It was something I remember hearing about as a child in passing… Discussions between my mom and her adult friends. Mammograms… Checking for lumps… I remember thinking it wasn’t something I had to be concerned about, that it was something that might happen “when I got old.”
But as an adult now… I realize that breast cancer doesn’t have just one specific age, or one specific type of woman that it targets – it can be anyone…
And THAT, my friends, is exactly why AWARENESS is so incredibly important.
Women need to be vigilant in self-screening and annual check-ups with their doctor to ensure that everything is “looking good with the girls” and that if something does seem “off” it’s detected early on and can be treated early on. What with any cancer, the sooner breast cancer is diagnosed the better the chances of fighting it off.
This month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I’ve partnered up with an amazing organization – The Breast Cancer Charities of America and iGoPink as part of a Bloggers Against Breast Cancer campaign to help raise more awareness.
I just had my annual “breast check” earlier this month (and thankful to have received a clean bill of health there) but I know two things 1) not everyone is going annually 2) not everyone is going to receive a clean bill of health and I think it’s important for both camps of women to read this and be inspired to GET CHECKED but to also STAY STRONG if the news isn’t what you expected.
I feel blessed to introduce all of you to some absolutely incredible women that I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a little bit better recently.
All of them are what I like to call BREAST CANCER WARRIORS. These women are either currently fighting breast cancer (warrior-style) or they are currently in remission (praise God!) I was able to interview each of them to hear a little bit more about their story from being diagnosed and their initial reaction, to their treatment plan, to their current thoughts and how they’re doing today.
I think you’re going to be just as inspired by them as I am!
MEET THE WARRIORS
I was diagnosed May 11, 2015 at the age of 30.
I was diagnosed with Triple Positive Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 1, grade 3.
I found the knot myself on March 8th, 2015, my one year wedding anniversary… I stepped out of the shower and was putting lotion on and felt it…
I actually read my own results and was alone in my office… I was in shock! I called my mom and husband to come over right away. It didn’t actually sink in until 2:30am when I woke myself up crying. I fell back asleep in my husbands arms and knew I would fight this with him by my side.
My family has no history of breast cancer.
I had EXTREMELY SUPPORTIVE friends and family! I couldn’t have imagined going through this without them. I also I had a huge support system and joined a group called Fillies Blankets of Hope, where we make blankets for other people going through breast cancer.
My treatment process… I had a lumpectomy in June 2015, the Dr also inserted a port for my chemo at that time. Since my husband and I do not have children, we went through weeks of fertility treatments and were able to freeze 5 embryos! Chemo started July 1, 2015, 12 weeks of infusions, along with injections to put me in menopause. Let me tell you, hot flashes are legit and miserable!! I ended chemo on Sept 22 then had a year of Herceptin infusions, which is actually a protein that attacks my type of cancer. Right after chemo I started radiation, 5 days a week for 37 treatments. My oncologist then put me on oral Tamoxifen for 5 years and said I wouldn’t be able to have babies until after my 5 years were over. This was TOUGH, being a momma is something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl, not my wedding, but being a Momma!
I had many days of just being exhausted, migraines and maybe the most challenging of all, more than losing my hair, was the 20lb weight gain that I’m STILL trying to get rid of. I tried to remain very positive and be an open book throughout my journey. This helped me cope because it was almost like helping someone else see through my eyes, the good and the bad. I wanted to share on social media and let people feel comfortable asking me any questions or concerns they had. It also fueled hate from certain family and old friends. They claimed my cancer wasn’t a big deal because it was stage one, also accused of shaving my head and never losing my hair, these comments hurt, but I tried my hardest to be above the hate. I figure anyone who can beat someone down at their lowest, has some serious insecurities of their own. I prayed for them every week at church, blessed and released them!! THEY GONE! haha
My message to the women of this community is to do your self exams – men and women! Be your own best doctor and self-advocate. No one knows their body better than YOU! Fuel your body with lots of plant based nutrition, cut the processed crap. Remember you have one body, one life! Live each day doing what you love, be KIND, think of each day as a chapter in your book and the legacy you leave behind. We can’t always control our future, but we can control our today and a healthy lifestyle never harmed anyone!
