In 2010, I was turning 35 and wanted to mark the year with trying something new, something big, something exciting. Looking back, I realize what ‘they’ mean by be careful what you ask for. I set a goal to run a marathon, half marathon, century ride, or maybe even a triathlon. I had just started running in late 2009 and was hooked. I figured by setting this goal, it would get me out of my slump and keep me active and in shape.
Let me back up. In early 2009 as I was doing a self-breast exam, I felt a lump. I wasn’t too concerned because I knew my mom had had several benign lumps and figured it was probably the same. I waited a couple of months until my next woman wellness visit. When I told my doctor about it, she felt the lump too but said women my age (34) get lumps.
I did mention my mom’s history and even my aunt, grandmother, and cousin on my dad’s side. She responded by saying it only matters if your mom or your sister has any history of breast cancer. I paused a minute, remembering back to my college biology class on genetics and was pretty sure that half the genes come from each parent, but I brushed it off as well. I mean, I was 34. I was active and healthy. Why would I have cancer? Cancer is for older people, right?
No. Fast forward to a year later and I could still feel the lump growing, so I decided to get a second opinion. Luckily (I guess luckily), my new doctor had just experienced breast cancer with a close friend, so she was a little bit on guard. She mentioned that she didn’t think it was cancer but said, “Let’s just go through the motions and pretend like it is so we can check all the boxes.”
She sent me for an ultra sound and mammogram. The ultrasound technician basically laughed at me and said “This is soooo not cancer. I don’t even think we need to do a mammogram.” I begged her for it since I was already there and told her about my family history. She went to talk to her supervisor who then agreed to do the test. As it turned out, the mammogram showed some interested areas which warranted a biopsy.
On June 4, 2010 at 1:04 PM, I was at work and had just joined a conference call when my cell phone rang. I figured it would a quick call saying nope, no cancer. I was wrong.
The nurse on the other end said the results were positive. My first thought was, “What was positive? I’m not pregnant.” Not to sound naïve but the only test in my mind that could be positive was a pregnancy test. But then I realized she wasn’t talking about pregnancy. She was talking about cancer.
I had to confirm with her, “Are you telling me I have cancer?” “Yes,” she said. “Are you telling me I have breast cancer?” “Yes,” she said.
I think back to how weird it was that she couldn’t say those words, that she made me say them. She rambled on a bit more on the pathology and then said the doctor would like to see my husband and me to discuss a treatment plan.
When my husband and I arrived, the doctor opened his calendar and said he could get me in that Friday for surgery and then we’d start chemo. I asked about reconstruction, but he said that would come later. I had done enough research over the weekend to know I didn’t have to follow that plan. When I told him about my plan for the year of running he told me I would run after he saved my life. I knew right then, we weren’t a good fit. So I got a second opinion.
As it turns out, my oncologist was a runner and my plastic surgeon was a runner. While they didn’t always agree with me, they supported my plans to run through treatment. Running helped me feel normal. It allowed me to continue what I loved doing.
Now, almost 8 years later, I still run and I help mentor newly diagnosed women. I always tell them to make sure you have a good relationship with your doctors and don’t give up what you love just because you have cancer. Whatever it is you love doing, that will help get you through. I also learned during my experience that I have to advocate for myself. While doctors mean well, I know my body (since I’m with it all the time) than anyone else.