Survivor Stories 2013:
How did you first find out you had cancer?
I went in for my annual pap smear with my OB. It’s usually each April, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t make it to the original appointment. Rescheduling the appointment was not my first priority, so I actually didn’t get into see my OB until right before Christmas 2009. I think it was December 18. He did a routine breast exam and I saw his facial expression change. I had a mammogram a couple of days later. I had a biopsy right after the new year and I was diagnosed on January 13, 2010.
How did you react when you heard the news?
I was at work. I had to keep my composure since I work with the public. I just wanted answers on how to fight. Finding out that I’d have to harvest eggs and go through in vitro fertilization five years down the road if I wanted to have children, was more devastating.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
The plans were to see if I had any spread to my lymph nodes first, so I went into surgery to have 18 lymph nodes removed. I found out I was 2 weeks pregnant via pre-op lab work. This would be my first and only pregnancy. My entire treatment course was modified from that point forward, but I chose to keep the pregnancy. I was warned of a host of risks that the fetus had been exposed to because of all the tests involving radiation–MRIs, X-rays, nuclear body scans, and radioactive injections. I had four rounds of chemo and three surgeries while pregnant.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
I no longer cared about the side effects of chemo. I was just prayerful that the chemo and tests that I’d endured wouldn’t affect my unborn baby like I’d been warned.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
To go to the American Cancer Society’s web page . You can’t trust what’s being published on the Internet. Surround yourself with other survivors, even if they are strangers. Nothing breeds familiarity like a (potentially) terminal illness. Talk about your fears because they tend to shrink that way. Stay faithful. The difference between a dying cancer patient and a cancer survivor is the sheer will and faith to live beyond the disease. Fearing that you could die from this is pointless and a waste of whatever time any of us have left. None of us can escape death. You might as well live well while you’re here and able to wake up to another day.
How long have you been cancer free?
January 2014 will be four years.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned countless lessons. I learned to love harder, to appreciate the beauty of this life–sunrises and sunsets, the colors of nature and the the sky–to forgive quicker, to serve in order to be blessed, that no matter what I’m engaged in, to make it count, and how to relax, for stress can steal years away without you knowing.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Get healthy, stay healthy, and get checked. Cancer knows no age and no race. Listen to your body. No matter the storm, walk in faith. My baby, Faith, will be 3 on September 20. She’s completely healthy and she loves trucks, dinosaurs, and chocolate.
I was born in Tamuning, Guam, and moved to Texas at age 3. Now 40, I am a single mother to Faith. I am the first to graduate with a 4-year degree in my entire family with a BA in Marketing from UTA in 1996. I’ve been in nonprofit management for 17 years. I’m currently the Director of Volunteer Services for Texas Health Dallas.
Cancer has been a blessing to my life in so many ways. It helped me to filter and narrow down what REALLY matters in life. I pay a lot closer attention, I quench moments and experiences, I forgive quicker and I love harder than I ever have before. I’ve also become a mentor of sorts. I support newly diagnosed women going through the stages of diagnosis, treatment, surgeries, and post-treatment. To date, I’ve supported nine women. I’m also a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. I love the work they do to educate, support and empower the entire family of those diagnosed with ALL cancers.