Vanessa Brosie credits her recovery to her doctors, support team and faith in God
ZANESVILLE – Your birthday, a family member’s birthday or some other significant day of the year is a good day to schedule an annual mammogram.
“It’s too easy to forget,” breast cancer survivor, Vanessa Brosie, said. “It’s easy to say I’ll do it next week. It’s easy to just put it off. But it’s so important.”
Vanessa, 61, has been a strong advocate for breast cancer screenings for many years.
“Cancer runs in my family,” Vanessa said. “My father died from colorectal cancer and my brother died from melanoma. For me, it wasn’t a matter of if I would get cancer, but rather when I would get cancer.”
In January 2018, Vanessa discovered a marble-sized lump on her right breast. She wasted no time making an appointment with her doctor.
“I was in my pajama’s watching television with my husband when my arm brushed against the side of my breast and I felt something odd and it was tender,” Vanessa.
After confirming with her husband there was indeed a marble-sized nodule, Vanessa immediately sent an email through Genesis MyChart to her primary care physician.
“I have to praise Dr. (Sean) Barnes for responding so quickly,” Vanessa said. “I had a message from him the very next day and we began making appointments.”
After a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, on Feb. 18 it was confirmed. Vanessa had triple negative breast cancer.
A diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer means the three most common types of receptors known to fuel most breast cancer growth – estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene – are not present in the cancer tumor.
“No matter how much you prepare yourself, you’re never ready to hear that diagnosis,” Vanessa said.
Dr. Shyamal Bastola, hematologist/oncologist at Genesis Cancer Care Center, immediately laid out a plan for chemotherapy.
“After hearing I was going to lose my hair, I left the doctor’s office and immediately went to the Genesis Women’s Boutique and picked out a wig,” Vanessa said. “I made up my mind right then that I wasn’t going to walk around in public without hair. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I found one as close to my own hair color and style as I could and bought it.”
Though certain there was no mistake, Vanessa and her husband, Ed, who never missed a consultation or appointment for his wife, agreed that a second opinion wouldn’t cause any harm.
“I mention the fact that Ed was there for every consultation, every appointment and stood by me through everything not just to show how important his support was to me, but also because I think it is so important to have an advocate go with you to appointments. They tend to have questions that we don’t think of because so much is going through our minds at that time.”
They made an appointment at the Riverside Cancer Center in Columbus for a second opinion.
“They saw the same thing, but they wanted to do an MRI to make sure they weren’t missing something,” Vanessa said.
The MRI detected a second lump. This one was different.
“I had a second type of cancer. It was estrogen receptor positive and chemotherapy wouldn’t do anything for it. I would have to have a mastectomy.”
Vanessa started chemo in March 2018 and completed three months of chemo with Dr. Bastola.
An employee at North Valley Bank, she only missed one day of work during treatments.
“My doctor told me that after chemo, I would have two good days then I would be sick for two days,” Vanessa said. “So, I scheduled my chemotherapy appointments for Wednesdays so my sick days would be on Saturday and Sunday. If I had gone out of town for treatment, I wouldn’t have been able to continue to work.”
On June 14, 2018, Vanessa had her last chemo treatment. There was, however, the issue of the chemotherapy-resistant cancer that remained.
After weighing her options, she elected to have a bilateral mastectomy with Genesis breast surgeon Dr. Shannon Hanley.
Immediately afterwards, Columbus surgeons, Pankaj Tiwari and Ergun Kocak performed deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap reconstruction.
During DIEP flap surgery, an incision is made along the bikini line and a portion of skin, fat, and blood vessels are taken from the lower half of the stomach, moved up to the chest, and formed into a breast shape.
The tiny blood vessels in the flap, which will feed the tissue of your new breast, are matched to blood vessels in the chest and carefully reattached under a microscope.
“The surgery took about nine hours,” Vanessa said. “I didn’t experience that sense of loss or grief that women talk about who don’t have the immediate reconstructive surgery. I also didn’t experience any pain associated with the surgery – except for the back pain as a result of being bed-fast for more than 24 hours.”
Vanessa said the ability to have all the services required to treat her cancer in one place helped maintain an element of normalcy.
“I wasn’t travelling back and forth to Columbus all of the time and I was close to family,” Vanessa said. “Plus, it was really important for me to continue to work during that time. I was determined I wouldn’t let it interrupt my life.”
Apart from family, a few close friends and co-workers, Vanessa didn’t let anyone know she was battling a disease that affects more than 3 million Americans.
“I didn’t want the attention, I didn’t want to be any different.”
Between her last chemo treatment and her bilateral mastectomy Vanessa and Ed, accompanied by their family, went on vacation.
“It was a nice break,” Vanessa said. “I only looked at short windows of time. I didn’t look down the road months ahead, I only thought a couple weeks ahead of time and that helped to cope.”
Vanessa said one of the worst things a person can do while waiting on a diagnosis or after hearing one, is to get on the internet.
“You’ll drive yourself crazy. Just wait and listen to the doctor’s advice.”
Despite her extreme gratitude to Genesis and the team of doctors who lead her on her journey to recovery, Vanessa said it was the support of her family and co-workers, her husband’s patients and undying love, and her faith in God that got her through.
“It’s not strength, it’s not bravery, you just do what you have to do and take one day at a time,” Vanessa said. “I planned for the worst. I have everything in order in case that happened. I just decided, that even though I don’t want to go tomorrow, it’s OK if I do.”
About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.
About 2,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 2019. A man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 883.
Reducing the risk of breast cancer
Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy: Combination hormone therapy for more than three to five years increases the risk of breast cancer. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options.
Women should begin getting annual mammograms at the age of 40 per recommendations of the American Society of Breast Surgeons
Learn to do self-examinations and be vigilant about doing them. Any changes in your breasts, such as a new lump or skin changes, need to be immediately reported to your physician.
Source: breastcancer.org and Susan G. Komen
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