After being dismissed by doctors for months, a 35-year-old mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then she discovered that they had diagnosed the stage it was in incorrectly.
Thankfully, her story has a happy ending.
It all started when Elizabeth Vines felt a pea-sized lump in her breast, near her armpit.
She brought it up to her primary doctor in Seattle about a month later during a routine visit. He gave it a cursory look and then brushed her off, saying she was young and had no family history.
“He actually didn’t even think to look at it,” Vines told Fox 10.
About six months later, the lump ballooned in size. She was on vacation with her family at the time, and her husband was so concerned that he wanted her to go to the hospital immediately to get it checked out. Instead, Vines made an appointment back in Seattle for when they returned.
Her doctor was still unconcerned, even though the lump had grown so much it was now half the size of a lemon.
“It’s in no way cancer,” he said. “Cancer doesn’t grow like that. It’s just a cyst.”
When Vines asked about next steps, he said she could get an ultrasound but he didn’t think it was needed. When she called back a few days later to schedule one, the receptionist also made it seem like an unnecessary procedure.
“Normally I have a really great, friendly relationship with my doctor’s office,” Vines told Health. “That’s why I think I trusted him so much.”
Another few weeks went by before she was able to get in for the ultrasound, and the ultrasound showed it was a cyst. She was referred to a breast surgeon to remove the cyst. Another few weeks went by and Vines went in for her consult.
That’s when everything changed.
She got an exam and mammogram during the consult — and then she pulled into a room and told she had cancer. She wanted to get a biopsy and other tests to confirm, and was able to get some done.
She was told she had stage IV cancer and was devastated. But her appointments and consults continued to move really slowly, and Vines grew fed up.
So she and her husband traveled to Arizona, where they had family, so that Vines go undergo treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
“The day before I left, I talked to the local oncologist briefly and she told me, while she was chewing her gum, that she thought I had about two years left to live,” Vines said.
When she got to Mayo, it was a completely different experience. Her doctors were positive but realistic, and moved quickly to get her into treatment. They discovered she had HER2-positive cancer, which is an aggressive form of the disease.
They also discovered, to Vines’ huge relief, that she did not have stage IV cancer! Her previous doctors had thought it had spread to her liver. But testing at Mayo confirmed that the cancer had not spread. It was still a late-stage cancer (stage IIIB) but it was curable.
Vines underwent chemo and was also on a regimen of Herceptin and Perjeta. The drugs were ridiculously expensive and Vines didn’t have insurance. She reached out to the manufacturer of Perjeta and they were able to cover her treatments for her. Vines responded really well to the treatment.
Vines also ended up going through a mastectomy on the affected breast, and then a preventative mastectomy on the other a year later. She went through radiation as well.
Vines is now cancer-free.
“I went to Mayo feeling broken. I was looking for a miracle,” Vines said. “[Now] I tell everyone to seek the best care possible. If you get a diagnosis and it’s not the most hopeful, get a second opinion.”
“You kind of learn to trust doctors and not question them. But now I’m the opposite. If I want something from a doctor, like a referral, I don’t give up on it. I’m not gonna take no for an answer.”
Learn more in this video.
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.