Surviving Breast Cancer: My Story

In July of 2013 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now I’m sharing my story of strength and hope for others with the shocking diagnosis.

Diagnosis

It was July of 2013 when I had a mammogram at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Modesto, California. The technician called me into the exam room and pointed to my x-rays, which showed a large white mass in my left breast.

I was so shocked and frightened that I immediately fell to my knees and began to cry. I remember an amazing nurse named Ms. Davis who took my hands and comforted me. She was a kindhearted woman and very informative.

“I thought of my nurse Ms. Davis all the way through my treatment and how much easier she made it on me.”

Doing my research

I had to wait about a week for the pathology results to come back, which showed I was stage 3 DCIS in situ and estrogen positive. Surgery was an immediate option, but I was adamant about doing my research first.

I searched and searched online until I could understand all of the different treatment options available to me. I even called the drug companies to talk to them about the side effects of their products. I met with two doctors at two different hospitals.

Treatment

I had the lumpectomy done at Stanford Cancer Research Hospital. It took about five hours. The surgeons removed my tumor, which was about the size of a golf ball, and three of my lymph nodes. Following the surgery, my treatment plan was six months of chemotherapy and six months of radiation. While I used to spend Monday through Friday going to work as an actress and Hollywood producer, now I spent those days going in for treatment.

After the chemo it was hard to eat anything, so I lived off gallons of milk and ice cream. My mouth was dry, and I had a metal taste in my mouth. Sleeping at night was difficult. My head would get cold so I would sleep with a stocking cap on. But then I’d start to get night sweats. One day I washed my hair and it started to fall out. So I just grabbed a razor and shaved all the rest of it off.

“The good thing about being bald is I didn’t have to wash my hair. I didn’t want it to grow back!”

Finding a community

One of the biggest lessons I learned through my experience — from the moment of diagnosis and through my treatment — was to be proactive. I had actually had a first mammogram in 2011 about two years before my diagnosis, but I was told the lump wasn’t cancer. I eventually learned through my research that people with dense tissue, like myself, often get misdiagnosed, and a 3D mammogram can give a much more accurate reading. Most patients don’t know to ask for this.

Once I felt well enough toward the end of my treatment, I decided I wanted to get out as much as I could to volunteer with the American Cancer Society and talk to other patients. Everyone that I talked to helped me deal with my own cancer better. I became so knowledgeable through this whole process that the nurses would bring me in to help console newly diagnosed cancer patients and I’d give them all the information I learned. People thanked me for that.

I also joined a social network called MyBCTeam.com which was one of the best things I could have done. I met the most wonderful people on the site — they’re so positive and they’re there to comfort you. I met one lady from Oregon who gave me the recommendation for my pathologist — it was the beginning of my cancer journey that helped me understand a lot.

I believe it’s so important to support our hospital professionals who are our first line of defense and treatment. And what have I taken away from this experience?

“Cancer changed my attitude on life. I appreciate so much more every day. I make sure to say 'I love you' to those who are important to me. I make sure to tell nurses and hospital professionals, ‘Thank you. You’re doing a great job.’”

Today, I’m cancer-free.

Diane Reno
Modesto, California