I Fought Each Day To Stay Positive
Sentara nurse shares breast cancer journey
Leanne Crawford made appointments for mammograms each year and was also conscientious about self-checks between mammograms. So, when she received news that she had breast cancer after a mammogram, she was shocked.
"It took my breath away," says Leanne, who grew up in British Columbia, Canada, and moved to the U.S. in 2002 to work as a Level 1 traveling trauma nurse. "I had no signs or symptoms, no sense of anything wrong from my self-breast exams."
Leanne's oncologist diagnosed her with multifocal stage 2, grade 2, invasive carcinoma with ductal and lobular features of the left breast. The treatment plan she chose was a lumpectomy with node removal, radiation and Tamoxifen, a hormone therapy medication. Tamoxifen blocks estrogen activity in the breast, which may stop the growth of tumors that need estrogen to grow.
A patient care supervisor at Sentara CarePlex Hospital, Leanne greatly appreciated how her work family embraced her and immediately stepped in to help. Unfortunately, since the diagnosis occurred during the pandemic, her family in Canada couldn't travel to see her.
"My coworkers supported me emotionally and physically," says Leanne, who lives in Williamsburg. "They covered my shifts while I recovered from surgery, protected my spirit by making me laugh, checked in on me daily at work and home, supported me while I stepped away from my shift to run down for radiation and then went back to work 30 minutes later for five weeks."
When treatment started, radiation took a toll on Leanne, who coped with radiation burns and exhaustion. She also struggled with Tamoxifen, which severely affected her mood and outlook.
"I fought each day to stay positive and self-talk my way into the next day," Leanne says.
Ultimately, she and her doctor decided that Tamoxifen was not the right fit because of the side effects Leanne experienced. As a result, they had to devise an alternate treatment plan. This summer, she will undergo surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes, to stop estrogen production, which feeds her cancer. Then, in the fall, she will undergo a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction.
Before her surgery, Leanne will travel back home to Canada this summer for the first time in four years to see her family.
Despite this detour from her original treatment plan, Leanne is managing to stay positive and use her experience to encourage others to get their annual mammograms and educate them about other aspects of breast cancer.
"I'm an open book," Leanne says. "I graduated in March 2021 with my master's degree in nursing education, and then within two months, I was given a journey of cancer to be able to champion and share. Silence for me doesn't heal or teach."
Leanne has spoken at churches, women's health community groups, with local schools/students/teachers and with her friends and family. Often, she receives texts from friends or coworkers who let her know they've gotten their mammogram and are thinking of her.
"I have a belief in my faith that has supported me on this journey, and for as long as I am here on the planet, I will teach by example," she says. "No secrets, the good, the challenging, the hard to talk about, and the challenging experiences. They all encompass my path."