Get your annual mammogram, Rochester Hills wife and mother urges
Elizabeth Reeve is living proof that getting an annual mammogram can save your life.
During her routine annual physical, a breast exam was conducted, and Elizabeth was told everything was fine.
“The stars clearly were aligned that day,” she reflects. “As I got into my car, I realized my doctor had not ordered an annual mammogram,” so Elizabeth went back into the office and asked for one.
That’s when her life took a radical turn. After her annual mammogram, she was called back into the physician’s office where she learned a suspicious lump had been spotted and it needed to be biopsied.
Doctors told Elizabeth she would hear something within 10 days of the surgery. It was only two when the phone rang and the person on the other end blurted out, “you have breast cancer.”
“I just looked at the phone stunned,” she remembers exactly where she was standing in her home on that March day in 2018 when she received the news. She immediately called her husband at work.
“I remember thinking, ‘what do I do?’ and I recall apologizing repeatedly to my family.”
Elizabeth was given the name of three surgeons she could call. The first name on the list was Eric Brown, MD, FACS of Comprehensive Breast Care in Troy. She made an appointment to see him and knew within a few minutes of meeting him (and his assistant Sandy) that she needn’t call anyone else. “It was the best decision I made,” she says with conviction. And once again the stars were aligned, she firmly believes.
Dr. Brown was “absolutely amazing,” she describes. “He said to me, ‘if you had not gone back into the doctor’s office and got your annual mammogram scheduled, we would be having a very different conversation.’”
Elizabeth had HER2 positive breast cancer (a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 – HER2 – which promotes the growth of cancer cells. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.)
Dr. Brown told Elizabeth, “we’re going to hit this with everything we’ve got, and you will be fine.”
“He was phenomenally strong and confident.”
Next, came the slew of appointments. Dr. Brown “guided me through my journey; he took charge.”
Elizabeth met the rest of her team – the radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, chemotherapy nurses; she had her teeth checked, her eyes checked; one appointment after another.
Dr. Brown also scheduled her for an MRI. Another lump was found. Again, the stars were aligned. A biopsy showed the lump was just a cyst, but Dr. Brown – “being the hero he is” – wanted to remove it. It, too, was cancerous. “Dr. Brown, because of the precautionary measures he took, saved my life,” Elizabeth reports, as she fights back tears. “That tumor could still be growing inside me. He truly was my hero.”
Her next step was surgery to remove the tumors.
The surgery was “tough,” Elizabeth describes. Dr. Brown had to remove three lymph nodes and conduct a lumpectomy.
But after surgery, “I felt like I could climb Mt. Everest,” Elizabeth announces, until a phone call from Dr. Brown’s office pushed her off the mountain top. The margins weren’t clear; he needed to go back in again to make sure he had gotten the entire tumor.
“I was devastated. My head dropped down and literally I did not pick it up for 24 hours. But the sun rises again, and so did I.”
Elizabeth describes margins like this: think of cancer as a fried egg. The yolk is the cancer. Some of the yolk spills into the egg white (margins); the yolk needs to be as far away from the outer edge of the egg white as possible.
Before the decision was made to have a second surgery, Dr. Brown told Elizabeth he was not going back in. Instead, chemotherapy would begin, and he would look at the margins afterwards.
“What impressed me was that Dr. Brown treated our family our family as part of the team; he always was inclusive in our discussions,” Elizabeth points out.
The first day of chemotherapy, Elizabeth didn’t know what to expect. She brought an iPad, a blue blanket and honey sandwiches – one for her and one for her husband who came to every treatment. Elizabeth notes that before she started chemotherapy, she had long, dark straight hair, which she chose to cut short (her hair grew back curly).
As soon as the medication went into her port and hit her blood, Elizabeth “was done,” she recalls. She was allergic to that particular medication. Everyone acted quickly to stabilize Elizabeth, and, before she knew it, she was enroute to the hospital. The paramedics told the cancer caregiving team the appropriate steps to take when a situation like Elizabeth’s arises, and “the nurses had followed all of those steps perfectly. I’m alive today because of them.”
Soon afterwards, Elizabeth was back on track. Doctors found another medication that would work effectively for her cancer.
“I went for treatments on Thursday, rested on the weekend, and was ready to go back to work on Monday,” she notes.
Even though her employer set her up with a home office, Elizabeth was steadfast on keeping her life as normal as possible during her treatments.
“I was determined to stay fit and strong, so I continued to exercise and never used the elevator at work, even though the stairs seemed to get steeper and steeper as chemotherapy continued,” Elizabeth found. “It made my recovery a lot easier.”
After every chemotherapy treatment, Elizabeth would wear a brightly colored scarf, her pearl necklace and earrings, and meticulously add her makeup. “My husband would take a photo of us at my treatments and would send the photos to our kids at school as well as family and friends around the world. This was the best way to show them I was OK.”
On Aug. 14, 2018, Elizabeth completed her last chemotherapy treatment. She had surgery the next month to determine if the margins were clear, and she cried when she got the thumbs up from Dr. Brown’s office.
She was back to work the next week.
“My journey always will continue,” she reflects, constantly smiling. “I was facing a monumental journey, but the steepest climbs give you the best views.
“I am alive! And I owe all of this to Dr. Brown. His passion, his can-do attitude, his strength, his confidence – he gave all of these to me.
“He was my knight in shining armor without the horse. He told me ‘we are in this together.’ He could tell me countless times it will be OK, but he proves it. It is not what he does, it is who he is.
“I’m dreadfully sad my journey with him is over. But now he can take care of another person who needs him.
“He saved my life … how do you repay someone like him?”