[00:00:00] Adam Walker: This program is supported by Amgen. Amgen strives to serve patients by transforming the promise of science and biotechnology into therapies for patients with serious illnesses. Learn more at Amgen.com.
From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
The signs and symptoms of breast cancer are not the same for everyone. It is important to know your normal and to see your doctor if you notice any changes in your body.
Today’s guest has undergone treatment for two different types of breast cancer, being diagnosed the first time in 2007 and again in 2018. Each time she was the one to find a lump and each time she wondered if she was just being paranoid.
She is passionate about sharing her story to encourage others to go for their screenings and to listen to that inner voice that might be telling you that something is just not quite right. Here today to share her story is Elizabeth Braun.
[00:01:08] Elizabeth Braun: Thank you so much. I’m honored to be here.
[00:01:10] Adam Walker: I’m so happy to talk to you. This is so important because I love in the intro how we said each time you thought you might be crazy, and that’s always the fear. And so I’m really glad that you’re going to speak to that fear in this show,
and so I understand that you had breast cancer twice. Let’s start with your initial diagnosis, tell us how you knew something was wrong and then what happened after.
[00:01:34] Elizabeth Braun: Sure thing. My initial diagnosis was in August of 2007. I was actually away for the weekend. It was in Atlantic City, not my favorite place in the world, but I, it was late at night had been out, gone to bed and I was laying in.
And I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but knowing you have a bruise somewhere on your body and you can’t see the bruise yet, but you can feel something lingering under the skin. So that’s, I felt that kind of weird tingly sensation on my right breast and felt the area. And lo and behold, there was a small, hard lump, and I
couldn’t fathom. Like, what really is that? Is that there? Somehow I managed to fall asleep and I woke up in the morning and kind of did the same thing. Like double-checked like set really there. And it was so I’m coming home from Atlantic City called my gynecologist, went in for an exam. He really didn’t think he said, I don’t think it’s anything, but if you were my sister, wife, mother, I would want you to get it checked further.
And that’s what I did. So I went to, I went for a mammogram, a subsequent biopsy MRI, and yes, it was confirmed. It was cancer.
[00:03:04] Adam Walker: Wow. And so you went through treatment and kind of, you were clear. Like what were the more, the next things that happen there?
[00:03:12] Elizabeth Braun: So what happened next to us? I met with a surgeon, a in New York..
There’s Sloan Kettering, and we determined what would be the best plan for my treatment. She was very confident that I would be perfectly fine just doing the lumpectomy. So I had the lumpectomy in . September of ’07 and followed that with a course of 33 radiation treatments and and five years onto my.
[00:03:42] Adam Walker: All right. So you get the initial diagnosis. Of course, that’s terrifying you go through the treatment. You’re past it. You’re 10 years past it. And I assume thought you’d moved past it. Tell me about realizing that something was wrong again.
[00:03:59] Elizabeth Braun: So end of February of 2018 as you said, I was about six months after passing my ten-year anniversary.
I same almost identical situation where I felt something under the skin nothing visual. My hand was drawn to the area. It was very similar spacing as to where the original tumor was. And again, I felt that hard, little lump called my doctor, same breast surgeon. So in oh seven and not for anything.
I was very on top of my routine appointments. I had my mammogram, every year I did an MRI six months after, so there was never an appointment or a year or anything missed as far as my exams. So I called my doctor’s office, told them. I found a lump in my right breast again.
I said, you’re going to think I’m crazy, and they said, nope, you’re never crazy anything you find we’re here to check it. So I went to. So my doctor, she came in and I said the same exact thing to her. I’m like, you are going to think I am crazy that I am a hypochondriac. And again, she said Nope.
That’s why we’re here. So she felt the area where I had felt the lump and she felt it as well, marked it up with a Sharpie. I had a mammogram after the mammogram, they said we’d like to do an ultra. So they did an ultrasound after the ultrasound. They said, we’re going to do a biopsy, as soon as they said the words, we’re going to do the biopsy.
That’s when I knew for sure. Yeah.
[00:05:42] Adam Walker: Wow, and that I that’s gotta be so striking. Tell us about what was your treatment like? What was your recovery like the second time around?
