I was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago nearly to the date. This time of year always makes me reflect on that particularly difficult time in my life. I would later learn that I had stage III breast cancer and would require extensive surgery and several months of chemotherapy. At first, I thought it had to be a mistake, right? I was in my mid-30s, diagnosed with secondary progressive MS, working full-time in a wheelchair with a toddler to raise. Everyone has their own story and at some point asks the question, why me? I couldn't reconcile that growing-up I was a competitive athlete with no family history of either MS or breast cancer. My husband and I barely had a moment to adjust to the news as we quickly began visiting surgeons and oncologists. We sought three opinions and in the end only one oncologist recommended tailoring my chemotherapy based on the fact that I had multiple sclerosis.
My oncologist, in consultation with my then neurologist, formulated a chemotherapy cocktail of several rounds of Adriamycin and Cytoxan every three weeks instead of the traditional two-week treatment intervals. Once that was done, I then started several months of oral chemotherapy (Xeloda) which would normally be used in late stage breast cancer. This was a customized breast-cancer treatment plan that would avoid the commonly used drug Neulasta that was believed to have adverse effects on patients with MS. The first two oncologists from leading cancer units were not all that interested in the fact that I had MS. I met with three oncologists and only one was eager to work with my neurologist on a plan that met my specific medical needs. All of this to say, if you have breast cancer and MS you may want to get a few different opinions on your treatment plan. While the chemotherapy left me completely exhausted and depleted of all my energy, this seemed typical of people in chemotherapy who did not have MS. In fact, I would argue that the two years following my chemotherapy treatment had temporarily slowed the progression of MS in my particular case.
I have been cancer free for nearly 7 years now. I still get butterflies in my stomach before every oncology check-up but I learned to approach breast cancer like I approach most things in life, one day at a time.
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