My breast cancer journey began in Feb. 2010, when I was 36. I saw my OBGYN for my annual visit and to address a problem—I was bleeding from my left nipple.
There were no lumps or masses, but I was completely alarmed. The blood was sent to pathology, and I had a mammogram and sonogram. Test results were normal, but why was I bleeding? My doctor said I might have clogged ducts and trauma resulting from something hitting my chest. Although I was still confused, the bleeding stopped, so I let it go.
Then, on Oct. 18, 2011, I found a lump in my breast. I thought back to 18 months prior, knowing in my gut I had cancer. I had another mammogram, sonogram and two biopsies. My breast surgeon called me with the most devastating news a young single mother of two could hear: “I am sorry, you have breast cancer.” I could not breathe, swallow, or speak. My life flashed before my eyes. I was numb and could not believe what was happening.
My doctor told me I had invasive intraductal carcinoma, which contained calcifications that dilated the ducts and pushed through to create a large mass. Testing revealed the cancer was triple-negative as well. I was experiencing complete information overload. I knew nothing about cancer. I’m an NICU nurse—I take care of babies!
My sweet children were torn up when I told them, but ever so resilient. After tears were shed, we went outside and my daughter, Lily, who was 6 years old at the time, found a patch of four-leaf clovers. She was amazed and knew this was a sign of good fortune.
Owen, my reserved, then-12-year-old son, asked, "Are you going to lose your hair?" I told him I hope not, but I wouldn’t know if I needed chemotherapy until after surgery.
“If I do, we will get through it,” I told them. “I will do anything it takes to save my life so I can see you grow up and get married and have babies of your own.Remember, Owen—I have jumped out of an airplane before! I can handle this too! We will be fine.”
I knew it was going to be a long, difficult journey, but with the support of my family and friends I knew I would get through it. I had a bilateral mastectomy on Nov. 15, 2011. When I found out I had to go through 16 rounds of chemotherapy, I did not think I had the mental strength to get through it. Then I found an inspirational quote from author Rhonda Byrne that I kept in my head throughout my treatment: “Without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.” I knew I would be stripped to my core emotionally and physically and then built back up.
Chemotherapy jacks with your mind, body and spirit. I morphed into someone I did not recognize. I had my head shaved so I did not see clumps of hair all over creation. That, to me, was ultimate devastation. I got tips from my survivor friends to roll a lint brush over my head to pick up the tiny hairs when they started to fall out. It felt nice, too!
Understanding the complexities of cancer is a full-time job, and none of us apply for the position. During treatment, my mind raced constantly with thoughts like, “What am I going to do? Am I going to die? What about work? I am going to need a lot of help.” The cancer quickly consumed my every thought, breath and ounce of being. I armed myself with every cancer book and information nugget I could find to battle the disease. My house became a pink explosion of cancer paraphernalia. I had the mindset of a warrior.
My strong support system was vital to my health and healing. I had to take six months off work to get through surgeries and treatment. My work family was by my side the entire time and lifted me out of sadness and despair. My children persevered despite the unknown fate of their mother; as they watched every little hair sprout up from my head, they joyfully said, "Hey, mommy! You have new hair today!"
After my first round of treatment, I read the following from Kris Carr's book, Crazy,Sexy Cancer: “I will make it through my own personal Vietnam with such victory, this I know. When you have been to the edge of your mortality and back, you have a surreal sense of vitality.” I don't worry about a lot of crap that others worry about. I also surround myself with people that are positive and walk away from anything that does not serve me, grow me or make me happy. Life is way too short.
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