Toni Roberts never imagined she would be among the one in eight women in the United States to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Toni, 58, has always been active and fit. And she had no family history of breast cancer.
But in 2014, the Nampa resident learned that family history is only one predictor of breast cancer risk, and that most women who develop breast cancer have no family history at all.
Toni completed her cancer treatment in less than a year and is doing well.
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“It was a short journey,” she said. “But it was a long journey, too.”
It was certainly a journey that changed her life.
Finding the cancer
Toni was showering when she first found a lump. She didn’t mention it to her doctor for a year.
He told her to get a mammogram. She hadn’t had a mammogram for five years because she was self-employed and didn’t have insurance.
The lump was soft, tender and sometimes painful, so she thought it probably wasn’t cancer.
This is a common misconception; many people think cancerous lumps are hard and painless.
What Toni learned with her diagnosis is that any change in breast tissue should be addressed by a medical provider.
Toni underwent genetic testing and found out she doesn’t have the mutated BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. These genetic mutations are responsible for about 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer cases. The mutations are hereditary, inherited from a parent.
Toni had a hysterectomy several years ago and was on hormone therapy for many years. This may have contributed to her increased risk.
Treating the cancer
Toni received treatment and care at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) in Meridian. She had a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the tumor in her breast) and radiation therapy (directly targeting cancer cells).
She now takes a hormone blocker, which has side effects such as hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. She also gets a mammogram every six months.
Toni is finished with her standard cancer treatment but continues to receive integrative therapy treatment at St. Luke’s MSTI. She receives regular weekly massage and acupuncture from providers specially trained to work with cancer patients.
“Acupuncture helps with the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue, pain and hot flashes,” Toni said. “Massage helps with the tightness under my arm and breast from the surgery. It helps loosen the tissue and break up the scar tissue. It also relieves the knots in my neck and shoulder related to pulling and tightness from the surgical site.”
Taking care of herself
About one week after surgery, Toni slowly started walking again. She kept exercising and kept going to work. Getting back to activity made her feel more normal, and it helped her heal faster.
“It was good to stay active for my physical and mental health,” she said.
Exercise really helped when she got down, sad or fearful, she said, and it was always good to see her friends at the gym.
“And one of the drugs I take, a hormone blocker called anastrozole, can cause bone loss. So exercising and using weights also help with that,” she said.
She works out about three times a week. Her advice to other patients and survivors: “Don’t sit home and worry about it.”
Toni also sees an oncology psychiatrist at St. Luke’s MSTI, who works exclusively with cancer patients.
Talking and processing the emotions is an important part of the healing process. Support groups can also be a valuable resource.
Toni also went paddleboarding with other survivors and plans to take on survivor whitewater rafting and fly-fishing trips.
“It was nice to talk with other women who’ve gone through this,” she said.
Toni says it was hard for her to let others take care of her. But after the experience, she encourages other women to “let people take care of you. It’s OK.”
A focus on financial assistance
Toni also didn’t know there was help available to help women cover the cost of mammography. Through the work of many generous community members and grants, funds are available for both screening and diagnostic mammograms.
For information about financial assistance for mammography, call 208-381-2095. For information on survivorship programs, call 208-706-7286 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about your breast cancer risk and mammogram screening recommendations, talk with your health care provider.
To learn more about St. Luke’s Health System, visit stlukesonline.org.