My journey with breast cancer—and my healthcare providers

By Cynthia Webb
Published June 22, 2022

Key Takeaways

In July of 2020, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Because of COVID, I was in the middle of closing my office when my cancer journey began. I had missed a couple years on mammograms—my bad—and with the pandemic, the mammogram was delayed a few more months.

I felt a lump, but I have always had fibrocystic breasts. With closing my office, I had all sorts of bruises from packing, tearing down shelving, etc., so I wasn't too concerned. And I’d heard from friends and on the internet that if it’s tender, it’s not cancer.

Getting bad news—and some support

My first biopsy showed cancer in the left breast lump, and a suspect second lump. On the right breast, there were also suspicious cells. I was scared. I had lost my first husband to stage 4 prostate cancer in 2012, so I'd been down the cancer road before and in that case, it had ended tragically.

"As frightened as I was, I wanted a prognosis right away."

Cynthia Webb

I had a new partner, Craig, and I felt terrible for him—he’d lost his wife after she experienced several cancer issues. And I didn’t want to frighten my sons; they’d already lost their father to cancer.

Our medical office is connected to a hospital with a women’s center, and thankfully, they put me in contact right away with a liaison there. She had books, candles, was very kind, very positive—and often available by phone or text.

l was still hoping for a lumpectomy, but with the final biopsy results confirming cancer in the left breast (and potentially in the right breast too) I finally decided, enough. I'd go with a modified double mastectomy—even though I felt I was too young at 61 to lose my breasts. It seemed that women in the trenches were all adamant they’d lop off their breasts, no problem.

Different doctors, different styles

Like most cancer patients, I had a number of different doctors, and they were different as night and day.

Fortunately, I really liked my surgeon. He was very nice, calm, respectful, and respected. He’d done surgery on several folks I knew, which was reassuring.

I didn’t get a lot of "These are the odds" talks. It was more, "This is what I recommend, but you have to decide for yourself."

The surgery wasn’t so bad, but I wasn’t warned about how nasty the next few days would be, to have to sleep at a recline. It hurt.

The oncologist was an older guy, competent, but very matter-of-fact, not a humorous bone in his body: “This is why you should or shouldn’t have chemo, why you should or shouldn’t have estrogen suppressant. Here are the graphs.”

I felt confident with him, but, frankly, I can’t even tell you today exactly what cancer it was—I heard positive, negative, or whatever.

"My oncologist acted as if my visits were a trip to the allergist or something. There was no, 'I understand this is scary…'"

Cynthia Webb

He just said I had an excellent prognosis—that with treatment, there was a 95% chance of no cancer coming back. I did what he said to do because my sons and Craig couldn't have me get sick or die.

I am now 1-3/4 years past surgery, and I see my oncologist quarterly. He says the bloodwork’s fine, asks how the estrogen suppressants are doing, and says, “See you in 4 months.”

He's always running a few minutes late, clearly seeing someone with a worse situation before me. I guess it's reassuring that he doesn’t seem to want to spend more than the 10 minutes allotted to me. I’m doing OK, and he has folks with more serious issues.

"I try to tell my oncologist something about the meds or crack a joke about the scars or meds' side effects, and he looks at me as if I’m interrupting his sermon…not a people person!"

Cynthia Webb

Finally, after chemo, I had 5 weeks of radiation. The radiologist was a real person who’d laugh at my bad jokes. He gave me the most confidence—even though my oncologist had the graphs.

What I'd tell my medical team now

In retrospect, there are a few things I wish had been handled differently by my medical providers.

As a woman losing her breasts, it would’ve been nice to have that acknowledged—that we are sexual people, that it was frightening in that regard. No one ever said anything about that. I know folks for whom it was a big issue in their marriage afterwards.

I know women who had reconstructive surgery, but that option was never discussed—other than, if I was going to do it, the plastic surgeon would have to be there at the surgery. It wasn’t explained well, the post-surgery options weren’t well-addressed.

Thankfully, my now-husband Craig is a good man who treats me just the same, so I’m not having reconstruction.

"Better preparation about the treatment side effects would have been nice."

Cynthia Webb

I didn’t have an emotional reaction when my hair fell out—I knew it was coming back, so it was more just weird than anything. But it would have been nice to hear, “It is going to grow back in very slowly, it’s going to be crazy-curly, and you’ll hate it for a while, but it will eventually go back to normal.”

I would have liked a better straight-up handout from them about my specific cancer: This is what you have, this is what to expect, this is when you can expect it, etc. (By contrast, I just had my mastectomy scars fixed, and the plastic surgeon gave me all sorts of information: Do this, don’t do that, etc.)

I feel that the oncologist and medical team need to tell you that you’ll be inundated with well-meaning people giving you all sorts of bullsh*t "miracle" cures: baking soda, canned asparagus juice, kombucha—just crap that’s not going to work.

"Seriously, if baking soda cured cancer, I think it would be out there."

Cynthia Webb

Cynthia Webb is a San Diego-based breast cancer survivor who agreed to share her story with MDLinx. In this column, real patients share their honest experiences working with healthcare teams during diagnosis, treatment, and more—providing clinicians with unique insights from the people they treat.

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