Right before Christmas 2022, I received the call: “You have cancer.” Suspicious findings on a routine mammogram (not palpable by me, nor any physicians), IDC confirmed via biopsy. Now what? Every woman’s cancer and her body’s response to treatment is different. I’ve found this to be a very personal journey thus far; what works for one may not work for another. I chose not to join a support group, not to wear a wig, not to lean on others, but to look inward and embrace it head-on. For me, there were no tears for weeks primarily because I didn’t want to ruin Christmas or New Year’s for my family. Looking back, I would guess I was probably in shock, followed by a whirlwind of tests, imaging, biopsies, surgery for infusion port placement, etc. It felt as though I was watching someone else’s life before my eyes. The first tears fell on the ride home from the second opinion consult when it was confirmed that this is, indeed, my life now. Thankfully, my breast cancer was diagnosed in an early stage, so my prognosis is good. By the time I got home, I had committed myself to doing everything I could toward a positive outcome, also recognizing that I had early-stage cancer and the outlook could have certainly been much worse (and I continue to remind myself of that often).
I have T2-N1-M0 ER+/PR+HER2-positive breast cancer and have completed six cycles of Docetaxel/carboplatin/trastuzumab/pertuzumab (TCHP) chemotherapy. The most prominent side effects for me were GI and chemo rash from scalp to toes. Hair loss occurred after my first infusion. I wore beanie caps initially, as it was difficult to control my body temperature. Once the weather warmed and I removed the beanie cap covering my bald head, I was routinely asked “Do you have cancer?” or “Why are you bald?” -in a restaurant with my husband, in the grocery store, at an intersection when a man gestured for me to roll down my window so he could ask, on a Zoom call with 50 people, I even had a neighbor yell from three houses down. I lost track after about 30 inquiries. People have good intentions; they just can’t get out of their own way sometimes.
Upon completion of TCHP, I did not have a complete pathologic response; there was residual cancer. I had my first surgery, including axillary dissection, and the final pathology revealed more cancer in the margin, so I had a second surgery where all was removed. I had a Jackson-Pratt drain in place to prevent the collection of fluid underneath the incision site for a month thereafter. I have just begun seven weeks of radiation.
Throughout the past nine months, I’ve had awful days, tolerable days, and good days; the awful days were far outnumbered by the tolerable and good days. I have continued to work full time, exercise, drive, shop, cook, clean, etc. There have been very few days where I wasn’t fully functioning.
Find your motivation. For me, it has always been my kids and my husband. Breast cancer is an opportunity for me to show them that life will give you some challenges, and crumbling in the face of adversity should never be an option. I also have very personal reasons for never wanting to be a burden on my family; I realize that probably sounds silly as they would never consider this a burden, but it’s important to me. With that in mind, I have been very self-sufficient throughout my treatment thus far, though it hasn’t been pretty at times. However, I refuse to allow my diagnosis to overshadow the exciting things going on in their lives such as weddings, careers, etc. I believe living my life as normally as possible really helped me physically and mentally. I laugh often, probably too often, but that’s who I am. I also remind myself daily that there are others with far worse prognoses, to keep my head down and get through the other side of treatment without complaining (too much).
I am extremely thankful that my employer, Avoya Travel, has allowed me the time and flexibility to attend to the myriad of medical appointments/treatments, and my colleagues have supported me at every turn.
I thank God every day for Roper-St. Francis, doctors Albaneze, Lingerfelt, Beaty, and their respective teams. Having an outstanding care team has allowed me to navigate this journey with confidence, and there are simply not enough words of praise to describe the quality of care I continue to receive.
My guiding principles: Keep a positive attitude; it makes a big difference. Live your life as normally as you can. Keep moving. Find a reason to smile and laugh often. It’s good for the soul.