Northwest Herald

Oliver: Teamwork makes the dream work … and cancer fight, caregiving

Teamwork makes the dream work, or so the saying goes. It’s also been key to better outcomes for those of us with breast cancer.

It’s humbling to think how many people are involved in helping to not only find my breast cancer, but also in taking each step in diagnosing and then removing it. Then there are even more people who help to ensure that it doesn’t come back.

That’s one of the main reasons why I write so often about how important it is to get checked regularly and to get those mammograms.

Had I not gotten my yearly check, there’s a good chance that the cancer that was caught this time would have had time to grow beyond its 3 mm. That doesn’t seem like much, but had it been 2 mm larger, I would be looking at chemotherapy. Also, this is a type known as “triple negative” breast cancer; it doesn’t respond to typical treatments for breast cancer, such as tamoxifen.

I’m extremely grateful to the radiologist who noticed that something didn’t look right on my screening mammogram. That meant a second set of pictures, this time to zero in on what looked like a small grouping of calcifications.

Since those itty-bitty things can be a marker for cancer, that meant another biopsy, which led to surgery at the end of March. But before my surgeon could go in there to get the bad spot out, as well as to take out a lymph node to see if the cancer had spread, a tiny “tag” had to be inserted into my breast to help guide my surgeon to the bad stuff.

A few days after my surgery, I was told that my lymph node was clear, which was such a relief. The pathology report also answered the question at least partially about how I could have gotten more cancer when I was on a drug regimen to prevent my cancer from returning. It turns out to be a different kind of breast cancer, this one not affected by the drugs I am taking.

Because of that, my surgeon wants to be absolutely positive to get all of the bad stuff out. The idea is to get a “margin” around the cancer, which is a swath of good tissue. Sadly, we don’t have enough of a margin around that spot of “triple negative” nastiness, so I’ll be having another surgery to take out a bit more.

Then, after I’ve healed up, I’ll be heading off to my radiology oncologist to undergo a round of radiation treatments. I’ve been through this before on my right side, where there was a small tumor in 2019. That side, thankfully, has not produced anything new. With any luck, it won’t ever happen.

My medical oncologist is the last part of my cancer team. He’s the one who decides whether I’ll have chemotherapy and whether there are any drugs that can try to prevent my cancer from coming back. I’ve been seeing him monthly for the last four-plus years. He’s also the doctor I saw every month throughout the entire pandemic.

If that sounds like a lot of people involved, that’s not even all of them. What is comforting to know is that my cancer case has been discussed by a panel of doctors, who each gives input as to the best direction to go to treat my case. And my medical oncologist also consulted with his office colleagues to make sure he hadn’t missed anything.

Will all of this ensure that I’ll never have to deal with cancer again? Had you asked me five years ago, I might have been naïve enough to think so. I’ll even admit to being excited at the prospect of ending my cancer treatments at the end of the year and being declared cancer-free.

Sadly, though, cancer had other ideas. So now I’ll have to “reset” and start the clock all over again.

However, I’m happy that I have a team behind me doing their best to get me through this.

Of course, it’s going to take an entirely different team to get Tony and me through yet another surgery and radiation treatments.

Good thing I have a great team for that, too.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.