On December 27, 2016, I felt a lump in my left breast and immediately knew something was wrong. It felt like a small, hard marble. I wanted to believe it was nothing – that I was simply stressed from the holidays and that it would go away in a few days. It did not. After a series of mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and an MRI, I received the dreaded (but expected) news - I had Stage 1 breast cancer (ER/PR +). I was only 36 years old at diagnosis and had no family history of the disease.
A few weeks later I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, followed shortly thereafter by an unexpected surgery to remove my concerning expanders and move directly to implants. Even though I was only Stage 1, my Oncotype score was 28, and chemotherapy was deemed necessary. This news brought me to my knees. I did not fear the mastectomy and never questioned taking both breasts, but the thought of chemo was terrifying. I could not fathom losing my hair, growing weak, and putting such potent chemicals into my body. I, however, felt I had no choice. I had to do what was necessary to kill the cancer and do what we could to prevent it from reoccurring. I am, after all, a mother of two young children (2 and 4, at diagnosis), and I need to be around for decades to come.
I underwent four rounds of chemo (three weeks apart) – including round three on my 37th birthday. As predicted, my hair began falling out just two weeks after my first round. I knew then I needed to take control, and had to shave it off. So, with a little wine and the support of my amazing husband and friend, I let my four-year-old make the first cut. When it was all said and done, I felt good and empowered – and was surprisingly fine with how I looked in the mirror. It was not as shocking or upsetting as I had imagined. That has been the common theme through my breast cancer journey – no part of this was as terrible, painful, or unsurmountable as I imagined or originally thought.
Chemo was…bearable. I worked (in University Admissions) throughout chemo, only needing to take a few days off after each round. I was not tired or sick, but man did my body and bones hurt! What helped, however, was movement. I often joke that I am likely the only person who took up running and yoga during chemo, but it made the pain manageable. Do what feels best for you. Be easy on yourself when you are feeling down. And, treat yourself – go ahead and have that ice cream!
I am tremendously thankful for my husband, Colby, and two young children (Decker (age 5) and Delaney (age 3)) for their tremendous support. They gave me the will and energy to fight.
I write this almost exactly one year after finding that lump, and unbelievably, I am probably healthier now than ever before – and my hair is back (and thicker than ever)! I am thankful every day that I detected the lump early and that I trusted my instinct to have it checked out.
This past year has been a challenging one, but it showed me that I am stronger than I ever thought imaginable. I also know that a positive attitude, humor, and the tremendous support of friends, family, and co-workers helped carry me through. So, while the genetics lab recently reclassified my results as positive for BRCA1, making my journey far from over, I know I can and will continue fighting.