June 14, 2012, was the day my world was forever changed! It was the day that I was diagnosed with not one, but two different types of breast cancer. A month earlier I had felt a lump in my left breast, and made an appointment with my OB/GYN. At my appointment my doctor told me not to worry that it was probably just “fibrous tissue,” but because I would be turning 40 later in the year he would just schedule my mammogram a few months early.
During my mammogram the lump I felt, that was about the size of a pea, didn’t show up. The mammogram had failed to detect the lump. The radiologist was concerned, and had me immediately undergo an ultrasound mammogram. Little did we know that not only did the lump I had felt appear, but four other spots on my left side and four in the right breast also appeared! A week later, I had a biopsy done on each breast and in my left axilla. Six days later on June 14th the verdict came in. I was diagnosed with two different types of breast cancer: DCIS and ILS.
Breaking the news to my family was hard, but not as hard as telling my girls, Mary (age 16) and Katie (age 7), that I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though I wasn’t absolutely positive knowing all that would be happening to me, I was still trying to reassure my girls that I was going to fight every step of the way. I would beat this ugly beast and still come out okay!
In July, I underwent a double mastectomy with 13 lymph nodes removed on my left side. All went well with my surgery and my recovery. When the final results came in, there was another devastating blow…the sentinel node came back positive for lymphoma! After talking with my oncologists, we decided on the best course of treatment. A couple weeks later, in August, I had a port placed and just 2 days later I received my 1st round of chemo: Adriamycin and Cytoxan (the day before my 40th Birthday). Like most women, my hair started falling out by the handfuls, just 10 days later I was completely bald. In support, my oldest daughter had over 12 inches of her hair cut off and donated it!
The chemo treatments I had to undergo were horrific. Just as the nausea and vomiting would start to subside; the bone pain from the Neulasta shots would kick in! In the back of my mind I kept telling myself, that the pain I was enduring, was my body fighting to become healthy again, that it was the weakness caused by this disease leaving! Only a month into my chemo treatments, my daughter Katie started to not feel well. During the course of the next 10 days, we were told she was probably coming down with a viral respiratory illness, which we would just have to “ride out.” Next we were told that it looked like she had a urinary tract infection and she was placed on antibiotics. Three days later, there was no improvement, Katie looked worse. She had no energy, easily became short of breath, just walking from one room to the next, and continued to have nightly fevers. What was most concerning was when Katie told me she knew something was wrong with her and asked me to take her to our local ER.
At our local hospital ER, they did a chest x-ray and repeated a urine test. Everything was coming back negative, as the ER physician was getting ready to discharge us. I begged her to do blood work. Only after I recalled the daily events that had happened in the past 10 days, and showed her pictures that I had taken with my phone, so she could see the changes I had seen, did she decide to obtain blood work! Of course Katie wasn’t happy about having to be poked with an IV needle! However, she knew that since I was an ER nurse myself, it would be pointless to argue with me. An hour later the doctor came over and asked me which children’s hospital I would like her to consult with, as there were two in our area. There were some abnormalities showing up that concerned her, and she wanted to consult with a pediatric ER physician first. Katie’s blood work showed that her hemoglobin, red blood cells and white blood cells were dangerously low and that she would need to be transported by ambulance emergent to U of M Mott’s Children Hospital.
Within 24 hours of my daughter being admitted to Mott’s Children’s Hospital, only three months and 14 days after I was diagnosed with cancer, my world (what was left of it) fell completely apart! My beautiful 7 year old daughter was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood, on September 28, 2012! I didn’t know what to think, I was dumbfounded, even her team of pediatric oncologists and their many years of experience had never heard of an adult parent and adolescent child being diagnosed with cancer so close together! Within two hours of her being diagnosed, she had undergone surgery to have her port placed, had a second bone marrow aspiration, and received her first round of chemo! Her doctors came to talk to us after her surgery. It wasn’t until then that we went from feeling like she was given a death sentence, to feeling like we could conquer this and come out stronger than ever!
These past seven months have been full of ups and downs. We have had several hospitalizations between the two of us, and a nasty histoplasmosis infection Katie came down with that required her to have 12 weeks of IV therapy at home! Katie during this time understood why many years ago I had become a RN. One day after we had finished up with her IV infusion and I had deceased her port, she asked me, “Are you like this with your other patients?” I told her, “I try to be, when my workload allows me to. If the ER isn’t too busy and I have a few extra minutes, I try to spend it with my patients.” To which Katie replied, “Now I know why you go to work, even when I don’t want you to. It’s because someone else might need you more than me for that moment but I’m the lucky one because you will always come home to me!” As I sat there softly crying and hugging her tightly, she told me, “Someday when I grow up, I’m going to be a nurse or a doctor. So I can take care of scared kids and make them feel better like you do!”
One thing we have learned during our journey and adventure throughout all of this is, is to always keep looking for the positive, no matter how small the positive may be! We have learned how a dance company, a school district, my hospital co-workers and our community can come together to support a mother and daughter who are fighting together to win their battles! But most importantly, we have learned that we are never alone and that we will always fight like girls until we have won!
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.