Christa

Christa
Age at interview
41

Christa is married and has a one child. She works as a high school teacher although she stopped working during the year of her treatment.

 Christa received her diagnosis in 2006. All of Christa’s aunts, as well as her mother and grandmother had breast cancer. Even though Christa expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life, she did not expect it to be at such an early age. At age 34, Christa wanted to get some testing done as a baseline before she might possibly get pregnant; she had just stopped taking the pill. Despite her family history, Christa felt that she had to be a bit persistent to get referrals for the tests.  A lump was found during her mammogram, and Christa was asked to come back the next day for a biopsy. She then did a pregnancy test as she wanted to be able to inform the health care professionals about whether or not she was pregnant. That next day, she discovered that she was pregnant and then received the news from her doctor that they found cancer in her breast. This news brought a mix of emotions. Initially Christa did not feel too worried about the diagnosis as nobody in her family had actually died from the illness. However, when she was told that not only would the lump be removed but also the whole breast, it became much more serious and scary for Christa. She still remembers that a support person was called for her to speak with right after she received the news and she really appreciated that. She discovered later on that it was difficult to find information about young pregnant women with breast cancer. Her situation meant that her treatment choices had to include consideration of how it might affect the foetus. Christa decided to undergo a double mastectomy and her chemotherapy was planned in such a way that it could start after the first trimester of her pregnancy. During further testing a tumor on her liver was found that had to be monitored. From then on Christa had an MRI and ultrasound every two weeks. After her treatment and delivery, Christa had surgery to remove 70-80% of her liver and fortunately these tumors were not cancerous. Christa has a healthy son who is growing well. Having gone through so many unusual experiences at her age Christa decided to write a book which she named “I get to keep my vagina, don’t I?”

Time since diagnosis
6 - 10 years
Phase of treatment
Remission

Audioclips

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Interviewer: How did you feel about the pregnancy and the treatment? Did you have any chance to enjoy your pregnancy as well?

Well I had fleeting moments. When I found out I actually, that I’d had the cancer at first, before I found out that I had to have the mastectomy, I was fine. I was shocked and I was like "This is going to make things a bit challenging." But I didn’t know, I didn’t think I’d have to get them removed. I didn’t think I’d have to do chemo. I didn’t know any of that, so I actually wasn’t... I enjoyed the pregnancy up until I had the mastectomy. After I had the mastectomy, it was, it was hard for a while because I was waiting to...I was healing from that. I think I was just so tired in the first trimester and then waiting to find out if I had to do the chemo. Then preparing for all of that that was a really, really hard summer. Then going through the treatments themselves were really difficult.

The birth was fine. I felt great that night. I think, because they said the reason that I felt as good as I did is because I was pregnant and I had a lot of estrogen in my body, which for some people it depletes their body. But for me, because of the chemo and then right after I gave birth, my estrogen went, I had none left. My doctor said it was... she took a test of it and it was someone who was much, much older, like 80 or 90 years old. 
So I got really bad post-partum depression and I ended up in the psych ward for a few days. They gave me some medication and stuff to help me because I just I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t eat. I just... it was the weirdest thing. That was for me my lowest point in everything, was the post-partum depression. I felt way worse in that time than I did finding out I had cancer or anything else. It could have just been, even when I was pregnant, I didn’t want to have to worry too, too much about it. I was scared that the energy would go to the baby so I didn’t... I could all of a sudden just released everything. So that was tough. I had, again, my family there for support and each one of my chemo treatments either my mom would fly back or my dad and my sister lived with me for almost like 7 months, while I was going through all of this. I had like I said, a few times, I had lots of support which was incredible.

Interviewer: And your husband?

