My Story by Bré Thomas
“I didn’t have time for this. I didn’t want to disrupt my family. How was I going to do my job? I definitely did not want cancer!”
Two years ago on June 21, 2013, I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” It was the culmination of my yearly mammogram, a second round of mammograms, an ultrasound, a biopsy and finally the diagnosis. I was 45 years old with a 10 year old who just finished 4th grade and a husband who had just bought a golf business. I was a year into my role as the CEO of the Arizona Family Health Partnership, a small non-profit. I didn’t have time for this. I didn’t want to disrupt my family. How was I going to do my job? I definitely did not want cancer!! I had lost two friends to triple-negative breast cancer at 39, so that was my frame of reference - surgery, chemo, radiation and ultimately death. I was scared! My husband, on the other hand, knew from day one that everything was going to be fine. He held that belief for me - for us.
For me, there was only one place to turn - Banner MD Anderson. A good friend was a patient there and had gone through surgery and chemo at their facility. I also knew that if things got very serious, MD Anderson Cancer Center was a phone call away. I met with my surgical team, Dr. Byrum and Dr. Tan, and found out that I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) breast cancer, the first piece of good news. The cancer was caught early! By the end of my appointment I was laughing and so appreciated the doctors’ approach to me and my care. It was personalized, and they were confident for me when I couldn’t be.
The calls and emails to family, friends, colleagues and the talk with my daughter took its toll. I still did not know if the cancer had spread. I was getting all of my work projects handed off to colleagues and worked with my Board of Directors to apprise them of my plan and any necessary contingencies. They were wonderful, and their response was similar to those I have read from Jason’s Deli’s employees. Take care of yourself; let us handle the rest.
When surgery was finally upon us, I was at my wit’s end. Done being strong, fighting. I was in tears. The surgeon tried to calm me down, but I was just so scared that the sentinel node biopsy would show that the cancer had spread, and I would be in for a much different course of treatment. When I woke up - GREAT news. The cancer had not spread, and they had started the reconstruction process. I could hardly believe it! So in my case, the cancer was gone; I just had to go through the reconstruction process. And as I have learned, it is not for the faint of heart. While my cancer was stage zero, it had not spread to my sentinel node. It was extensive throughout my ducts, so I am so grateful that I chose the mastectomy route. For me, this course of treatment was 100% accurate. It also meant that I would not need chemotherapy or radiation. There was some comfort in having surgery and being able to move on with my life. The one bright spot continued to be my husband. He kept me laughing, and he was the one who kept me motivated during this fight.
During my care at Banner MD Anderson I started seeing their integrative oncologist and the team at the Cox Integrative Center. This was a key in my recovery and my attempt at lessening the chances of the cancer re-occurring. Exercise, nutrition and meditation are “prescriptions” that I take as seriously as my daily medication (Exemestane) to lower the estrogen levels in my body - all are preventative measures for me. I know that losing weight, cardiovascular exercise and strength training will lower my chance of the cancer returning while at the same time making me stronger, as well as helping with the side effects of bone loss from the Exemestane.
My focus in 2014 and 2015 has been on gratitude, exercise and nutrition. Early on, nutrition was a bit easier for me, so we all started eating less and making healthier choices. I work with a nutritionist at Banner MD Anderson to help find nutritious options to prepare for my family. I look for restaurants that prepare fresh, organic food. When I got the chance to work with Jason’s Deli to support MD Anderson, I learned that they fit my nutritional needs. I regularly stop in for a salad and enjoy a baked potato or try their latest creation with MD Anderson.
During spring 2014, one of the staff at Banner MD Anderson suggested I participate in a triathlon. What?!?! There was a group from Banner MD Anderson who participate in the Tri for the Cure. I thought the sprint format was doable, and it was something that would keep me motivated while adding variety to my exercise routine. To date I have completed a mini-sprint Triathlon, Tri For the Cure AZ; Tour de Mesa, a 28-mile bike race; and a sprint Triathlon, competing in my first open-water swim. I learned that for me, training is different than exercising and having a race helps me get out of bed in the mornings. Physically, I have accomplished more in the last 6 months than I ever dreamed I could do.
All in all, I have had very few, if any, complications and amazing medical care. I have a fantastic family, great friends and a supportive workplace. I am happy, healthy and am now an athlete. But most importantly, I am the poster child for early detection!