At 36 years old, Eliana Bahamon received news that no woman wants to hear: She had breast cancer. She participated in a clinical trial that helped her into remission, but her battle with cancer was hard fought.
Bahamon first noticed a lump in her breast and brought it to her gynecologist’s attention during a routine visit. Even though the doctor said it was nothing to be concerned about, the Queens resident knew she had to investigate further.
Bahamon pushed to have a mammogram and sonogram and knew something was wrong during her sonogram when the technician called the radiologist into the room. Next, she went for a biopsy to see if the lump was cancerous.
The testing phase was a troubling time for Bahamon because she says some of the medical professionals she interacted with were very insensitive. Though she speaks English, she says the language barrier was definitely an issue as the Columbia native struggled to understand what caused her disease and to help form a treatment plan.
The doctor who broke the news to her on Dec. 23, 2010, entered the room and told her to read his face—he didn’t have good news.
“We were speechless,” recalled Bahamon, whose husband Cessar was by her side.
When you don’t have cancer in your family, the diagnosis is even more shocking. “I never knew a person with cancer in my life,” she said.
The doctor told her to wait until after the holidays to take action. Bahamon wasn’t sure if waiting would be to her detriment, as much as she wanted to enjoy the holidays with her two children, Sophia and Nicholas.
Clinical Trial Is Just the Beginning
Things turned around for Bahamon when her boss put her in touch with the medical team at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
On Jan. 6, 2011, she had her first appointment with Dr. Kerin Adelson, a medical oncologist at the hospital’s Dubin Breast Center.
“It was day and night,” she said of her experiences at the hospital. The doctor explained Bahamon’s triple negative breast cancer—a rarity—and her treatment options. Adelson said she was a candidate for neoadjuvant therapy, which involves administering chemotherapy drugs before surgery.
Bahamon elected to be a part of the neoadjuvant therapy trial and began chemotherapy on Jan. 13. In June 2011, she had a lumpectomy to remove the breast tumor and then began radiation.
Bahamon is now cancer-free, but she has also joined a second trial to explore how well medication works to prevent breast cancer recurrence. She still has three more years on the medication as part of the trial.
Adelson says clinical trials may be a good treatment option for cancer patients to consider.
“I don't ever think women can be too informed about participating in clinical trials. Because so many women over the last 30 years have participated in crucial clinical trials, the survival rates for breast cancer have significantly improved,” Adelson said.
Patients should ask their oncologist or surgeon about nearby trials or visit clinicaltrials.gov. But before inquiring, Adelson added, make sure you know what stage your cancer is in, whether you need neoadjuvant (before surgery) or adjuvant (after surgery) treatment, whether the cancer is positive for the estrogen receptor and the Her2 neu receptor, and whether it is metastatic.
Husband's Support Sustained Her
With the rest of her family in Columbia, Bahamon turned to blogging as a way to express her feelings. That, along with the support of her husband and co-workers, was instrumental in her healing.
Her boss created a team for the Susan G. Komen Foundation's annual breast cancer awareness walk, which brought people together.
“You can see how it changed the life of other people [too],” Bahamon said.
Bahamon wanted to give back to her husband, who was there for her from the start. Without letting him know, she nominated him for the Komen Foundation's Co-survivor of the Year Award.
“He did everything,” recalled Bahamon, adding that Cessar shaved his head along with her during her second week of chemotherapy. He also attended every doctors' appointment with her.
“He told me he was going to walk every step with me," she said. "It was amazing because I know how I looked at that time. He told me how beautiful I am.”
Cancer is depressing, but you can shift that mindset with information and support, Bahamon said. She admits that facing breast cancer was a hardship, but she is grateful for the doctors and family members who helped her persevere.
“Everything’s got to be a blessing for me,” said Bahamon. “I know I was lucky, that I had many blessings.”