In March of 2012, at age 45, Wanda was diagnosed with Stage III, Grade III triple negative breast cancer. To be frank, this is about the worst primary early stage diagnosis a woman can get. Triple negative means that there is no known “fueling agent” (hormones or proteins) that causes the cancer to grow. It just grows on its own. Additionally, Grade III means not only does it grow on its own, it also grows very, very fast.
Wanda underwent neoadjuvant (before surgery) chemotherapy and then had a single mastectomy. Additionally, she underwent radiation, staying at an American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge during the week so she wouldn’t have to drive the 115 miles each way for a five minute radiation session. Kudos to the ACS for providing real help during a challenging time.
Following her year of treatment, Wanda and her family started to move again. In September 2013, they came to my area to manage a local pumpkin patch as they had done the year before. I didn’t know Wanda in 2012, but after meeting in an online group, she and I made it a point to meet when she was back in the area and became instant friends.
While Wanda was in California, she developed a small bump on her arm. It got bigger very quickly. She and her husband cancelled their plans to manage the Christmas tree farm and headed down to Arizona where they had planned to winter. Wanda got into a doctor’s office rather quickly and in December, had surgery to remove the arm lump. The biopsy showed it was a breast cancer skin metastasis.
Further scans revealed that Wanda had cancer pretty much everywhere. Liver, lungs, lymph nodes, bones, skin … none of it good.
If there can be one “good” thing about triple negative cancer it's that it often responds very well to treatments. Wanda started a different chemotherapy treatment, but ended up in the hospital, close to death, due to blood clots from her port surgery. She continued on chemo using what’s known as a PICC line. Her entire arm bruised as a result of that PICC line, making Wanda a scary looking woman. She felt ugly. People started to avoid her. Because her chemo didn’t cause hair loss, no one associated her with having cancer, but with that nasty looking arm, people must have thought she was on drugs or something.
Her clotting issue was brought under control and she continued on her chemotherapy regime. One of the chemos consistently brought her blood counts down, so they were often delayed to every four or five weeks instead of every three. However, it all seemed to be worthwhile when her July scans revealed a massive reduction in all her tumors (many of them completely gone) and the magical word, “remission” was used.
Wanda and her husband started to put together a plan to get themselves reconnected to the RV world they had pretty much left behind. With her oncologist’s permission, they moved about four hours away from her treatment center, with a plan on how/when to continue her treatments. It took some organization, but their move happened just last month.
Then cancer reared its ugly head again. New scans showed some small growth, so one chemo was dropped and the other was adjusted. After one session of that chemo, Wanda found herself dazed and confused. Literally. Her platelets dropped to a dangerous level, her hemoglobin was low and she was in incredible pain and couldn’t breathe due to extreme chest compression. She went to an emergency room and was admitted with low platelets and low hemoglobin, but with pneumonia as well. To add insult to injury, she had an immediate allergic reaction to the platelet infusion and things ground to a halt as things were figured out. Fortunately, the reaction wasn’t life-threatening and once they used some pre-meds for infusions, she was able to receive another platelet transfusion.
Wanda is still in the hospital. She’s doing much better and she can now breathe. Her medical team is putting together a new plan for her cancer treatment.
At one point, Wanda put it simply, “I just want this to be over.” It was such a struggle for her to get necessary air to breathe and for a brief period of time, Wanda wanted to throw in the towel, admitting defeat. Of course, she is quite glad that others didn’t feel that way and that she’s not at the end of her options yet.
There’s nothing “pretty in pink” about the disease invading Wanda’s body. There’s nothing attractive, cute or sexy about it. Her story is a horror show reality that has no entertainment value. Her story is the one people want to turn away from, yet are drawn to at the same time.
Her story will most likely be a short one because of lack of knowledge on what to do with this disease. Metastatic disease is not curable and in many cases, it’s not treatable for very long. I continue to hope that Wanda’s Story will be an exception.