I was diagnosed in August 2011. In the end of July, I found a lump on my right breast, and I went to my gynecologist, who was immediately concerned because there was an inflammation on the skin as well as the lump. Shortly after the biopsy, the diagnosis came back that it was breast cancer.
I felt in a way prepared for it, because I’ve had many cysts and biopsies over the years. This one, I knew, was different. For one thing, it was painful. For another thing, I could sense a different tone in the reaction of the doctors. When the diagnosis was given, I think my exact words were, “I know.”
My husband was with me when the diagnosis was given. That definitely made it easier. Cancer isn’t a word someone should hear without someone they love next to them. It’s a very tough message to hear.
After the diagnosis, I feel like it was a whirlwind of activity. At one time, as I understood it, they had 30 doctors consulting on the type of treatment I should have.
I had a very rare form of breast cancer. It makes up about one percent of the diagnosed breast cancers. The doctor told me that there wasn’t not a real clear treatment plan for it, and that it’s been proven to not always be responsive to chemotherapy, but he said, “We’re going for the cure.”
They needed to decide, do we do surgery first? Do we do chemotherapy first? Do we do radiation first? The doctor said that it was going to seem like they were dragging their feet, but he said, “Let me assure you, we’re moving as quickly as we can, yet taking the time to make sure we do the right things in the right order.”
The surgery ended up being a lot more extensive than what they anticipated. It was a five-hour operation. Then I had a second operation about a week later.
They didn’t go extremely well for me. From the surgery I went immediately into chemotherapy, and from there to radiation. At the end of the radiation, I developed a cough, and after three rounds of antibiotics, I still wasn’t rid of it. My doctor diagnosed me with an inflammation of the lung from radiation, but she was more concerned about the lesions she saw all up and down my spine.
I had had a PET scan between the chemotherapy and the radiation, and it showed nothing except possible activity where the surgery had been. Between the end of the chemotherapy and when I had another PET scan at the end of the radiation, it had spread to my shoulder blades, my spine, my ribcage, my pelvis and my upper leg.
It’s a very aggressive cancer. It’s a nasty cancer. I appreciate so much their honesty, and how they’ve been honest with me from the start. My doctor told me, at this point, it’s incurable, but they would do everything possible to increase my quality of life for as long as possible.
I have a new granddaughter. Every day that I can see her, and spend time with her and my son and daughter, is a blessing. I’m thankful that I have the peace of mind of knowing that I’m getting the best care that I can.
The care I’ve gotten at Sanford is a big part of this journey. It’s just really important for me to know that every penny raised through this fundraising effort goes directly into research. I’ve gotten to know some of the doctors involved in this research, and I know their heart. I know their desire to see this stopped, to see women not going through this, to see families not broken apart because of this. It’s an important cause.
There are a number of things that I feel like this journey has taught me.
First of all: listen to your body. Nobody knows better than you when something just isn’t right. Don’t be afraid of going in and having a doctor tell you it’s nothing. That’s a blessing.
The next thing is: every day, every minute of every day, is a treasure and a gift. Don’t take any of it for granted. I’ve been so thankful to be able to sit together as a family, and to say, we have no unfinished business. We have no regrets.
When the time comes – and I’m going to say when, because I know that is in the prayers of all of us – that we hear the words, “a cure has been found,” it will mean that young mothers won’t have to look at their children and know that they won’t see them graduate from high school. It will mean that this evil has been conquered.
That will be a day when—whether I’m in heaven or on earth—I can assure you, I will be cheering very loudly.
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