I was on maternity leave with my son and I was anxious about the transition back to work in a few weeks. Those concerns quickly took a backseat when I found the lump. From the moment I felt it, I had a feeling that it was serious. The next day, I scheduled an appointment with my OB and she sent me for an ultrasound. Anxiously awaiting the results, I sat with my hands clasped together looking at my feet. The radiologist entered the room and informed me that he believed the mass was related to nursing and nothing to worry about. “You’re only 30 years old,” he assured me. He instructed me to come back in one month for a follow up. I felt relieved because that’s what I wanted to hear, but I wasn’t convinced. As I walked to my car, I was filled with emotions and I knew I needed to get a second opinion. I picked up the disc of images and took them to another radiologist. She reviewed the images and agreed that it was not concerning. I left the office feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. That feeling didn’t last long. She called me two hours later to tell me that her associate reviewed the images and they were now recommending further testing. At this point, two weeks had passed. It was a Friday and my first day of work was Monday, so I insisted on returning for an aspiration that day. My phone rang on Wednesday and the radiologist explained that the aspiration revealed atypical cells. I needed to follow up with a breast surgeon. A few days later, I sat with my husband waiting to meet the surgeon. She reviewed the images and my chart and recommended a biopsy the following day. The nurse assured me that biopsies almost always come back with benign results. She would call me with the results in three business days and that brings me to January 18th, the day I received the call confirming it was breast cancer.
My world was flipped upside down. How can I have cancer? I’m only 30 years old. I eat healthy, I exercise and take care of myself. I have a family. I have a baby!
The next two weeks were the longest and most challenging weeks of my life. My husband sat beside me at every appointment as we tried to listen process all the specifics. I was blessed with amazing doctors and they clearly explained my diagnosis and treatment plan. In the days to follow, I had an ultrasound, mammogram, MRI, PET scan, genetic testing and an EKG. The hardest appointment was with the fertility specialist. We talked for a few minutes but I just remember him saying, “The chemotherapy could ruin your chances of conceiving.” I was presented with an option to harvest eggs prior to starting chemo, but it would delay treatment by two or three weeks. I was faced with an impossible decision. I had visions of my son growing up with a sibling but how could I delay treatment for the unknown? I needed to survive this for my baby. We walked out of the office and I sobbed in my husband’s arms. Ultimately, my husband and I decided to forgo egg retrieval and move forward with treatment. My heart trusted that if I was to have more children then God would find a way.
Two weeks after the diagnosis, the first day of chemo finally arrived. It felt like a lifetime but I made it through on minimal sleep with a racing mind and heart. The unknown and what ifs were almost too much to bear, but I made up my mind that I was not going to live in fear. I would rely on my faith, my family and my friends to get through this chapter. The next five months were filled with dozens of blood tests, appointments, shots and prescriptions. On July 5, I finished sixteen rounds of chemotherapy. For me, mental exhaustion and the guilt of not having energy or motivation were the worst side effects.
After I finished treatment, I scheduled my surgery, a bilateral mastectomy. It was my first major surgery so it was another unknown. The surgery came and went without any major complications. The weeks after the surgery were the most challenging and I met with occupational therapist to learn exercises and stretches for my range of motion. As the days went on, the emotional toll was starting to set in as I began to process what happened over the last few months. My pathology report revealed that I ha
d a very good response to chemo but it wasn’t complete. With that said, I had a few options that I could pursue as a preventative measure, another challenging choice.
So what’s next for me? I will start radiation soon. The treatment is 30 rounds over six weeks. Once I complete radiation, I will begin a clinical trial. I am grateful for the women who participated in previous clinical trials. They opened the doors for effective treatment protocols. I am looking forward to the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial to further research for other women who face this challenge. I am also grateful for the support from an amazing network of women who have been through this and the support from organizations like YWBCAF. The local breast cancer community provides invaluable support and education. Overcoming breast cancer at a young age can be challenging and isolating but you don’t have to do it alone.
This journey taught me to focus on the positive aspects of my life; faith, family, and friends. I have too much to live for and I won’t let cancer steal my joy. I refuse to let this diagnosis take any more of my time or attention than it already has. I thank God every day for His mercy and grace. I will use my diagnosis for good, as a continual reminder to appreciate the beauty and blessings in each day. Cancer will not define me.