A Shocking Diagnosis
Patient Name : Constance Brookes
“If I had a heart problem, I would not have been surprised; it ran in my family. But cancer did not and I was totally shocked,” Constance Brookes begins.
The long-time 5th grade teacher had seen her doctor for her yearly exam. He had not seemed concerned about her breast, so she pushed the red flags from her mind. Her physician recommended she schedule her yearly mammogram, but the holidays were upon her and time slipped away before she knew it. It was not until January that she called for an appointment and February before she had the mammogram.
Classes were in full swing and Constance’s attention returned to preparing her class for the FCAT. One day she realized she had heard nothing regarding her test. “Your doctor’s office will call if there is something to worry about,” she heard from the voice on the other end of the line. Not long after that, she found herself scheduling a sonogram and a biopsy. “Her mammogram looked suspicious,” they told her.
Constance did not want to worry her two sons; they were adults with families of their own. But it was her son, Scott that insisted she refer herself to MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando regardless of the results of these additional tests. “Mom, it doesn’t matter what they tell you. You will be checked out at MD Anderson – Orlando,” he said confident of the center’s expertise. She scheduled an appointment for Wednesday, April 14 at 11 AM.
That morning, Constance and her husband, ‘Bud’, received the results of the biopsy from her doctor’s office – she had breast cancer. Constance could not keep back the tears; fear overwhelmed her. She could feel the lump and the red flags she had ignored screamed at her now. “Deep down, you know. I just did not want to admit I had cancer,” she says. “I emailed a friend at the school because I could not talk about it. I could not say ‘I have cancer’ out loud.”
Constance met with her team at MD Anderson – Orlando that same day: surgeon Danelle Chambers, MD and medical oncologist Nikita Shah, MD. They advised Constance to refrain from teaching because of her increased susceptibility to infection and planned for the surgery. Dr. Chambers performed a complete mastectomy to remove the lump in Constance’s breast. “Waiting was difficult - the unknown. How large? How far has it spread? I could not help wondering.” The pathology report identified the seven-centimeter lump to be stage III breast cancer and having spread to four of the fourteen lymph nodes.
Before beginning chemotherapy under Dr. Shah’s guidance to destroy the cancer cells trying to spread to other locations, Constance participated in the Look Good, Feel Better class. “For the first time, I had formal instruction on how to apply my makeup. The cosmetologist even taught us how to draw on eyebrows to help camouflage the effects of the chemotherapy.” Before taking the class, Constance thought she would buy a wig if she lost her hair. But after the class, she saw the importance of getting one sooner. So, she went wig shopping with a couple of friends before she felt self-conscious. The Look Good, Feel Better class equipped Constance to live in spite of her treatment.
“In all my experiences and treatments at MD Anderson – Orlando they treated me with white kid gloves,” shares Constance in appreciation of her care. “There was never enough they could do for you. Everyone is always so optimistic and ‘up’.”
Nearly a year to the date of the original diagnosis and two days before her scheduled mammogram, Constance felt a small lump in her other breast. The mammogram showed nothing, but Dr. Shah and Dr. Chambers could feel it as well. “The unknown wasn’t there with this lump. I wasn’t scared,” Constance explains. Dr. Chambers performed a lumpectomy and the small mass was benign. “I was very happy with the results,” says Constance. “I don’t live expecting the cancer to return. As far as I am concerned I’m cured.”
“Since my diagnosis, several friends have been diagnosed with cancer as well. I recommend MD Anderson – Orlando to all my friends,” Constance says as proof of her satisfaction. “MD Anderson – Orlando along with my family, friends and prayer saw me through this difficult time.”