Sirkka

audio
Age at interview
63

Sirkka (63 years old) is married and has 4 grown children. She works as a certified personal support worker providing personal care to people in her region.

Sirkka was diagnosed in 2008 and is currently being treated by her care team as though the cancer has metastasized even though this has not yet been confirmed through testing. Sirkka first noticed something was wrong when she felt something like little pinches in her chest. She saw her GP and then had a mammogram. Sirkka was not too worried and forgot about it when, just after her test, her mother died.  She received a phone call from her doctor 3 months after the mammography, with the news that something suspicious had been found. She then had a troublesome time getting an appointment with the surgeon who initially didn’t call her back. It was only 8 months after she had first felt the pinches in her chest that a biopsy was done. Unfortunately the test results of the biopsy showed that the breast cancer was of a more serious nature. Sirkka then had surgery to remove the whole breast followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Sirkka decided to go and see a surgeon in another city for a TRAM flap breast reconstruction. A couple of months after this surgery Sirkka noticed lumps in her abdominal area and she had a biopsy at a local clinic; the biopsy went through the mesh that had been placed during her reconstruction to compensate for the loss of the muscle removed during the TRAM flap. This resulted in a serious infection as, Sirkka has learned later, a biopsy should not have been done through the mesh. Sirkka has since undergone several surgeries to remove the infected mesh. Sirkka has had back pain on and off for more than 30 years as this could also be a symptom of recurrence she is currently being treated as though the cancer has metastasized. Sirkka has always been a healthy, positive minded person and appreciates it when health care professionals are straight forward and provide her with all the essential information.

Time since diagnosis
6 - 10 years
Phase of treatment
Remission

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There was one point after I had the second part of the mesh removed. There was that 6 weeks where I had to be with the open wound in my abdomen. I think that was maybe the only point where I started to think that "Oh my God." is this ever going to be over? And that was the first time that I really felt depressed. But my husband said that "You know what, hang in there because this is going to end." And, of course, it did and I was quite… After that, things seemed to go well but it was just like a vicious cycle of doctors, infections, surgeries. I think it was 7 or 8 surgeries I had in about 5 years and that was just too many. And I’ve been a healthy person all my life, I’ve never been sick, I’ve been in the hospital four times and only because I was having babies and then I had a tubal ligation but other than that I have been probably one of the healthiest people around. Then all of a sudden, there just one thing right after the other. So it was, it was hard.

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When it came time to tell the rest of my family, I actually just went to my brother. He lives just down the road and I didn’t really make a joke of it; it was just kind of making myself to be the…Well because, my sister-in-law had had a lump somewhere on her chest, my niece had had a lump somewhere else and so I just kind of said “Well you know so and so had a lump on her breast, it ended up being nothing so and so had a lump someplace else it ended up nothing and then there’s me.” And so I said “Well I got a lump and it’s cancer so…” and then from there, he just let the rest of the family know, because I have a large family. I just didn’t want to be phoning everybody and saying this. Word of mouth, one told the other, told the other but my husband and children were wonderful. My family the rest of my family my brothers and sisters they were right there whenever I needed them and gave a lot of support.

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It would have been good if I had, if I’d had the knowledge. A little bit more knowledge about mesh, how mesh works in your body. I guess really, I should have researched it more, but actually at the time that I went down there, I wasn’t aware that I was going to get mesh in my body. I think that was … the reason I opted for the TRAM flap*(Transverse Rectus Abdominis Muscle Flap) surgery was because I didn’t want foreign material in my body. I thought this would be my breasts built from my own body rather than anything foreign put in there. So that was a huge thing on my part, that I should have really researched this more. So I would say that do your research, look at different sites, talk to different people. I had talked to one woman who had the TRAM flap done and she was very happy with what had happened. 

Now another thing also, I forgot to mention, I said I had decided to do this because I didn’t want any foreign products in my body but when I went back for the second surgery my breasts were not, the right breast was wonderful it looks real, it feels real it’s perfect. The left breast was just a little lump and I said to the, this is done in Toronto, and I said to the doctor there, that well," But they’re so different. I mean they’re not this isn’t breasts, this isn’t a breast.” She said “We can make the other one smaller or we can make the left one to match the right one. I said well I want breasts, I don’t want little lumps. I didn’t go through all this to have little lumps.” And she says “Well the only way we can give you a left breast is to put in an implant.” So here I resisted or I should say here I was trying to think, trying to or thinking that my breast would be built from my own body and now I have an implant anyway because they, they, she said there was no other way to give me a left breast. And I think they should have been told to me right away. I don’t think that it should have been an afterthought and when she put the implant in first of all, it was too big and she put it too high. So then I had to go back so that she could lower the implant. I kind a got fooled on that one because I said “Now I have, I have mesh in my body plus I have an implant in my body and that’s not what I was expecting.”

* TRAM flap: A section of the lower belly containing blood vessels, skin, fat and muscle is cut and used for breast reconstruction.

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I still have to see the doctor every 3 months. They suspect now that the cancer may have metastasized into my spine they don’t know for sure because I’ve had a problem with my spine before. I’ve had back aches and stuff, I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for that and long before the cancer ever came. But I had been refused the PET scan*(Positron Emission Tomography) so they can’t say for sure that the cancer is there or that it isn’t there. So they are treating me as if the cancer has metastasized but nobody can say for sure that it has. So it’s, I’m still on my medications. It’s a little over 5 years now. I don’t know how long I’ll be, I’ll still have to be on them and I’m still getting blood work and seeing the doctor every 3 months. And that’s about it …

My oncologist had requested a PET scan but the powers that be, I don’t know who they are, refused me the PET scan. I would have taken it and my oncologist requested it but I was not one of the people who would you say qualified or what you would say. But I was refused anyway. 
My oncologist said that for safety, it’s safer to treat me as if it has metastasized rather than no treatment.

*PET scan: A nuclear medicine imaging test that creates images of the body’s functions and metabolism.

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They were wonderful. I didn’t really… I do personal support so a lot of the… in-home personal support. So a lot of people don’t know, but of course I had to tell my immediate boss and a couple of people I work with they were very supportive. They said anything you want just let us know and I was off work for a year, I had no problem coming back and they were wonderful.