OKEECHOBEE — Adrianna Maupin tried so hard to do everything right, regular mammograms, self checks, discussions with her primary care physician, but still things did not turn out the way you read about in the magazines. She found a lump in her left breast, and she goes for mammograms every year, she said. It was tiny, so she wasn’t sure if that’s what it was or not. She went to her primary doctor, who sent her for a mammogram, but they didn’t see anything and said it was clean. She thought, “OK, maybe it’s just my imagination.” That was in November 2016.
Then in January, she went back to her doctor and told her she thought something was there and that it was bigger. She went for another mammogram, and it came back clean again. She didn’t know what to think. She waited a couple of months, then went back to her doctor and told her it was even bigger and now causing pain. Her primary decided to send her for an ultrasound because she said she thought she could feel it, too.
She had the ultrasound done at the end of May. She had just brought her grandson home from the hospital at the end of April. He was born addicted and stayed eight weeks in the NICU, and now she was bringing him home at the same time she was waiting to hear if she had cancer. When they got him home, he was going through withdrawal, and she was almost second guessing herself on whether she could handle being a mother to him at that time when she was pretty sure she knew what her diagnosis was going to be.
Her cancer turned out to be almost 5 centimeters, and a week later, they took her for a biopsy. She already had a vacation planned for June, so she told them she would be back in a week and she would go to Dr. Carlos Alejo. She knew him and knew he was on vacation because she had already called his office. They went ahead and took their vacation and took the baby and tried to relax.
When they did the biopsy, it came back that she was in stage three cancer. It was already in her lymph nodes, but the first two mammograms had shown nothing. She was upset! “How could they miss that?” she asked.
She had 18 weeks of chemo, every other week. He doubled up her chemo. The first session put her in the hospital for eight days! It was because it was one of the strongest chemos they can give you, she said. It took her a little longer because once she was in the hospital for eight days, her primary discontinued it for two weeks. Then when she went back, she was kind of prepared to go back to the hospital again, she said, but it just dropped her white blood count down to nothing. She had no white blood cells, so they had to put her in quarantine so she wouldn’t catch anything. She never ended up in the hospital again, though.
She goes to the Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute in Stuart. While she was in the hospital, her doctor came in and ran his hand through her hair. He said, “Yep. I knew it was time.” She was so shocked to find her hair was falling out, and it had not even been a week. “Maybe I was in denial.”
She was pretty sick, throughout her treatment. Some days she could barely get out of bed, but she got up anyway, to take care of the baby. She and her husband both believe God gave the baby to them at that time so she could help him through the withdrawal, and he could help her through her treatment. She took care of him almost entirely by herself despite many offers of help from friends and family. She wanted to be strong for him, and he helped her to be strong. They helped each other, she said. Plus, she was just plain hard-headed. She was determined not to call anyone in the middle of the night to come and help because she couldn’t get out of bed, so she got up, no matter how she felt. She did have a lot of people willing to help, though, she said, a huge community of help. It just took her a while to ask.
Before she started chemo, she told her oncologist she didn’t mind if he did surgery. “You can cut me, stick me, whatever you need to do, but I have a throwing up phobia. If I feel like I’m going to throw up, I’m calling 911. If I fall down the stairs, I’m good to go,” she laughed. So, they gave her Zofram through her port before they gave her the chemo. She ended up being nauseated but only remembers throwing up a couple of times.
Within a week of the biopsy, she began chemo. She went to the cancer center in Stuart to see Dr. Abesada-Terk. He told her the tumor was so large that if they did the surgery, it would not leave her with enough to reconstruct later because she is small, so he wanted to try to shrink the tumor first.
So, she did her chemo for 20 weeks, counting the two-week break. She had lost all her hair, eyebrows, eye lashes, leg hair, etc. She just started shaving sometime this year, and it still does not grow as fast as it used to, she said. Her hair came back dark and curly, and it used to be blonde and fine and straight.
They thought they were going to do the surgery right after she finished the chemo treatments, but when she went in, they could not find her tumor. They had not put a marker in, and it had shrunk so much that now they couldn’t see it. The doctor finally came in and told her he couldn’t do the surgery. When he explained they couldn’t find the tumor, at first, she thought that was great! It was gone! But then, he told her it wasn’t gone. They just couldn’t find it. She burst into tears. She left the hospital not knowing where the tumor was. She called her doctor and asked if this meant she would need more chemo. Would it grow? Would it move somewhere else?
She had to go to Stuart to have an MRI done, and they put two markers in the tumor. The radiologist told her then, “Cancer never rears its ugly head unless it wants to be found.” He was trying to explain why her tumor had fooled the mammograms and then the surgeon. After she heard that, she felt a little better about it.
She finally had her surgery, a partial mastectomy, and then began 52 radiation treatments in January 2018. At first, she had to go every month for follow ups to the cancer center, then tried to stretch it out to every three months, but she found enlarged lymph nodes on the right side so she had to go for an ultrasound and a biopsy to check that out. It came back clean. Three months later, they got larger, so they biopsied the other one, but again, it came back clean. Three months later, she found a 1 centimeter lump in her right breast. So far, it is clean as well.
She cannot have reconstructive surgery until she has no issues at all for at least a year. She has to be clean for five years to be officially in remission, although she told them, “You go with that. I’ll go with this. I say I’m clean now. They just laugh at me.”