If you have the slightest chance of having the disease PLEASE find it early! I firmly believe that is what gave me options, and a voice at the table.
I was diagnosed March 7,2013 with stage 2B.
I was 34yrs old and a single mama to my then 5yr old son.
I found the lump from putting my bra on and ignored it…
6 weeks later my dad sent me an email (not knowing I found a lump) indicating breast cancer was on the rise for young women…He was 1.5yrs out from prostate cancer.
When I first heard the news I felt like my world was over and my son would be left alone.
It was HARD… But, then I got ahold of myself and I handled it.
My paternal grandmother had breast cancer; but I did not have the known gene.
My mom and dad were amazing. My dad took me to all my chemo treatments and helped me with my surgeries. He and my mom were/are amazing!
My treatment process… Well, I went through testing to see if my cancer spread and it had not, but they found a blood clot wedged in my lung. It had passed through my heart. I had 6 rounds of taxotere, caroboplatin, herceptin. Then I had a bilateral mastectomy followed by more herceptin.
During this time I ended up meeting my now husband and getting pregnant with my daughter. It was tough because I was told NOT to get pregnant. We didn’t think I could… chemo puts you in semi menopause. I had to stop herceptin until she was born in Oct 2014, then completed 3 additional treatments. Healthy baby and healthy mama!
I had great health insurance, but it is still costly. I was the recipient of a fundraiser from Gina McReynolds Foundation, in Orlando FL. I am from Florida and the foundation sponsored me as their first one!
I didn’t have many additional obstacles to speak of; however I did have an infection (Staph) from my drains from the mastectomy. It happened during surgery, some type of contamination. I had a PICC line for a month where I had to injection antibiotics daily.
My message to the women of today’s community is to stay vigilant with your health! Know the risks, be proactive and educate yourself!
I was diagnosed in 2011 and was 46 years old.
I had breast cancer in both breasts… stage 2 on right breast, stage 3 on left breast.
I had a mammogram done less than 1 year before I discovered that my left nipple inverted (one of the classic signs) itself whenever I raised my left arm. It was confirmed after a needle biopsy was done. An MRI discovered the cancer on the right side one week later.
The morning my primary doctor called me to tell me was one of the hardest days of my life.
I felt like my soul had been ripped out of my body.
Everything went numb.
I couldn’t think.
I could hear, but I wasn’t listening.
I felt my life was over and it was a death sentence.
Wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
My mother’s mother (grandmother) died at 39 from breast cancer, my mother got breast cancer for the first time in 1991. She got it again on her other breast last year. I was diagnosed in 2011, then my sister got breast cancer 2 years after I was diagnosed. Talk about strong history!
After I was diagnosed, I was lucky to find one local breast cancer support group offered by my local hospital. This support group changed my life!
I met and lost some amazing people.
There wasn’t much back in 2011…. Now it is EVERYWHERE.
I am currently a member of a FB breast cancer support group that is absolutely amazing and am great FB friends of the administrator of the page. There are thousands of members from all over the world!
As far as treatment goes, it didn’t take long for me to realize that all oncologists follow a “cookie cutter” treatment plan. Not knocking all of the fabulous oncologists out there, but it became very clear that they all follow the plan of “If you have this kind of breast cancer, you get this treatment” I had breast cancer in both breasts…. so I got all of the treatments for both kinds. I had a double mastectomy, no radiation (nothing to radiate) but almost 4 months of chemotherapy.
My breast cancer support group twice a month helped me get through the treatments. My infusion center also had some amazing supportive nurses that answered each and every question I had.
During my treatment process, I wasn’t the best with my diet. I ate ALOT and tipped the scales at almost 200lbs. With all my hair gone, depression set in real quick. I ate alot of fatty and salty foods that caused by body to retain water. Because of this, I got severe lymphedema (swelling and fluid collection) to my left arm. I had to go to lymphema therapy 3 time a week and had my arm wrapped from my shoulder to my fingers 24 hours a day. This lasted for 4 months. That was my wake up call. I got a gym membership and got my life together. When I turned 50, I entered a figure bodybuilding competition and brought home 2 first place trophies! The gym saved my life and I have never looked back!
My number one piece of “Food For Thought” is…. “Do not let you disease define who you are”.