He, I think he had a harder time with it. He was living with it all the time and I think he saw me as a certain person and a strong person. Then when I was going through this, especially when I had not the physical problem so much but more... when I was depressed and especially with the post-partum. He’s like "You know, you’re going to be fine, just come home you just have to have a nap." And I was actually, I can’t sleep or eat and I’m not okay and so he had a hard time with the... how hard it was for me mentally but I felt. So it was, he was supportive but he had a hard time for sure, he didn’t understand some stuff.

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I think I’d had one (mammogram) done before and that was when I was about 34 years old. My mum had it (breast cancer) when she was 45, and my grandma and all of my aunts had had it as well. So I kind of thought that I would probably get it, but I didn’t think it would be for a long period of time. But I thought I would just set a baseline up just so we know what my breast tissue was like and we knew what to look for. Then my husband and I had started talking about maybe having kids. So I thought I should probably get a test done because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do that for a few years after I was pregnant and when I was breastfeeding. So I thought I would just go and get another test, like a yearly test done just to see if everything was okay. I was 35 at that time. When I called in to try and get it done, there was quite a bit of resistance to do it, because they thought I was too young. So I had to be a little bit more forceful about it. But I was able to go in and they asked if there was a chance that I could be pregnant. And at that point in time I think I had been off the pill for a couple of weeks or a month or something like that. It was probably about a month. I was supposed to get my menstrual cycle in a couple of weeks and so I said, “Well there’s a slight possibility,” but I’d been on the pill for 20 years or something like that and I hadn’t been off of the pill for long. So we were just kind of joking around and they said, “You know this time we’ll just do an ultrasound of the tissue and then we won’t actually do the mammogram.” So they decided to do that just in case there was a chance I was pregnant. I had had no tests done or anything and they found a lump at some point in time. I was the last appointment at the end of the day and so they said, “You know, normally we would just take a biopsy of this right now but, because it’s the last appointment in the day, we’ll do this tomorrow.” So I think I came in the next day or the day after and they took a biopsy of it and I didn’t really think too much of it because I just didn’t think it would be that soon.

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You know the I had a bit of follow-up but I felt like they kind of they get rid of you kind of quick there (laughing) at the (name cancer institute). You know like I felt I had all of this attention, all of this excitement and buzz and everything going around me and then you know after that they’re like okay you’re good to go. And it’s like well do I need to have follow-up like have tests? And they’re like no you should be fine. I’m like really because I don’t know I mean especially for the first 5 years like they say that’s when recurrence can happen and I shouldn’t have to now again have to make you look at me. And they’re just and so but I had doctors like you don’t need to get checked anymore like you’ve had them removed. I’m like well it can, really it can come back still so I felt like I’ve had to be forceful in like no I need to be checked again like let’s go.

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Well I think the very first person I told was my dad and I told him about both things. I was just leaving work to go to the doctor’s appointment to find out what the results came back as and I phone my dad on the way there. I said “I’m pregnant.” And so he was excited because I’m his first daughter and the first one to have grandchildren. He’d always wanted them so he was really excited. Then I called him on the way out too and told him… and I don’t think I handled it really well, I didn’t think about how I was going to do it with the first couple of people that I told. I just called and said “I’ve got cancer!” I think he was away on business somewhere and it would have been horrible as a parent to hear that like in that way. I definitely… but I just I couldn’t think properly.

And then for my husband, when I told him, he just came home from work. He walked in the door and I was crying. He said “What’s wrong?” and I told him “Oh I’m pregnant and I’ve got cancer too.” So like he found out both things like within like a minute of walking in the door he didn’t even have his shoes or anything off. So that probably could have been done better too. But I didn’t want to tell him on the phone I wanted to tell him in person. I think that those two were the ones that were the ones that were my first two so I said it just like that. With everyone else, I don’t remember as much but I think it was a little bit more… I think I found out actually on my middle sister’s birthday and I didn’t want to tell her on her birthday so I waited until the next day. Even though I knew and everybody else knew, I just didn’t want to tell her on her birthday, I think that’s what had happened.

