My Breast Cancer Experience by Jessica Mills

"The beauty and tragedy of life can be found in the small moments. The big things, the huge challenges, they just colour the background. Don't let the background get so dark that it obscures your vision. Look for the light, you'll find it in a beautiful butterfly, a magically sunny day, or a child's smile.”

Easter 2021, while living in Brazil, I found a lump in my left breast. It was unlike anything I had felt before, but my breasts had been doing crazy things. I was 15 weeks pregnant.

It was the height of the pandemic and my husband and I had just gotten married a few months earlier. We had met in Rio and he had finally made the move to Brasilia. My work contract had already been extended a year, but we decided to return to Canada to have our baby. I was looking forward to the next few months and learning everything I could about becoming a mom.

I found the lump on a Thursday evening, the one before Good Friday. My OB-GYN sent a referral for an ultrasound right away and on Saturday I was in a gown on the bed in shock as the cold gel and wand honed onto abnormal tissue and a few wonky lymph nodes. A biopsy confirmed the cancer and we boarded a plane five days later, with only a couple of suitcases and two senior cats.

I underwent eight rounds of AC-T chemo while my belly grew. It was the middle of the pandemic, no one was allowed to accompany me. At 37 weeks our son, Benjamin, was born in September via c-section after a failed induction. He was healthy and beautiful. We were ecstatic.

Ten days later, I had a lumpectomy, balancing reduction, and lymph node removal. I was home for two days when I spiked a fever and was readmitted to the hospital. Ben wasn’t even two weeks old but luckily, I was placed in the mother/baby ward and he joined me two days later. I had only just been released when the pathology came back. The margins weren’t clear and too many lymph nodes were positive. I returned to the OR for a mastectomy and complete lymph node dissection.

I started Tamoxifen and Zoladex injections. The symptoms of menopause mixed with those of post-partum. My hair began to grow back and my scars healed. Fifteen rounds of radiation followed, taking place over Christmas and New Years, a few extra days off in between. My son’s first Christmas was spent with family and I could not have been happier.

I started on Verezenio in February 2022. It’s a hard drug, but its efficacy is impressive. My cancer was very aggressive and we pulled out all the stops. It took a while to adjust to the side effects and some are lasting.

A year of follow-ups and medical appointments marked the passing of time and the trauma of the experience occupied my thoughts. I saw physiotherapists, psychotherapists, osteopaths, and participated in support groups. It was a bewildering time.

In February 2023, I added a prophylactic mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction for both breasts. It was a difficult and painful recovery, but just as I started to feel better, I developed another fever. My abdominal wound was infected.

While in emergency, the CT scan results came back. I had lesions in my spine and hips. My cancer had spread. I was diagnosed Stage IV. The medication I was on was working at least; the spots were now visible on the scans. Verzenio, originally prescribed for two years in an attempt to prevent reoccurrence, became a part of my life more permanently, my first line of treatment. I would now have infusions for my bones every three months and scans to monitor the response to treatment.

The recovery from the infection was long, eleven days in the hospital and then a daily nurse visit for a month, but eventually I recovered physically. Emotionally and mentally, the journey has been longer. I spend as much time with my son, friends and family as possible. I’m still not sure what the future brings but I’m hopeful.

Follow-me for more at @therapythrifted on Instagram.

Jessica Mills

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