Breast cancer patient is ready to kiss chemo good-bye

She was nine months behind getting her annual mammogram and Colleen “Michelle” Love says she’s glad she made the time. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a time to remind people of the importance of screening and early detection.

By I.U. Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

When she wore a baseball cap to the classroom where she taught, Colleen “Michelle” Love says there weren’t many questions from her normally inquisitive preschoolers. So one day she decided to test the waters and ask: “Do you wonder why Miss Michelle always wears a baseball cap?” One little boy at Venture Christian Church Preschool raised his hand and innocently answered: “Because it’s sunny.”

As simple as his answer, Love said she told the children that she had gotten sick and had to take medicine that made her hair fall out.

“I told them I’d show them my head if they promised not to laugh,” said Love. “Of course there were a few giggles and then the kids went on with their day like everything was normal.”

It was exactly what Love had hoped for. Other than a strange taste in her mouth, she’s been able to continue carrying on with her normal activities since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April.

A graduate of Zionsville High School, Love and her husband Rod married 30 years ago. They have two children Katie, 24 and Sam, 21.

“I was about nine months late for my annual mammogram and when I went it was my first 3D mammogram,” said Love. A 3D mammogram (breast tomosynthesis) is multiple images of the breast that create a 3D picture. It is effective in detecting breast cancer in people who have no signs or symptoms.

During October healthcare providers and organizations are highlighting the importance of regular screenings and early detection of breast cancer.

“I did regular self-exams but nobody could feel the lump – not technicians, nurses or doctors. It was only detected by 3D screening,” said Love, who just turned 53. The lump in her left breast measured at one centimeter and had not spread to the lymph nodes. She was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. After surgery to remove the lump, she began 12 weeks of chemotherapy and is under the care of IU Health oncologist Dr. Bryan P. Schneider.

“I met with someone at another hospital and it didn’t feel right. We asked around and a family friend who is an oncologist said she would go to Dr. Schneider. He’s very personable and I feel like I’ve known him forever. I’ve had excellent care,” said Love. Her specific diagnosis was triple negative breast cancer meaning the three most common types of receptors known to fuel breast cancer growth – estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene – are absent from the cancer tumor. So the breast cancer cells have tested negative for the hormone epidermal growth factor receptor 2, estrogen receptors, and progesterone receptors.

Common treatments like hormone therapy and drugs that target estrogen are typically ineffective so chemotherapy is usually the preferred treatment.

“They did a complete DNA test and I have none of the genes for cancer and I have no history of breast cancer so I’m hopeful this will work,” said Love. As she completed her final round of chemotherapy, Love approached the bell in IU Health Simon Cancer Center and rang it three times, signaling the end to her chemotherapy treatment.

“After my first treatment my daughter and I went to Florida for a week and after my second treatment my husband and I went to Niagara Falls,” said Love. “I guess I better plan how I will celebrate this time.”