April 18, 2010

MY CANCER STORY - Featured Writer Heather Benson

This month is Cancer Control Month (please read more here).  It hasn't been until recently that I have become very passionate about this issue.  I have been working at the hospital for almost 15 years and while I have been there I have seen many unexpected deaths, and have also witnessed several amazing miracles.  I sometimes wonder why young children have to suffer with such tragic diseases.  I also wonder why so many amazing women end up with cancer.  Over the past several years I have had my Uncle die from cancer, several co-workers go through chemo, and recently my grandmother was diagnosed.  I want to do something more, something that will ease the burdon just a little bit for women around the world.  I am currently trying to set up a foundation where this will be possible.   Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

I wanted a good friend of mine from high school to share her story.  She is truly amazing!  I hope her story will inspire many of you to become more aware of this issue that effects so many lives each and every day.  Heather, you are a TRUE inspiration.

My Cancer Story - (Featured Writer Heather Benson)
December 8, 2006 is a date that will be forever engraved into my mind. It is the day I received the news that I had breast cancer. I was 32 years old, a mother of four young kids, a part time dental hygienist, a volunteer at the school, a soccer mom, and a councilor in my ward Relief Society. I really didn’t have time to fit cancer into my busy schedule. I barely had time to fit in the annual exam appointment with my doctor.

Somehow, I found an available couple of hours in my schedule and that appointment was made. My doctor felt a lump in my breast. It was the size of your pinky fingernail. It was tiny. This led to a mammogram and ultrasound appointment. This really didn’t alarm me much, since I was due for them anyway. I had been having annual mammograms and ultrasounds for the previous five years due to a benign lump I had found five years prior. I had discovered that lump when I was running one early morning. It just felt “weird” when I ran. I followed up with my doctor and luckily it was benign. This lump detected felt by my doctor at my annual exam didn’t seem much different.

The mammogram results came back negative. WooHoo!!! The ultrasound results came back “minimal concern to biopsy.” Yeah!!! My doctor had every reason to stop right there, but he didn’t. He sent me for a biopsy. Ok, been there- done that. This didn’t alarm me either. The radiologist looked at me eye to eye and said, “I do this all day long, and I really think you are okay.” Great!! I left the office with an ice pack tucked into my bra and went shopping for my oldest daughter’s baptism dress.

Two days later, my husband answered a phone call from my doctor’s office asking me to come that day. Wait a minute! I had an appointment scheduled for the following week. The office staff said they were really busy the following week and it would be better for me to come in that day. My husband told them I would come in later in the afternoon. I started thinking about it, and realized the office probably didn’t have my biopsy results or even realize results were pending since they were ordered over the phone. I called back and told them I was not coming in and that I would just keep my original appointment. The lady on the other end of the phone assured me that all my records were there and to come in. I agreed to go in and hung up the phone. Then I realized I hadn’t even told her my name. I knew at that point that things were not good.

I’m sure I was the talk of the office. I walked in and everyone, even people I had never seen before, knew me by name as if I was on a rerun episode of “Cheers.” I had been a patient for ten years and never been into the doctor’s personal office. That is where I got the news while sitting in an overstuffed, leather chair. My doctor began with, “I got a fax this morning. There are some bad cells ….blah, blah, blah…You have breast cancer.” There were a few tears shed by both my doctor and I. It was probably a good thing my cell phone was dead. That is not the way you tell your husband you have breast cancer. It was a long drive home to my husband, but I don’t remember much of it. I was in a daze. I spent the weekend searching the internet and learning everything I could about breast cancer.

I was referred to a fabulous surgeon. She ordered a huge list of tests, an MRI, PET scan, etc. I was scheduled for a lumpectomy. I was anxious to get the cancer out of me as soon as possible. The MRI came back positive for another area of cancer. Surgery was postponed while an MRI guided biopsy tested the area in question. It came back as a false positive…no cancer in the new area. False positives with an MRI are not uncommon, however it caused much anxiety and frustration. Things got worked out and I found myself waiting on a gurney in the surgery pre-op area across from hernia guy, prostate guy, and kidney lady. My problems seemed small compared to those around me. At least I wasn’t in pain like the surgery friends around me. My only symptoms were my stress and anxiety.

A week later, I met with yet another doctor, the dreaded oncologist. She was so real and down to earth. It made things much easier than I anticipated. She informed me that my tumor was analyzed and I had Stage 1, Invasive Ductal breast cancer. After a discussion of treatment options, I was scheduled for chemo a few days later. She sent me out the door with a business card to a salon for a wig and the news that my hair would fall out about fourteen days after my first chemo treatment.

It’s a little weird to call and make an appointment for a wig consultation. At least I didn’t have to go down to the local Vegas showgirl wig shop. Who knows what I would have ended up with! I splurged and ordered two wigs. I walked out with an appointment to return to pick up the wigs and get my head shaved.

