Looking Ahead With Advanced Breast Cancer
Jennifer Lopez lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband, Ricardo, and their dog, Einstein.
I always knew I was supposed to do regular breast self-exams to check for any signs of breast cancer, but I never knew what I was feeling for exactly. However, at the end of July 2013, I quickly learned. One evening, after I got home from work, I changed out of my work clothes and felt something I’d never felt before—a lump in my left breast. I asked my now-husband, Ricardo, to feel it, and he said it felt like a marble. I knew in my gut something was definitely off.
I scheduled a mammogram and got my results back a week later—everything looked normal. But my gut told me it wasn’t. I asked for more tests, and eventually had an ultrasound, biopsy, and PET scan, which looks at cell activity.
After the ultrasound, I had already been told that I had stage 2 breast cancer. However, the evening after the PET scan, the breast surgeon called me from her cell phone at 6pm and I knew it wouldn’t be good news. It was a beautiful August day and I was outside with our dog; I picked up the phone and the doctor said it was stage 4 breast cancer and it had spread to my liver and bones. After that, I don’t remember anything—my brain went blank and I couldn’t hear anything else she said. Ricardo asked me what was going on, but I couldn’t answer him, so he called her right back. She explained everything to him. Together, we sat there and cried. I tried to accept the fact that it was stage 4 breast cancer. I was stunned.
That night, Ricardo told me he wanted to get married.
We met with the oncologist a day or two later, and he told me that I had six months to live, maybe a year. Right after that appointment, Ricardo and I went to the mall. Together, in a daze, we bought our rings, he got a new suit, and I picked out a simple dress. We got married 3 days later.
The wedding was beautiful, but full of emotions. We didn’t know what the future held for us.
We immediately started looking for a second opinion. The second doctor I saw told me the same thing and gave me the same treatment plan as the first oncologist. My gut told me that this wasn’t the right doctor, either. I was looking for someone who would treat me as a whole person—I wanted nutritional advice and emotional support. But I felt stuck. I set up an appointment to start chemotherapy at the second hospital, but I knew I didn’t want to go there. Ricardo knew I was uncertain with the two opinions we were given and one afternoon he called me at work and said he’d set up a meeting with a doctor at another hospital. I’m so grateful he took that step. At our appointment, I asked the oncologist, Dr. Tlemcani (Dr. T) how long she thought I had to live, and she said, “I can’t tell you that—that’s out of our control.” The team was wonderful. We hit it off and I knew I was in the right place.
Dr. T told me my breast cancer was classified as hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative. That means the cancer grows with help from hormones like estrogen and progesterone, making it hormone receptor-positive (HR-positive), but it doesn’t use a gene called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), making it HER2-negative. My oncologist told me my type of cancer responds really well to targeted treatments, so I felt optimistic.
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