Never give up.
Never give in.
Life is meant to be lived… Live it!
I was diagnosed January 28, 2010 at age 39 (I had just turned 39 on Dec 29, 2009).
I had two different types of cancer in the same breast in two different locations.
One was stage 1 and one was stage 2.
The cancers were found on my first ever mammogram – this was supposed to be my baseline mammogram.
The mammogram was in November 2009 at age 38.
The radiologist found micro calcifications.
There were no lumps – nothing that could be felt from the surface.
I was scheduled for a stereotactic biopsy early December and that also came back with abnormalities so the next step was a surgical biopsy.
When I received the news it was cancer I felt… Numb.
(insert long pause here)
I was numb.
I had the surgical biopsy on January 26, 2010 and the breast surgeon said we will know something in two days. She said “If the nurses or staff call you then everything is ok. However, if I call you then it means we tested positive for breast cancer”.
I received the call at 11:00 am on January 28, 2010.
It was my doctor on the other end of the line.
My husband happened to be home that day and heard me say the doctor’s name.
He immediately came to me and listened while I was trying to take notes from the doctor for my next steps. After I concluded the call he held me.
We both were in shock and were numb.
He followed my lead with the emotions.
I didn’t know how to react.
Looking back, I know that I shut down the emotions so that I could get through this next phase of my (our) life.
We have two beautiful girls and at that time they were 6 and 4.
We had no idea what the treatment was going to be, we had no idea what the future looked like for us.
I just knew that I needed to be so strong … strong for our girls, strong for my husband, strong for my family. The hardest part of all of this was having to tell my parents.
Being a mom, I know how badly I want to protect my kids from everything that could possibly harm them. So I could only imagine what my parents were going to feel once they learned of this diagnosis.
My family has no history of breast cancer.
No history at all.
I have had all of the tests for the mutated genes and all came back negative.
Like with most cancers, there is no known reason why or how.
I had a great support network: my husband, my parents, my siblings, my extended family, my friends, my coworkers.
I became part of a few virtual support groups – before FB was a thing – we had chat rooms online.
I became close with a small group of women that we called the Pink Ladybugs.
Our matriarch was battling her second round of breast cancer.
She had a recurrence 10 years after her previous diagnosis and treatment.
Unfortunately, she did not survive this second diagnosis.
This was my first experience with someone that I personally knew who died from having breast cancer.
My treatment process… My options were a lumpectomy followed by radiation or a mastectomy.
Because I had two different types of cancer in two different locations in the same breast, we opted to go the radical route of a bilateral mastectomy. I had 4 lymph nodes removed and they all found no evidence of cancer so the next step was an OncoType DX test. This test helps to determine the risk of breast cancer recurrence as well as how one may benefit from chemotherapy after surgery. My OncoType DX score was right on the border. My oncologist worked with us to come to the decision to no do chemo. She said I was in a position to go either way and she knows what chemo does to your body, mind and spirit and if you don’t “have to” do it – then she doesn’t recommend it. God Bless Her! My husband had been through chemo with his mom and his dad and unfortunately both of them passed at an early age. He did not want me to go through any of that.
My original plastic surgeon founded a non-profit wellness house for children of cancer patients. It is 100% free to cancer patients and their families. It is a place for children to go and connect with other children who have a parent battling cancer. The Wellness House expanded to providing services to the cancer patient as well. My girls were so young that they were not able to fully grasp the diagnosis. They saw the “pretty pink ribbon” and thought of mommy. They were fully aware of everything that we were going through as we did it as a team! They are now 14 and 12 and just this past week we were talking about me having breast cancer and they both said that they are glad that I was diagnosed when they were little as they did not have a full appreciation for what it meant but if they had to deal with it now at their age it would be scarier for them.
I was put on Tamoxifen and was told that I needed to take it for 5 yrs; however, after 1 year I decided to pull myself off of it. I just could not handle all of the side effects. My oncologist was not 100% on board but understood my position. Given that my cancers were ER/PR+ (estrogen, receptor positive – hormonal based) we explored other options and considered removing my ovaries since they are the primary hormone producing organ in women. Yes we recognized the consequence of thrusting me right into menopause at such a young age but after weighing out all of the pros and cons, we landed on this decision.
