For erasing breast cancer and embracing the future
After hardly being sick a day in her life and having no family history of cancer, 40-year-old Lizzy found herself hearing the words no one expects to hear.
“They told me I had HER2-positive breast cancer,” Lizzy says.
Following an annual gynecological appointment, Lizzy was doing a recommended self-test at home when she noticed a lump. Although she hadn’t felt any symptoms, she knew the lump hadn’t been there before and had to get it checked out.
HER2-positive is one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer, and it accounts for only 1 in 5 breast cancer cases. In HER2-positive patients, natural breast cells grow and divide uncontrollably due to malfunctioning gene receptors in the body.
So, while doctors told her it was likely only a stage 2 cancer, they considered it a rapidly growing tumor ̶ making it impossible to know how long it had been growing or how extensive it could become.
As a mom of two daughters, including one with Down Syndrome, Lizzy had a positive mindset from the moment she received the diagnosis. "I just instantly knew for a fact: I'm going to beat this," she says.
She chose to get care at UC Davis Health, close to her home.
The Biggest Battle
With her husband of 16 years by her side at nearly every appointment, Lizzy started a customized treatment plan she mapped out together with a team of physicians.
It started with surgery to remove the mass, which was deemed to be successful. Soon after, Lizzy received four months of chemotherapy, radiation, and additional medication specific to her condition to ensure her chances the cancer wouldn’t come back.
While she was taking anti-nausea medicine and was fatigued throughout treatment, Lizzy made it her mission to continue working. Sometimes working a half-day, going for chemo, then napping before dinner.
As an education enrichment specialist for local charter schools and a Special Olympics swim coach, Lizzy knew her time was needed at work and at home – and she felt strong enough to continue in both.
In the outpatient infusion center, Lizzy and her husband became known for bringing a portable DVD player to pass the time, along with what she describes as ‘laugh out loud, raunchy movies’.
“A lot of the nurses would ask us, ‘What’s on the docket this time?’. They were super nice and would offer us drinks. They’d do whatever they could to make us feel comfortable,” Lizzy says.
Nurses had warned Lizzy that two to three weeks into treatment, she may begin to lose her hair. It was summer and she felt uncomfortable wearing scarves or hats over her head.
When it became clear she’d have to shave her head, her husband did the same.
“He shaved my head and I shaved his. He did it in solidarity,” she says proudly.
After four months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation therapy, Lizzy received a certificate congratulating her. She was cancer-free.
Since then, she’s continued to get care with her oncology team at UC Davis Health, which offers the region’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center. What started as a check-up every few weeks has now gone down to every six months.
“It’s coming up on six years now and I haven’t been sick or had a single scare since,” she says. “I’m just so grateful for the support my family received and to have gotten through this with as little side effects as possible.
“It didn’t feel like it looks in the movies. My treatment felt easier.”
Now, her hair has grown back, and she has a new tattoo to commemorate what she overcame.
“It’s a sparrow on the left side of my chest holding a pink ribbon. To remember.”