Survivor Stories 2013:
How did you first find out you had cancer?
During a self-exam, I found a lump on my right side. It was January 2007, just 4 months after I had my second child, Isabella, who was stillborn at 38 weeks. The lump seemed like it may have been from my body adjusting and I thought it was from not being able to nurse.
How did you react when you heard the news?
It took a while for the final diagnosis. My breasts were still changing due to the fact that I was not nursing and I thought the lump may have been a result of that. I was still pretty numb from losing my baby, so the shock of cancer felt very secondary. To my family, however, it was not. My husband lost his mother to breast cancer when he was just 11, and his oldest sister at the time was a 10-year survivor. This was not the news we wanted to hear and I felt weak emotionally and not sure how I was going to make it through. I honestly thought, how much can one family take?
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
The first course of treatment after the mammogram, ultrasounds, biopsies, and multiple MRIs was a lumpectomy. This did not have the end result that we expected. The margins of error were too great all around, so the treatment recommended was a mastectomy. I chose to have a double after having the genetic testing done and it being determined that I was not a carrier of the gene. My cancer was estrogen-positive and chemo, followed by possible radiation and Tamoxifen, was recommended. Again, my emotions and strong feeling about having another baby came in to play. Before finding out that I was estrogen-positive, my husband and I had gone to see a fertility doctor to find out about harvesting eggs. Once the genetic testing came back, my oncologist said that I would not be able to go through the fertility process because the cancer was estrogen-positive. Careful consideration of all factors came into play at this time. Extensive conversations were had with all doctors including, my surgeon, oncologist, and obstetrician. Once my family and I discussed all the possibilities, we decided to have the double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and to try to have another baby, then start the Tamoxifen. This meant no chemo or radiation.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
How difficult and painful the reconstruction was. I ended up with a severe infection and had to have one of the expanders removed just before my final fill. There was time sensitivity around getting pregnant because it was important that I start taking the Tamoxifen and could not do so until I was able to have a baby. So I decided to live with a prosthesis and an expander until after I was able to have a healthy baby. A small sacrifice for what I desired.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Weigh all your options and surround yourself with a team of doctors you totally trust. My OB said–when asked about which course of treatment he would recommend–that if I were his wife, he would do exactly what we did. I believe that they all treated me with care and compassion, but with sound medical advice as well. It was also great to know that they all knew one another and I knew that my case was discussed as a group. You have to be able to trust and fight for all you believe in. And that starts with you!
How long have you been cancer free?
This past June marked 7 years. I hope to go off Tamoxifen in October.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Certain things that were once important became secondary in my life and that continues today. Have faith and know that you are an inspiration to others, fight hard and strong, and never give up! My husband was a rock through everything that happened. He lived through this as a son, a brother, and a husband–totally unimaginable. I have learned that I don’t think it would have been possible to make it through what I have today without his unconditional love.
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Be patient, know your self, trust, and let others help you with whatever they can. Lean on your family and friends and love each day to the fullest. There is total power in pink!