My first message to the women of our community is to get your baseline mammogram as soon as you are able.
Ask your doctor – demand it if you have to.
When I was diagnosed at age 39, the recommendation was that women did not need to get a mammogram until age 50. I cannot even begin to fathom what my life would be like if I had to wait for 3 more years before getting my baseline mammogram as these two cancers would still be growing within me.
The story would certainly be different.
My second message, you have to be your own advocate.
Stand up for yourself – trust your instincts and ask questions.
Ask questions until you are comfortable with the answers and the decisions that you make!
I was diagnosed in August 2014 at age 34. I can’t recall the exact date – I think I’ve blocked it out of my memory – but I know it was late August on a Wednesday because I was working from home and my mom was taking care of my daughter. I was lucky she was there to help me deal with the shock.
I was Stage 2a invascive ductal carcinoma.
My cancer was actually detected through self–exam.
I was “too young” to have a mammogram.
I remember washing myself in the shower one day, and I felt a flat, raised mass a couple cm across, just north of my nipple. I thought “That’s strange. Must be a clogged duct or something.” (because I had recently stopped breast feeding and had some difficulty so I had been doing a lot of pumping).
At first, when I received the news, I felt shocked.
I remember coming back from my mammogram with a sealed envelope from my doctor.
I remember seeing words along the lines of “malignancy” and a rush order to get me in for a biopsy within days. (In hindsight that was probably due to the size of the tumor and my age.) I came into the house – my mom was playing with my 1-year-old daughter on the couch. And I said “Um mom, they think I have breast cancer.” Strangely, and uncharacteristically, we didn’t cry or freak out. My mom said “Ok. Ok What? Ok. Tell me what they said.” I went over the paper with her and seeing it in black and white – that’s when I started shaking and crying, but my mom was awesome. She said something like “Oh my god. But it’s OK. We’ll take care of it, honey. We’ll take care of it.” And I did believe that was true. My mom is a nurse and I was a sick child (asthma) and I’ve always had a very trusting relationship with doctors and medicine.
So that was the first round of news. I remember sitting in the waiting room waiting for my biopsy – which is a surreal experience by the way – a bunch of ladies sitting in a circle in their robes waiting for the gauntlet to fall. I really think they should pump spa music in there so at least we can pretend we are there to relax… Anyway, even as I was sitting there I thought, oh these poor women. Chances are at least one of them has breast cancer. I still didn’t think it could be me. But during the biopsy, I saw it. Right there in black and white on that little TV screen. It wasn’t globular like a cyst. (Thanks, Google.) It was a spindly, gross arachnid alien with tentacles. It actually reminded me of the anglerfish, that ugly bottom-dwelling ocean dweller that has a protruding dangling lure bobbing in front of its head – made popular by Finding Nemo, by the way. I remember the doctor saying “I need you to prepare for a positive result.” Oh my god. Are you serious? What?
By the time my general praticioner called to give me the news, I was prepared. I had told my boss that all this was happening and if I get a call from my doctor, Im going to take my purse and go outside. If I don’t come back, you’ll know what that means. So yes, my poor doctor – who I had just switched over to by the way – hadn’t even met the woman yet – she called and said she was so sorry to tell me that it was a malignancy. Sitting in my car, my eyes just gushed with water, I sobbed and gasped and couldn’t catch my breath. She was patient on the other line. Stoic. Which was good because I needed a rock to anchor me at the time. She told me the next steps, and as I drove home I called my husband, told him. In hindsight, I probably should have waiting til he got home so he didn’t have to muddle through work that day but I needed him to tell me everything would be OK. I think I went home and stared at the wall for a while. There may have been some Googling involved.
We have NO family history of breast cancer. None – and I’ve done all the genetic testing.
