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Pamela Lipton: Being ready to deal with a new treatment

In February, 2005, after a routine mammography, I was diagnosed as stage 1. One month later, I was informed it was probably stage 2. Then my oncologist ordered a scan to “make sure the cancer hadn’t spread.” Wow… that had never even occurred to me. I was stunned that cancer spread was even a possibility. I was still reeling from the initial diagnosis of breast cancer.. and now my head was filled with thoughts of possible cancer spread.

As it turned out… my cancer was not stage 1 as first thought …. it was not stage 2 as they later thought. Within 2 months of my original diagnosis, my oncologist called me on the phone with the news that the cancer was all over my liver. That was some phone call. Terrified, I asked how long I had, and she replied, “Three years. Maybe 15 years. But you’ll definitely die of breast cancer.”
In shock, I started with a weekly taxane. I became exhausted – developed neuropathy and had a really hard time. After several months of this, it really sunk in that I was not part of the pink ribbon group. The situation was not what I originally thought. I knew there would be a constant stream of ever-changing treatments. I realized that I would have to adjust to that.

I went for a second opinion. The 2nd opinion oncologist gave me the confidence and support I needed to deal with the situation. I knew right away that this was the doctor for me. I loved her immediately. She put me on a cocktail of chemos and luckily, I pretty much sailed through the treatment. After 10 months of chemotherapy, my scan showed only scar tissue on my liver. That was an amazing day for me.

After recovering from treatment and growing back my hair, I motored along fairly uneventfully for almost 3 years. I knew my cancer could come back at any time, but it started to seem tamed in my mind.

Then, in October, 2008, I went for my annual scans, and there it was…. a small lesion on my liver. I knew the situation changed… again. I knew there would be a new treatment. We treated it with a radio ablation procedure that seemed successful. I then began faslodex. I felt like I dodged a bullet.

But, then, in April, 2009, I had another scan, and this one showed that I had 4 more lesions on my liver. They were small, but clearly, I needed another change in treatment. So, after an hour of conversation, my doctor and I decided together to hit me with chemo. .. and within 30 minutes, I was in the infusion room, back in the saddle again with that drip, drip, drip sliding into me once more.

I struggled in my mind to get used to being back on chemo. I understand the nature of this disease. I know treatments stop working. I know disease progresses. I know all that in my head… but when it actually happens… it’s a shock. This is the reality of metastatic breast cancer.. always having to be ready to deal with a new treatment and a new situation.

I was frightened and needed some security… and then I remembered the pretty chemo bag that a friend had given me for my first go-round. I found it in my closet and dusted it off. I have in here all sorts of good luck talismans that dear people gave me when I was first diagnosed, and they make me smile. A homemade book. A lavender heart sachet. A bunny to clutch onto for when things get really rough. These fill me with love and hope – hope that this new treatment will work, hope that more treatments will be developed for all of us, hope that my life will be extended again and again…

Sadly, Pamela Lipton died on January 11, 2012. 

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