[00:05:52] Elizabeth Braun: So my treatment was a little bit different this time. I opted to do a double mastectomy.. I’m thinking I’m not doing this the third time.
So I opted for the double mastectomy. I consulted with a plastic surgeon to do the reconstruction. I had the surgery stupidly on my 50th birthday. Yeah. Bad idea. Bad idea. I had the double mastectomy, the reconstruction they put in the expanders. A few weeks later came to find out that my Oncotype test, which tests your tests, the actual tumor for your levels of chance occurrence came back in the high range because I came back in the high range.
I then had to do four rounds of chemo as prevention. And with the four rounds of chemo, because again, the tumor was estrogen and progesterone positive, I was put on an aromatase inhibitor.
[00:06:51] Adam Walker: Wow. That is that’s a lot. And Now I’m sorry to interrupt you, but even worse than that, based on the radiation treatments, 10 years prior, my skin never looked damaged or burned or bad or different I really didn’t even have any discoloration when I did the radiation, but the long-term effects of the radiation are internal and due to the radiation and having had surgeries in that same area where they opened up on the mastectomy line, where they had originally taken up a lumpectomy.
[00:07:25] Elizabeth Braun: My skin was severely damaged. The skin and the tissue was severely damaged. One month after the double mastectomy the incision opened and I had to go in for emergency surgery to remove the expander, flush the area, replaced the expander and that maintained for about six months. Everything was fine.
And then I went in to do the finishing up the reconstruct. With the implants and shortly thereafter the incision opened again. So it happened about three or four times. I had a total of five surgeries. At one point they took the implant out and they want the skin and surrounding tissue to heal.
And then October of 2019, I had latissimus flap surgery. And latissimus flap surgery is where they take a section of the skin and tissue off your back, they push the blood vessels through, under the armpit, around to the front and they reconstruct the breast with the tissue they removed from your back. Yeah, that was a lot.
That was a lot. They weren’t sure if I’d ever be able to lift my arms over my head or use my right arm to push myself up off a chair or any normal functioning stuff. But
[00:08:55] Adam Walker: That’s a lot. Man. So I’m curious. You’ve now gone through the diagnosis, the treatment, the recovery twice. Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?
Have other people dealt with this?
[00:09:10] Elizabeth Braun: Ironically, we do not have almost no cancer in my entire family. There’s no breast cancer. I’m the first one. On my mother’s side and my father’s side were both heavily female slated families and there is no breast cancer.
[00:09:27] Adam Walker: Wow. Wow. Okay. So even more shocking than really at that point, right?
[00:09:31] Elizabeth Braun: Yeah, for sure.
[00:09:32] Adam Walker: So I understand that you’re an active person. What was the process like getting back to activities that you enjoyed and what did it mean to you to be able to do that?
[00:09:41] Elizabeth Braun: What it was really hard not being able to do things for like those months during the chemo and whatnot.
It was a slower recovery obviously then the lumpectomy and the radiation. It took longer to get back to being able to do normal things again. It I, my right side was definitely weaker. But as of today, I am fully back at the gym. I have a personal trainer. I run on the boardwalk.
I am happy to say I had full movement of my arm. I have all the strength in it. I am actually able to do a pull-up.
Yeah. Yeah. So being able to do pull-ups again, I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.
[00:10:30] Adam Walker: Wow, congrats on that. That’s a, that’s amazing. I love that. I love that. So let’s talk a little bit more about your family.
I How did these diagnosis affect your family? Understand that you’ve got a daughter and I’m curious how it affected her and how you talked to her about her health.
[00:10:46] Elizabeth Braun: So when I was diagnosed in 2007 my best friend her name is Molly Hall. Molly Hall was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 35 years.
And she lost her battle four years later. Molly passed away September 12th, 2007. The morning that I was in Sloan-Kettering meeting with my surgeon. The hardest part was that my daughter is my oldest she was in fifth grade at the time and I didn’t want her to know because she was very close with Molly.
They had a very special relationship and with kids, especially, I didn’t want them to correlate. My mom has cancer. Molly had cancer, Molly died, my mom’s gonna die. We kept it pretty quiet from them back in oh seven. Until I I really got through the surgery and they saw that I was fine and that it was going to be fine.
