It’s an ongoing joke to those who know me, but I truly have the worst luck. Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009… it was my 3rd wedding anniversary. I went for my annual GYN check-up and the Physician’s Assistant, who I preferred to see, casually said that I had a lump. She mentioned that it was probably just a cyst, but that I should still have it looked at. At the time, I was also dealing with Bell’s Palsy, so our conversation was more about that than the lump. I left the office and on the way home, I started to worry. I knew me…and my bad luck.
I drove home and found my husband Stephen getting ready for our anniversary dinner. I told him the news and then called Borg & Ide to make an appointment for a mammogram. They were able to fit me in late that Friday, two days later. Life, it’s not always very convenient. My cousin Jenny was getting married on Friday night, and I would surely miss her wedding ceremony. My daughter and I had helped her pick out her gown and it made me very sad that I wouldn’t be able to see her walk down the aisle in it. Stephen and I sat very quietly at dinner that night. Neither of us knowing what to say, consumed with all the what ifs. The only conversation I recall is the one that I said, if it was cancer, I was having a bilateral mastectomy. I had a five year old daughter and I was going to be aggressive.
Two days later, I went for my mammogram. An ultrasound was also ordered. It was the ultrasound that determined that my lump was definitely a tumor, not a cyst. I remember being so grossed out by my ultrasound tech. Her personality. Her smell. The way her armpit was way too close to my face. But maybe I was grossed out at the fact that I was 34 and looking at a cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis that I had never personally seen someone live after receiving. Linda, Gail, Marcia. That night, I went to my cousin’s wedding reception. I shouldn’t have gone.
That following Monday, I went back to Borg & Ide for a biopsy. I went into the procedure room alone. I laid there having my breasts jabbed, staring at a picture of a woman holding a little girl’s hand. It was then, that I had my first cry. I laid there imaging missing my daughter grow-up, and it devastated me. Two days later, while grading tests, sitting in a classroom with one student, I received the call that immediately changed my future. I had cancer. All professionalism went out the window as tears rushed down my face. I walked back to my desk and emailed all the important people in my life. I had cancer and I would talk to them when I was ready. Thinking back, that was pretty horrible of me to do.
In the end, my official diagnosis was stage 2B, triple positive breast cancer. The cancer had not reached my lymph nodes. My general surgeon said that the way my tumor grew, that I was incredibly lucky that my PA made the call and had me examined, because based on the mammogram alone, she would have said that I did not have cancer.
I had the bilateral mastectomy and opted for full reconstruction with implants. After my mastectomy, I went to Pluta Cancer Center to meet with an Oncologist. I was told that I had 15 months of chemotherapy infusions ahead of me, then 5 years of Tamoxifen. I’ll spare you all the details involved with my infusions, but I will say that cancer became my horrible part-time job. My mother-in-law, husband and daughter did all they could to make life easier for me. For that, I am grateful.
There’s so much that I could tell you about… the side effects of chemotherapy and Tamoxifen, the loss of friendships, the depression… but in the end, I am here. I am alive to tell my story and to help women who have been newly diagnosed. So here’s all the good… Treatment is now better than it was just 7 years ago. Physicians are providing better pain management and medications for nausea. More importantly, going through all this finally gave me a little purpose in life. I started Fight Club of Rochester to raise money for organizations that help people living with cancer, because cancer is freaking hard. And it sucks. And if I can help even just a little bit, I want to do that.
I try to never give advice, because everyone handles diagnosis and treatment differently, but here’s a pearl of wisdom from me to you… When you start losing your hair from treatment, don’t try to make it a fun experience by having your 6 year old child shave your head. It will probably go over as well as a screen door on a submarine.