Chemo started. I was obviously the youngest patient receiving chemo. Let me just say, it’s not much fun sitting in a freezing cold room for 3-4 hours with “old, sick people” staring at you. I still did not view myself as being sick. One chemo drug was administered by the typical IV bag. The other was bright red (similar to Kool-Aid) and pushed into my IV with huge syringe that resembled a turkey baister. That continued every other week for five long months. However, I looked good sitting there in my fabulous wig, stenciled on eyebrows and no eyelashes. My hair would grow back a tiny bit and then start to fall out again. My husband ended up shaving my head three times. Now that is a bonding moment!

I was determined to be Superwoman and get my chemo via a simple IV. I did not want a port that was an everyday reminder that I was sick. I did not want tubes hanging from my body that my kids would see. After three treatments, the chemo had burned the small veins in my hand and arm. Superwoman had to throw in her cape and get a port. A port is a way to get the chemo into the larger, thicker veins that can handle the chemo better. It was placed in the upper, inside portion of my arm. It had an 18 inch tube that was threaded into the veins to my heart. Chemo did not come without challenges. At one point, my blood levels dropped too low and ended up in the hospital and with blood transfusions. I recovered. Then a week later the port got infected, which led to another hospitalization. I hated the hospital. I hated not being able to be productive. I convinced my oncologist to send me home and let my husband who is a paramedic administer my antibiotics. One of the chemo drugs caused me to have peripheral neuropathy (numbness of the extremities.) This was not good. I am a hygienist and could no longer feel my instruments while working. (Yes, I continued to work through treatment.) We got approval from my insurance company for a much more expensive, but similar chemo drug which allowed me to finish my chemo treatments.

The next step was radiation. That required a few tattoos to be used as markings. I always told my children, “Never shave your head and never get tattoos.” Well, I have done them both. I had 37 radiation treatments over the next seven weeks. It really wasn’t a big deal, other than the fact that it took up the middle portion of my day. “Mr. Prostate,” who was scheduled before me, was late almost every day causing me to be late returning back to work from my lunch hour. I was very lucky and had no complications from radiation. Four days after radiation ended, I sat on the beach in Hawaii for a week to celebrate the end of treatment. Now, that was a vacation!!

Sadly, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about cancer. Some days I think about it more than others. However, I consider myself very lucky. I look back at my journey and realize there were many opportunities to miss finding the cancer. My mammogram had come back negative. My ultrasound did not give concern. My doctor “followed his gut” and ordered the biopsy. Many doctors would not have ordered it. The biopsy results were faxed….no phone call. The results could have easily been tossed aside to be filed or even lost in transmission. Huntsman Cancer Center at the University of Utah reviewed my case and told me that if the cancer had gone undiagnosed, in 6-12 months time, it would have progressed to Stage 3 and I would have been fighting for my life. I consider myself a survivor in long battle. I hope my story inspires women to take care of themselves and have annual exams.

I tell this story not to get pity from others, but for two reasons. First, is to raise awareness. At the time of diagnosis, I was walking 12-15 miles per week and considered myself active and healthy. I do not have a family history of breast cancer. Growing up in wholesome Rexburg, Idaho, I thought I would be immune from the bad things in life. We are not. Breast cancer is on the rise. It currently affects 1 in 7 women. That means that statistically, 20 women from my graduating class at MHS will probably battle breast cancer. When thought of that way, it is alarming. It is anticipated that in the year 2030 (which is not that far away), 1 in 4 women will be affected by breast cancer. Second, I tell my story as hope to others. No, it was not fun. But, I did it!! I continued to work, be a mom, volunteer at the school, and take my kids to soccer practice. I am much stronger because of it.

Heather Benson
Cancer Survivor


bBchronicles said...

Oh WOW, what an amazing story, what an amazing woman! Thank you for sharing THIS most amazing post - God bless you, sweet Heather Benson and Heather Williams!

heather D said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. It's exactly what I needed to hear.

Kimberly said...

What an incredible story, Heather!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Welcome to a new attitude in women's cycling and a first in women's specific titanium and steel custom bikes. We know females....because we are females. All women share a common interest. We want to feel comfortable, confident, and strong on our bikes. We also want to look good while riding hard. At Bellarosa we build bikes to fit you using only the finest materials. Our bikes our built in house one at a time from start to finish. 100% handbuilt in the U.S.A. So guess what? We no longer have to ride boy bikes. It's alright to want to ride a bike designed specifically for you. At Bellarosa we can build your dreams.

Map my RIDE

Bike Maintenance Clinic 101

Bike Maintenance Clinic 101
Coming Soon

Cycling Class

Bella Rosa Cyling Class
In the area? Come spin with us.

Monday - 5:45 a.m.

Wednesday - 5:45 a.m.

Search This Blog