By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
After being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer one year ago, Steiner Ranch resident Alana Weston knows how fortunate she is to be doing so well today.
“It’s truly a miracle because many women in my situation do not have the same outcome,” Weston said.
On Aug. 3, 2014, Weston, an active mom of two, attended a Justin Timberlake concert with friends in New Orleans. By the end of the night, she felt a strange sore spot near her breast but thought it was caused from the underwire of the strapless bra she was wearing.
After returning home, she was due for her annual check-up and so had her doctor look at the sore spot. Her doctor ordered a mammogram, which showed something suspicious. Weston had a biopsy done the next day and was told she had infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer; however, she was told the tumor looked quite small and did not appear to have spread.
“On Sept. 23, 2014, I went into surgery for a double mastectomy assuming I would wake up cancer free,” she said.
But when she woke up, she was told that 10 out of 32 lymph nodes tested positive for cancer and that one of the lymph nodes had erupted, meaning the cancer may have spread. She was given a Stage 3 diagnoses.
“I went home to recover, quite numb and devastated,” Weston said.
One week later, Weston underwent a PET scan and received the devastating news that the cancer had spread to her liver, sternum, hip and spine. She was then diagnosed with Stage IV, also known as metastatic, breast cancer. Metastatic cancer patients are often given 18 to 36 months to live.
With guidance from her oncologist at Austin Cancer Center, Weston decided to undergo an intensive treatment regimen consisting of nine months of aggressive chemotherapy and two and a half weeks of radiation. She also began working with a nutritionist and completely changed her diet and began taking a number of supplements.
The week of Easter, scans showed no evidence of the disease in her body.
“It’s a daily fight,” Weston said. “I was considered terminal but I’m dedicated to staying here and seeing my 9-year-old and 13-year-old grow up. I really attribute my diet change, my aggressiveness with my treatment and my faith as to why I’m here today.”
It is a miracle that the cancer was even found in the first place. Weston later discovered that the reason she had felt sore after the Justin Timberlake concert is because the underwire of her bra had pushed the tumor into her pectoral muscle. She was only 39 at the time and mammograms are not recommended until age 40.
“(The tumor) was deep in my chest wall,” she said. “I did monthly self-checks and probably never would have found it. Frankly, I was just a very healthy, normal mom going about my life with no symptoms.”
According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, while metastatic breast cancer is not curable, it can be treated. And, as treatment continues to improve, so does survival. Today, some people may live many years with metastatic breast cancer.
On Oct. 8, Weston underwent surgery to have her ovaries removed as a preventative measure to reduce the amount of estrogen in her body.
“My last scan a few weeks ago showed tiny progression on the tiniest of spots on my liver,” Weston said. “At this point, we aren’t sure if it is cancer or something benign, but we removed my ovaries to help in my treatment.”
For now, she wants to work on raising awareness and funding to fight Stage IV breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“There’s very little funding going toward Stage IV research,” she said. “I’m working to change that. The same number of women have been dying every year (from stage IV cancer) for the last 30 years.”
With all of the progress that has been made regarding early detection and mammograms, many people believe that breast cancer is no longer deadly as long as you catch it early, she said.
“I was definitely in the dark and I certainly didn’t realize that someone at 39 with no symptoms could have Stage IV cancer,” she said.
Weston recently celebrated her 40th birthday on July 26. She said her husband of 15 years, Wade, and her children give her the strength to keep fighting.
“They are my reason for fighting every day to be here,” she said.
She said the Steiner Ranch community has also been extremely supportive, from organizing a community fundraiser to help cover medical expenses, to leaving little gifts on her doorstep while she underwent treatment, to even decorating her house during the holidays. A group of close friends who called themselves “Alana’s Angels” vowed she would never go to a doctor’s appointment or treatment alone.