A persistent itch caused Vanessa Johnston to think she had been bitten by some kind of bug or mosquito.
By RIMSIE McCONIGA
A persistent itch caused Vanessa Johnston to think she had been bitten by some kind of bug or mosquito. When the annoying “bite” on the side of her left breast didn’t go away she visited her doctor.
When the doctor called her to tell her his diagnosis the seemingly minor itching annoyance was confirmed as stage 2 invasive ductile carcinoma breast cancer.
“My first reaction was ‘no, not me’ and I hung up the phone,” says Vanessa. “The doctor immediately called me back and asked if I was OK. I replied, ‘No, I’m not OK. I have breast cancer.’ I immediately started notifying my family after gathering my thoughts.”
Vanessa knew the diagnosis would not just affect her, but it would be a devastating blow to her loved ones.
After she and her husband and kids processed the upsetting news, Vanessa began consulting with specialists and planning treatment.
“Beginning treatment consisted of consulting with a surgeon that suggested having the breast removed. I told them that if I had to remove one then I should remove them both. I had a bilateral mastectomy shortly afterwards. If I could change anything, I would have done more research on the treatment available.”
Chemotherapy sessions were part of Vanessa’s treatment and although she was tired after chemo appointments, she remained busy.
“I kept moving, I was positive and upbeat,” she said.
The worst part of the treatment for Vanessa was the sudden hair loss. She says that losing all of her hair at once was a game changer and took some getting used to.
Her family was behind her all the way and offered their full support, and for that Vanessa is most thankful. She is also grateful that she chose KU Cancer Center for treatment.
“The support available was amazing. I even got to have one of my daughter’s high school graduation friends as my nurse,” she said.
Knowing that modern medicine has greatly reduced the mortality rates of breast cancer patients, Vanessa thought that since her cancer had been detected early, the higher the chance for her survival.
Now after five years, Vanessa has remained cancer free and she says she feels great.
The average five-year survival rate for people with breast cancer is 90 percent. The average 10-year survival rate is 83 percent. If the cancer is located only in the breast, the five-year relative survival rate of people with breast cancer is 99 percent. But according to the National Cancer Institute, the number of women who get breast cancer is expected to increase by about 50 percent by 2030 because of an increase in older women in the population, increased life expectancy, a rise in the number of tumors receptive to the hormone estrogen and changes in circumstances and lifestyles.
For people who have just been diagnosed with cancer and are facing the same shocking diagnosis as Vanessa did, she encourages them to stay positive and surround themselves with positive people.
Asked if going through this cancer scare has made her a stronger person and thankful for each day she is alive, Vanessa said, “Definitely, and of course, I beat cancer. It did not beat me!”