Ann Linenfelser, a part-time resident of Venice, spends the other half of her year in her home state of Illinois.
When were you diagnosed and at what age?
I was diagnosed the first time in August 2000, just after my 51st birthday. I was diagnosed the second time in January 2018 at age 69.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
I went for my regular mammogram. The first breast cancer lump was 1.4 cm. As a precaution, five lymph nodes were removed with no signs of cancer. I had a lumpectomy and 30 days of radiation followed by five days of intense radiation. I went in to work an hour early each day and used my lunch hour and extra hour to drive back and forth 30 miles for radiation. I was not about to let this cancer get the best of me! Chemotherapy was suggested, but I chose to get a second opinion. I went to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and a panel of doctors stated that chemotherapy wasn't necessary. I did take Tamoxifen for 5 years.
The second cancer appeared on my usual mammogram in the same breast as before. It wasn't the same type of cancer – one was lobular and one was ductal carcinoma. I had a full mastectomy along with a nipple sparing procedure. Reconstruction was completed at the same time by placing an expander under the skin to be filled with saline solution until that breast reached the size of the other one.
Did you face any obstacles? If so, how did you overcome them?
I feel that the greatest obstacle I faced was the breast infection. I had awakened after the mastectomy with a reconstructed breast. I still felt complete. After five weeks, the entire breast became infected and the expander had to be removed. After the previous radiation treatment for the first cancer, the breast cells can become compromised and infection can happen at any time.
When the expander and all were removed, I had nothing but flat skin and I had lost the nipple, too. I was devastated. I had to get my head on straight and tell myself that I was alive and cancer free.
How did adoption affect your experience?
I always knew that I was adopted, but was interested in finding out any past medical history. I contacted the adoption agency my adoptive parents used and the agency found my birth parents. We wrote as birth daughter and birthparents for several letters. We agreed to meet in a town halfway between our two towns. This was in 1991. I was 42 years old.
My birthmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 43 (1974). With that history, I started getting regular mammograms. She had a single mastectomy with reconstruction and nothing else. Her breast cancer returned on the other side at age 64 (1995) and she had a mastectomy with without reconstruction. She died in 2006 of metastized breast cancer.
How has this experience changed you? What have you learned about yourself?
You find out that you are stronger than you know and capable of more than you ever imagined. I read “Tending Roses” by Lisa Wingate and wrote down this quote from her book: “A great deal of your life just happens to you. It isn’t a conscious decision at the time and you end up somewhere you never planned to be.” I never planned on having cancer, but by having it, especially twice, I’ve met some wonderful, inspirational people that I otherwise would have never met! Another quote I have hanging in my office is, “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”
What advice would you share with others?
Take time for yourself. We women tend to give, give, give and put everyone else before ourselves. Sometimes you have to do what is best for you.
Trust your doctors. If you aren’t sure about a treatment ask questions. There is definitely no stupid question when it comes to your body.