Living with ongoing treatment: Karen Hegedus
In the 9 years since I first learned I had breast cancer, people who are newly diagnosed and others I meet want to know how I can keep a positive attitude and stay strong through all the treatments and procedures I have endured. No lie, it’s been tough, especially after I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2015. I have been in active treatment the entire time since then, including through the pandemic, which was very hard physically, emotionally, and mentally.
I had gone through a few lines of chemotherapy treatments from January 2016 until April 2018. The cancer returned to my bones, then moved to my abdomen and then to my liver. Since April 2018 I have been getting infusions of ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) by vein once every 3 weeks. My cancer is stable and not traveling to other areas, so ado-trastuzumab emtansine is doing its job, but my body is tired and more side effects pop up regularly, even 3 years into this treatment. From nausea, fatigue, and chemobrain, to dehydration, neuropathy, and bone pain, it is a daily struggle. Some days it is tougher to get out of bed than others.
It has been a difficult transition from just getting through treatments to having it now be part of my life. During my first battle with early-stage breast cancer from August 2012 to September 2013, there was an end date to look forward to. My plan was chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and reconstruction. Then it was finished. I was a survivor for about 2 years until the cancer returned.
It has taken me a while to adjust my active lifestyle to living almost day-to-day, because I sometimes am not sure how I will feel when I wake up in the morning. I have learned over the years to be more flexible and spontaneous and to live in the moment. I still can’t make plans too far ahead because I never know how I will feel or if something will happen. I have learned to listen to my body more. I rest when needed and try not to push myself too much. I figured out a schedule with my treatments. I get my chemo treatments on Tuesdays so I know I have to rest and not do much until the weekend, and then I take it slow. The next week I start off slow with my activities so I don’t overdo. The following week I am pretty good and then the next is my chemo treatment, and the cycle begins all over again.
I look at the world, my family, and my life so differently than I did in the past. I have found calm and peace instead of the craziness and whirlwind.
Over the past few years, I have used complementary therapies like yoga, meditation, reiki, essential oils, and natural healing methods. Finding these practices has helped my mind, body, and spirit in dealing with the side effects of chemo treatments. I started doing yoga after my first diagnosis because it was an easier workout for me. I had been an athlete all my life, playing college volleyball, coaching volleyball, playing volleyball in recreational leagues. I met my husband playing volleyball. I also worked out at the gym a lot. Fitness was a big part of my life, but now my body can’t take what it could in the past, so I found different ways to stay active.
Every day is a mystery: It could be a good day or a bad day. Dealing with chemo treatments and side effects daily and weekly changes your outlook on life. Your focus on what is important in life definitely changes, too. I truly believe the combination of complementary therapies to manage side effects and emotional health, along with ado-trastuzumab emtansine, have worked for me. Ado-trastuzumab emtansine has been the longest treatment I have been on so we hope it continues to work.
Karen Hegedus, 48, was diagnosed with stage III, hormone receptor-positive and HER2-positive breast cancer in August 2012. In November 2015, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Karen lives in Limerick, Pennsylvania, with Michael, her husband of 23 years; their two children Gabrielle and Michael; and two chocolate labs.