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When Back Pain Led to a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis (VIDEO)

Written by Ted Samson
Posted on March 29, 2024

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Transcript


00:00:00:00 - 00:00:36:19
Becky
When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2018, I went into the doctor just totally unaware, just completely unaware. I had no thought that it was ever going to come back. My story started in May of 2014 with an annual mammogram, and I was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, stage 2. I was working as a teacher prior to my initial diagnosis.

00:00:36:21 - 00:01:12:06
Becky
I took that year off for my treatment. I had a mastectomy. Then I went on to chemotherapy for a year and reconstructive surgery, and I was fine for four-and-a-half years. Then I started having bone pain and back pain. I went to my GP because it was so bad. I think I put into her head that it was muscle pain because I said, “I’ve been riding my bike, and I don’t know if that had something to do with it,”

00:01:12:08 - 00:01:38:11
Becky
so she gave me muscle relaxers. It got much, much worse to the point where I left school in a wheelchair because I just couldn’t walk. So I went to my oncologist, and I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in my bones. I think if I had the knowledge about what to look for, I would have gone to my oncologist right away.

00:01:38:13 - 00:02:01:22
Becky
When you have different symptoms after you’ve already been treated and you think that it’s gone, whether it’s headaches or the backache like I had, go to your oncologist first before you go to your medical doctor, and the oncologist should be willing to see. They should be willing to say, “OK, come in. Let’s get some blood work done. Let’s get a CAT scan done.”

00:02:01:24 - 00:02:23:21
Becky
When I was first diagnosed, there was to be a beginning and an end. It was “You do this. You do this. You do this.” And truly, naively, maybe I thought that was going to be the end of it. I wasn’t expecting it to come back. A good day is when I wake up in the morning, I feel good. I feel OK.

00:02:23:21 - 00:02:47:05
Becky
I can come down, I can eat a little breakfast, go for a walk, and I have some plans made, fun plans. Even if the plan is to stay home, it’s still something that I want to do and I can do. My name is Becky Caroll, and I live with metastatic breast cancer.

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Becky Caroll’s breast cancer journey began in May 2014, when an annual mammogram revealed she had stage 2 HER2-positive breast cancer. A full-time teacher, the MyBCTeam member took a year off from school to undergo treatment. Over the course of four-and-a-half years, she had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, received chemotherapy, and tried medications until she found one that met her needs.

Becky thought her treatments were working and her cancer was under control. But in 2018, she began having back pain, which she initially attributed to muscle pain from riding her bike. Rather than seeing her oncologist, she went to her general practitioner. The doctor prescribed muscle relaxers — which she couldn’t take because she was back to teaching full time. Her pain steadily worsened.

“It got worse — much, much worse, to the point where I left school in a wheelchair because I just couldn’t walk,” said Becky.

Becky decided to visit her oncologist. The doctor conducted tests and found that Becky’s breast cancer was metastatic and had spread to her bones.

This new diagnosis came as a surprise to Becky, who always diligently followed her treatment regimen. “I went in for all my tests and my blood work every three months, every six months, every year. And I wasn’t expecting it to come back. I really was not,” she said. “Once it came back as metastatic, everything changed because the reality is in front of you, and it’s medication every day, all for the rest of my life.”

Becky left her teaching job. She realized she wouldn’t be able to continue working full time, given the pain and fatigue that came with her condition and treatments. She had radiation therapy, then tried another chemo treatment, but was unable to tolerate a multitude of side effects. “It was nausea, it was diarrhea, it was just everything,” she said. “So I told the doctor I didn’t want to take it. And my oncologist is very pliable. He lets me make my own decisions.”

Becky worked with her oncologist to find a treatment regimen that was a good fit, which included several medications. She seemed stable for the next few years, until one fateful day in 2023 when she passed out in the middle of an event. At the emergency room, doctors performed a CAT scan and found her cancer had spread to her brain.

Working with her oncologist, Becky has found a multidrug treatment regimen that meets her needs and allows her to maintain an active life. In between doctor appointments and chemotherapy sessions, she volunteers, stays involved with multiple support groups, and spends time with friends and family — including taking daily walks with her dog.

But she also remains mindful of her condition and takes care to listen to her body and rest when she needs to. “If I’m talking to women who are just diagnosed with metastatic, I would just say it’s very normal to have it on your mind all the time,” she said. “It’s chronic, so when something’s chronic, it’s always there. There’s always going to be some little pain or nausea or something that reminds you that you have a chronic disease.”

Based on her own breast cancer journey, Becky advises others who are newly diagnosed with the condition to remain vigilant and stay in communication with their oncologist whenever new symptoms occur. “Whether it’s headaches or the backache, like I had, you go to your oncologist first before you go to your medical doctor,” she said. “The oncologist should be willing to see you. They should be willing to say, ‘OK, come in. Let’s get some blood work done. Let’s get a CAT scan done.’”

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MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 69,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

What was your path to your breast cancer diagnosis? What advice can you share with others? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

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Posted on March 29, 2024
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Ted Samson is a copy editor at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about him here.

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