A Breast Cancer Survivor Shares Her Story

 

Life is busy, and as women we often put everything and everyone before our own well-being. The orderslip for my routine mammogram had been in my wallet for six months. I had already missed one mammogram so I was well overdue. My mammogram indicated a suspicious area that needed a biopsy, but I did not give it any further thought. My breast tissue had always been fibrous and dense.

As a Realtor for ChuckTown Homes my phone rings frequently, but that next call would change the course of my life forever. I remember the call clearer than I remember the past year of my life. The radiologist indicated the biopsy showed I had aggressive breast cancer in my right breast. The quicker I could get an appointment with a general surgeon and have additional testing the better. Quite frankly, I could not breathe, which turned into ugly-cry, face sobbing. I left the office and drove aimlessly. My mind was spinning out of control.

Who should I call? Am I going to die? Will my parents be burying me soon? Will I get to see my niece and nephew grow up? Who will love my animals as much as I do? I have insurance, but how much will it cover? Will I need to sell my house to pay my bills? I have too much I still want to experience, why have I put it off? Why has my mind always told me IF or WHEN or ONE DAY? Suddenly, I knew where I was driving.

I needed a Margarona and there was no question about that! Two dear friends met me and that night was probably the first time the three of us sat in front of a basket of chips and did not touch one.

Apparently breast cancer is not simple, and I spent the next year of my life in and out of a hospital. I needed more testing to determine my journey. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 test indicated I did not carry the genetic mutation for cancer. The HER2 test was negative for a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. The ER PR test was positive, which meant my tumor was mostly fed by hormones. In addition to this testing, the size of my tumor was measured and I received my diagnosis: Stage three cancer. No warning, no sickness, no pains. JUST LIKE THAT!

I chose a double mastectomy, and this surgery also would test to see if my cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I woke up from the seven-hour surgery surrounded by my loved ones. The surgeon came in to let me know she removed 14 lymph nodes, and most of them were cancerous.

I lost it, I just repeated over and over: “I am going to die, I am going to die.” My father grabbed my hand and without hesitation said, “Well, I know you will go to heaven and be in a better place.” What an amazing calmness, peace and strength he had at that moment. I, on the other hand, was not quite there and a little happier when the surgeon said, “Not today.”   

I had four drains coming out of the side of my body for three weeks, but once I healed, I could proceed to the PET scan. Of all the tests and scans, this was the one that would tell me if the cancer had spread to other organs in my body. I denied that could even be reality and was so blessed that the test indicated it had not spread. I remained a newly diagnosed, stage three cancer patient.

The oncologist determined the best course of action for me was 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation. One round of chemo marched in and robbed me of what felt like the rest of my womanhood: my hair, my eyebrows and my eyelashes. It had only been two months since my diagnosis and my reflection disgusted me; I looked so sick. I found comfort buying a wide array of wigs and hats.  My favorite is what I called “hat hair.” Hat hair was a ball cap with gorgeous, long, silky hair attached and it fooled everyone. When I put this hat on, I felt some sense of normalcy.

A trip to a local pharmacy also would have a profound impact on my life. Shannen Doherty’s battle with breast cancer was displayed on the cover of a magazine, and somehow this prompted a conversation with the cashier. She was a brain cancer survivor and uploaded pictures of her bald head on Facebook. A few of her family members shamed her for her appearance and said she should take them down. My heart hurt for her and my hat hair came off for the first time in public. My “hat hair” was my disguise, it was my crutch. My new life was hidden under that hat and what it had been would never return.  

What I realized is, my bald head told a story, and everyone should know that story — the story of being human. We are ALL susceptible to our lives changing in a millisecond. We all have battles whether small or of epic proportions. We are here to learn from each other, love each other and help each other through our struggles. When we embrace the things we can’t change we have a sense of peace that is priceless.

The past year has not been easy, but I would not change a thing. I was given the gift of learning how to be grateful for every moment and to open my eyes to the immense amount of love surrounding me. Embracing the things I can’t change gives me a sense of peace that is priceless.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my caregivers for their devotion to improving lives. Dr. Tracy Cordray, Dr. Megan Baker, Dr. Gene Saylors, my chemo nurse Dorothy, one of my best friends Heather Wilks APRN, FNP-C, and the entire staff of The Roper Oncology Department. Mom, you are an angel on earth. My tribe of girlfriends, your love is a gift. ChuckTown Homes, I am immensely grateful for your support. I encourage everyone to check out www.boonproject.org to discover how you can help or be helped. Many thanks to Callie Cranford with Kuszmaul Design and PR for the photo shoot.