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Kathy

Cancer That Never Showed on a Mammogram

kathy wcd

Kathy’s breast cancer was never seen on a mammogram, even though she had them regularly. “I was having some pain in the breast every morning,” she recalled. “The first doctor I consulted told me: ‘Well, it’s not cancer; breast cancer is not painful.’”

Wrong. In this case, at least. “I just kept feeling this pain, so I demanded they do a biopsy,” she said. “Sure enough, it was positive.” Kathy is a mother of two, who has had a demanding and rewarding career that encompassed 32 years working for school districts as a teacher of students with learning differences, dyslexia coordinator, special education director, and high school assistant principal. She followed that with 15 years working for the state of Texas as a disability examiner. “I enjoy doing the work that I do, helping people who are disabled access services,” she said. Her son, Jeremy, is a Customer Success manager and field-based product manager at Varian. He remembers learning that his mother had breast cancer when he was only 19, away studying physics in college. “She is normally a very strong and confident person, but she cried when she told me, and I didn’t know what to expect. I really thought we were going to lose her.”

Two Different Courses of Treatment, Thirteen Years Apart

Kathy’s first bout of breast cancer was treated with a mastectomy and subsequent chemotherapy. Then, 13 years later, it was déjà vu, all over again—a new cancer in the same breast.

“It was the same sort of thing—no one found anything on any mammogram, which I did every year, but it was painful again. By that time I was on my third oncologist—they kept retiring or moving away. My new doctor wanted to do chemo again and I said: ‘No, I’m not doing that again.’ I said I’d agree to radiation but not chemo.'" She asked for and received a referral for a new oncologist.

The new oncologist—who has followed Kathy since then, for the last seven years—explained that chemo would only improve her chances of survival by about 0.5 percent and supported her decision not to use it. Kathy is very happy with this oncologist, who treats her like a partner rather than someone who should just follow directions. “He listens, he makes himself available, he’ll do video visits when it makes sense,” she says. And he referred her to a radiation oncologist she likes very much as well, for his kindness, patience, and willingness to help her manage the side effects of radiation.

Kathy’s radiotherapy regimen, which was delivered on a Varian TrueBeam® system, was designed to protect normal healthy tissues as much as possible. The treatment was spread out over eight weeks, rather than the conventional six, which is one way to minimize the impact on healthy tissues. Using the Varian TrueBeam® system is another.

Asking for What You Need

Kathy made arrangements with her boss to arrive and leave an hour early every day so she could make the last treatment timeslot each day without giving up sick leave or vacation time.

She shares this information because, she said, she had to step up and ask for what she needs. “A friend of mine noticed that, when the second cancer happened, I was turning inward and not my bubbly self,” she recalled. “She paid for me to attend a workshop about making choices, taking care of yourself and asking for what you need. It made a big difference. You don’t always get what you want but usually, if you tell people you need something, they will do their best to accommodate you.”

Kathy says she continued to work as much as possible during both courses of treatment for cancer. “I like to be around people,” she said. “I have four sisters and they all want to know when I’m going to retire. I enjoy going to work, I like what I do, why would I stop?”

Disclaimer: Patient story represents the patient’s genuine experience and has not been influenced by Varian. Individual results may vary.

She paid for me to attend a workshop about making choices, taking care of yourself and asking for what you need. It made a big difference. You don’t always get what you want but usually, if you tell people you need something, they will do their best to accommodate you.