Brandi Dueck

Brandi DueckAge: 28

Hometown: Arborg, Manitoba

What was your diagnosis? Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (Breast Cancer)

What school did/do you attend? Red River College, Neenigan Institute of Applied Technology

What is your career goal? To work with children, youth, and their families through education and support

 

Your cancer experience:

How did you find out you were sick?

In April 2010, I could feel something small on my left breast. It felt small like the size of a raisin. I hesitantly went to the doctor to get it looked at. I always considered myself as a vigilant person when it came to my health. Others called me paranoid. It saved my life. I was feeling well in the beginning, but my mind ate at me that something was not right. The lump in my breast seemed to be getting bigger.

What led to your diagnosis?

After visiting with my family doctor, he recommended that I see a specialist at the Breast Health Centre. Weeks seemed to pass me by without hearing a word from the Centre for my appointment. I took the initiative and became my own advocate by sending in my own referral. It turns out that my doctor’s referral was still sitting on his desk. My first visit with the specialist at the Breast Health Centre consisted of an assessment and his reassurance that everything was fine.

I phoned the specialist a few weeks later, and I wanted to show him some changes. Upon seeing him the second time, he assured me it was probably a cyst. Not taking his reassurance, I stressed that I was worried about this. It was then he offered to give me a fine needle aspiration of the lump. He was able to get some yellow fluid but there were strands of blood in it. He once again reassured me that it was probably just a complex cyst. He agreed to send me to an ultrasound for further assessment three weeks later.

Waiting for this appointment seemed like a lifetime. During my ultrasound the ultrasound technologist said it appeared to be a cyst. The technologist attempted to do a guided fine needle aspiration with no luck. He was not able to collapse the cyst so he said they would do a Needle Core Biopsy. Ouch! He took five samples. There were 43 days from the day I first saw my doctor to when I was diagnosed; 43 days for that thing to grow inside me.

When were you diagnosed? June 15, 2010

What was your age at the time? 26-years-old

In which hospitals were you treated? Grace Cancer Care, Health Sciences Centre, Gimli Hospital, and St. Boniface.

At what level of education were you at diagnosis?  Post Secondary

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

A nurse who works with the specialist phoned me at home to tell me to come in. I already knew the results. I was scared, but I asked her, “Do you have the results?” She knew I lived an hour and half away and I believe that is why she told me my results over the phone. I will never forget her words, “Unfortunately, the tests came back positive for cancer.” The rest was a blur. I could not hold myself together. I have never been one to handle bad news well. My mother had passed of lung cancer seven years prior. I took it as a death sentence. I was alone and I was going to die (so I thought).

How did your family react?

My family was very supportive. My father, husband, and niece drove with me to talk with the doctor the day I was diagnosed. My sister flew down 1,200 kms to be by my side. This is something I will also never forget. I think my family was very strong and pulled together right away.

How did your friends react?

My best friend immediately left work to visit with me before I left to my appointment. I did not phone anyone the day I was diagnosed except for my immediate family members and best friend. As news spread, unexpected people were calling who I never thought would be there for me. It was amazing to see the support I received.

What did your treatment consist of?

During my first few rounds of chemotherapy I was surprised to see how easy my body was handling it. After losing my hair I was hit hard with the reality of having cancer. It was really hard on my daughter to see me lose my hair. I felt really good after getting a wig because nobody could tell I was sick.

Emotionally I was wreck. I was scared of the future. I told my breast surgeon that I wanted to lose both my breasts. Before I was given the chance to have surgery, the cancer had grown fast and I had to receive neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. This was really hard on my mental state. All I wanted was the cancer to be out of me, and yet, I had to wait.

The oncologist told me that I had stage III breast cancer by the “looks” of the CT scan. After a few months of chemo, I was taken off the chemotherapy to let my body heal for a mastectomy. It was determined that I had stage I cancer. They had taken out my lymph nodes as well. The oncologist told me that we will never really know what stage I was because the chemotherapy had shrunk the mass. I was put on a different chemotherapy drug called Taxol a few weeks after my surgery. During the new rounds of Taxol, my body was weak, and very sick. I was hospitalized several times for liver pains, and septic shock for an infected port-a-cath. I was bed-ridden for 12 days. The anti-nausea medicine barely helped. The Neuropathy pain was unbearable and I was on several different types of pain meds all the time. The oncologist changed my chemotherapy regimen which allowed me to feel better.

The second half of my chemotherapy was torture but I knew it was helping me. I also received Neupogen. This also raised havoc on my joints and muscles.

What is your current medical status?

I am cancer free! I received my last chemotherapy treatment on January 5, 2011.

How is life different for you now post diagnosis?

Physically, I am still gaining strength. Emotionally, I have up and down days. I try not to let this whole thing bother me (easy to say). Socially, I find it very difficult to relate to others. My priorities have shifted. I let go of the small stuff.

What was the toughest part of your challenge?

The hardest part of this journey was knowing how helpless my family felt when I was in pain or sick. Also, watching my daughter grow, while I lie in bed was hard. I feel like I missed out on her toddler years. Hearing news about friends losing their battle to this disease is the toughest.

What was the best lesson you took away from your challenge?

The biggest lesson I took away from my challenge is to never give up, no matter how hard things get. I also learned life is too short to waste on small things.

What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick? 

My biggest motivation was my daughter. I didn’t have a choice; I had to fight.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now?

I am more aware of my body since I became ill. I believe cancer has also taught me some life lessons. Prior to becoming ill, I took my health for granted. I strive to be physically and mentally balanced.

What are some preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours? 

I believe I did everything I could have given my situation. I hear of many young breast cancer survivors struggle through the system to get a diagnosis because they are stereotyped as being paranoid. Believing that it cannot happen to you also puts you at risk for a delayed diagnosis. Early detection is a priority.

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

I was connected to a peer supporter through telephone. I was matched up with another female breast cancer survivor with similar challenges. This helped a lot. Since I lived in a rural community, support was very limited. If there was more support available, I think it would have helped me tremendously.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada?

I was browsing the Internet for more support for young adults with cancer. It was luck that I found Young Adult Cancer Canada. I am excited to be attending Retreat Yourself West in 2012.