When you hear you have cancer the room doesn’t get all quiet where you only hear a fading voice and static like it does in the movies. I found a lump in March 2023 that prompted me to make an appointment with my OBGYN. After a breast exam she told me she didn’t think it was anything to worry about but to go ahead and set up an appointment to get an ultrasound just to be sure. A few weeks go by and in early April 2023 I go in for my appointment. I took my son (at the time he was 3-years-old) with me since I couldn’t get a babysitter and thought to myself “oh this is just a routine thing, we’ll be done quickly and can go grab something for lunch.” I had two ultrasounds, two mammograms, two breast exams and three hours later I’m sitting on the hospital bed when the doctor comes in. She said I have nine lumps and I immediately started crying. She said this wasn’t my fault. My son looked up at me and saw mommy was crying and couldn’t figure out why. I knew then and there I was going to have to learn to be stronger than I thought I was but little did I know then what I know now is how hard traveling that road would be.
A week or so later I go in for my first and second of six biopsies. If you’ve never had to do one, you lay on your side while they take a giant needle and push it into your breast to release lidocaine to numb the area before they put a 14 gauge needle down the tube to pull out suspicious tissue. At the end you lay there for 10 minutes while a nurse pushes on the biopsy site to stop the bleeding. The bruising afterwards looked like I had gotten in a car accident, it spread everywhere under my armpit and onto the side of my breast. It was painful to look at afterwards. And now you wait a few more days for the results. They set you up with an app that is called MyChart and you usually get your results before you get a phone call. Through those few days of worrying I did my best to stay positive and that it wouldn’t be anything to worry about but the notification came and so did the tears. The results said highly malignant and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. I was working the next day and checking my phone constantly between taking care of customers and bringing their food out. The phone call came and I was told I had cancer and it was called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. My GM was standing next to me at the time and I said out loud “I have cancer,” she looked at me with so much concern and sent me home for the rest of the day. I called my boyfriend Alex and shared the news with him so we could talk about it when we arrived home later that day. Seeing his face will never compare to when I looked at my son that night and knew our lives were about to change. I called my mom that night to let her know the news and I knew she was devastated because I’d lost my dad to cancer 5 years before. April 13th, 2023 will live in my head forever. I was 33-years-old and way too young to have this happening to me.
I went in for my doctor’s appointment the next day with my mom and Alex to be told the overwhelming information with a bunch of words I didn’t know let alone understand. She said I would lose my hair, I would have to do surgery to get a lumpectomy and I’d be doing a lot of targeted therapy over the next year. The time frame felt so distant at the time, I realized we would be navigating this road for a very long time. After leaving I reached out to my sister-in-law and she helped me get a second opinion at The James at OSU and that’s when everything started to happen really fast.
I met with my oncologist and surgeon which lead to biopsy #3 because she felt a lump in my armpit but those results came back that it was just another tumor that had spread. I went in the next day and had an ultrasound to find one. I had four biopsies in a two week period. The biopsy results came back the next day and cancer was found in my lymph node. The cancer metastasized outside my breast and was spreading. I had more characteristics of the cancer looked at and it came back it was all hormone positive. They said if I could have any type of breast cancer then this was the better one to have as if it was supposed to lift some imaginary weight off my chest. Spoiler alert, it did exactly the opposite. That day I found out I couldn’t have any more kids and to have that decision taken away from me without it being my choice took me a long time to forgive. My step-daughter is 10-years-old and I’ve known her since she was 1 1/2-years-old so to know I couldn’t give her and my son another sibling was a gut punch.
Toward the middle of May I had surgery to insert a port into my chest that would be used for chemotherapy so we could avoid inserting a needle into my arm every time I did treatment. I had an MRI afterwards that led to #5 and #6 biopsies because there were two lumps in my left breast. Instead of doing biopsies like I had been doing they needed to do an MRI biopsy. It’s a lot like the other biopsy they did except your laying on your stomach on an MRI machine table with your breast being pinched like a mammogram while they go in with the needles to pull out the specimens. Those results came back benign and I couldn’t have been any happier for finally some good news.
My medical team and I came up with a treatment plan to aggressively stop any further spreading. I was going to do chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. May 24th, 2023 was my first round of TCHP chemotherapy. 24 hours afterwards Alex had to give me a shot in my stomach and I praise him for being a trooper because if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d be a trembling mess. For two weeks after that I had never felt so weak and sick in my life.
Since they said my hair would fall out and at the time that was super important to me. I opted for cold capping. You put a cap on your head and plug it into a machine where water runs through the cap and then freezes. Imagine having a huge chunk of ice sitting on your head for hours. We started with premeds while the cap was filling and they gave me 50MG of Benadryl through my IV that threw me into a panic attack since I just went from feeling fine to feeling completely awful. Later they moved it to 25MG for the remainder of my treatments because WHEW that feeling was wild.
