I was diagnosed in November 2007. I was 42 years old.
My tumor was actually 10 centimeters, which is very big. The reason I hadn’t found it [earlier] is because I have dense breast tissue, so it was hard to find any kind of a lump. Plus, mine was lobular, which means that it kind of spread through the tissues, and it wasn’t a lump you could feel really. My doctor thought that it was a slow grower and had probably been growing for two years.
My family actually has a history of breast cancer. My mom’s only sister had it. She had gotten breast cancer at about 38 years old, and she passed away when she was 42.
From there, I went to an oncologist, and he laid out the treatment. I had it in my head that [the treatment] was going to be something new and innovative, because it had been so many years since my aunt had breast cancer. Surely there were all these new treatments.
When I heard chemo and radiation, I was pretty disappointed. Of course, the drugs are new, and things are different from what they had back then, but I didn’t think about that.
[My doctor] set up a treatment plan, and at that time, I asked to get a second opinion. I ended up going to a bigger place, and basically they outlined the same thing.
I really wanted this lump out, and I had hoped that when I went, they would just take the lump out, and I could do everything else afterwards. It’s kind of like there’s this poison in you, and you want to get it out right now. However, they wanted to shrink the tumor down and get it as small as they could, especially when it was as big as mine was, before surgery. So I did chemo first.
Through the whole process, my family and I decided we should do genetic testing, because I have three sisters. It was important for us to know, especially since my aunt had passed away at a young age.
I found out I was negative, but my one sister, my mom and my first cousin are BRCA2 positive. Interestingly enough, through my breast cancer, they were all able to find out they had this gene and be more proactive about treatment for themselves. Some of them chose to do some preventative things, like prophylactic mastectomies.
I decided, because of the dense breast tissue, it just was better for me to do the bilateral mastectomy. I did that and a hysterectomy all at the same time. It was a big surgery. After that, I went through my radiation treatments and began the whole healing process.
I did get some different opinions on what kind of reconstruction to have. That’s one of the things they tell you right off the bat. I think they feel that it’s something to look forward to when you’re first diagnosed, but that’s when you’re reeling. You’re still thinking about your mortality, and if you’re going to make it through. It feels silly to think about other things, like reconstruction. So I think it’s one of those things we’re much more ready to look at after we go through the process. I decided to go with implants. Now I’m doing great.
The treatment was probably a little less tough than what I had anticipated, nausea-wise. But it really took a toll on me physically in that it made me so tired. I had probably been the healthiest I’d been in my life, before, so it was a huge mental change. Exercise went from running and being active to getting up and walking around the house, when your bones are aching more than you can tolerate.
It was very difficult. You go from being healthy to being sick so fast. It was hard to do the things that were everyday commonplace before, like going to one of my son’s basketball games. It took a huge effort to get prepared and ready to go.
One of the ways I coped was that I actually named my wig, and she has an honored spot in my closet right now. She became my alter ego. If I couldn’t do something or didn’t feel like doing something, once I put her on, we’d go do it. So I had a little fun with her.
Most of the time when I went out, I’d wear my wig, because it was very important to me to feel normal. I didn’t want a lot of stares at the grocery store. I didn’t want attention that way.
My youngest son was in elementary school when I was diagnosed, and it was important to me to make sure we had some outlets. So we contacted the school counselor right away and talked to them.
I think that was really huge, because when he came home, I could hear that he had spoken to the counselor that day, through his words. He would try to use some of the tools that she had given him, to ask me questions or whatever it was he needed to do. That was cool.
The hardest thing about cancer is the emotional piece. It seems like we go into some kind of survival mode while we’re in our treatments. We’re able to deal with things because you don’t really have a choice.
Afterward, the emotions come trickling in, and you’re not really sure why you were just so upset that the dish towels weren’t put back into the drawer correctly. Little things that are just ridiculous. And you realize that rationally, but those emotions come creeping in and you realize that you’re dealing with them days, weeks, months, even years later.
It was important to me to have other women to go to. When I first went to my support group, I wasn’t sure exactly what I would find. I thought, maybe it would be kind of a downer. I actually found the exact opposite. A group of people together, who share the same common feelings and emotions, is stronger than you could even know.
A lot of people who get this ask, “Why me?” We’ve learned in our breast cancer support group that the answer is “Why not me?” Cancer isn’t picky. It gets anybody. So instead of a “why me?” it’s more of an, “It IS you.” You deal with it from there.
There is life after cancer. Cancer doesn’t mean you’re going to die. It does mean you have a tough road ahead of you, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to die. I hope in the future, if others have to hear the diagnosis, they think of hope first.
I absolutely believe there will be a cure. We all believe that and work towards that. That’s our goal.
It makes me sad to think about the women and the people who have gone before us, that the cure wasn’t there for them. But I also know that for every trial they were in, any little thing they went through, it has helped the rest of us. I have very strong respect for those people.
I’ve been involved in fundraisers since my kids were little. You think about the fundraisers where you sell maybe 5,000 boxes of cookies, and you get a tiny little percentage. So it’s very important to me to support an organization where 100 percent of the donations go directly to that research. That’s where the answer is, I believe.
I don’t think there’s a single person I know who hasn’t been touched by cancer. We need to stop this now before we see more people with this disease. It’s had too much power for too long. It needs to be done.
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