It wasn’t supposed to be painful, that’s what a friend told me. That’s the hope I hung on to, as one appointment continued to lead to another after discovering a lump on my right breast.
Mine was painful. So painful, in fact, it woke me from slumber one night in late February. Located to the far-right side of my breast, rolling on my side it felt like I’d rolled onto a rock. More like a pebble, but painful nonetheless.
Yet that would have been simpler. A rock can be removed from the sheets, a tumor, one the size of a peanut, would be a bit harder to evict.
So as the world began scrambling in the early days of COVID-19, I began being poked and prodded to solve the mystery of the lump which woke me.
Before expanding further, I must confess amidst all the early mayhem and concern of this newly breaking pandemic, there was not one hiccup to my care. Tests and lab work seemed to become weekly occurrences. Not one insurance delay, re-scheduled appointment; it was – and remains to be – seamless.
On April 15 of this year, via a FaceTime call with my OB her eyes told me what her words soon would, the mass was cancer. The next week, via phone call, I would meet my oncologist and two days later (in person) my breast surgeon.
Surgeon? Yes, the surgeon referral was when I recognized this would not be treated via a few chemo pills. It’s also when I learned there’s more to cancer than learning what “stage” cancer is.
Prior to my diagnosis, I felt I was pretty savvy and knowledgeable about cancer. Over a decade of volunteer time with the American Cancer Society, as well as personal connections to family and friends affected by cancer, I figured I knew this road.
That quickly changed when I learned I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer. “An aggressive” breast cancer, my new BFF (aka my surgeon) told me. Yet because we caught it early, the cancer was treatable yet the road would not be short.
Due to the aggressive nature we would need to start with an equally aggressive treatment plan, surgical removal would have to wait.
I still remember her words so clearly and, gratefully, my mother was there to confirm what I had heard was accurate.
“Surgery will remove the tumor, but it won’t save your life. I won’t allow my ego to get in the way. Chemo is going to save your life and you should have been in chemo last week.”
The following week my port was placed in the left side of my chest and would be used for the next 12 weeks of chemotherapy treatment.
Upon its insertion, I quickly told my friends and family I had become bionic.
The details can become quite boring to the masses and what I’ve come to learn is no two cancers and treatment plans are exactly the same.
Mine was taxing; I’ll simply leave it at that. My initial chemo treatment was successful and “resolved” the tumor and threat to the lymph node. As I type this I am recovering from a double mastectomy and the first phase of my reconstruction. I am well and I am fortunate.
The personal side of this, through every step I could not help but acknowledge my good fortune. In mid-April, after recovering from the shock and reality, my partner and I (both athletes) acknowledged that we’d embrace a “get ‘er done” attitude and push through every hurdle placed in front of us. In this moment, that is exactly how my story of Stage 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer has gone.
Knowing so many who have walked this path of varying stages and diagnoses, I recognize “smooth” is not always possible. Yet here I am, grateful, lucky, blessed – we’re checking the boxes and getting me back to my health.
Early on, my surgeon gave great advice and to this moment I believe it made all the difference in my overall health. During chemo I allowed myself some down days, I ate responsibly, I gave up drinking and on the days I was able I walked one to three miles – every day. Keeping my body physically strong during a time when we would be breaking it down, seemed wise and, well, in my case it worked. While my hair fell to the wayside, my physical appearance remained much the same.
Midway through treatment, I remember checking in with my kids (ages 13 and 16), inquiring how they were feeling about “mom being sick.”
My son put it best, sharing that before I started treatment he was scared and worried. “But not much has changed mom. Aside from a few naps here and there you’re the same, so it’s really okay.”
Music to a mother’s ears.
Our road is still continuing. Chemotherapy is still on the table, pending lab results from the mastectomy, but we aren’t stopping.
There are many lessons to share with others, barely six months into my cancer journey.
The first would be the value of self-exams. Again, I was lucky my mass woke me. The tech administering my diagnostic mammogram shared my mass would not have been discovered in a standard test; it was too far back. Follow through was equally important, meaning I did not let a busy mom schedule interfere with the importance of the initial appointment and I was tempted.
From that first appointment to present day, I have journaled details and information along the way. Prior to any and all appointments questions for the doctor placed in the book for review and later reference.
In short, my diagnosis prompted me into a new business. I’m now in the business of saving my life and rebuilding my health. To this day, I have not relied on traditional medicine exclusively. Alternative options have become just as much a part of this journey as has utilizing an alternative healer and working through emotional road blocks. I’m doing it all.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the number one driving force for me through all of this is faith. I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason and God truly doesn’t give us more than we can handle.
An epilepsy diagnosis at the age of 13, battle with infertility though my 30s and now cancer. For many that may seem a lot, for me it still goes back to faith. As my seizures are controlled, I am the mother to two beautiful healthy kids and now, well now I’m facing one hell of a path for a midlife makeover but I’ll be damned if I won’t see this through and be better for it on the other side.
Cancer for me has been a tremendous wake-up and reminder — life is full of peaks and valleys and it is only because of the valleys that we can truly love and appreciate those peaks. Here’s to the climb and the good health to get me there.