How did you first find out you had cancer?
I had just had a mammogram the week before and everything was clear. I was watching tv and had an itch on my chest right above my right breast. As I was itching the area, I felt a small lump. It felt hard, like a pea. Even though my mammogram was clear, I knew I had to have it checked out so I went to my OBGYN who then sent me for a biopsy.
How did you react when you heard the news?
Terror. I had two small children and I tried to imagine not being in this world to raise them. I began to sob. It was so overwhelming and surreal.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?/ What most surprised you about your treatment?
I had a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of daily radiation. I was then told to find an oncologist. I interviewed 7 oncologists and chose Dr. John Glaspy from UCLA. Because there was no cancer in my lymph nodes I was classified as Stage 1. This meant taking the estrogen blocker Tomoxifan. With this treatment there was only a 4% chance that I would have a reoccurrence.
Unfortunately, I did not win the lottery, and two years later the cancer moved into my bones making me Stage 4 metastatic which is incurable. That was a SHOCK…one minute I had a small brush with cancer and the next I had an incurable disease I will die from.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
If you don’t back off and you don’t back away, and you become an activist for yourself and for others, chances are you’re going to live longer.
How long have you been cancer free?
There is no such thing as cancer free when you are Stage 4 metastatic. The cancer is in your blood and looking for new places to latch on. My cancer is in my bones and my liver. It’s now down to a question of keeping it at bay through the use of chemotherapy. Cancer can outsmart the chemo and you have to move on to another chemo and then another and then another.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I have made cancer my business. I know that raising money for research gives me a leg up when it comes to my health. I know that translational research is what we need to be focused on. I also know that collaboration between scientists is critical to finding a cure.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Early detection is the best prevention AND Handle the challenge the only way you know how. Stare it down, beat it back and fight like hell.
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