologist’s care. I feel, however, as though I’m a baby bird pushed out of the nest—not prematurely, but I’m still scared. What if it comes back somewhere else? I was monitored so closely for the last year, and now if it comes back how will I know? There was no pain, no signals, no issues at all, just a regular mammogram that lead to this whole journey.
That’s my struggle at this point, reaching my new level of normal where I don’t overreact to every ache and pain that I have (early menopause brings a delightful set of those!), and yet not ignoring anything that seems odd or unusual with my body. I’m confident that this nervousness will ease with time, and I want to encourage others in the same situation to stay positive and know that you’ve taken control of your body and made the decisions that are right for you.
I hope, by sharing this story with other carriers, that they know they’re not alone in this after-care journey.
Jennifer Hintz is a BRCA2 mutation carrier and a breast cancer survivor. Jennifer’s background includes a BA in Psychology and an MBA in Operations Management. She currently works in communications for a chemical resins company. She is also the owner/operator of a small social media company. Jennifer lives in Atlanta, GA and enjoys traveling, football, gardening and hanging out with family.