Cancer is never an easy journey, but one that some of us will inevitably face. However, regaining your health can be a whole lot easier if you go into diagnosis, treatment, and recovery already at a certain level of health. Christine Patterson, 48, received her positive diagnosis for late stage 2 HER2 breast cancer in the midst of moving to a new house and taking care of three children.
Christine administered a self breast examination and noticed something was wrong. “I immediately felt something in my left breast,” she said. “It felt like a dense, thickened area, maybe one inch in size. I figured it must be a benign cyst, but I definitely wanted to check it out.”
A mammogram revealed that she was already dealing with a more aggressive form of breast cancer, but thankfully it hadn’t yet spread.
“When you hear cancer, you immediately panic and think you’re going to die,” Christine says. “You don’t want to believe it at first.” Christine was able to work with Dr. Carlos Arteaga, head of HER2-positive breast cancer research and treatment for the Susan G. Komen Foundation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She underwent a whirlwind of exams, biopsies, consults —even genetic testing, which found she did not carry an identifiable inherited gene mutation that would increase her breast cancer risk.
“I believe the better you can treat your body, the better you’re going to respond and get well.”
Before her diagnosis, Christine had a rigorous exercise schedule wither her fitness trainer Cheri Ganong-Robinson at Orangetheory. She made it a point to exercise, eat right, and make her health a priority. Christine’s surgeon, Dr. Alyssa Throckmorton of Baptist Medical Group says, ”While some of the factors associated with breast cancer can’t be changed, such as being a woman, age, and genetics, there are things you can do to reduce your risk, such as exercising regularly, watching your weight, and limiting your alcohol use. We know about some breast cancer risk factors, but why some women develop breast cancer and others do not is sometimes unexplained.”
Christine began chemotherapy treatment two weeks after her diagnosis in March 2015 and received six rounds of two chemotherapies and two monoclonal antibodies. A few months later, she underwent a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery. During this time, Patterson says her oncologist Dr. Reed Baskin told her to put any intense workouts on hold. He recommended one complete year of rest after beginning chemotherapy, with the exception of walking and light yoga.
“Each person’s cancer treatment is going to be different, so you really have to listen to your oncologist. Going through the heavy doses of chemo really affects your energy level, plus the surgeries take a toll on your body, too. After each treatment you feel bad for about eight to 10 days, and as soon as you start to feel back to normal it’s time for another round. It truly takes a while to get your full stamina back.”
This March, one year after her diagnosis, Christine finished her final round of chemotherapy, and has gradually started working out again. She meets with her physical therapist and fitness trainer, Lynn Apple, several times each week.
“Lynn has helped me regain the range of motion back in my arms, since the mastectomy took such a toll,” she says. “And then because she’s a physical therapist and trainer, she knows from the medical side what your body should be doing. I lost a lot of core strength over the past year, and I’m just now getting my motion and strength back.”
Christine is convinced that she bounced back relatively fast due to her healthy eating habits and being physically fit from the start. After her diagnosis, she cut all sugar from her diet and focused on eating fresh vegetables, grilled chicken, and fish. Even when chemotherapy threw her taste buds off, she says she would liven up her meals with spices and experiment with pureeing broccoli, asparagus, and cauliflower into soups.
“I believe the better you can treat your body, the better you’re going to respond and get well,” she says. “What you put into your body can make all of the difference in the world. I thank God every day that I caught my cancer early enough. I feel like a new person, and I’m so appreciative of my health, my life, my family, and friends.”
Breast Cancer MYTH vs FACT
MYTH: There is only one type of breast cancer.
FACT: There are many types of breast cancer. These various cancers behave uniquely and are treated in different ways.
MYTH: You can only get breast cancer if someone in your family had it.
FACT: The majority of people who get breast cancer have no family history. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene defects passed on from a parent.
MYTH: Everyone should get mammogram screening beginning at age 40 or 45.
FACT: While many organizations publish guidelines, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mammogram screening. In fact, most screening guidelines are based on women of average risk and are not designed for women who have other factors that may put them at risk. Breast surgeon Dr. Alyssa Throckmorton of Baptist Medical Group says that each woman should have a conversation with her primary care physician about possible risk factors and when to begin screening.
By Jennifer Brezina. Photo by Philip Murphy.