Michelle LeBaron - How Breast Cancer Broke My Heart
Michelle LeBaron is a 58-year-old wife, mother, and grandmother. She has lived in Northern Utah most of her life and loves the beautiful Rocky Mountains that surround her home. She has worked as a Technical Editor for the past 15 years.
Michelle’s favorite things are playing with her beautiful and talented grandchildren, going to lunch with wonderful friends, and spending the day doing anything with her handsome husband. Michelle is a woman of great faith which has been key in getting her through life’s struggles. Michelle is blessed with a great support system of family and friends.
At age 45, Michelle was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, Stage IIIB. She spent 15 months in treatment which included Chemotherapy, Mastectomy, and Radiation. Shortly after the end of her cancer treatment, she was diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy. For several years her condition was controlled by medication and she was even able to go off medication for a few years. In 2014, she became very ill with a pleural effusion and was again suffering from the Dilated Cardiomyopathy with an EF between 20-25%. Since then several other issues have presented themselves including mitral valve insufficiency and persistent atrial fibrillation. In 2017, she underwent placement of a dual pacemaker/ defibrillator. She also went through a procedure for MitraClip repair of her leaking mitral valve.
Michelle is grateful for the wonderful improvements in medical care. Her grandmother died at age 59 of a heart valve issue related to rheumatic fever. Michelle believes our trials help us realize what is truly important in life and shape us into a kinder and more empathic person. Michelle loves her life even though it is much different than a few years ago, she is still able to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Her life’s mantras are “breath in faith, breath out fear” and as Dori says “just keep swimming”.
Michelle writes as the American Heart Association has just released an updated statement on breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.
I can still hear the ringing in my ears when the doctor said, “you have an aggressive form of breast cancer, called inflammatory breast cancer.” I had never heard of it. All you ever hear about is checking for lumps, but I had noticed changes in my breast tissue a year earlier. It just felt thicker and a little harder. I had mentioned this to my gynecologist and I had my mammogram, but nothing was done until a year later when I began to notice more changes. My breast was warm to the touch and very itchy. My nipple also began to invert. I made another appointment with my gynecologist. I still remember the look on his face as he examined me. I knew something was not right!
Fast forward, 13 years later and I’m in another battle for my life. This time-fighting heart disease. Little did I know that the aggressive treatment used to treat my breast cancer would eventually damage my heart. I was given the perfect cocktail of Adriamycin (known to cancer patients as the “RED DEVIL”) and radiation to my left side. One month after my cancer treatment ended I was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy which has led to numerous other heart issues over the years.
A reporter recently asked me, “Knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger sister if she were diagnosed with breast cancer?” I’ve thought about that question and here’s my list:
- First, and foremost, find a doctor you can communicate with. One that listens to you and answers your questions. If he doesn’t, find one that will!
- Second, be aware and do the research. I know it’s hard when you’re faced with a life-threatening illness, but in the end it’s your health and you need to take charge as best you can.
- Third, take a family member or friend with you to appointments to take notes and help ask the right questions.
- Fourth, ask about not only the short term, but long-term effects of the treatment and if there is anything they can do to lessen those risks.
- Fifth, when you’re done with all your treatments, ask your doctor if there is any post-cancer screening that should be done, besides just screening for a return of cancer.
In the end, I believe the best medicine is being grateful. I’m grateful to be alive to witness the birth of my two beautiful granddaughters. I’m grateful for each new sunrise. I celebrate every birthday… no matter how old I’m getting, it’s better than the alternative! I’m grateful for all the new technology in Breast Cancer research and treatment of Heart Disease.
You can live a good life with a broken heart!