Amy Bliss, 40
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Stage 2b
Amy and her dad, Steve Carvin
Amy and her sister Kasey
Diagnosed November 2011
My name is Amy Bliss and I am a Breast Cancer Survivor. I am from Wheeling, WV and I would like to share my Breast Cancer Survivor story. Everyone's story is different, everyone's story is important and everyone's story is scary.
October 21, 2011 was a normal, ordinary Friday at 5am. I woke up and did my morning routine before work. After a normal busy morning, I got into the shower. I have the knowledge of how incredibly important self-examination to help in the early detection of breast cancer is for every woman, no matter what age, but I can tell you that I did not faithfully practice it. I was in the shower simply washing myself when I came across a lump. I knew it was a lump but I called my husband upstairs to confirm it. His response was "yea, that's something". He had no idea how right he was. I called my primary care doctor as soon as his office opened that day only to be told that he was preparing to go out of town for a week. Lucky for me, he was still reachable by phone. They called him and he told them to just go ahead and schedule me for a mammogram and ultrasound of the breast. He did not need to see me. He trusted me enough to know that I knew what I was talking about.
My mammogram would be four days later. Four days that seemed like an eternity. I had not even had any testing on it but I had an overwhelming feeling of dread and despair. I was so convinced that it was bad that I didn't even tell my parents. Tuesday, October 25 finally arrived, the day of the mammogram and ultrasound. I have heard so many stories about mammograms mammograms are uncomfortable, they hurt, they don't hurt, etc . I had no idea what to expect but I knew it was what I had to do. (Just a side note, it was slightly uncomfortable but completely bearable) Once done with my initial images, the tech advised she needed a few more images on the right side, the side of the lump. Now the images were complete and it was time for my ultrasound. The tech did my ultrasound and the whole time, I knew things just weren't right. She stepped out to get the radiologist to come and speak with me. His words were "you need to see a surgeonsoon." My primary care doctor's office was in the same hospital. I walked upstairs and told them the news. I have a mass in my left breast that according to the mammogram is measuring 2 2.5cm and I need to see a surgeon. Keep in mind that no one has even uttered the word "cancer". I just knew that I had a mass that didn't belong there and needed to come out, now. Before I left my doctor's office, I had an appointment with the surgeon for November 1. I had to wait a full week and sit on this information. It was now time to fill in my family. I expressed to my husband that no matter what, I wanted the lump removed no biopsy, just remove it.
One week later and I had an 8am appointment. I was surrounded by my husband, family and a few friends. This was just an examination after all so what was the big fuss? My husband and I went back for my examination with the surgeon. The nurse asked my husband to leave because "the doctor doesn't like extra people in the room". I was uncomfortable with that but I went along with it, turns out I should have listened to my first instincts. Let that be the first lesson to all of you , listen to your gut. The doctor came in and confirmed that he could indeed feel a lump (duh!). He explained that there were a couple of options a biopsy or a lumpectomy (partial mastectomy) and completely remove it. I quickly and harshly advised him to remove it. He explained that because I had rather large breasts (at the time) that a biopsy might be the best option. The biopsy was like a needle with a shovel on the end the needle would go in and out of the lump taking a little piece of it every time. 95% of the lump could be removed on biopsy and they could get a good result, if you're a math genius, that leaves 5% behind. I have a good friend who had a biopsy instead of a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy 16 years ago. Her lump turned out to be cancer but it was missed because the biopsy did not show it. Because of my friend, I advised the doctor that I wanted the lumpectomy (or partial mastectomy). I wanted it out. He once again advised that the biopsy would be a good choice and that the surgery would be "harder on him". He wanted an answer right up front and I was more confused than ever. He could see I was and advised that he was going to leave me to decide. He stated he would either see me in radiology for the biopsy or surgery for the partial mastectomy and he left. The nurse came in and I asked to speak to my husband. My husband came back and I told him how confused I was and he reminded me to not let anyone change my decisions, that I wanted it removed and that was the decision to go with. It might have saved my life. A week later I would get my results. The results revealed a 1.8 cm poorly differentiated infiltrating ductal carcinoma. Only 5% of the tumor was revealed to be cancerous remember that whole 95% biopsy?? The surgeon advised that he could not get what they call a "clear margin" which basically means they couldn't be sure that they got all of the cancer. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with my surgeon. He was business-like and did not have a great bedside manner. I decided that my health was not a business, it was personal. I started to look elsewhere for answers.