I had an INCREDIBLE support network. I mean, you couldn’t have asked for better. My husband cradled me when I needed to curl into a ball and cry, took care of all the house chores when I was too sad or tired to do anything. And he rarely seemed to get upset about it. His matter-of-fact attitude made me think “it’s OK. This is something I just have to get through.” My mom, brother and a few close friends also pitched in whenever they could, coming to doctor’s appointments with me, doing research online, when I was too afraid to do it myself. Etc. And my coworkers! Let me start by saying I work with 22 caring women. They all of course wanted to help, but how? My friend and colleague, Maren, gave me some options: “Jess, choose from these: we’ll cook you food, clean your house or watch your kid. Or all three. Please let us do something to help.” I said preparing food would be great because I was planning on working through my chemo as much as I could but the thought of buying preparing and cooking meals was overwhelming. They were WONDERFUL. Maren created a Google calendar so people could schedule their drop-offs and I could see what meals I was getting in any particular week (usually 2-3). And when I couldn’t make it into the office, one of the ladies dropped them off at my door. What was awesome was that she knew I might not be up for company so she dropped at the front door, and then just texted me when she left so I knew it was there. Brilliant, I tell you. I’ve actually since borrowed this idea and have started this for a friend who is fighting brain cancer right now.
My treatment process… I did chemo first then surgery (my doctors gave me the choice – and I wasn’t ready yet to make the surgical decision so chemo first it is!) I had six months of chemo – A/C-THP. The first three months with the A/C was the hardest. It is cumulative so I was OK for the first month or so but then whoa- there were days when it was hard to get my head off the bed. It is such a profound fatigue that it’s hard for people to understand who haven’t experienced it. I mean, I may look OK, talking to whoever’s visiting and watching my daughter play on the carpet, but I literally can’t get up off the couch. This wasn’t all the time. I still worked through my whole chemo…Taking off maybe a total of 10? Days here and there when I couldn’t function. I lot of women have it much worse, I know.
I decided on a bilateral mastectomy for my surgery after months of research and internal debate. During the surgery, they placed in expanders, so I went in every week (or every other week?) for injections to increase the size. It was during this time when we realized I was not a candidate for radiation. (Hooray!) Then I had my second surgery to replace my saline implants with silicone. All in all it was probably a full year+ of treatment and surgery and recovery. And I still take my daily Tamoxifen and get my monthly Lupron injections. Have to do that for at least two more years.
My hospital – Dana Farber – offered many services to me. I love Dana Farber. They had assigned me a social worker who came to visit almost every time I was getting my infusion. I didn’t want to join a support group – I had all the support I needed and a life to carry on with. Juggling marriage, work, and a baby is enough. Throw in cancer, and that’s WAY MORE than enough.
Obstacles during my treatment process… Yes, on both a physical level and an emotional one. On a physical level, I remember I had just come from from thankgiving dinner with my husband’s family when my elbow felt weird. Ya, my elbow. I showed my husband because it was red and kind of hot. He said to call my oncologist and I was like “no no I must have just bumped it.” But he insisted because it was odd – and starting to swell. Well, my doc convinced me – in her calm way – to “stop by the emergency room. They may just give you some antibiotics.” So I did. I went on my own since – you know – the baby – and they had me stay overnight – actually for 2 nights. Turns out my immune system was SO down – I had just a handful of white blood cells – that this infection (cellulitis) was serious. They gave me a whole host of antibiotics to kill it – all through IV, which gave me the runs. My mom, bless her heart, took 2 days off from work to keep me company in the hospital. After I left, I had a reaction to one of the meds which made me wheeze. My general practioner ordered a cat scan to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot. It wasn’t… But it did show something on my liver and spleen which after two weeks of waiting and ultrasounds turned out to be nothing. Not cancer. Thank goodness.
On the emtionaal side was my decision to have a bilateral mastectomy even though had cancer in the one boob (right). It is somewhat controversial because from a statistical perspective, it does not really increase your odds of survival. I’ve come to realize though that there are dozens of factors that go into a women’s decision to have a lumptectomy, mastectomy, or bilateral. It is extremely personal and neither decision is easy. It sucks. I’ve met women who have told me “oh if I had cancer I’d get them both cut off too in a heartbeat.” I know they mean well but that really minimizes the sacfirices I’ve made and the issues I continue to deal with – such as lack of sensation. I’ve come to think that “mastectomy” is just a euphemism for amputation. Because that’s what it is. I had my body parts cut off. My. Body. Parts. CUT. OFF. Parts that I thought made me a woman. Parts that I liked. Parts that I will forever miss and mourn their loss. Parts that will never come back. It’s HARD. But despite all that I still think it was the right decision for me.
