14 Nov Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31 was devastating. I had no family history nor was I educated about breast cancer. But when I received the phone call the morning of 12/12/12 and heard the words, “you have cancer,” it turned my world upside down… but I knew that I couldn’t give up hope. I had a lot of life ahead of me and I was ready to fight.
The next couple weeks were like a roller coaster. A second biopsy determined that my cancer had spread. Based on the type of cancer, aggressiveness, and my age, I made an educated decision to have a bilateral mastectomy.
I can’t explain the pain and discomfort after surgery. While I was healing from surgery, my oncologist ordered an Oncotype test that would determine if I was a candidate for chemotherapy and my risk of reoccurrence. My results determined I was a high risk of reoccurrence. I was scheduled to get a port and to start chemotherapy. I also found out I was HER2 positive. In addition to chemotherapy,
I was put on Tamoxifen. The treatment side effects were severe. Hearing that I would not be able to get pregnant after my chemotherapy treatments was the hardest thing of all. I started to lose my hair after my first chemotherapy treatment.
In August 2013 I had my first stage of breast reconstruction. I received expanders to re-stretch my skin over time. This process took six months. In February 2014 I received my implants. One of the side effects from Tamoxifen is developing polyps or cysts on your ovaries. A scan revealed ovarian polyps and cysts, and it was decided that I should have a hysterectomy.
There are many things my “Breast Friends” and I have learned throughout our breast cancer journeys. The following are things we’ve had to learn the hard way because we were not informed when diagnosed:
Things you are not told when you are diagnosed with breast cancer
- That you should be prepared and have a planner or calendar with you from day one of your first appointment or you should have someone with you to help remember everything that your care team is going over.
- Breast Reconstruction Options.
- No one prepares you to be sent home after your mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy, as far as what pain and discomfort you will expect and how to prepare for the drains you will have.
- No one tells you that you may not be able to wear a regular bra and actually feel comfortable again after breast reconstruction.
- No one tells you to prepare for your new normal.
- Fertility options.
- No one explains to you that the side effects (fatigue, chemo brain, etc.) from treatments can linger for years.
- No one tells you about the emotional stress or depression that you may experience years after being traumatized by a cancer diagnosis.
- Resources and/or assistance programs.
- How nutrition and exercise are extremely important.
From day one of my diagnosis, I was constantly thinking of ways to get involved to spread awareness and educate others. I found out there were no support groups for patients under age 40 in Lexington. Young women face many different issues such as sexuality and fertility. We started the group, The Rosie Ring. Then I helped start a support group through Baptist Health known as the S.O.S., Strength of Survivorship. I’ve participated in fashion shows, appeared in magazines, and been interviewed by local news media.
Through learning about the things my friends and I weren’t told when diagnosed, I started dreaming and thinking about running my own non-profit, and this year my dream became real: I founded My Pink Navigator. Being able to serve others in their fight against breast cancer has been my passion and I am so happy that I can make an impact in someone’s life. To make their fight easier and comfortable means the world to me.
Finding strength in struggle
I am “99% sure this is just a fibroid adenoma; don’t worry.”That was what my general practitioner said as I left his office. He scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound, but he was not concerned because I was 32 years old.
I had the typical fibrocystic breasts, which most women my age have, but this felt like more than a cyst. I went to my mammogram, and 5 hours later, I came out with the words “whatever this is cannot stay in your body.” This was a Friday. I waited an entire weekend to hear back. This was the longest weekend of my life. Fast forward to Monday, after looking at my phone all day, it finally happened. The phone rang. At 2:31, on a Monday afternoon, my entire life changed. The nurse called and said, “your biopsy revealed you have breast cancer.” All I could muster up the courage to ask was “Are you sure?” I was 32 years old; this couldn’t happen to me? I had no idea how to tell my family and friends. It was the fear of the unknown that kept me up. Luckily, I did not have to wait long to meet with the surgeon for a consult. After information was given and all my questions were answered, we left. I was 32 years old, with stage 2B aggressive breast cancer. When I left the appointment, all I remember thinking was “I am going to lose my breasts and my hair.”
The weeks that followed were all a blur! When I wasn’t at doctors’ appointments, or researching ductal carcinoma, I was telling friends and family the news. I tried to prepare for a life changing surgery that I was about to undergo. Through every appointment, I just kept hearing “you’re too young for breast cancer.” But the truth is; no one is too young for cancer. None of us are invincible and I was finding that out. I had a great medical team, but there was no one nor anything that could prepare me for all I was about to experience. Luckily, I have amazing family, friends and colleagues. They were with me every step of the way. Then the big day was here; this was the day cancer was being removed from my body, along with my breasts. I said a prayer, put on my pink lipstick and changed into the hospital gown and back they took me.
It will be a year this October since I was diagnosed, but I remember it like it was yesterday. One mastectomy, one ER visit, one follow up surgery and 16 rounds of chemotherapy later, and here I am. I am still standing. Cancer did not break me. I have one more surgery this October, and I will be finished with the reconstruction process. I thank God for giving me the strength to make it through. We fought cancer, together, my family and I, and we won. This has been the hardest year of my life, but I have learned a lot. I have learned that I am much stronger than I ever imagined I could be, and more loved than I ever knew. Thanks to my amazing family, friends, co-workers and God, I made it through some dark days. I had always heard that God works in mysterious ways, and I am living that.
I am living proof that cancer knows no age. And I am still living because of early detection, and a great medical team. I urge all women, of all shapes, sizes and ages to check your breasts. Thanks to the awesome women working at Komen, I have met many amazing and beautiful women who have experienced what I have. I knew I was not alone. Any women out there going through this, please know you are not alone in this fight. There are “pink warriors” all over. We are here to help, and we will get through this together. I read a quote that stuck in my head throughout my journey. “Breast cancer has invaded my body, but it need not invade my spirit. There may be scars on my chest, but not on my heart.”