ENCINITAS — Suzanne Carneiro says that surviving breast cancer does not define her, but describes fighting the disease as a hard bump in the road.
Carneiro has a history of cancer in her family. Her aunt survived breast cancer after a radical mastectomy in 1962 that cut breast tissue and muscle from her chest. Carneiro recalls her aunt showing her and her two sisters what the surgery had accomplished and the gaping concave scar the surgery left. “They took all the lymph nodes out,” Carneiro said. “She used to show us.”
Carneiro’s mom was diagnosed with stage four terminal pancreatic cancer at age 85. Because of her mom’s age and the limited improvement to life expectancy treatment would provide, her mom did not undergo radiation and died in December 2007.
A month after her mother’s death Carneiro was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer at age 63. “I never thought I was going to die,” Carneiro said.
The cancer was found during her mammogram. “I’ve had regular mammograms since (age) 40,” Carneiro said.
Carneiro highly recommends that women have regular digital mammograms that display instant detailed images. “The old kind are a film X-ray,” Carneiro said. “It’s like comparing regular TV with HDTV.”
Carneiro remembers hearing the news she had breast cancer from the radiologist. “I’ve seen it before, I know it’s cancer,” Carneiro recalls the radiologist telling her.
Carneiro had a follow-up mammogram and an ultrasound that confirmed she had breast cancer.
To remove the cancer, Carneiro had a lumpectomy in February 2008 as an outpatient surgery and a second surgery to remove more lymph nodes later that year. There were also chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Treatment lasted for two years. During those two years Carneiro had to put many goals on hold.
Carneiro credits the support of family and friends for her recovery. While Carneiro went through treatments without any nausea and recovered fairly easily, the experience still proved a bit overwhelming. “You have to have an advocate,” Carneiro said.
Carneiro said her friend, who is a retired nurse, would sit through doctor appointments with her, take notes and then go over what the doctor said with her after the appointments. “She would explain things to me,” Carneiro said. “Me taking notes, forget it.”
Family and friends were a big help in breaking up the routine of treatments and doctor visits. Carneiro remembers one day she had a chemotherapy appointment in the morning, met friends for lunch and went to her doctor’s appointment that afternoon. “We started a lunch group,” Carneiro said.
Carneiro is now recovered from breast cancer.
She says she has noticed a few changes, like her hair growing back in curlier after chemotherapy and that she is more easily fatigued, but says that the fatigue may be due to age as much as having had cancer.
“I really don’t know if I have that much of a story on having cancer, “Carneiro said, as she effortlessly changed the topic and shared anecdotes about her travels, family and the latest play she attended.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.