In 2006, at age 46, a newlywed Michele went home and told her husband of eight months, Ray, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Her biopsy showed that the cancer was small--.9 cm, about the size of a pencil eraser—and hadn’t spread to lymph nodes. The couple vowed that they would fight Michele’s disease together. But not 30 minutes later, Ray suffered a stroke, and a month later passed away.
A week after her husband’s death, Michele started her treatment journey for her cancer, while at the same time dealing with the fallout from losing her husband. In such a short period of time, she had lost her home, her health, and financial stability, and it was a scary, lonely time for Michele.
Prior to her surgery, she had agreed to an experimental test on the tumor once it was removed. Michele had to pay for the test out of pocket to the tune of $3,500—a serious financial burden at the time—but the results of the test could determine whether or not she was a good candidate for chemotherapy. The laboratory test results showed that she had an intermediate risk of recurrence—and chemo may or may not help. With the advice of her doctor, Michele decided to go through with chemo anyway; she wanted to be certain she had done everything possible to beat the disease.
What followed were years of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and years of adjunctive therapy for what turned to be a Stage 1 Grade 2, aggressive tumor. Nine years later, in 2015 she completed the final phase of her treatment plan. She is currently in remission, but struggles with the possibility of recurrence, and the many side effects of the cancer drugs.
In 2018, Michele was diagnosed with osteoporosis. After her endocrinologist ordered blood work and urine studies, Michele contacted Dr. Keren, a pathologist at Michigan Medicine, to help her understand the results. He took the time, she says, to understand her history and diagnosis, and explained what the numbers of her tests meant, and this proved the catalyst to her discovery that a migraine drug she’d been taking was the primary cause of her osteoporosis as well as other issues she was having, such as hair loss and severe leg cramps. Understanding her laboratory reports has helped her in her treatments for this latest diagnosis.
Despite her worries, Michele doesn’t let her cancer define her. She stays current on literature, and is encouraged by the strides that have been made in immunotherapy and targeted therapies. Before her cancer diagnosis Michele didn’t know she could see her pathology report or speak to a Pathologist. However, a meeting with Dr. Myers, a pathologist at Michigan Medicine changed all that. He showed Michele her tumor slides and explained pathology report in detail. “Understanding what tests are ordered and what the lab work means is empowering. The knowledge you gain can be transformative. It was for me! Pathology is at the core of every diagnosis,” Michele says. “Understanding what tests are ordered and what the lab work means is empowering.”