I missed all the signs. I consider myself a well-educated person and have seen plenty of articles detailing the numerous possible signs of breast cancer.
I was a 36-year-old mother of three boys who’s youngest was almost a year old. I had made the decision to stop breastfeeding for lots of reasons, one of which was the discomfort I was feeling on my right side. I naively thought that my issues were lactation based.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
I saw my PCP at the end of November ‘22 when it seemed like I had mastitis. She concurred that it seemed like a reasonable diagnosis and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic, but most importantly, she gave me a prescription for an ultrasound if the antibiotic was not effective.
After completing the course of antibiotics, I had the ultrasound and mammogram done mid-December. I distinctly remember not being concerned at all. I was so convinced the issues I was having were somehow all lactation based. I happily chatted with the ultrasound tech and dr. I was so blissfully unaware of what was to come.
They, of course, recommended a biopsy. I had multiple large masses, enlarged lymph nodes and skin thickening.
After reading the report from the ultrasound and mammogram, we made plans to travel to our families for Christmas. It was a whirlwind trip, but we felt it was important to do, because I think, deep down, we knew everything was about to change. Three days after Christmas, I went back for the biopsies.
They told me it would take 2-3 days for the results, but the next day they would call and tell me it was cancer.
I was initially diagnosed with stage 3C IDC (invasive ductal carcinoma). It was hormone negative and HER2 positive.
Unfortunately, it developed into inflammatory breast cancer by the time my port was placed.
I remember my surgeon examining me before surgery to place my port. It was before anesthesia that she told me it was inflammatory, and a lumpectomy would be off the table as a result of the skin involvement. The next several days were a blur. Thankfully, I was in the hands of a wonderful group of doctors and even better surgeon.
Within 2 weeks of my official diagnosis, I was having my first chemo cocktail of TCHP administered through my newly installed port, even before full staging of my disease was completed, due to its aggressive nature. (Fortunately, testing showed no spread.) I turned 37 four days after that first chemo treatment. I dragged myself through 6 cycles of TCHP. I can’t even begin to fully describe how tough this was for me physically and mentally. It was truly the most grueling thing I’ve ever done.
After finally completing chemo, I had a brief break in treatment. Then, I had a right modified radical mastectomy. No axillary lymph nodes were left behind. Lab results showed clear margins and noted scarring in some of the lymph nodes most likely left behind from cancer involvement and healing after chemo.
Can I give a shout out to the TCHP chemo cocktail for my case?
I immediately noticed a reduction in tumor and lymph node size days after my first cycle. And it only continued to improve from there. It has truly been a miracle drug combo for me.
I am currently doing immunotherapy and radiation. By the time I’m done with radiation, I will have been there every weekday for almost 6 weeks. Immunotherapy, every 3 weeks, will continue into early spring of ‘24.
Dealing with cancer is hard. But nothing was more heartbreaking for me than telling my children and trying to prepare them for what was happening and what was going to happen. My older sons were 8 and 6 at my diagnosis and had their birthdays while I was in the middle of chemo. My oldest took it the hardest. It crept up on my middle son and manifested itself in different ways. My youngest, who will be two soon, was robbed of a healthy mom to play with and tend to his every need.
I was quickly reduced to a bald lump on the couch or bed. My husband has taken on so much since my diagnosis.
I cannot imagine my life without him and cannot stress how vital he has been in my care. There are so many things cancer took from my children and husband that cause me so much guilt and grief. But it’s not something I dwell on often. I am in control of me and let go of what’s not in my control. I try my hardest, every day, to find the silver lining in all of this. My hair is infinitely easier to deal with short. I’m forever part of a club of people who understand this part of me without words. I will never underestimate the value of eyelashes, nose hair, and eyebrows.
I also now know that, when faced with a life-changing moment, my family and friends will be there for me when I need them most.
I joke around a lot, make cancer jokes with my husband, and keep a mostly positive attitude about things but make no mistake, I am a realist.
I understand that nothing is ever certain. There are no guarantees in life. When you are faced with a situation like this there is no other way than to deal with it. Let yourself feel the emotions. Experience the highs and lows. Understand your disease and learn everything you can. Ask questions. Listen intently. Swallow your pride. Accept help when it’s offered to you, time and time again. But, most of all, know you are strong enough to endure the journey cancer will take you on.