Hi, my name is Danielle Murray. I am 31 years old. I was diagnosied with invasive breast cancer on March 24, 2009, the day before my 31st birthday, however I was initially MISdiagnosed twice by two different doctors (as you will read below). My husband initially set up this blog for me to share my progress with my friends and family, as an easy way for me to keep everyone up to date. To my surprise however, it also became very therapeutic for me, has reached many more people than I ever imagined, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the experience (well, not the cancer and all the chemo but you know what I mean). Over the course of my journey I’ve received several “hits” from people around the country, some of whom I don’t even know, or messages from friends of friends of friends. The support has been amazing. Because I have many “buzz” words in my blog, my site is often visited by people searching Google for generic topics such as breast cancer, chemo, losing your hair, wigs, etc. or even more famous inquiries such as “Dr. Oz and cancer” (see “My Dr. Oz / Oprah Story”). There is a section of my blog behind the scenes where I can see what people are searching for to find my site and because of this, I feel compelled to be completely honest about my experiences in an effort to help others and possibly save lives for those people finding my site in their research efforts. I saw once that someone visited my site after searching Google for “lump pregnancy armpit”. My heart goes out to this person and I hope they are ok. I’m assuming I don’t know them (I can’t see who is searching, just the terms) so I hope my site gives some good educational information as well, for people just looking for answers. Anyway, here is my story……..
Well, first, let me say this. For those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning or know my story already, there is one small part I left out, intentionally, for reasons you can guess, but I’ve decided to now share this part of my story since I have come to realize that this part of my journey could be important for other women in similar situations. You will see what I mean below. The reason I have now decided to share this part of my journey is because I have been contacted by certain breast cancer organizations and others to share my story within their audiences. There is a tad bit of humility involved for me as I disclose this particular part of my story, as you will see below, but I’ve decided it is more important for me to be completely honest in an effort to help others. And perhaps everyone already knew this part of my story anyway; I guess it may be a little obvious. 😉 Ok, now for my story……..
My breast cancer survivor story began last year (2008), when I found a lump in my right breast (well actually it was more like a lumpy area, kind of like a ripple). This was sometime around July 2008. I had recently undergone a cosmetic procedure (breast implants) (this was the part of my story that I intentially left out of my blog until now; the rest of the story is the same). Immediately after surgery, I noticed the lumpy area on the right side. I showed it to my cosmetic surgeon at my follow up appointment, concerned that it was a ripple or tear in the implant. He said it was my breast implant and assured me it was nothing to worry about it. I never questioned it after that and continued about my life.
Months later, I found another lump in my armpit after learning I was pregnant on Friday, February 13, 2009 (after years of trying and several infertility issues). I presented both lumps to my gynecologist and he agreed the first one was the implant (possibly a valve or something) and the second one was hormonal from the pregnancy and told me not to worry about either of them. I miscarried two weeks later 😦 and shortly after questioned why the lump in my armpit wasn’t going away if it was indeed from the pregnancy. My doctor assured me it was nothing and that it may take a while for it to go away.
After seeing a “medical mistakes” Dr. Oz special on The Oprah Winfrey Show on March 10, 2009, I insisted on a mammogram, which I scheduled for March 17, 2009. I learned it was probably breast cancer that day and was sent for a biopsy on March 20, 2009. I was diagnosed with Stage IIB (clinical stage; I later learned it was probably initially Stage III, the second worst ahead of Stage IV, incurable) HER2+ Invasive Ductal Carcinoma the following week, on March 24, 2009, the day before my 31stbirthday. The lumpy area in my breast was actually two tumors very close in proximity. One was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) and the other was Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) but combined it felt like the outer edge of the implant (or that new foreign object in my body) – that’s why I thought it was a ripple or even a tear in the implant. I remember them appearing very suddenly after surgery and I had never felt them before, even though by the time I was diagnosed they were very large. I am not sure if I had them for a long time before surgery and just never felt them or if they showed up suddenly after surgery but they seemed to be very hard and large from the first time I noticed them. My oncologist said the implants didn’t cause the breast cancer but they did push my breast tissue forward, possibly allowing me to feel them for the first time. The lump in my armpit wasn’t a “hormonal cyst” from my pregnancy…..it was actually Invasive Ductal Carcinoma that had spread to my lymph nodes through estrogen receptors attached to the cancer.
