Thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law Karen for this video. To Uncle Marky for hosting the day and all his support. Thanks to Jeffrey for hairstyles all day (mowhawks!).
I am 33 years old and I have two incredible young boys and an amazing husband. Like too many other young moms and women, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had discovered a lump in my breast while still nursing my youngest and figured it was a clogged duct or something of the like. When it didn’t go away I went and saw my OBGYN. He assured me it was all within the range of normal because I was breastfeeding. Satisfied with that answer, I continued to nurse my son until he was 21 months old. The apricot sized lump remained and a month after weening my youngest, I went back to see my doctor. Being aware of the changes in my body, trusting my gut and making a second appointment to have the lump re-checked proved to be one of the most important decisions I have ever made.
I was diagnosed with extensive ductal carcinoma in situ on April 9, 2012. I will never forget sitting in that room with my husband, listening to the breast specialist talk about cancer; my cancer. My mind quickly raced to my beautiful young boys, to my husband who was holding my hand, to my parents who had already lost a daughter, to my brother who was about to have a baby, to my huge extended family with no history of cancer…I was stunned.
On May 18th I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
We met with my oncological surgeon 2 weeks after the mastectomy and reviewed the pathology. She felt confident that although the mass was quite large it was contained in the duct system and it didn’t seem to have spread. In the cancer world this was called ‘non-invasive’ and meant that we would not have to do chemotherapy. She also assured us that although the margins of skin surrounding the cancer were small they were ‘clear’ so we would be able to avoid radiation. With a deep sigh of relief, my husband and I left her office. That night we celebrated with friends and toasted to health and a lot of luck.
Being diagnosed with cancer really drove home the notion that nothing in life is certain and just two days after celebrating our luck, I was harshly reminded of that sentiment. My final pathology had come back with 2 small invasive components, which meant that the cancer might have spread. I also learned that the invasive tumor was “her2 positive” which was a gene mutation that made my cancer really aggressive. Doctors started talking to me about radiation and chemotherapy and suddenly I went from feeling lucky to feeling overwhelmed with information I knew nothing about.
Cancer, which I had already been regarding as a full time job, suddenly become an around the clock job. I learned as much as possible, reading countless medical journals, searching the web for stories like mine, and seeing as many medical oncologists as I could. We quickly discovered that there were two schools of thought in how to treat my small invasive cancer.
On one side of the fence were the doctors who believed the benefit of chemotherapy was not worth the toxicity risk to my body. And on the other side of the fence were the doctors who felt strongly that because of the biology of my cancer and its aggressive nature, chemotherapy was essential. Both sides were in agreement that if this cancer came back it would not be curable.
As a healthy, homeopathic, natural minded person, I felt really more inclined to side with the doctors that recommended no chemotherapy. I usually take echinacea instead of antibiotics and so it made sense that I would up my dark leafy greens and avoid the chemical cocktail of chemo. But I also felt that as a healthy, young person, I should not have had cancer to begin with! Having this cancer come back was a risk I was determined to minimize as much as humanly possible.
We consulted with 15 different oncologist and even flew to MD Anderson to meet with a doctor who specializes in small her2+ cancer. We weighed the opinions and sorted through the small amount of studies they have for women with my diagnosis. It was finally time to decide on the treatment that felt most right in my mind, heart, & gut.
On July 31st of this year, I began chemotherapy. It has been like nothing else I have ever experienced, pushing me to the depths of strength and humility. I have learned to ‘be in the present’ in the most true and real sense. I have discovered that the body is capable of amazing things and that love can see you through even the hardest moments.
I have begun an evolution of self that might never have come to be without this experience. Cancer has changed my life, but no matter what the future holds, the moment is pure and beautiful and I am thankful to be a part of it.