Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I started feeling a burning pain in the mid-center of my chest that radiated to my right side. It would come and go until one day it stayed and I could not lay on my right side at night. I scheduled a mammogram, however my results were never given to me. My friends kept saying no news is good news. Several months later, I got an ear infection and called to schedule a doctor’s appointment. When I got the receptionist on the phone to schedule the appointment, I asked her to please check my file for my mammogram results because I like to keep copies of my medical records. She put me on hold, then came back to the phone and said, “Oh yeah the doctor needs to see you right away.” My results were buried in the file and no one called me to follow up with my abnormal mammogram. At that point, I started doing biopsies and ultrasounds over the next few weeks. It was not until nine months after the original mammogram that I was officially diagnosed with stage 3 ductal carcinoma that had infiltrated my lymph nodes. I also had spots on the lungs and ovaries.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
Some people say their lives flash before their eyes. For me, it was my 2-year-old son’s life that flashed before my eyes. I immediately started questioning if I was going to live to see him grow up, graduate, get married, and have kids. I felt guilty because I was thinking, how could I let this happen to our family? Though I was calm, I had a lot of questions and mixed emotions going through my mind. I was also angry because I felt that my doctor’s office cheated me out of nine months of my life by not giving me my results. That nine months could have been the difference in me losing my breasts or me being able to freeze my eggs before starting chemo. By the time I found out, I did not have time for a second opinion as the cancer was so advanced and very aggressive.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I underwent 18 rounds of chemo over six months, bilateral mastectomy with 9 1/2 hours of reconstructive surgery, and 5 1/2 weeks of daily radiation treatments.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was surprised by how much chemo ages your body. I went into treatment feeling like a 20-year-old and came out feeling like an 80-year-old. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t think about the aftermath. The aftereffects were hard, especially the lymphedema in my arm and the neuropathy in my feet. Some days walking feels impossible but I know I have to keep it moving.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Life does not end the day of diagnosis. The prognosis for women with breast cancer is good. There are more and more treatment options today and they are less invasive. I focus on enjoying life, creating memories with my son, and living beyond obstacles.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I was cancer free a year-and-a-half before being re-diagnosed in November 2012. That time, I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer with metastasis to the liver. My treatment this time was supposed to be chemo for life. However, God had a different plan. As of April 2013, I am cancer free once again!
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I have learned to draw inspiration from my obstacles and live beyond my limits. I accept the reality but not the limitations. Sometimes things happen to us that we think are unfair, but those very things open doors to our destiny.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Mommy is still Mommy. Cancer can’t change that!
If you want to know what it means to come through a test with a powerful testimony, meet 44-year-old epilepsy and breast cancer survivor, Andrea Nugent. Recently featured in the Miami Herald, CBS News and Women’s Health magazine, her triumphant story is one of courage and turning pain into purpose.
Andrea Nugent’s path in battling epilepsy and breast cancer has led her to running a nonprofit group and writing two books. Andrea is a single mom and foster mother. An alumna of Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida, Andrea holds a Master’s in Business Administration. The Jamaican-born author has recently published her first childrens book, Mommy is Still Mommy: Cancer Cant Change That!
Andrea is founder of B.i.o.n.i.c. Girls, Inc. (Beauty is Optional: Newer, Improved, Changed), a non-profit breast cancer organization that provides free services to breast cancer patients and survivors in the south Florida community. Their services include free transportation to treatment, survivor matching, and prayer support. Their mission is to empower and transform the lives of breast cancer patients and survivors who have undergone cancer treatment and mastectomy.