I found an answer in the form of my new surgeon, Dr. Carol Slomski (Weirton WV). She was kind, courteous, caring and incredibly knowledgeable all great qualities for a surgeon to have. I knew I was in the right place during my first visit. She advised and confirmed what my previous surgeon had and I would need to have another surgery to make sure they got all of the cancer. She also wanted to remove lymph nodes to ensure that the presence of cancer was non-existent. And so it was set, second surgery was scheduled for November 17, 2011. Dr. Slomski would do another partial mastectomy to remove the areas around where the tumor was and also removed 7 lymph nodes. The pathologist reviewed the 7 lymph nodes immediately and reported back to Dr. Slomski that the appearance of cancer did not appear to be present. Dr. Slomski in turn relayed that back to my family. She also advised that the surgical findings were that they were able to get the whole tumor but we had to wait on the pathology results. We had a brief celebration. It turns out, the pathology results from the partial mastectomy and the lymph nodes were not as hopeful as the initial findings.
I got the call the Monday before Thanksgiving. I was at work and answered the phone expecting Dr. Slomski's secretary to be confirming my follow up appointment and instead I had Dr. Slomski, herself. I knew that this could not be good. She advised that unfortunately, 4 of 7 lymph nodes did in fact turn out to be malignant and they could NOT get a clear margin around the tumor. The only option on the right side was to do a mastectomy. She was incredibly sympathetic and kind. I told her to schedule it but I wanted to do the left one too. I hung up and called my sister. I was tearful and a little surprised but still composed. My sister immediately started crying and said "you don't need them". She was right. I didn't need them. I needed to be here for my then 8 and 2 year old children. I needed to be here for my nieces. I needed to be here for my parents. I needed to be here for myself but I didn't need my breasts.
The days leading up to my double mastectomy I was incredibly strong. I was never sad, only determined. My Double Mastectomy was December 16, 2011. I had a migraine the whole way to Pittsburgh that morning. The anesthesiologist had to give me medicine to calm me almost immediately upon my arrival. I cried from the moment I left the holding room until the minute I got into the surgical room. I will never forget that I looked up to see Dr. Slomski holding my hand, rubbing my hand, telling me that she was looking out for me. And she did. After a couple of confusing pathology reports, the final determination was that I was diagnosed with what they call Triple Negative Breast Cancer Stage 2B.
TRIPLE NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER - Triple Negative Cancer refers to a type of cancer that lacks three receptors estrogen, progresterone, and Her2 this is known to fuel most breast cancers. Triple negative does not respond to hormonal agents such as Tamoxifen or HER2 targeted drugs like Herceptin. So on top of limiting therapies, triple negative disease also tends to be aggressive. In the past, there was not much publicity on triple negative breast cancer.
Basically, Dr. Slomski told me that she couldn't tell me WHY I had cancer, I just did. She also told me that this would NOT be what killed me. I had a higher probability of walking across the street and being killed by a car than I did of dying from breast cancer.
Once cleared with Dr. Slomski, I began to see my oncologist and began my chemotherapy treatments. I chose to proceed with chemotherapy to reduce my chances of having a relapse. Without treatment, 38 out of 100 women are alive and without cancer in 10 years, 61 out of 100 women would relapse and 1 out of 100 women would die of other causes. WITH treatment, only 29 out of 100 women are alive and without cancer because of therapy. I also participated in a clinical study to assist in research to identify and report the results of patients with triple negative breast cancer and what the next few years would bring to them. Chemotherapy wasn't easy but I did it. I had treatments on Fridays and went back to work on Monday for most treatments. I was weak in my physical body but not in my mind. In my mind, I was strong. I was strong and determined.
