Being relatively young when she was diagnosed with a precancerous breast condition at stage zero, DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ, it was difficult for 39-year-old Valerie Brown to come to terms with having a mastectomy. Initially, she thought it was a radical route. But when her margins didn’t clear after a lumpectomy in June, she discovered with DCIS the abnormal cells are lodged in milk ducts, not confined to a mass in one section. Removing the entire breast would prevent the cancer from spreading.
"Because I was feeling good and didn’t have any symptoms it was hard to accept. My first reaction was did they have the right records. You must have my records mixed up," said Brown. There had been another Valerie Brown at Rockdale Medical Center during a previous procedure, and her luggage had been mixed up with yet another Valerie Brown at the airport. Aiding her in acceptance was RMC’s breast cancer support group.
"They were so helpful. I met a few people with similar conditions who encouraged me to move forward and not delay," said Brown. Though she had support from both her husband and her father, the one person she wanted, her mother, wasn’t really available due to early onset Alzheimer’s disease. "It was really difficult for my dad because he had lost a brother and sister to cancer," she said. Again, the breast cancer support group was there for her.
As a construction consultant to the New Orleans Housing Authority, Brown has traveled there weekly since 2006. Currently, she’s involved in a re-development project near the historic Tremaine area. Her job provided a valuable distraction. "I was in the middle of closings so work was always playing on my mind. If I hadn’t been able to work, I would have been terrified," she said. Even during her recovery period from the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she was able to work remotely from home.
"You have good and bad days. I know I’m very fortunate to not have to go through chemo and radiation, but the tissue expander was really painful," she said. After her breast was removed, the expander was inserted which was filled weekly with saline until a silicone implant could be placed. For the next five years, Brown will be on tamoxifen, a drug that further reduces the risk of breast cancer.
Brown will clear another milestone this weekend — her first breast cancer walk. She’s joining other members of her support group at Atlantic Station for the American Cancer Society’s "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer."