Impact of Breast Cancer

It was a nice September day when I was fifteen years old. My parents told me they had something serious to tell me. My mind was racing. It could be divorce, but I didn’t think so, my parents are happy together. It could be that we are moving or someone close to me died. Then, they told me, that a couple of weeks ago my mother found out that she had breast cancer. I was scared and shocked. I had no idea what to think. I was speechless. I went down to my room that night and cried my heart out. I was so scared of what was going to happen. Just thinking about how my mom could die from this, was the scariest thing I have ever imagined, and it was like it was coming true. I struggled the next week, especially in school. I cried almost every night that week. My mother thought I had no emotion about it, but that was not true. I just didn’t want her to feel different. I wanted to treat her like she was normal. I just did not want her to feel like my whole life was changing because of her. The next couple of weeks my mother went through two different surgeries. Then she started chemotherapy. She started losing her hair. That was a real tough time in her life, she broke down, and I really had to be there for her. I told her, “Losing your hair is better than dying. You have had forty-two years of good and bad hair days. One year without hair will not kill you, but keep you around. Then you will have forty more years of hair.” After that she went through radiation. She is in remission and has to take pills for a few more years to keep the cancer away. It has been three years and she is clear from all cancer, but has side affects everyday from what she went through to get rid of the cancer. This is not the only woman going through cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, it accounts for one of every three diagnoses in the United States. Breast cancers are malignancies, life threatening tumors that develops in one or both breasts. A female breast consists of fatty and fibrous connective tissues. The interior of the breast is divided into about twenty different sections called lobes. Each of the lobes is further divided in to lobules, which are structures that contain small milk-producing glands. These glands place the milk into tiny ducts. These ducts take the milk throughout the breast and store in a chamber located below the nipple. Breast cancer can either be invasive (spreading) or noninvasive (non-spreading). An invasive cancer penetrates the wall of a duct. This type of cancer is the most common, constituting about seventy percent of all cases. Infiltrating lobular cancer that spreads through a wall of a lobule accounts for about eight percent of all breast cancer. This type is likely to appear in both of the breasts, often in seven separate locations. The cause of breast cancer is unknown but researchers are suggesting that estrogen, a hormone produced by the ovaries, may be involved. Studied suggest that the longer a woman is exposed to the hormone (i.e. If she starts to menstruate before the age of twelve or if she went through menopause after the age of fifty-five and/or had children after the age of thirty) are at a greater risk. There are many different options for breast cancer patients.

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer the first step in treatment is usually surgery. Surgery removes the cancer tumor and at times the decision is made to remove the entire breast. For many women the surgery is a life altering change that can cause depression and confusion about the next steps in the treatment of their disease. It is important for women to understand the difference between chemotherapy and radiation so that they can make an informed choice about how they want to proceed. After the surgery a decision has to be made about whether to pursue further treatment. If it is believed through testing that the cancer was not completely eradicated by surgery then the decision to use chemotherapy or radiation is made and treatment is started. Sometimes radiation or chemotherapy is recommended before the tumor is removed. This is to attempt to shrink the tumor before surgery so that the surgery will be less invasive to the breast, which will make reconstruction at a later date less difficult to complete.

One of the options a woman can make is going through chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy, which means, that it affects the whole body by going through the bloodstream. This makes sure that all cancerous cells have been killed that may have been dispersed for the cancerous site. Chemotherapy otherwise know as chemo helps stop the spread of cancer by killing it. Chemo works best of rapidly dividing cells, which means, in the beginning stages of cancer patients. Most cancer patients have four to eight cycles of chemo. My mom for instance did chemo to make sure everything was gone. She had eight full cycles of chemo. Chemotherapy has many side effects. The problem with chemo is that it does not just affect the cancerous cells but also other

noncancerous cells that rapidly divide. It affects the cells in your blood, mouth, intestinal tract, nose, nails, and hair. These body parts, however, have an advantage over cancer cells in that your body can repair the damage that chemotherapy does to your normal cells. This explains why your hair will grow back, your energy levels will rise, and your infections will clear up. And while your body is fighting back, supportive medications can help you control many of the side effects of chemotherapy. While many side effects of chemotherapy fade quickly, others may take months or years to disappear completely. For example, some women experience discomfort in their hands and feet from nerve damage related to the taxanes (Taxol or Taxotere), which can persist for months. It is possible (though uncommon) that chemotherapy may cause permanent side effects. It is hard to know what one may feel though, because everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy. A person may feel all of these side effects or just lose their hair; it is extremely hard to predict what one may go through. Another option would be radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy, x-ray therapy, or irradiation) is the use of a certain type of energy (called ionizing radiation) to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy injures or destroys cells in the area being treated (the “target tissue”) by damaging their genetic material, making it impossible for these cells to continue to grow and divide. Although radiation damages both cancer cells and normal cells, most normal cells can recover from the effects of radiation and function properly. The goal of radiation therapy is to damage as many cancer cells as possible, while limiting harm to nearby healthy tissue. There are different types of radiation and different ways to deliver the radiation. For example, certain types of radiation can penetrate more deeply into the body than can others. In addition, some types of radiation can be very finely controlled to treat only a small area (an inch of tissue, for example) without damaging nearby tissues and organs. Other types of radiation are better for treating larger areas. In some cases, the goal of radiation treatment is the complete destruction of an entire tumor. In other cases, the aim is to shrink a tumor and relieve symptoms. In either case, doctors plan treatment to spare as much healthy tissue as possible. About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy may be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery. In some cases, a patient may receive more than one type of radiation therapy. There are not as many side effects to radiation as there are to chemo. One of the biggest side effects is skin irritation. The skin will turn pink and feel like a sunburn after radiation.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in today’s society. Even though the rate of people who are being diagnosed is going up, the rate of death is even smaller than it once was. It is scary knowing that a loved one can die from such a horrible cancer. The research is more available now thanks to foundations such as Susan G. Komen and other companies donating money to research. It helps to know that doctors are becoming more knowledgeable in many different cancers, especially breast cancer. Hopefully one day they will have enough knowledge that there will no longer be deaths and not so many harsh side effects. I thank God everyday for giving the doctors resources to help provide a better result for my mother and her battle through Breast Cancer and to stay strong through it all.