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Navigating, lessons and 'the Girls'

This issue of the 209 will forever be the one where you will find me reminding women, their children, their families and spouses to not only schedule their annual mammogram, but also don’t forget your self-exam.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Finding out I had cancer in April 2020, this month took on a whole new meaning for not just myself, but my family, my friends, as well as my community as I became public about my diagnosis from the get go. It’s a pretty vulnerable thing to share so openly. However from the day I learned of my diagnosis until this very day, I’ve always believed God placed me in this position to do exactly what I’m doing now.

The public forum for a journalist reaches so far beyond our immediate circle that it hardly felt right to not share not only my experiences but my lessons as well.

In prior issues I’ve shared the importance of getting checked, checking yourself, advocating for yourself, as well as the amazing technology of a “cooling cap.”

Since sharing openly I’ve had the honor and privilege of helping other women, as well as families navigate the “bad news,” pursue second options, as well as navigate the grief which is so very real as your life transforms to something you’re not familiar with.

I laugh as I type this, recalling my conversation with my newspaper via FaceTime the day I learned of this news. “This will make for a great 209 story come October,” I shared … and it did.

The ability to use this forum to share a bit more that may benefit as few as one or as many as dozens is a gift within itself.

For this issue, I wanted to offer a few things: a brief update on my personal health, share a few valuable lessons I’ve learned since the October 2020 issue, as well as offer some reminders.

Personally, we continue the battle. My initial diagnosis of Stage 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, has maintained. Since the diagnosis in April of 2020, I’ve experienced two separate recurrences resulting in more treatment.

For the reader shaking their head and perhaps thinking, “She should have had a mastectomy;” I did. As well as multiple chemotherapy treatments, radiation and a handful of surgeries which I’ve quite honestly now lost track of.

There’s a not so funny thing that happens when one gets diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. You find yourself (or at least I have) navigating through grief, guilt and an inevitable fear.

The grief came by way of my life which I’ve missed. Pre-cancer T was different in a lot of areas. Learning to live with the disappointment of not yet being “well,” is a real thing. Putting life on hold in certain areas, as we work on finishing the battle also plays into the grief. Typically speaking, I’ve always been an optimist and battling through this disease has been no different. However, the three-and-a-half-year battle has benched me from certain moments in my life I would have not otherwise missed. Hence the grieving.

It also has a way of really teaching one to live all the moments fully with a quickness. An example of this would be this year is the first in the past three years that we’ve packed our bags and gone, gone, gone. Memory making has taken on a whole new level of “must,’ with my friends and family. The waiting for- insert a future timeline here- has been replaced with, how can we make that happen. I’m grateful for that and feel abundantly blessed to still be here to do all the things.

The lessons are big and I’m both grateful and happy to share them with others as much as I possibly can.

The first and very important lesson comes by way of the mammogram. Every woman of recommended age should absolutely have an annual mammogram. That test should be viewed as insurance that your health is going well, in that area. That one test, however, should not be relied on completely for the remainder of the year. Self-exam is how every single one of my tumors were found. The beauty of the self-exam versus an annual mammogram is you don’t have to wait for an appointment; it can be done daily and should.

Case in point, following my first round of treatments and surgeries my PET Scan in July of 2021 detected no cancerous activity. We were thrilled! That same year, three short months later, I found another lump on the same side. The following year after another surgery and more chemo, that fall I found another tumor; same side, again.

The other and most valuable lesson comes by way of getting a second opinion. What I’ve learned since leaving the Valley following my first recurrence in October 2021, is we have some amazing resources right in our backyard. Insurance should not be a deterrent.

When I learned of my recurrence I shared with my surgeon that perhaps I needed to get out of the Valley. Through her help a referral for a second opinion was sent through to my insurance. Hospital of choice, Stanford. Personally following up with my insurance I learned I had been re-routed to UCSF, which was fine by me. UCSF typically is not in my plan, however given the second opinion status, it is a hospital they “partner” with.

Not only was going to UCSF a good move in my battle, I also came to realize that seeing a Breast Cancer Oncologist versus an Oncologist (with no specialty) was a good thing. The team that I was now joining knew all things breast cancer and they were ready to attack this aggressive type.

Becoming an advocate for yourself, making the calls, building the relationships are all so important when trying to do what’s best by way of your health. Putting things off is not in your best interest. Not to mention documenting everything including questions you may have, can be instrumental in the overall process.

Overall, there’s a lot I’m grateful for in this chapter. The lessons have been abundant, the people amazing and at the end of it all, life truly is beautiful. Now make that appointment, share this with someone who might benefit and remember your health is your business.