And That’s how we handled it back then, as far as 2018 my children were older. My daughter and I very close, we have a very close relationship. No, there’s not a question that she can ask me that I don’t feel comfortable answering. And she came with me to three out of four of my chemo treatments going forward because my first diagnosis, I was 39 years old.
So she’ll start mammograms at 29. Yeah. And she’s actually, I think looking forward to it.
[00:12:26] Adam Walker: Yeah, well it sounds like you’ve instilled in her that desire to just watch out for herself, to take care of her body and be sure that she’s checking in and ensuring she’s healthy. So that’s fantastic.
So just thinking about the, the whole story obviously the shock of being diagnosed and then going through that in the shock of being diagnosed again. And then going through that I’m curious if you can talk about how you were able to get through it from the initial diagnosis to again, like the shock of your friend passing away while you’re at the surgeon’s office to the second diagnosis, like what got you through everything?
[00:13:00] Elizabeth Braun: I am extremely fortunate that I have a super support system. My husband was amazing through both diagnoses treatments in oh seven after seeing what Molly was going through, Molly had chemo radiation back to back at the same time. Her diagnosis was stage four from the beginning. It was in her lymph nodes.
Based on with that diagnosis, I felt like I had easy cancer. I really felt like I got off, ooh, okay. This is easy. This is easy. Cancer did a little radiation even burned. My skin. Things are good, but the weird thing was, and I know you passed the one year you passed the five year I passed the tenure, but there was always this weird little thing in the back of my head, thinking cancer is not done with me again.
And I just thank God that it hit me again and not one of my children.
[00:13:55] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. I Absolutely. That’s yeah. I think we’d all rather take that hit than our children. Yeah. Wow.
[00:14:03] Elizabeth Braun: I have a wonderful group of friends. They were super supportive. I had the dinners arriving at the house every night.
When I couldn’t drive after the surgeries, I was driven on errands taken out. Again, my husband was phenomenal. He did tons and tons of research. He was more familiar with the Oncotype testing than I was because I found out in 2018 that back in oh seven, they did do the Oncotype test on that tumor.
And it came back in the middle range. Which left it in the gray area as to whether or not a, should I maybe done the mastectomy back then or B, should I maybe have done the four rounds of chemo back then?
[00:14:48] Adam Walker: No way to know. There’s no way to know. But you’re here now and you’re running on the boardwalk.
So we’re in a good spot. We’re in a good spot. That’s amazing. That’s the last question. What advice do you have for newly diagnosed patients and their families about how to maneuver through their breast cancer experiences?
[00:15:04] Elizabeth Braun: Everybody’s breast cancer experience is going to be different with that similar bottom line.
It’s it is like getting kicked in the stomach. Round two. I, because I really thought I was being crazy paranoid. So round two, even after they did all in one doctor’s appointment, the mammogram, the sonogram and the biopsy, I still was like, huh, that’s not possible. It’s keeping as long as you have.
Rock by your side. You would know whether it’s a parent, a sibling a spouse who I had a super fantastic support system and I was able to just fall back on them. My husband tells me that I’m tougher than most people, so I just it was it’s also, I just did what I was told.
This is your diagnosis. This is going to be your treatment. And I really felt like my team was so on top of things and they knew what was best for me. And I didn’t question it. I didn’t question it.
[00:16:19] Adam Walker: Well, that’s great. We’re certainly glad to see how well you’re doing now and just really appreciate you giving us a peek into your life, into your story and just encouraging us to to do well too.
[00:16:31] Elizabeth Braun: I’m really happy to share my story. If my story promotes one person who thinks they feel something that doesn’t feel quite right, getting into their doctor and getting in for a mammogram or whatever it may be, you have to remind yourself. You’re never over too overcautious. You’re never being paranoid.
It’s your body. And you really do know a better than anybody else.
[00:16:54] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s perfect advice. So we will end on that advice. That’s amazing. Elizabeth, thank you so much.
[00:17:01] Elizabeth Braun: Thank you.
[00:17:02] Adam Walker: Thanks to Amgen for supporting this podcast. To learn more about Amgen’s mission – to serve patients with a cutting-edge science-based approach – follow Amgen Biotech on Instagram and Facebook.
Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com. For more on breast cancer, visit Komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog, AdamJWalker.com