After learning of my diagnosis, I was on Oprah’s website and came across a link that asked viewers to write the show if Dr. Oz’s advice had saved their life. It was for an upcoming tribute show for Dr. Oz’s last formal appearance on the Oprah show, since he is getting his own show in September. I wrote the Oprah show to thank them for the medical mistakes show and received an email from a Harpo producer the following day asking me for my picture (I sent in two for the show, both copied below), which they displayed on the set of Oprah’s Dr. Oz tribute show. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Oz in person, have had two interviews on his national XM radio show (including a breast cancer special with Nancy Brinker, the founder of the Susan G. Komen foundation) and have been invited to appear on Dr. Oz’s new TV show this fall (2009).
I have been undergoing aggressive chemotherapy (TCH: Taxotere and Carboplatin with Herceptin) all summer and had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection on August 10, 2009 (I was originally planned for a mastectomy but had such a good response to the chemo, it was downgraded to a lumpectomy post treatment). I go in for the start of my radiation appointments on September 10, 2009 and will continue with hormone therapy (Tamoxifen) after that for 5 years. I learned after my surgery that I had an almost complete response to the chemo and only had 1/20 of an inch left of the IDC (and all of the DCIS however this wasn’t targeted by the chemo because it’s not “fast growing”), which they removed during surgery.
I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family but learned through genetic testing that I have a BRCA gene mutation. However it isn’t one of the mutations that has a “known” link with breast cancer. I am actually 1 of 4 people in the history of the genetic testing that has this specific mutation and there isn’t much available research at this time so my information is being kept on record along with the other 3 people.
My first chemo treatment was on April 1, 2009, April Fools Day. Ironically this was not a day to be joking around, but that’s just what we did. My sister Nina came over the night before, as she did the night before all my chemo treatments. She showed up smiling with a gift and said “Happy Chemo Eve”!!! We both laughed and it seemed to make things easier on both of us to be able to joke about it as best we could. We came to call these visits “Chemo Eve” and the gifts “Chemo Eve Presents”.
Over the course of my treatments, my sister Nina was getting married and planning her wedding. She had six lovely bridesmaids there to help her with things leading up to her wedding day on June 20. This got me thinking: I could use some bridesmaids of my own right now!! And my friends and family were actually basically acting like my bridesmaids already, even though I wasn’t the bride. That’s when I came up with the idea for chemomaids. A chemomaid is basically like a bridesmaid, selected as a special friend to be there with you during an important part of your life, and there to help you along the way up until your special day, which is in my case was recovery. I’ve since set up another website (www.chemomaids.com) to help my fellow chemo patients and their friends. It gives ideas for things people can do for their friends undergoing chemo, chemo tips for chemo patients, top 10 reasons losing your hair can be a good thing, what to say and not say, etc. It’s still under development and I’m adding to it every week. I’m also sharing it with people I meet in the chemo room (I continue to go in for Herceptin every 3 weeks until April 2010) and the wig shops. So far, I know it’s helped one person (hi Linda!) and that’s all that matters to me.
I hope my story and possibly my chemomaids website has helped you in some way. I know it has helped me. And one last personal update……..My husband and I tried getting pregnant for years, before I became pregnant in February 2009 before my diagnosis. We underwent several fertlity treatments (a potential cause for my cancer) but never had any success. Since the cancer (well moreso the chemo), I am no longer able to get pregnant, at least not now or for the next 5 years (while I’m taking Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker for the cancer’s estrogen receptors). After my surgery, my cancer was downgraded to Stage I (the best) and I am basically considered “cancer free” now. My oncologist has assured me that my risk for recurrence is very low, after seeing how I responded to all the treatments and after surgery. My oncology surgeon said my case was so successful, they are presenting me as a success story at the next oncology convention in Charlotte. 🙂 We started the adoption process right after my surgery and were thrilled to welcome home a new baby boy within only weeks.
Here are the pics from Oprah I said I’d copy below:
If you would like to send me an email offline, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org