I have been cancer free since December 16, 2011 upon completion of my double mastectomy. All cancer was removed at that time. I chose to go through chemotherapy for preventative measures for the future.
I completed 16 rounds of chemotherapy on June 13, 2012. I was never alone. While many friends and relatives had offered to accompany me for chemo, my father (Steve Carvin) and my sister (Kasey Wharton) were by my side the whole time. My sister has said that when a member of your family has cancer, the whole family has it and she couldn't have been more right. My mother helped my husband to ensure the kid's routine was never interrupted and their life was as normal as it could be. Everyone played a part.
I had my reconstruction surgery for both breasts on August 27, 2012. I chose to have a tram flap surgery for reconstruction which takes muscle, fat and skin from your abdomen and creates new breasts. I chose this surgery rather than implants however, after losing about 42 lbs after my chemo treatments, I found it necessary to go back and do implants. To date, I have had 9 surgeries for reconstruction. I personally do not regret the decision to have reconstruction surgery although this path is not for everyone.
With triple negative breast cancer, you never go into remission, you are labeled as "N.E.D." which means no evidence of disease. Every 3 months, I am required to go in for a PET scan to determine if cancer has decided to invade another area of my body. I do not live with the fear of cancer returning but I would be lying if I said that it wasn't on my mind. I am now nearing my two year "cancer birthday". I am currently being treated by Dr. Shannon Huggins-Puhalla at Magee Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh PA. She specializes in Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I have lost two friends to this type of cancer and so I leave nothing to chance. I am also friends with numerous survivors of this cancer. They have all inspired me.every one of them.
Strength was going to carry me through this.
I had strength in my knowledge let my story be a lesson to you that YOU determine your course. You have to be your own advocate. The professionals are there to guide you but you need to take control of your course. This does not have to just apply to just cancer. YOU have control.
I had strength in my courage do not be afraid. We all have failures in our life. We might have a failed marriage, failed finances, failed jobs, the list could go on and on but if you have the courage to continue to move forward, you CANNOT fail. You can succeed by sheer courage.
I had strength in hope. Hope that I would be a survivor.
I had strength in my faith I never asked God why it happened to me. In fact, at one point I THANKED God that it happened to me instead of to my children. I have two children Spencer (10) and Avery (4). I was incredibly thankful that I was not witnessing one of my children going through this terrible disease. I know that God had a plan for me. I'll never pretend to know what his plan was but what I do know is that I lead a more thankful life.
I had strength in my friends. I have witnessed first-hand, the kindness of a community. The kindness, the love and the generosity that a small community can offer and I could not be more thankful.
I had strength in my commitment I was committed to complete my treatments. I was committed to doing my best for my children and my family. I was committed to continuing to work some people cannot work and do chemo so I do know that I was one of the more fortunate. I was committed to myself above all, I couldn't let myself down. We all need to be committed in finding a cure. While screening is essential, it is also important to commit to finding a cure. I am certain that most people have either been touched personally by breast cancer or know someone who has been. We all know that success is sometimes elusive in fighting this disease.
Pink is the color ribbon that is used for Breast Cancer. Pink is not just a color, it is an attitude - an attitude that involves caring, courage, commitment, strength, hope, faith and love.
Please be strong for yourself and share your strength with someone you love. Perform self-examinations and seek out a healthcare professional to schedule a mammogram. Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer can test any woman's strength, but also proves just how strong you truly are.
Amy has been a part of several Relay For Life fundraisers. If you would like to get involved with Relay For Life or you are a survivor, please visit www.relayforlife.org/belmontcounty
to sign up and get more information!