Lastly was the not-so-little obstacle of trying to be a good parent while dealing with all of this. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, for instance, my husband works late. There were times during treatment that I didn’t trust myself to be able to care for my daughter if I was left alone. So either my friend or brother would come over and visit with me and play with her. It was incredibly helpful. And then there were the times I felt guilty about not going to the playground with her. Or skipping that family get together, but honestly the guilt was short-lived. I reminded myself that I was FIGHTING CANCER for crying out loud.
My messages for the women of our community…
1) If you are diagnosed, you will at first feel like you don’t belong there. Whether “there” is the oncologist’s office, or the infusion lab, or the support group. And that’s TOTALLY NORMAL and will pass. You will find your own niche in this new community and you will feel like you belong. I mean, take me for instance. I remember at my first infusion, crying on my mom’s shoulder and saying “I don’t belong here! I don’t belong here!” and she cried with me and said I know I know honey. Fast forward a few visits, and I was calling the nurses by name and actually looking forward to visiting with them. They had become “my people” . I also looked forward to treating myself to the delicious salad bar in the cafeteria. In fact, today, I’m heading back to the hospital for my monthly Lupron injection, and I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s a place and a community where I feel I belong.
2) You are stronger than you think.
There will be times where you are totally overwhelmed and think you can’t possibly do what’s expected of you. But you will!
3) Know that you don’t have to be all sunshine and rainbows all the time.
Sometimes I get annoyed when I see these “think pink” commercials of smiling bald women dancing in their high heels and full make-up. That’s SO NOT breast cancer. Do we have an occuasional day like that? Sure. Could we get off the couch and do a twirl and give a smile for the camera? You betchya. But it’s SUCH a misrepresentation. Look beyond the makeup and show me how they really feel on the inside. I know it’s not carefree joy like they are depicting.
And I worry that it gives the perception to our society that it is easy or that something is wrong with you if you don’t become 100% organic or go to the gym 5 days a week as a cancer survivor – “Look at her. She has breast cancer and she’s running a marathon!” I mean, those ladies are AMAZING. Hands down. Incredible queens of super-human strength. But what about the rest of us who still don’t go to the gym on the regular? Who aged 10 years over the last two? Who are just damn tired? We are amazing too. We’ve been through hell and back and the fact that we’re still standing –it’s incredible!
4) You don’t stop being a patient when active treatment ends.
Most likely, the doc will have you on some sort of meds for several years following treatment. Some of these meds could have side effects (fatigue, weight gain, forgetfulness, not being able to have a baby). Most people in your life will NOT understand that you’re not “over it”. Because your hair has grown back. Your color looks good. You’re back at work and taking your kid to the zoo. But you might still struggle. Or you might be fine – but the weight of the cancer will still be with you. And that’s OK. Cancer isn’t a cold that you get over. It’s a diagnosis that changes your identity and often your life plan, so give yourself time and be patient. It does get easier.
5) It’s not all bad.
I know, I know: It’s CANCER. It sucks so much. But there are also silver linings. Through all of this, I’ve discovered who my real friends are. Who will be there when times get tough. In some ways, it’s strengthened my marriage. It’s taught me the depth of my strength. It’s like it placed a mirror in front of me, asking “what is important in life”? This in turn, indirectly led me to my latest passion, which is pursuing a debt-free life. I’ve found an incredibly supportive and network on the Instragram #debtfreecommunity (you can find me at @livemoreonless). It’s like I’ve found my people! Now if only I could home in on the cancer survivors within the debt free community…we’d have a lot to talk about! And most importantly it’s shown me how precious time is. Time is the only true commodity. What you wear, drive, etc – none of it is real. The ONLY important thing in life is time spent with those you love – and none of us get enough of it.
I am 44 years old and was diagnosed this past June … June 5th… I know because it was three days after my daughter graduated high school.
I got the call while at work, and I was completely blindsided. The worst part was I had to suck it up and work the rest of the day. It was not easy… Stage 3 diagnosis.
