By Veronica Marie
I had been feeling a rather strange pain in my right breast for a few weeks back in the summer of 2017. I didn’t think much of the pain at first. In my mind I thought it was from the towel I used wrapped around myself, perhaps I was wrapping it too tight! I hadn't been to the gyn for a few years so an examination was in order. I had started a new job and wanted to be successful. I was taking care of everyone else and not myself.
I finally went to a mobile mammogram van which was on-site at my new job. I can still hear the technician say she felt a lump in my breast. Needless to say, I was devastated because now I had to go for further testing. I felt alone because I was alone in this big New York City. Over the next few weeks, I would undergo more tests, a sonogram and finally a biopsy. I would go to a breast specialist only to have them blurt out that you have cancer, all before a biopsy was performed.
It was discovered that I had two pea sized lumps in my breasts. The diagnosis was Stage II breast cancer. I was 1 in 8! You know one out of 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. No not me, I couldn’t be a statistic. I had witnessed my beloved father succumb to lung cancer, as well as my brother who would perish from multi myeloma.
I am thankful for all the people that helped me along the way. One day as I was walking down the street I ran into a very good friend I had lost touch with. A few weeks later she would become my closest confidant and she even recommended my surgeon to me. She was there when the doctor said those three horrific words, “you have cancer”!
The saddest thing she said to me is why are you crying? I needed to cry and grieve as there was no history of breast cancer on my maternal family side. We did have a history of female problems ranging from difficult menstrual periods, endometriosis, and fibroids.
On January 3, 2018 I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer. I wished there was a treatment facility, you know like a one-stop shopping facility, to go to but there was not. The most difficult part of my journey was that my doctors were scattered. I needed an oncologist, a plastic surgeon and a radiation specialist, plus my surgeon! This was difficult because my Sister and Mother all lived out of state. How was I going to get through this chapter in my life?
I found a way to cope after I dried my tears. It was like I went through the five stages of death. I cried a river of tears; I was mad at God for some reason and I had no control. My old gyn doctor had retired, but in the interim he said it was just a cyst! I felt a sense of relief which only lasted for 24 hours.
Next step – Surgery
The entire month of January I spent meeting my team of physicians and traveling all over Queens. I called Memorial Sloan Kettering for advice about the BRACA gene, and taking chemotherapy, however they never returned my call. I went out on sick leave and had the surgery. I was told to be at the hospital at 7am. In order to prepare for the surgery, I had to undergo some tests that morning. I wish my doctor had informed me how hard this day would be.
It has been 4 months since my mammogram and so many other tests in between. I had to drink a silver potion in order for the technician to see the tumor. I sat or should I say I leaned forward in a chair like concoction for 22 minutes, and was unable to make even the slightest move. So, when I was wheeled into another x-ray room on the morning of my surgery I was horrified when she said I had to have four incisions in my breast. No one told me. Thank goodness she was a kind and gentle technician and made me feel calm. My Sister and best friend were right outside the door, but we were locked in the room. I needed just one more hug. I just kept saying to myself they are cutting my breasts off why do they have to put me through this, I.e., four needles into my breast and no pain medicine.
In the last decade I have had two or three surgeries and had to walk into the operating room on my own. A long time ago one was wheeled into surgery on a gurney, tired and sleepy, and a little mellow from medicine. Well not anymore. So, I had a nice dressing gown on that was attached to a warming heater. After that was detached a nurse walked with me into the operating room. I also want to say that I had a wonderful anesthesiologist who put me to sleep like a baby. I woke up about five hours later to see my sister and best friend.
After the recovery room I went to my room and thus began my journey at becoming cancer free! After surgery you are told that you are cancer free. However, I wish someone had told me this fact earlier in my journey. My Sister stayed with me for a week and we remained in constant contact by phone, text messaging and email.
I consider myself to an extraordinarily lucky woman now that I have survived and can make that statement. I don’t know how I endured all those invasive tests, and the breakup of a relationship, but I did. I went to every chemotherapy session without fear or too much emotion. I have come a long way in my journey from cancer statistic to a self-proclaimed God-fearing woman.
I want to be a survivor, and I think I am!
Listen to Veronica's interview on the podcast, Breast Cancer Conversations where she shares her experience leading up to a breast cancer surgery and what she wishes she had known.