Julie Aillet and Cyndi Jones’ lives and stories will always be intertwined.
Sitting across from each other in their shared office of 16 years at the West Baton Rouge Parish Library, Aillet and Jones are two out of 16 women working at the library who have battled breast cancer – proving the statistic that one in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her life.
Their experiences are shared not only by their proximity to one another and their 16-year friendship, but by a clinical trial Jones participated in through the Baton Rouge General Pennington Cancer Center in 2008. The trial would later become standard procedure for Aillet in 2011.
“How many people know somebody that was in a clinical trial, much less benefit from that person being in that clinical trial?” Aillet said.
“I never thought I’d know anybody or any kind of benefit ever, ever, ever and then here we come, three years later, three and a half years later, and my friend right here benefitted,” Jones said. “I couldn’t hardly talk. Because I knew what it meant for her.”
In July 2008 Jones was diagnosed with early stage invasive breast cancer, Stage 2 infiltrating lobular carcinoma.
Jones said her tumor mimicked breast tissue, “was flat like a postage stamp,” and no one, not even her surgeon, Dr. William Russell of Baton Rouge General, could feel it.
Only an annual mammogram and modern technology saved her life.
“The older machines would not have picked it up,” she said.
Jones was about to undergo chemotherapy in 2008, when she signed up for the clinical trial, an Oncotype DX test which would determine whether or not Jones and thousands of others needed chemotherapy.
“That was the thing that I think I was the most afraid of,” Jones said of chemotherapy.
The Oncotype DX test, which consisted of 21 genetic tests on Jones’ tumor, eventually determined that she could forego chemotherapy. She instead underwent a bilateral lumpectomy and 33 successive radiation treatments, her total treatment spanning six months.
Fast forward to Sept. 2011, when Aillet was diagnosed with Stage 1 infiltrating ductal carcinoma and she said she thanked Jones for inviting her to join her club – the breast cancer club.
“I’ve treated it with humor. That’s how I got through it,” Aillet said.
Jones accompanied Aillet to her first appointment with her surgeon, also Dr. Russell, when they learned the Oncotype DX test was now standard procedure.
The test was able to determine that Aillet did not need chemotherapy, as well, and so she underwent a lumpectomy and 16 radiation treatments, as opposed to Jones’ 33. Aillet’s total treatment spanned three months.
“My doctors were my three wise men, and she was my angel,” Aillet said of her surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and of Jones, who set up all of Aillet’s doctor’s appointments and often accompanied her to those appointments.
Aillet said it only took a year and one day for the cancer to develop, from 2010 to 2011 when she went back for her annual mammogram.
“Now I know why they say go every twelve months,” Aillet said.
“Early detection saves lives,” Jones said. “It gives you more options, better treatment options, less surgery.”
Both Aillet and Jones say they were cancer-free after their first surgery.
Jones’ tumor was so deep, a biopsy required surgery. During that first surgery Dr. Russell removed the tumor, not knowing yet if it was cancer, until Jones said she got the call a few days later confirming Stage 2 carcinoma.
Neither Aillet nor Jones found it difficult going to work, except Jones after her second surgery.
Jones had a bilateral lumpectomy, to receive a cleaner margin on the right side and to remove a benign tumor discovered on the left side, in mirror location to the right tumor bed. She had about ten lymph nodes removed, 15 staples and a port for chemotherapy put in.
Jones calls those her dark days, saying, “They couldn’t get the pain under control.”
Aillet, who only had one lymph node removed, said, “She [Jones] will have problems with her right arm for the rest of her life with lymphedema, possibly from losing the lymph nodes.”
“Mono made me sicker [than breast cancer],” Aillet said.
Aillet said her worst symptoms have been in the recovery, experiencing “horrible joint pain” from an infusion of medication every six months intended to prevent bone loss and experiencing a buildup of fluid where her tumor used to be.
Aillet and Jones both take oral chemotherapy: “one pill every day for five years,” Aillet said.
Jones will finish taking those pills in July 2013 and Aillet will end her first year on the pills in December.
The two can also be seen in a recent commercial for Baton Rouge General Pennington Cancer Center.
“You may not see it but these doctors do have angel wings,” Jones said. “They saved me from having to have chemo, and being sicker.”