I had my first mammogram right after my 42nd birthday. When I got my results I was told that there were some microcalcifications that they wanted to explore further so I was asked to return for an ultrasound. During the ultrasound they found a mass, so I was asked to return for a magnified mammogram. At that time, the radiologist concluded that I was fine and it was nothing to worry about and that I should return in six months. At my six month follow-up, the microcalcifications were still there, but the mass had not grown so, again, I was told to go home and not worry about it. I only needed to come back in a year. Luckily, I decided to go back in April of this year instead of waiting until July. I went through the magnified mammogram once again, and was told by the radiologist himself that I was fine. Fast forward a few weeks and I still hadn’t received my results, so I called. Turns out they had sent my results to a different doctor. It took five phone calls to finally straighten everything out. Mind you, I wasn’t worried at all…he had told me everything was ok. I just wanted to have it on paper. I finally received a letter telling me that I needed a biopsy…
When I received the news it was cancer I was completely blindsided. There is no history of breast cancer in my family so I was expecting this to just be a false alarm. I received the call while at work. Needless to say, that made it so much worse because I couldn’t exactly fall apart at the office. I shed three tears, and then sucked it up and went about my day. It was such a shock since we had no family history of breast cancer… But there is a history of prostate cancer and melanoma. Apparently those are all related genetically. I had a full genetic screening done and I tested negative for everything. I will however, have to get tested again in about three years in the event that they discover new gene mutations.
As far as a support network… I am a single mother and all my family lives overseas. Luckily I have the best of friends who stood by my side during this whole thing. My mom also flew here from Italy to be with me and will be staying until I am done with chemo. My brother, my aunt and my dad call me every single day and I have gotten so much support and love from the most unexpected people. Perhaps my biggest supporter has been my 18 year old daughter, Natalia. She is away at college but makes it a point to come home every single week to see me. She has all her friends praying for me and has been a huge source of positivity in my life.
My treatment process… I decided to have a double mastectomy with a tram-flap reconstruction. I did not want to undergo radiation (it is painful and can cause organ damage) and I did not want implants (the idea of foreign objects in my body terrified me). The surgery lasted almost nine hours. It is by far the most painful thing I have ever had to deal with. I am now officially six and a half weeks out and I am still not fully recovered. I did meet with the surgeon after the surgery and she informed me that one of my tumors was much larger than anticipated. Therefore, she sent it for further testing to see what my chances of recurrence are. Unfortunately, I scored a 24—low is below 18, high is 30 and above—so after meeting with an oncologist, I was told I will need chemo. I was devastated all over again. I thought I would be done after the surgery, but I guess I need to fight a little longer…
No support programs or services were “offered” to me… Although, I did find a ton of websites that offer free stuff to cancer patients and my best friend took it upon herself to nominate me for everything. Apparently I will be getting a lot of packages! I also found a free 12-week program at the YMCA which helps cancer patients go back to working out. I signed up for it but there is a waiting list. There is free house cleaning services for breast cancer patients, but in my area they are all fully booked…
As far as obstacles I didn’t prepare for… I didn’t prepare for the surgery as I should have… I was so busy with work, my daughter going off to school and moving after hurricane Harvey, that I literally had no time to think about it. It never occurred to me to go online and see what to expect or what I would need to bring. The night before the surgery, I threw a few things in a duffel bag and off I went… I did have some health complications which have made recovery difficult. I had a fever while in the hospital…it got up to 102.5. I continued to run a low grade fever once I was discharged. Also, some of the stitches in my left breast opened and got infected. I had to go through two rounds of antibiotics before they could close them up again. I got my drains removed from my breasts two weeks after surgery and I developed swelling between them. It was very uncomfortable, but it has finally started to subside. The drain from my abdomen is another story…it was removed three weeks after the surgery. Since then, my abdomen has been filling with fluid and I have already had to go get it aspirated twice. Apparently, it will have to go back a few more times….
My message to women of this community… Be strong! This will probably be the most difficult thing you have to go through, but you can do this! Cancer is messing with the wrong women! My love and prayers go out to all of you fellow warriors.
Hard to read through these without your eyes welling up with tears… Because of everything these women went through but also because of their incredible strength as they went up against incredible odds and came out the other side – even stronger. Such incredible and beautiful women, inside and out.