Surviving breast cancer

Fischer advocates regular mammograms, doing what your doctor tells you and exercise

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2008

Imagine getting hit by a car while riding your bike. You sustain a broken right shoulder, a broken right arm and five cracked ribs. Then, just 10 months later, you are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Kim Andree / Juneau Empiire
Kim Andree / Juneau Empiire

Betsy Fischer knows the feeling. In July 2006, she was hit by a car.

"I was just starting to recover from that," Fischer said. "I was just starting to feel like, yeah, I think I'm getting through this. And then boom! I got breast cancer. I honestly said that to the doctor. I said, 'I can't have breast cancer. I got hit by a car last year!'"

In April 2007, Fischer received her annual mammogram. Doctors asked her to come back for a follow-up, and then for a biopsy.

"(The doctors) kept saying, 'It's probably nothing. Whatever it is, it's very tiny,'" Fisher said.

But by May 2007, Fischer received her diagnosis - ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a noninvasive (Stage O) cancer, sometimes called pre-cancer. Some of her doctors called it "ugly" cancer.

According to Breastcancer.org, DCIS is the uncontrolled growth of cells inside the milk duct of the breast. The cancer can grow, but unlike most cancers, DCIS doesn't spread outside the duct and into surrounding breast tissue or lymph nodes or organs. DCIS isn't life-threatening, however, it requires careful medical treatment.

Even though Fischer's cancer was small, it was an aggressive form.

"The doctor said it was itty bitty," Fischer said, "but it was a particularly nasty little kind."

According to Fischer, DCIS can be dormant forever, or after several years it can start to grow.

"Once it starts to grow, it can spread rapidly," Fischer said. "So, you want to get it removed. You want to get rid of it and keep an eye on it after that."

In Fischer's case, she received a lumpectomy in June 2007, which took only a day. Then, in August, she received follow-up radiation therapy at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Fischer received a new type of radiation therapy called brachytherapy, a high-dose localized therapy.

"The advantage of it is they can pinpoint the spot where they want to deliver the radiation, and instead of taking six weeks, it only takes one week," Fischer said. "That's the good part. There's a bad part. In order to deliver that high-dose radiation, they put catheters in you. So I had like 15 to 16 catheters, the size of little coffee stirrers, sticking out of me."

Fischer said doctors would attacher her catheters up to a machine for treatment.

"It looked just like R2-D2, with all these wires coming out of it," she said of the machine. "I'd come in, and they'd hook me up to all these wires, and then everybody would leave the room and leave me in there with R2-D2."

Fischer received this treatment twice a day for five days.

"I actually got pretty used to it," she said. "The worst part was getting the catheters put in. It was uncomfortable, because you have to lie really, really still on your stomach for a long time while they very carefully insert them ... And I don't like laying still."

Fischer compared her experience with cancer to her car accident.

"Getting hit by a car was a real wake-up call, like whoa, that could've killed me, (but) it didn't kill me, so I'm really happy," she said. "But then when I had the cancer ... that affected me even more than the car. That scared the crap out of me."

Fischer said it took her a while to accept and deal with her diagnosis.

"You can't control it. You don't feel like yourself," she said. "You feel like a cancer patient. ... And you have to work really hard to not think of yourself that way."

Luckily, Fischer is now clear of her cancer.

"It was very small, but it was a real testimony to having mammograms and doing what your doctor tells you," she said. "If your doctor says you should have this checked out, do it. I went immediately and had it checked out."

Fischer also advocates being more active.

"If you could pick one thing that's going to help you fight depression, maintain health weight, lower your cholesterol and lower your blood pressure - and all you have is just one thing that will do all of those things - it's exercise," she said. "I've always been a really active person, but I got even more active, and I made sure I always did things that I really, really had fun doing. They had to be fun things."

During her recovery, Fischer enjoyed cross-country skiing and hiking.

"I thought about the things I really liked to do when I was young, when I first moved to Juneau," she said. "I started doing all of those things again, kind of in the way that I used to do them, and it was awesome. I got so excited."

Fischer's advice for young women is to do things outdoors and be active.

"Those are the things that you'll treasure when you're older," she said. "And maybe it might be a little harder to do some of the things, but you'll have good memories of them."

For older women, Fischer recommends reviving old activities.

"I challenge you. Pick something that you used to do ... and try doing it again," she said. "You might find that you still really like it, and it'll make you feel better. ... Being active helped lift me out of it."

And now that her medical ordeals are over, Fischer can finally relax and enjoy her recent retirement from the Department of Commerce Division of Administrative Services, Fiscal Section, as well as her upcoming vacation.

"We're going to go to the Bahamas for three weeks," Fischer said. "Scott (my husband) is going to go fly-fishing. I'll go scuba diving. Sara (my daughter) is going to come and spend a week with us while we're there."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or neighbors@juneauempire.com.

To read this and other articles celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month,visit juneauempire.com/breast_cancer.




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