Stories of hope
Survivor Since 2009
My journey into the world of cancer began many years ago when I was a practicing nurse. Too many times I witnessed families paralyzed by the inability to make end-of-life decisions, not knowing what their loved one would want or not being able to follow through. I realized the value of having living will discussions prior to emergencies. I made sure to have those conversations with my own family so that in times of crisis, a path of understanding was already laid. The crisis appeared on my doorstep in May of 2007 when my mother, age 57, was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.
She did everything the doctors recommended and did so with grace and dignity. But, within a year, the cancer metastasized to her brain. Within a very short time, the lesions had become too numerous to count. As painful and devastating as this was, I being the eldest of three children and the only daughter, took it upon myself to make sure I had that discussion again with my mother. She was very clear about her wishes. Trust me when I say I grieved and mourned and still do. Many tears were shed before, during and after her death. My mother passed away from this horrible disease at the age of 58-- only 18 months after her diagnosis.
Fortunately, my physician started ordering mammograms for me when my mother was first diagnosed. I was only 37 years old. However in September of 2009, I, too, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer—just 10 months to the date of my mother’s funeral. My family was still grieving the loss of their mother, grandmother, sister, and daughter, and now, there was my cancer diagnosis. I credit my mother for saving my life, though. If it wasn’t for her disease, I wouldn’t have had my first mammogram. I was not yet 40. After many surgeries including a double mastectomy with a TRAM flap reconstruction, and 16 rounds of chemo, I thought I had gotten through the worst. But, just six months after my last chemo treatment, there was a lump growing in that left breast again. How could this be? I’ve had a double mastectomy to guarantee protection from recurrence! My medical team and I didn’t feel that this was anything to get too alarmed about; we figured the fat tissue used in the reconstruction was causing my problem. However, there was always a nagging feeling in my gut that this cancer would return. My doctor at Indiana University Cancer Center had explained how aggressive this particular kind of cancer is. Triple negative has a high rate of recurrence and it usually shows up in the first five years. So, I would have a 10 year wait until I was considered ‘cancer free.’ I never shared my ever present fear of cancer’s return with anyone; husband, family or doctors. At least on the outside, I courageously demonstrated the positivity, grace and dignity my mother had shown. But, a few days after my lumpectomy, the pathology showed that the cancer had indeed returned. Everyone was speechless, stunned and very concerned for my health and well-being. Essentially, was I going to survive this? I ended up having more surgery, 34 rounds of radiation and an elective 4 more rounds of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that will cure this kind of cancer and I chose to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at this. I was only 40 years old, a wife, mother of three children, a sister, niece, granddaughter and a friend.
In my heart of hearts, I knew this was the recurrence that my physician had talked about. I also had great faith that God would carry me through. From the very beginning, I always gave it up to God, that whatever road I walk and how this road will end is all in His hands. This September will be the five-year anniversary of my original diagnosis. Even though, I have had many health setbacks, I have learned to appreciate all of God’s as blessings, from my ever-supportive husband, my kids who have learned valuable lessons along the way, my medical team that is truly my rock, and my family, who (even though they all live out of state) has rallied to my side and supported me over the miles. I never know what tomorrow will bring, but I have learned that I (we) need to enjoy life every day. It is such a cliché to hear and say this, but once you walk the road of uncertainty and you face the possibility of death, you begin to look at life much differently. Material possessions and superficial appearances mean nothing. Once you dig deep into what really is important, you will find the strength to live and fight for what cancer tries to take away.
God bless the entire research team that works so passionately to find a cure. It is their work that goes under-appreciated, but directly affects us all. Here’s to you…and here’s to life!Back to Stories of Hope