In 2013, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with triple-positive Stage 1 breast cancer. Only a year and a half later in 2015, I was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer, Stage 2B. Here I was, 37 years old, being told, “Mrs. Riley, unfortunately, your breast cancer has reoccurred in the same area.”
Hearing that I had cancer the first time was horrible, but to hear it for the second time was absolutely devastating. I knew in order for me to survive this next round with cancer, I had to go back to the place of peace that God overwhelmed me with during my first battle. However, this time getting back to that place was not easy.
My treatment in 2013 had consisted of a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. I had chosen not to take chemo or Tamoxifen. But because the cancer had returned in such little time, now my best (and maybe only) option was to undergo chemo and radiation, in addition to surgery and more reconstruction.
This is when I entered into a very dark place. It was so dark that I could not see any light at the end of this tunnel. Cancer was not the scary part of this ordeal—chemo was. Chemo to me meant death; that was the “c” word that undoubtedly terrified me. I believe a lot of my fear came from knowing deep down that I had to do this, no matter what. I knew I couldn’t be selfish and allow my fears of chemo to rob me from my family. God reminded me that I have children that I wanted to see graduate from college and get married, and that I have a wonderful husband, my hero, that I want to grow old with.
So I faced my fear. I did 3 months of intense chemo and 1 year of Herceptin. I also had 33 radiation treatments and surgery. Breast cancer has dramatically changed my life but in a meaningful way. I’ve learned, not just by reading or hearing about it, but by experiencing it, that with God all things are possible. I’ve learned that facing your fears and overcoming them makes you realize that you are stronger than you could ever imagine.
This journey has also allowed my family to appreciate one another and cherish every moment together. We have become intentional about having quality time. Cancer has also allowed me to see that my husband meant every word in our wedding vows. His love, compassion and care for me through all of this have been amazing. And more importantly, my faith and trust in God has become so radical. There’s absolutely nothing I believe He cannot do. My advice to anyone going through this is to be honest with God about your fears and concerns. Combat all of the negative thoughts with positive ones. Stay in prayer, trust God and believe that He will see you through.