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Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
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Facing the Fear of Recurrence

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986, no one talked about fear of recurrence and how devastating it can be in our lives.
PUBLISHED: MARCH 16, 2015
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986, no one talked about fear of recurrence and how devastating it can be in our lives.

I didn’t really even understand that my cancer could come back in another organ until well into chemotherapy. Despite what many people think, breasts are not a vital organ and their loss, while devastating, is not going to kill you. Not so if the cancer moves from the breast to the liver, lungs, brain or bones, the most common sites for breast cancer recurrence.

I thought that if I lived through chemotherapy, cancer would be behind me; I would never have to deal with it again. I could continue raising my amazing daughter and stepchildren and get on with my life as a college professor, writer and speaker.

It wasn’t until a phone call in in February 1987 that I truly understood that cancer could be diagnosed when it was already in a vital organ or that it could come back in a vital organ.

Like many women diagnosed at the time, I was doing the “nothing keeps a good woman down” routine. You know the type.

“Sure,” she says, “I can still host Thanksgiving for 30. I’ll just vomit between courses.”

I still had one chemo to go and was trying to coordinate a huge fundraising event at my church.

I called the woman who led the girl scout group that met at the church about coordinating space to be sure we could accommodate their needs.

She said she needed to check her calendar, and we would need to talk again. She yawned and apologized by saying she was in chemotherapy.

“I am too,” I told her.

After a moment of stunned silence, we compared notes. How many chemo appointments did she have left, and how she was doing, etc? Then I asked her how she had found her cancer. She said that on New Year’s Eve she sneezed, and the pain in her back was so bad she couldn’t stand up.

 “Your back?” I asked.

She said that her cancer was already metastatic to her spine when they found it, meaning it had already moved to another organ from the breast.

Back then it also meant she did not have long to live because there were none of the current drugs that have given women with recurrence 6, 8 even 10 years with good quality of life.

She said the doctor told her that when she sneezed she probably cracked one of the vertebrae where the cancer had settled.

She also knew she was dying; I could hear it in her voice.

Our daughters were the same age.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I do know that by the next morning my back was in spasms. I was in real pain.

OK. I am not an idiot. Intellectually, I knew that this had to do with my conversation, but intellect had nothing to do with it. I was in real pain.

By day two I could barely move. I called my oncology nurse, Becky and told her my back was really hurting me (leaving out, of course, the conversation), and that I needed a bone scan.

She ordered it, and when I went to learn the results, I was sure it was to confirm I was dying. Instead she told me I was fine, and why, she asked, did I need the scan again.

The pain ended at that moment.  No one can convince me that this wasn’t a case of mind over body. It also took me weeks to understand what had happened. FEAR.

This was my first, but far from my last, panic attack. As I continued to have them, I learned that there were certain things that set them off. Today those are spoken of as triggers.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
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