Patient Stories

Breast Cancer Survivor

Elizabeth Akiyoshi

  • Photo of Liz AkiyoshiDiagnosed with stage IIIA breast cancer in her early 50s
  • Treated with chemotherapy and then surgery
  • Enjoys shopping at Shine

Looking back over the past couple of years, Elizabeth Akiyoshi recalls the lump in her breast that went undiagnosed for about a year. In late 2009, her doctor had told her it was nothing. After an ultrasound, the radiologist told her to go home. But four months later, it was still there and it hurt. Another radiologist confirmed that Liz just had dense breast tissue—she was OK.

Liz almost gave up, but deep down, she knew something wasn’t right. Her mother had been treated for pre-menopausal breast cancer, and her current lump was bigger and more painful than before.

“I called a family member who encouraged me to go see someone again. So I went to another radiologist, for the third time, and was told that I had breast cancer,” Liz says.

Diagnosis and treatment

Through a close friend who had been through breast cancer, Liz got an appointment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s Breast Cancer Specialty Clinic where she met medical oncologist, Julie Gralow, MD; surgical oncologist, David Byrd, MD; and a radiation oncologist.

Under the careful hand of Dr. Gralow, Liz learned she had stage IIIA breast cancer. Her tumor was 10 centimeters in size. “That was basically my entire breast,” Liz says. Lymph node mapping revealed that 12 lymph nodes had cancer, too. 

Liz was eligible to participate in several clinical studies and enrolled in two drug trials for treatment as well as an emotional well-being study. “I wanted to be into this for the big picture,” Liz says.

Her treatment began immediately. She received chemotherapy first on a weekly schedule to halt the reproduction of cancer cells in her body and to shrink her tumor before surgery.

Liz says she her cancer didn’t respond that favorably to the chemotherapy, “but Dr. Byrd did a good job on my surgery,” she says.

“I had a great experience with my treatment,” Liz says. “My infusion nurse was the same as my dad’s when he was treated for esophageal cancer four years ago and she was wonderful!”

Post treatment

Liz says it was a life-changing experience to find post-mastectomy bras after her treatment for breast cancer. “I discovered how much happier I can be when I am comfortable,” she says. (Liz is a frequent customer at Shine, SCCA’s unique cancer specialty store.)

Now that Liz is finished with treatment, she’s receiving Zometa plus anastrozole, which she says will reduce the likelihood for recurrence significantly, according to results of an Austrian (ABCSG-12) trial.

“I feel very confident,” she says. Liz had her ovaries removed since her cancer was estrogen receptor positive, and comes to SCCA every six months for follow-up scans. And she has convinced all of her female friends and coworkers to go to SCCA for their annual screening mammograms. “I go with them!” she says. “We have coffee, get their mammograms, and then we go to Shine to shop.”