May 18th has always been my mother’s birthday but in 2018 May 18th became a very sad day for our family, we were told I had breast cancer at the age of 32. I was married and had 4 kids to raise; this did not fit into our plan.
I went in to have a lump removed after being told that my percent of cancer was 5% because the doctor couldn’t say 0%. My surgeon removed a total of 3 tumors; 2 of which did not show up on the ultrasound or mammogram I had the week before. I was told the news after waking up in the recovery room. Within a few days, I was back at the doctor; she ordered an ultrasound of my lymph nodes and biopsy (if needed), and she also told us we were looking at chemo and more surgery.
Then I found out I had one positive lymph node which changed things even more. I was sent for genetic testing and was given an oncologist to begin my cancer journey. I was so afraid to tell my children, but we waited until they were out of school for the summer and then sat them down and told them. My oldest Micah, who is 13 was very upset in the beginning but once I told them after chemo and surgery the cancer was gone, he was fine. The same with Hannah, my 9-year-old. Isaac, my 8-year-old stepson didn’t really say much, and Lincoln my 3-year-old had no idea what was going on.
On June 8th, I had my 2nd surgery to have my port placed and chemo started June 13th. When I was told about the chemo the only thing my husband asked was if I was going to lose my hair and the doctor said yes–I broke down. I had been growing my hair out since my daughter was born, she was 9. After thinking about it I decided if I wasn’t going to be able to have my hair, I was going to donate it. I found an organization called Wig for Kids and on June 12th I went to Great Clips and had 14 inches cut off. I was so worried about how my kids were going to react, especially Lincoln my 3-year-old, but they all loved it.
My chemo plan was 4 rounds of A/C and 12 rounds of Taxol. Around the end of June after my 2nd A/C treatment my hair started to fall out in handfuls. On June 30th, after my husband got off work, I had him shave my head. Cutting my hair and shaving my head wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When I woke up in the morning Lincoln (the 3-yr. old) looked at me, rubbed my head and kissed it. It made me realize that no matter what–he was going to love me with or without hair.
On Sunday, July 1st, when Hannah came home and she saw my hair was gone she cried, and it was very hard to see her so upset. I just kept telling her it would grow back and about a month later it did! My last A/C treatment ended on July 25th, my 33rd birthday. Birthdays, as you get older don’t mean as much. But cancer sucks and having to deal with it head-on, and it’s your birthday, makes it more real.
Then it was on to Taxol which was so much easier than A/C. (When I was on A/C, my treatments were on Wednesday, every other week. By Friday, I was to start my nausea meds and was stuck in bed from Friday to Sunday. My body ached, I was tired and nauseous; even with meds, I was miserable.) Taxol was once a week and I went on Fridays; I would have some bone pain a couple days after but nothing that I couldn’t handle. I did have to skip 1 Taxol due to low counts. Then my kids got sick and although I did my best to stay away from them, I ended up with a fever of 100.2 which landed me in the hospital. I was on antibiotics for 2 days and was sent home with 2 more antibiotics, making me miss another treatment.
It was time to sit down with my oncologist and decide on a new treatment plan which consisted of 2 more treatments of dose-dense Taxol. I would have 1 big treatment that was about 3 hours instead of the normal 1 hour, then wait 2 weeks and go back.
October 26th was my final chemo and it felt good to have one part of my journey behind me. Next step—surgery. We knew I would need a mastectomy and lumpectomy on my left side which was my cancer side. But after some thinking and discussing it with my husband as well as other family members, we decided on a double mastectomy. I decided if I’m only doing this once I want to do as much as I can to make sure it’s not coming back.
I had to meet with a plastic surgeon to talk about reconstruction. I decided to go with implants which would mean the doctor would place expanders and over time fill them to the size I wanted and then switch out to the implants. Due to me being otherwise healthy, the doctor decided to place my expanders at the time of my mastectomy. We still didn’t know about radiation and there was a 50/50 chance I could get an infection while on radiation with an expander.
