CONTACT JOAN CONTACT JOAN

Leah Sherman

I'm a naturopathic physician in Arizona. I work at an integrative cancer center supporting patients through treatment, helping them to reduce side effects from their treatment, and to help them reduce the risk of recurrence. I started working in oncology in 2009 and developed an interest in working with women with breast cancer. This is my story.

It started as a fibroadenoma that everyone was monitoring. Last year, in addition to my screening mammogram, I had a diagnostic mammogram with ultrasound to further assess the little bump in my left breast. I was told I could have a biopsy or wait six months and get another ultrasound. I chose to wait six months; a biopsy seemed so extreme. After all, I’d had this bump for years.

Six months passed and life got in the way. I helped my family care for my father who was diagnosed at the beginning of the year with liver cancer. He died in late April, weeks after his first and only treatment. We were all devastated.

I wanted things back to how they were. Several weeks later, I married my best friend in a sorta quickie ceremony in Las Vegas. Then it was back to work, house hunting, tons of vitamins, energy and memory support. I just started to feel good again, like me again. Then I woke up on September 12, 2014 and noticed my left breast was slightly red. “Oh crap.” Yeah, that’s not good. But with my history of fibrocystic, painful breasts I thought, maybe it’s nothing. I figured it was a Friday, too late to do anything, but on Monday I would call my PCP for an appointment.

The next day, the redness was gone, but then I saw the dimple. One little dent right above the bump. Breasts aren’t supposed to dimple. Right breast - no dimple. Left breast, dimple. Oh crap.

My PCP fit me in on Monday for an exam and she ordered a diagnostic mammogram with ultrasound and biopsy, if necessary. Because I work at a cancer center, it was pretty easy to get the imaging appointments, which I worked in between seeing patients. I watched the monitor during the ultrasound. I saw all those telltale signs that say “cancer.” Hypoechoic. Lobulated. Shadowing. Flow. “10% chance it might not be cancer.” They scheduled my biopsy for the next day.

Pathology revealed invasive ductal carcinoma, Stage IIB (due to the size, a smidge over 2cm). Additional imaging did not show disease in any lymph nodes. I was started on doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide (AC) every two weeks, just in case some of the cancer cells decided to take off and hang out elsewhere in my body. I also receive Neulasta the day after chemo to support my white blood cells. After treatment with AC, I will then receive paclitaxel (T) for 4 more cycles, followed by surgery, plus or minus radiation. Everyone says that because I'm breezing through the AC I'll do fine during the T, but my experience with my own patients makes me a bit nervous about the T. I have seen hundreds of women take this path and they all get through it, so I get my strength from them. I got this.

The majority of my symptoms come from the medications I take to prevent side effects from chemo. Fortunately, my training has provided me with tools to help manage these side effects. I am also meeting with a naturopathic physician and registered dietitian after my appointments with my med onc. I continue to see patients 5 days a week (except for chemo day), and yes, I am exhausted. One of my patients with Stage IV disease told me "I've got cancer, cancer hasn't got me." Like I said, I got this.

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