Did you know that if you have “dense” breasts….made up of more fat than fibrous or glandular tissue…that you are six times more likely to develop breast cancer and that it is much harder for mammograms to detect whether or not you have the disease? Claire Thevenot, who is an oncology certified nurse who has worked in the cancer field for seven years learned that lesson the hard way: only months after having a negative mammogram, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Though her breasts were feeling lumpier, she delayed having them checked for months, because her recent mammogram gave her a false sense of security. When she woke up one morning with a protracted (inverted) nipple, she knew something was terribly wrong. As Northside Hospital’s Cancer Institute Multidisciplinary Care Coordinator, she had the benefit of being able to get her mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy done very quickly, followed by a breast MRI and a PET scan. The news was not good. She had Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and there was a spot on her sternum. Frightening as that was, it is now four years later, and Claire is doing really well; in fact, she is leading a healthy, complete lifestyle, with her cancer diagnosis often falling to the back of her mind.
She’d be the first to tell you that she is not your typical breast cancer patient. She did not have breast surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Treatment for her type of breast cancer centered on hormones that every woman has in her body -- estrogen and progesterone – which can fuel some types of breast cancer, helping cells grow and spread. So, her treatment was to have her ovaries removed and to go on hormone or endocrine therapy to block those chemicals to treat the disease. And, her body has responded. She credits her survivorship to advances in cancer treatment that target the treatment to the specific type of tumor.
Although she doesn’t work directly in patient care, Claire says her diagnosis has given her a totally new perspective and empathy to people who are going through cancer treatment. She is an advocate for greater access and greater awareness. Her message to those recently diagnosed is to become stewards of their own health care: become educated, ask for patient navigator support, understand the risks and benefits of all your options, and become a partner with your physician in your treatment. And ask for support from your friends or family. Even for a nurse with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and an MBA, trying to take in all the information about your cancer while you are under extreme stress is overwhelming.
Meanwhile, Claire is focused on living life the best she can. Divorced a year before her diagnosis, getting back into the dating world was not easy. How do you develop an honest and open relationship with someone when you have to share that you have Stage 4 cancer? But, full disclosure and all, she did find a new life mate, and was married in May, with her two sons and daughter beside her. And, despite what she’s been through, she can honestly say, “I’m very lucky.”
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