My surgery was scheduled for December 10th, 2018. Surgery went well and all my cancer was removed (what little was left). My surgeon removed 7 lymph nodes–only 1 had cancer–which we already knew about. I was well enough to enjoy Christmas with my children and thanks to I Have Wings Foundation, my children had a great Christmas, which I had been so worried about since my diagnosis in May.
My plastic surgeon was able to get 200 ccs of air into my expander at the time of surgery, which was amazing, given most women are only able to get 20-30 ccs of air. I had skin-sparing, so they took my nipple and about 2 inches on either side. Since I had skin, they didn’t have to stretch very much at surgery time.
December 28th, I became drain free which was a freeing feeling. I have had 1 fill so far, and I should have 2-3 then I’ll be ready for my implant surgery. I always looked at each step as a goal to make it easier to get through it one step at a time.
I still have a long road ahead with 2 more surgeries; 1 to remove my port and one to place my implants, then I will be on Tamoxifen for 5-10 years. My journey will never truly be over, but it will definitely get easier, and I can finally say I’m cancer free after a long 7 months.
As I said earlier my journey will never be over and on Tuesday, January 8th, I went to a follow-up with my breast surgeon who noticed the start of an infection. She put me on Bactrim and called my plastic surgeon who saw me Wednesday night. He put me on Cipro, and between the 2 antibiotics, everything was covered. He also drained some fluid to send off to the lab to see exactly what type of infection I had. From Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning, the swelling had gone down; the antibiotics were working. We didn’t have the lab results yet, so we weren’t certain the infection was cleared up, but once we knew, I was able to stop one of the antibiotics. Once we got the results back it was good news and annoying; good that the infection was so small, yet we didn’t know what it was–annoying because that meant I had to be on both antibiotics for another week.
On January 23rd, I went back to my plastic surgeon who was able to begin my fills, but he kept me on antibiotics for another week to get rid of the last bit of infection. While dealing with my infection I met with my radiation oncologist who strongly advised me to do radiation: I was very upset.
Logically, I knew radiation was the best and while radiation itself didn’t bother me; I was terrified of getting another infection that would be bad enough that my expander would have to come out. That would mean 4-6 months without a breast (real or not) then a surgery that would involve taking skin from my back to use for reconstruction because the skin that would be exposed to radiation wouldn’t be able to be stretched. It’s more of an emotional reason for me: I’m so scared of having only one breast but I have to look at the bigger picture: I have a husband and kids that I’m not ready to leave anytime soon and the radiation will give me one more thing to use against the cancer.
I went back to see my plastic surgeon on January 30th, and I had another spot he was worried about, so he put me on 2 more antibiotics and kept me on the one I was already on. He said if it doesn’t get better, he will have to go in remove the expander, clean up the inside with antibiotics, and place another expander. We can’t start radiation until the infection is all cleared up; I had my fingers crossed these meds kick it once and for all.
I ended up having surgery on February 12 to remove my expander and clean everything up. Once the doctor got inside, he could tell some skin inside was dead, so he cut the bad skin out, and put a new expander in. After a couple weeks from healing, we started to expand my left side again.
After a few weeks, we started radiation, and on 4/15 and on 4/24 I got to ring the bell–it felt great to finally be done with treatment! Everything went great!! I was so worried the whole time because I have had so many issues in the past, my skin did turn very red like a sunburn and about a week later my skin was browner and had started to peel.
I’m very grateful for all my doctors, my friends, and my family. We were blessed to receive a vacation from the Karen Wellington Foundation, and we will be going to Hilton Head, June 22-29. My husband was at all my chemo treatments and doctor appointments, he held me when I cried, and did everything he could do to try to make things easier. My mother help take care of the kids while I went to every chemo treatment and doctor appointment, and my in-laws helped with food and bills. I was able to find a few organizations that helped with rent and gift cards. I also had a meal train set up to help with food while I was in chemo. So many people helped in ways I couldn’t even imagine during my treatment and I’m very grateful to each and every one.
Just know it gets better and ask for help. I know it was hard for me to ask but you need all the help you can get when you’re on the cancer journey.
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.