Toni's Cancer Journey

I was successfully treated for stage 1 breast cancer in 2016. The best possible gift from that experience is to be able to share what I learned from it with others—to offer advice and encouragement to those on a similar journey, to spread the word about cold cap therapy for protecting hair during chemo, and to share some recommendations for anyone looking for safer hair & beauty products. I hope you might find something useful, hopeful, or inspiring here. 

Toni's Cancer Journey | Toni's Advice for AN Early Stage Breast Cancer Diagnosis


In February of 2016 I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I get my mammograms every year like clockwork, with full confidence that I’ll always have the same good results I’ve had thus far—so it was shocking to me to find out there was even a chance anything was wrong.  After my initial mammogram, there were more mammograms, numerous ultrasounds, two needle biopsies, and an MRI.  All of which led to the dreaded diagnosis that the mass in my right breast was cancer.

The good news is that it was stage 1, slow growing, and completely curable. The prescribed course of treatment included chemotherapy, lumpectomy, and radiation.  And though my cancer was at an early stage, I learned that having chemo isn’t always based on the size or type of cancer you have but also on the hormonal makeup of it. 

Before treatment could begin, I had surgery to install the chemo port and have my lymph nodes tested.  I didn’t like the port, but I got used to it.  And some nerves were severed during the lymph node removal process, giving me a lot of nerve pain in my arm and breast for a few weeks.  That said, the lymph node testing came back fine—the cancer had not spread there, and that was great news! 

Further, during this period I had genetic testing to determine if my cancer was inherited.  My mother is also a breast-cancer survivor, and my father is a skin-cancer survivor (skin cancer can be linked to breast cancer) so it was a concern for my doctors.  I’m very happy to report these tests came back negative—not genetic.  This is great not only because it puts my relatives in the clear, but because genetic breast cancer is treated even more aggressively than the non-genetic kind. 

My treatment began with chemo.  Chemotherapy is easier for many people these days than it used to be, so I went into it bravely and with high hopes, but my experience was not a good one.  Besides sickness, the worst part was immediate extreme fatigue both of body and mind, as well as having low white blood cell counts that made me more susceptible to infection.  As a result, we took a hard look at the harm versus the benefits, and since the chemo was a wholly preventative measure in my case, it was decided, with great peace of mind, that I would not continue. 

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After that came the lumpectomy, an easy surgery for me personally.

Radiation was the last major step in my treatment and included twenty-one treatments over about five weeks.  The radiation is also strictly preventative, to treat any stray cells that might have ventured beyond the tumor.  Radiation was one of the easiest parts for me—I was careful to follow doctors’ orders about moisturizing and exercising to ward off side effects, and this kept them to a minimum for me.  Overall, I found radiation very manageable.

Although I will be closely monitored by a lot of doctors for the coming years, I’m very happy to say I now consider myself cancer-free!  I’m very grateful that this was caught in a very early stage, before it became life-threatening, and the steps I’ve taken make it highly unlikely it will ever return.  All of which means:  I’m fine. :)