My name is Kara Colantuono, I am 39 and I am currently living in Wheaton, IL. I was initially diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer in July 2013 at the age of 35. I completed 5 months of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy in January 2014 and then completed 6 weeks of radiation Monday thru Friday all while continuing to work full-time.
Following this nightmare, I was deemed “stable” until I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2016. Even after all the chemo (poison, making me feel like I was fighting the flu times 50,000 week after week), major mastectomy surgery (which was, looking back, the most difficult and painful recovery I can imagine), and radiation Monday thru Friday for six weeks (which left me with second degree burns unable to eat or sleep (some of the worst burns my doctor had seen)), I thought I had kicked it. I thought it was over. I thought this scary chapter of my life was only going to be a part of my past. I hoped for the next 5 years, at least, I wouldn’t have to face it again at all. To stay five years free of disease means you’ve got a good chance of beating it for good, or at least a long, long time. For me, it was only 30 months.
The breast cancer was found to have invaded my liver, ovary, a part of my rib, as well as some lymph nodes. I began taking an oral chemotherapy (Ibrance) in February 2016, 21 days out of the month with 7 days of rest. This drug causes suppression to your immune system; therefore I have monthly blood draws through my port to make sure all my organs are healthy enough to begin the next dose each month. I also take Letrozole which keeps my hormones at bay since my type of breast cancer feeds on estrogen. On 1/29/16 I had my ovaries and tubes surgically removed which has, in turn, put me into menopause. Women my age do not typically experience menopause. I’ll spare you those details. It’s not so fun. We all have to go through it, just typically at a natural time. If your kids are grown once it happens to you, be grateful. I didn’t get that chance. Cancer made me infertile. On 3/7/16 I had beads full of radiation implanted into my liver. This treatment worked and my liver has been staying cancer-free, fingers remaining crossed!
Once I was physically healed (the emotional healing has taken a lot longer) from having my ovaries removed (which one was found to be completely covered in cancer), things had gone along pretty well with this new treatment regime, until July 2017. My monthly blood work began showing an increase in my cancer antigen, again. I had a PET scan 8/4/17 and a mammogram 8/8/17. Results were good, but that cancer antigen rose again the following month. I had an MRI on 9/19/17. This showed something with my ureter (the tube that runs from your kidneys to your bladder). In the meantime, my blood pressure was elevated and has been elevated for months now. I went to see an MD who prescribed medication to help with my increased blood pressure. All the while I kept wondering, how am I supposed to have a healthy blood pressure when under this much stress?! My oncologist then ordered a CT urogram to look closer at the situation with my kidneys and ureter, which could be potentially affecting my blood pressure. I had a CT urogram on 9/27/17. The urologist stated there was a blockage of my ureter and a stent must be placed. I had this stent surgically placed on 10/17/17. It was implanted in my kidney and runs down the length of my ureter into my bladder. Great, another foreign object placed into my body. And this stent is not permanent. Over time, it will naturally calcify and has to be replaced every 4 months or so, indefinitely. And it is still to be determined what is causing this blockage. The following day 10/18/17, I had blood work done and my monthly bone infusion, all while doped up from surgery the day before, still unable to drive myself, and coming down from all the nasty anesthesia. On 10/25/17, I had a follow-up appointment with my oncologist – my kidney function has improved but my cancer antigen has doubled. She ordered another PET scan to be done within the next two weeks. I have a post-surgery follow-up with the urologist on 11/13/17. I will have my monthly lab work and infusion yet again on 11/15/17 and another follow-up appointment with my oncologist on 11/16/17. I think I should start to consider getting a job at the hospital.
I’m exhausted. I can’t believe this is my story. And I can’t believe all that my body has been through. I used to compare it to a roller coaster ride. But now, I’m not even sure that really conveys the extreme highs and lows. What I know is that it is hard; emotionally and physically hard, and exhausting. But I also know that each day I wake up. Each day is another day, and this is my reality. I am so grateful to have the greatest support system I could ever imagine. As hard as it is living with cancer, I try my best to stay positive, to live in each moment, and to appreciate each day, because none of us knows what tomorrow may bring. I try my best to see myself healthy; to use my thoughts to heal me. But that takes a lot of energy too and sometimes I just don’t have it. At the end of last year, I tried to resume working the job that I love. I wanted normalcy and I love what I do. But working has become difficult and draining and I need to have strength and wellness to continue fighting. And I will continue fighting.
Embrace life, Never lose hope
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