Chemotherapy lasted 2 1/2 hours and targeted therapy lasted 2 1/2 hours. The first time you do this treatment everything takes longer because they have to give you bags for your IV one at a time to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction. Thankfully I never had a reaction because of the Benadryl. I had chemotherapy every 3 weeks for six cycles. I watched my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes fall out over these cycles and I never wanted to look in the mirror. I’ve never felt so upset about my outside appearance that it drained so much into my mental health. I had fallen to a really dark place that I couldn’t pull myself out of but with the help of my support system and Facebook groups, it became more manageable over time.
September 5th, 2023 had finally arrived and I rang the bell with my family and support system watching me and cheering me on. The first chapter of treatment had come to a close and now I can move forward on to surgery. My birthday was two weeks later and it felt like a milestone to see myself turn 34-years-old. My double mastectomy was scheduled for October 16th, 2023 and I didn’t feel scared about it until I got a phone call 4 days before surgery asking if I’d be able to do it on October 13, 2023 instead. It was scheduled for a Friday which I thought was funny because I love horror movies. My mom went with me and after meeting with my surgery team I started to panic a little more because I’ve never had major surgery and honestly tried to push any overwhelming feelings to the back of my head. My double mastectomy took a little over 5 hours and in that time my blood pressure dropped extremely low. I remember floating in and out of consciousness for what felt like forever. I finally got moved to a room where my mom and Alex could come see me. I was devastated the first time I saw myself in the mirror. When I got home I needed help to change the wrap they put over the surgical site and clean it. That was the first time I really saw what surgery had done. I cried, a lot. My body didn’t even look like mine anymore. When I did surgery the plastic surgeon implanted tissue expanders so I had four drains hanging out of me that needed to be changed twice a day until it was time to take them out. I went in to see her a week after surgery for a check-up and to hopefully get the drains taken out because they were a pain when it came to sleeping. Unfortunately, she informed me that I would need a second surgery the following day because there was dead skin that could have caused an infection. Surgery went great but when I woke up I had 3 tubes still hanging out of me. This was definitely something I was going to have to get used to. I rotated Tylenol and Ibuprofen every 4 hours while trying to sleep sitting up. I hardly left my bed for two weeks other than to get up and do laps around my house to avoid getting lymphedema. I couldn’t lift anything or raise my arms above my shoulders so you can imagine how immobility can take some of your freedom away. At the beginning of November 2023 I had all of my drains taken out and now I could fill my expanders. I was so excited to have breasts again and be on the road to feeling like myself but that excitement was cut short shortly after.
I had an appointment with my oncologist after waiting three weeks for the pathology report to come back. He had called me the day before to let me know that chemotherapy would continue. The surgeon took 10 lymph nodes out and two tested positive for cancer which meant the 6 cycles of previous chemotherapy didn’t go in and eliminate the cancer cells that had spread. I went from stage 1B to stage 2B. I went to my appointment and found out I’d be doing TDM-1 for 14 more cycles. My heart and strength broke that day. I wouldn’t be done with chemotherapy until November 2024. By the time that came around I’d have done 20 rounds of chemotherapy.
I finally went in to get my expanders filled with saline to get myself back to feeling normal or at least my new normal. I got through two injections before my radiologist told me I needed to start radiation quickly so that meant only my right side would be able to be filled while my left side was going to have to wait. They needed to target the area where the lymph nodes were removed before 10 weeks post surgery. Radiation will make your skin tighter so expanding anything was a no-go. Just when I thought I’d start feeling better about my outward appearance, it was put on hold until sometime in March 2024.
My son’s birthday came a few weeks later and right after that we were in the middle of the holidays. Time was flying by quickly but I knew there were going to be things to look forward to going into the New Year. I received great news from my gastroenterologist that the cancer hadn’t spread to my pancreas but there was a stone with no rush to remove. I’ll be getting that small surgery in February 2024.
I scheduled my appointments for radiation and started December 27th, 2023. When you do radiation you lay on a table with your arms above your head holding stress balls. The radiation technicians use lights to line you up correctly every time and put a chin strap around you to stop any radiation from targeting an area it’s not supposed to. They put on music of your choice to listen to while going through this process. My go-to’s are Zach Bryan and Luke Combs. I have to go everyday (except weekends/holidays) for 27 cycles. Last week I completed my 12th cycle. I’m slowly getting what feels like a sunburn and my skin is changing colors but lotion usually helps make it stop. My very much anticipated radiation end date is February 2nd, 2024.
If there’s any advice I could give someone my age going through this is that it’s okay to grieve the person you were before diagnosis because you’ll never be that person again. And it’s okay to learn to love the person you’re becoming. Grief and love can coincide with each other. And it’s okay to be angry but it’s a double edged sword to hold onto. You still have time. Make the plans, go to the concert, take the vacation. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 years this upcoming June with anticipation this might be the year he’ll ask me to marry him so there is always something to look forward to. Life continues, the sun still rises and your world will keep on spinning. Just breathe, life goes fast enough so slow down, there is still hope even on the darkest days. Mitch Albom wrote a quote that has resonated with me throughout treatment and it goes “I give myself a good cry when I need it but then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life.”
Meet Zach Bryan.
Meet Luke Combs.