In recognition of breast cancer awareness month, I would like to share my journey with breast cancer, in the hope that it might help other women navigate their own journey through this disease. The biggest thing I have learned on this journey is that, from day 1, you have two choices: you can control it, or let it control you. The choice is yours. Here is my story
Everything started on October 4, 2010. I was on the phone with my fraternity sister (co-ed fraternity), when I placed my hand on my chest and felt something hard, and that something was huge. It was a Monday night. I have an extensive family history of cancer on both sides, and I knew immediately this wasn’t good. An extended cousin had just passed away a few weeks earlier from breast cancer, and she wasn’t much older than I was. I called my OB/GYN first thing the next morning, explained my situation to the nurse, and she put me on hold to ask the doctor. They told me to come in that afternoon for tests.
The first test they did was an ultrasound. The look on the first technician’s face said it all, and then she brought in a second technician, who took the images directly to the radiologist. “Yeah, this is bad,” I thought in my mind. I remember my phone ringing while they were doing the scan. It was my favorite song, almost as if it would relax me, but it wasn’t working. The second technician returned and said they wanted a mammogram, so we did that, too. After both tests were over, I was shifted to my doctor’s waiting room to see her next. She came in, did a physical exam, then I was moved to her office, where we discussed the test results. She confirmed there was a mass. I already knew that. It did look cancerous, but she couldn’t know for sure without a biopsy, so she scheduled me with a breast surgeon who specialized in cancer patients the next day for the biopsy.
We went in on Wednesday to see the surgeon. He was a very likeable guy. He tried to put me at ease, which was fine. He also did a physical exam, and then did the biopsy. The way they did the biopsy was to lay me down on the table, then mechanically insert a hollow needle into the mass to extract tissue. They did it three times, and it was over quickly. The pain was minimal compared to what would come in the following year. After doing the biopsy, the doctor came back in and was honest. He said it didn’t look good.
The biopsy was ultrasound guided, he had seen this type of mass on an ultrasound before, and it was usually a cancerous tumor. He assured me he would tell me as soon as the results came in. I made him promise to give me the results over the phone that I was prepared for the worst, and could handle it instead of having to come back in.
My weekend was filled with dread and tears, as I had not yet heard anything from the surgeon’s office. When I called Friday afternoon, I was told the lab was backlogged and had not yet finished my tests. It was Monday morning, between surgeries, when the doctor called me and confirmed it was cancer. The rest was a whirlwind. He already had an appointment scheduled for me with an oncologist for that week. I sat on the floor outside of my office and cried for an hour. Then I called my best friend and told him. After that, I called my mom. Next, I went back inside and told my two bosses. They were both understanding and said we would do what we needed to accommodate my health, for me just to communicate with them as we went. The next step was to put my ‘big girl panties on’ and deal with this. I had a two-year-old daughter; death was not an option here. I was in the fight for my life, literally, and I was going to give it all I had to give.
This was the beginning of my whirlwind. Little did I know the whirlwind would last for the next year and a half!