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I was always able to handle it. I think that even sometimes when I’m teaching kids stuff and it’s new stuff they’re just like “I can’t do this I’m never going to get through this.” And it was, I felt the same thing with the cancer. I just I can’t do this, there’s no way and your body actually really can. I think that if they just know that, just give things a little bit of time. Sometimes the doctors could give a little bit less time in between when they tell you stuff. But patient giving themselves more time and the doctors maybe get stuff to them sooner and then it makes the process easier if that’s at all possible.

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I’ve had them done a few times. The lady that does it is just awesome. She does it… because I didn’t have another one to look at, she looked at the inside of my lip, at the pigment there and what it looked like, to see what colour your… because apparently your areola is generally about the same colour as the inside of your lip, I guess. She went quite light at first and they almost went to skin colour. So the last time I went, she ended up doing it like really, really, really dark. It’s been 2 years now and they’re… I’m going to have to get them done again. But they look quite real, she does it with different colours and spots. For some people that didn’t even have the nipple made, she can tattoo on shading so that it looks like there’s the nipple there.

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That was almost more than I could handle and with everything else I just ...like I said when I first found out about it, in the summer time, I just thought well, I guess I’m not going to make it ...

I was laying in my bed and I’m like "Okay." And then I just go off the phone and I continued to lay down and I just couldn’t... it was just I couldn’t deal with it anymore. They just kept checking it and checking it and I think it, they were checking to see if it would grow or shrink or what would happen. I think it stayed pretty much the same and they had to continue doing the MRIs* (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) after I was pregnant to see if, with the change in the estrogen, if they would change. And it still didn’t change.

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As far as the sex part goes, I felt not very feminine. Of course, when I had no breasts at all, I felt self-conscious of my scars and everything. So I talked to my sister about it, just so she just kind of helped me go through it. And I’m, he won’t even touch my scars. I didn’t know if he was grossed out by them or what he thought but I think he just didn’t want to pay any attention to them. And so, there was a bit of, kind of, difficulty. He’s like "Yeah, I don’t care, I don’t mind." But it’s not like I want him to fawn over my scars or anything but just have it not be affected. And so, I think that I felt like there was, it just, I didn’t feel sexual. I think the Tamoxifen kind of did that too. Also the Effexor as well, all of those things made me feel not sexual for a while. Just giving birth. I was heavier and just the lack of sleep. So there was, there’s a period of time where things were very difficult for us as a couple. We both dealt with it in our own ways. And for me, I couldn’t sleep and I think I drank more alcohol at that point in time too. Just because, I just wanted to feel numb. I just didn’t want to feel crappy so... or I wanted to be able to get to sleep at night.

And now, I don’t find, now we have a great relationship and we have for a few years. I do think having the breast put back on, but I can’t tell how much of it was how I felt about myself or how he felt about me. I know that he loves me and he loved me and all that kind of stuff but you still want to feel desirable to your partner too.

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And then so 2 weeks later they got the results back and they called me to say, “Okay we’ve got the results, come in for them,” and I’m like okay well I guess I’ll probably have to get a mammogram today too you know just to make sure everything’s okay. So I took a pregnancy test because I knew they were going to ask me that question again and it actually came up that I was pregnant. And that was at about 8 o’clock in the morning that I did it or9..So I had my doctor’s appointment later on that day, a few hours later and then I found out that they actually had found cancer, so it was the same day.

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Well as far as my experience goes, it had run in my family and so I’d gotten a couple of tests done just to see a baseline. I think I’d had one done before and that was when I was about 34 years old. My mum had it when she was 45 and my grandma and all of my aunts had had it as well. So I kind of thought that I would probably get it, but I didn’t think it would be for a long period of time. But I thought I would just set a baseline up just so we would know what my breast tissue was like and we would know what to look for. And then my husband and I had started talking about maybe having kids, and so I thought I should probably get a test done just because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do that for a few years after I was pregnant, and when I was breastfeeding, and that kind of thing.