Life Begins to Return to Normal for Breast Cancer Survivor

Written By:Stacy Simon

Vicky Davis, 55, says she’s finally beginning to feel like herself again. She recently returned to her job working with children who have special needs, and she’s growing a support group of women in her community who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. She has only 3 more treatments of Herceptin (trastuzumab) – a targeted therapy drug – to treat her breast cancer and she’s anticipating breast reconstruction surgery in a few months. After that, she says, “I can go back to the life I once had.”

Davis’ life was turned upside down in October 2015 when she was called back after her regular, yearly mammogram. Biopsies found cancer in 2 lumps in her left breast and in lymph nodes under her arm. More tests found that her cancer was HER2-positive. Although this tends to be a very aggressive cancer, several drugs have been developed that target the protein on the cancer cells that help them grow.

The first breast surgeon Davis met with did not take her case seriously enough, she says, so she got a second opinion. The second surgeon started her immediately on chemotherapy, Herceptin, and Perjeta (pertuzumab). She had a mastectomy to remove her left breast and 18 lymph nodes from her left arm. Five lymph nodes were found to have cancer, in addition to 3 tumors in her breast. Surgery was followed by 25 treatments of radiation. “If I had not gotten a second opinion, I would not be alive right now,” said Davis. “I’m getting the latest treatment approved by the FDA. I couldn’t get better care.”

Coping with side effects

"Going back to work is the best antidepressant ever. I have a smile from ear to ear. The best medicine is being around people."

Vicky Davis

Treatment has left Davis with many side effects, both physical and emotional. During her 9 months off from work, Davis started feeling depressed and went to a therapist. He recommended she go back. “Going back to work is the best antidepressant ever,” said Davis. “I have a smile from ear to ear. The best medicine is being around people.”

Her physical side effects include lymphedema, a build-up of fluid in the arm where her lymph nodes were removed. She wears compression sleeves to manage the swelling. She’s also had clogged tear ducts, numbness in her toes, hair loss, skin problems, and chemo-brain – thinking problems that some people get from chemotherapy. “I’ll have a conversation and my husband says, ‘You already told me that,’ or in the middle of a sentence I’ll forget what comes next,” said Davis. “I’m trying hard to remember everything by writing things down. And now that I’m back to work and my brain is more active, I’m getting better.”

For help coping with side effects, Davis checked out the information on the American Cancer Society website. There, she learned about Look Good Feel Better workshops, which help cancer patients manage the appearance side effects of treatment. She found a session conveniently located in Whittier, California. “I thought it was awesome, amazing,” said Davis. “A stylist showed us how to wear hats, tie scarves, and draw on eyebrows. We were provided with a big bag of makeup. It was fun.”

Tackling the beast

Davis says her experience with cancer has made her stronger. “I couldn’t be too weak because my family relied on me emotionally.” She said her husband took it the hardest. “He’s a police officer, stoic and strong,” she said. “We’ve been married 32 years and he’s shown more emotion than I’ve ever seen.”

Davis says helping the women in her support group by providing meals and answering their questions helps her forget about her own problems. “The thing that gives me power and strength is my deep desire to help others,” she said. “It makes me feel more in control. It gives me a purpose in life. I forget about being scared.”

“A lot of things happened to me in my life. I’ve always been afraid; always worried for my husband. Now I’m not as anxious. I’ve tackled the beast. I wasted too much energy being afraid. I’ve tackled this – I can tackle anything.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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