Until four years ago the month of October meant candy corn, pumpkins and Halloween costumes. Now as a four-year breast cancer survivor, October is the busiest month of the year for me. In honor of the more than 2 million women around the world diagnosed with breast cancer I’d like to share my story with you.
In 2006 I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at the young age of 35. It all began in the fall of 2005 when I noticed a change in my left breast. See, I thought my nipple looked funny and showed it to my husband who thought it looked the same as it always had. But within a few months Scott had changed his mind and it was pretty clear something was going on. We hadn’t lived in town long so I scheduled my annual “girly” physical with a new doctor since I was still on the hunt for a good OB/GYN. When I asked the doctor about the issue with my breast, his exact words to me where “Oh it’s nothing because you are too young. You’re only 35. Just cut your caffeine and take these vitamins.” I did convince him to order a baseline mammogram but then put off going for about six weeks.
I eventually had the mammogram and whatever fears I had were alleviated when I received a postcard in the mail saying everything was fine. Life, with its inevitable predictability went on. Then one afternoon while sitting at the soccer field I mentioned this to my friend who happens to be a nurse. I could see the alarm on her face and she suggested I see my family doctor right away, which I did. My family physician was very concerned and so off I went to a breast specialist. It was then that the other shoe dropped, right on top of my head. What I was originally told was nothing, was a 2.5-centimeter tumor that was pulling my nipple inward. Not only that, but my entire left breast was full of tumors and so were 15 lymph nodes. That 2.5-centimeter tumor was a bomb that blew a hole right in the middle of my life.
Since June of 2006, I’ve had 15 surgeries (including mastectomies of both breasts), six months of chemo, six weeks of daily radiation and then 2 ½ years of oral hormone therapy because my tumor was fueled by estrogen. I’ve survived the breast cancer as well as four blood clots in my right arm, multiple blood clots in both lungs. As if all of that was not enough, I had complications from my reconstruction in 2007, which required eight weeks of daily IV antibiotics for each of the two strains.
Have I given up? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The Sunday after we learned that my breast cancer was more advanced than we originally thought, I fell at the Alter and cried out to God, “HELP ME”! And that He has, each and every day.
Would I have volunteered to go on this journey? No way! But He has used it and turned what we thought was a tragedy, into a blessing. Yes, I can now say the last four years have been a blessing. Since my diagnosis I’ve been to Washington, DC more than eight times as a voice for all breast cancer patients asking for continued funding for breast cancer research as well as asking that all cancer patients have a right to insurance after diagnosis by removing pre-existing conditions and lifetime spending caps. It has been a great honor to sit as an Advocate in Science for Susan G. Komen for the Cure and being a Consumer Reviewer for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) for breast cancer research. Sitting on these panels, I’ve had a chance to meet some of the country’s leading researchers, discuss proposed research and bring my own experience as a survivor to the table.
So my message to you is this, if you have just heard these words, “you have cancer” don’t give up! Take each day, one day at a time and be thankful for every gift you receive because you never know what tomorrow holds. Please know your body and speak up! You are the only person who can stand up for yourself. If you notice any change in your body and you aren’t satisfied with what your physician says, don’t be afraid to see someone else!
My family started on this journey together; one that contained days darker than I ever knew existed. But we made it through, not only surviving but also THRIVING! And we did it together. You can too! If you would like to read my entire story, visit CaringBridge.org – Project Rachel.
Rachel serves as Chair for Public Policy and Fundraising for the Central Georgia Affiliate for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.