It’s the end of October, which is known for all things Autumn and is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I don’t want to be defined by a past illness, but I couldn’t let this month slip by without reminding everyone to keep up with your current medical checks. Breast Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can attack men, too. Keep up with your physician and take care of yourself.
Here’s my story…
In May of 2018, at the age of 43, I finally gave in to a nagging urge to go to the doctor. I hadn’t been to see a primary care physician in four years. Hey, I wasn’t sick. I felt fine. I stayed busy: working, not cooking at home enough/indulging in fast food. My husband and I juggled everything – who did what for the children, running them here and there – I didn’t have time to go to the doctor for just a general check-up.
Well, by May, I had been ignoring a lump in my left breast for quite some time. I believe a woman’s intuition is a real thing. I believe that God gives us nudges sometimes. He doesn’t stop until we take action. I made an appointment with a brand new PCP, vowing to return every year for general check-ups. I was still patting myself on the shoulder when I arrived for my mammogram appointment the following week. Since my concerns involved my breast, my doctor ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound. She assured me if the mammogram was clear, there would not be a need for the ultrasound.
This mammogram was my first. It’s awkward. It doesn’t really hurt, but it’s just something you have to do. Believe me, you should have your mammogram, as recommended by your doctor. You need to do this because you don’t have to have a history of breast cancer to have it.
For me, my mammogram was followed by an ultrasound. When the ultrasound was complete, the technician asked that I wait in the room while she went to speak with the radiologist. I waited alone, wrapped in a soft robe, studying the details of the room. There was an image of a cherry blossom tree on the ceiling and the white and red hues from the ceiling light through that image were really the only light in the room. A few minutes later, the radiologist came into the room. He sat down inches from me and told me he was very concerned by the mammogram and ultrasound and I should take action as soon as possible. He advised me he would notify my primary doctor to schedule a breast MRI right away.
The following week, on a Monday, I went for the MRI that morning. Later that afternoon, my primary care doctor called me. The diagnostic report confirmed I had breast cancer.
Please know, aside from the lumps I found in my left breast, I had no other indications there was anything wrong. My blood work was perfect. Other than being overweight, I felt fine. Sometimes, cancer does not hurt. Especially at its onset.
My first surgery was in July to insert a chemo port on my upper chest. A few days later, I went for my first chemotherapy. A couple of weeks later, my hair began to fall out and my husband ended up shaving my head. I tried wearing wigs, but those tended to itch my head and felt hot. It was summer, and I live in the south, so we normally do not get a break from the heat until late fall. I ended up investing in soft hats and wore those daily. People look at you funny when you wear those, or they try to appear that they’re not looking at you. Eventually, you get used to it.
By December of 2018, I had a left mastectomy. I’ve learned from other ladies who had one surgery and the physician did everything all at once from removal of the cancerous tissue to reconstruction. I wasn’t well enough to go through all of that at one time. I am thankful that my general surgeon recognized that. At first, I was irritated that I couldn’t have more done at once, but as my journey continued, I realized the doctor had my best interests in mind.
By January 2019 I began taking a pill form of chemo from January to June. Xeloda was a mean form of chemo. Instead of hair loss, I dealt with hand and foot syndrome where my feet and hands were super red and my feet blistered. My oncologist altered my dosage so that I could continue to live comfortably and work.
Yes, work. I was determined to continue working as a claims adjuster during my time of chemotherapy. If I had to do it all over again, I’d take more time to let my body rest.
By August of 2019, I began radiation. The thought of radiation was harder than it actually was. As when I was pregnant, well-meaning people tend to share horror stories. I’m not one of those who feels sharing a bad story is necessary. For me, I had 33 treatments. That breaks down to going to radiation five days a week for a little over six weeks. I used a prescribed cream to help the burning my skin eventually experienced, however the worst part came at the end. I made it. I rang the bell when I was done and I am done.
By November of 2019, along the same time as my first book released, I went in for surgery for the right mastectomy and to insert expanders which was preparing my body for an eventual surgery for implants which happened in March 2020.
It has been a long journey, one I learned a lot, and began to appreciate the care of others even more. I found out the true meaning of a “Get Well” card from people I didn’t know. I was shown grace and love by family and church family in bringing food, by their prayers and by just reaching out to ask how I was doing.
Obviously, I am not a medical professional, and every person’s case is different. I wanted to share my journey to show you what you may be able to avoid, or to share my journey which could be different than another person’s path. The bottom line is, if you have an issue, get it checked. I believe God gave us many gifts and intelligence to help one another. Physicians can’t help you unless you reach out. Don’t delay.