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Understanding her breast cancer’s pathology

In March 2018, after finding a lump in her left breast Lori sought the medical expertise of an oncologist. Her lump was biopsied and a sample of the tissue was sent for examination. The National Institutes of Health describes healthy breast tissue as being comprised of hundreds of tiny tubes called ducts that end in a group of sacs called lobules; Lori’s breast tissue was not deemed healthy. By studying the sample beneath a microscope, the pathologist could see cancer cells lining its tissue. The cancer cells had also broken free from the ducts and lobules, making Lori’s breast cancer an invasive ductal carcinoma—a potential threat for metastasis, which is when the cancer cells spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Based on the tumour’s size and spread, along with the cells’ appearance and how fast they were growing in comparison to her breast’s healthy cells, Lori’s tumour was determined Stage 2, Grade 3. In addition, the tumor contained estrogen and progesterone receptors, along with a larger than normal number of HER2 receptors on its surface. Lori had triple-positive, Stage 2, Grade 3, invasive ductal carcinoma and aggressive treatment was required immediately.  

 

Lori’s treatment plan

She had surgery right away. “I underwent two lumpectomies, which have essentially resulted in almost a complete loss of my left breast,” she adds. “I had a port installation, four rounds of chemotherapy, Grastifil injections and successive doses of steroids and 20 days of radiation treatment with Herceptin.” This aggressive portion of her treatment plan lasted for months, ending in October 2019. Since then, Lori has been taking the estrogen-blocking drug Tamoxifen every day and will continue to do so until late 2024. “Currently, I’m on half doses,” says Lori. “I’m not tolerating it.”

 

A small ingestible pill, Tamoxifen is simple enough to take. According to the Breast Cancer Organization it is often the first hormonal therapy choice by doctors for women post breast cancer surgery and treatment, as it can reduce the risk of recurrence by 40 to 50 per cent in postmenopausal and by 30 to 50 per cent in premenopausal women. What may not be so easy to manage, however, are the 20-plus side effects including hot flashes, exhaustion, night sweats, depression, joint pain and headaches that can accompany the drug. Like many women taking Tamoxifen, Lori experiences several of these side effects on an ongoing basis.

 

“My treatment to this point has been debilitating with virtually every nasty side effect you can name and my original disabilities have been made worse as a result of the cancer treatments,” affirms Lori. “I currently have little use of my left arm, I continue to deal with neuropathy and now arthritis in my neck, shoulders and hands has set in.”

 

The price of breast cancer

According to the Government of Canada, Tamoxifen is considered a relatively low-cost drug with a one-month prescription being approximately $50.00 for a total of $600.00 per year. But Lori does not have a job nor does she have healthcare benefits, which can decrease the drug’s price by as much as $45.00 a month. Dealing with breast cancer combined with her pre-existing disabilities has made it impossible for Lori to work. While prior to her March 2018 diagnosis she was a full-time student that, along with the financial support she was receiving for her education, has disappeared. Having breast cancer in conjunction with fibromyalgia has complicated Lori’s life, compromising her ability to function beyond imagination.

 

The active hobby farm where Lori and her 11-year-old son live has now also become difficult to maintain. Before, Lori could control some of her expenses by heating their home with a wood-burning stove. Now, however, she is too weak to cut and split the cords of wood the stove requires, forcing her to heat the home electrically. “I have paid over $3,500.00 in Hydro bills and there is still a balance on the account,” says Lori. Driving the long distances to and from the city for her ongoing doctor appointments or to pick up groceries and run errands has also become too much to bare and yet, as a single parent with sole custody of her child, Lori is determined to keep her son safe, happy and living in the only home he has ever known.

 

“I needed to ask for help,” confesses Lori. “I am not someone who asks for help easily and it has taken me some time to come around to this as a possible stop gap. I asked for this help with some trepidation, as I know full well that groups do not have a lot to give. However, my need is becoming increasingly urgent.”

 

Reaching out to the Breast Cancer Support Fund has given Lori the reprieve she needs as it assists with her daily living expenses. As a single mom, this financial support has lifted her spirits, helping to diminish her worries and fears of not being able to care for her son or to keep him in their home. Perhaps most important of all, it has given Lori the breathing space she deserves to focus on her recovery and health for both herself and for her son.

 

“I am grateful to have discovered this fund, which has given me financial assistance,” says Lori. “This support is appreciated beyond measure.”