After having breast cancer at 34 and undergoing treatment, Heather Cramer found out she did not have cancer. She dedicates herself to regular exercise and healthy eating so that she can enjoy life. But last year, she found out she had breast cancer. This time it was triple negative, an aggressive form of cancer, and it spread throughout his body, meaning it was metastatic.
“Scary,” said the 41-year-old from Maria Stein, Ohio, NOW. “This is a tough road. I know they are trying to say that breast cancer is more than just a chronic disease but it is hard to see it that way. “
The mother of three, husband and school treasurer examines each day and shares her story to encourage others to visit the doctor if anything goes wrong.
“Make sure you check,”; he said. “If people feel they have an issue go to the doctor right away.”
Breastfeeding reveals something wrong
After breastfeeding her youngest son, Cramer, who was 34, underwent a chest self-exam and noticed his left breast was not feeling well. When she went to her follow-up in October, she mentioned it to the doctor and asked for a mammogram. Her mother had a benign cyst removed from her breast when she was 34 and Cramer thought she was experiencing the same thing.
“He found a place he was worried about so he wanted them to examine that area on a mammogram,” he said. “It’s like a 50% chance it’s cancer.”
Further examination revealed that she had invasive ductal carcinoma, a breast cancer that was positive for estrogen and progesterone receptor, negative for HER2.
“I really don’t have any other risk factors. I don’t have any genes for breast cancer,” Cramer said. “I’m not overweight. I took care of all my three children for a year. Exercised. I started having children before the age of 30. I did not have a first period before I was 11… I was surprised that I had cancer. “
When she had her mastectomy in January 2014, they found out the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She underwent 16 weeks of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and radiation. After treatment, the scans did not show any cancer and he enjoyed life without abusive treatments and too frequent visits by doctors.
“2015 to 2018 are good years, where I really have nothing to do,” he said.
She enjoys spending time with her sons, who are now 13, 10 and 8, watching their sporting events or swimming with them. While she feels healthy for the most part, she works with a physical therapist for issues with irradiated tissues, tissues injured by radiotherapy treatment. The therapist noticed two lumps on her skin, near an incision near her armpit, in late 2018.
“They are kind of mosquito bites,” he explained. “I knew I was going to the doctor in February so I just looked at them then.”
The doctor did not worry so he resumed his normal life. By April though, bumps appeared to be abnormal. They did not leave, so he followed another doctor.
“I started to freak out,” he said. “They did a second biopsy and after a few weeks of testing to find out what was going on it came back as triple negative breast cancer.”
When she had breast cancer at 34, 5% of it was triple negative and doctors used treatment protocols for a larger percentage, estrogen cancer and progesterone receptor. Triple negative cancer returns and spreads to his lungs, lymph nodes and brain.
“I was considered metastatic, stage 4,” he said.
Breast cancer in younger women is on the rise
While the vast majority of breast cancers are found in women 50 years of age or older, Drs. Sagar Sardesai, Cramer’s oncologist, said more younger patients were diagnosed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 11% of all new cases of breast cancer in the US are found in women younger than 45 years of age.
“We’ve noticed an upward trend in younger women with a new breast cancer diagnosis and so far the reason for that is not entirely clear,” a medical oncologist at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center NOW said. “It has been linked to lifestyle factors related to estrogen exposure.”
Women having fewer children, having children after 30, starting menstruation before 11 and entering menopause later all can contribute to why doctors see an increase in breast cancer diagnoses to younger women, Sardesai said.
“In all of us we see that estrogen exposure in a woman’s life is highly variable and can be attributed to increased risk,” she said. “Other factors that seem to be growing are related to genetics and family history.”
While Cramer said he did not have any of these risk factors, he was prompt about doing breast exams and talking to a doctor when he noticed something he felt. Sardesai said women who notice differences in their breasts should talk to their doctor right away.
“I would say this is a very high priority,” Sardesai said. “It is very important for doctors to listen to their patients and ignore their symptoms just because they are younger.”
When Cramer’s cancer returned it looked like a mosquito bite and Sardesai said doctors also need to remember that breast cancer does not always appear.
“Breast cancer can be manifested in many ways. It is not always a lump. It can be a nipple discharge, chest pain, skin changes,” he said. “If it was a girl presenting any of these symptoms … they should not have been ruled out.”
Life with metastatic breast cancer
Every day, Cramer wakes up and performs a spiritual devotion before showering for work.
“It seems, ‘OK. It’s time to leave. I need to get through this day for my children and my wife, ‘”he said. “I do it for them.”
He still trains as much as he can and attends all the events of his sons. Some days, it feels hard at work, but he really loves his job.
“I do not want to wait to die. I think I will go crazy still not alive, “she said.
Having a strong support system and a deep faith will definitely help her deal with chemotherapy and various radiation operations for tumors in her brain. Also, crying in the closet when necessary is not painful.
“I have crying,” he said. “I think people with cancer should also know, you have the right to shout and cry and let everyone out. I can’t handle it all the time.”
He hopes that others will understand that even though having cancer is incurable, it is not always vague.
“There is hope,” he said. “If you surround yourself with people who love you and build you up and keep you positive and pray for you and help you stay connected to the spirit … that will help.”