On November 15, 2016 I had my annual mammogram, which I have had every year since I turned 40. After my mammogram in 2013 I remember how my heart dropped when I got a call saying I needed to come back for an ultrasound of my right breast. What they saw turned out to be a small cyst, absolutely nothing to worry about. So, when I received a similar phone call after my 2016 mammogram about something that needed to be examined further in my left breast, I was so unconcerned it was almost two weeks before I called to schedule the necessary appointment.
On December 22, 2016, a few weeks after my 46th birthday, I returned for the additional testing; mammogram compression views of my left breast, and an ultrasound. Lying on the table in the ultrasound room, I assumed the position with my left breast exposed and my left arm above my head as the technician did her thing. I watched as she measured something she saw on the screen. When she finished she said, "Stay in the same position. I'll be right back." She returned with a male doctor who told me I had a mass in my left breast that would require a biopsy.
Baffled, I asked, 'So, this is something different than the cyst that was seen in my right breast 3 years ago?'
He quickly responded, "This is something completely different." Then proceeded to explain what the needle biopsy would be like. He said other than a needle stick to numb the area I shouldn't feel anything. Next, they allowed me to get dressed and took me to the "quiet room" so a very nice woman named Vanessa could softly tell me not to worry and that 90% of the time it turns out to be nothing. I'm thinking, 'Well Vanessa, it may not be cancer, but it is obviously SOMETHING or I wouldn't be sitting here in the quiet room with you so you can make sure I understand what the doctor told me." The biopsy was scheduled on January 9, 2017.
Biopsy day finally arrived. I was not nervous or anxious at all. I was at peace. I got dressed, put on make-up, took a selfie, sent it to my family and joked that I had to make sure I looked my best just in case the doctor or someone involved with the procedure was a hot, single, tall, Christian man. I figured he would've already seen my boobs, which may qualify as a first date. No such luck. That day I learned to never let a man tell me what will or won't hurt my lady parts. The assault on my left breast that they called a needle biopsy was far more painful than described. When it was over I was told my doctor should have the results within 72 hours.
On January 10th, the very next day, I got a call from my doctor's nurse who told me my doctor would like me to come into the office so he could talk to me that day. I went alone, knowing the results must be cancer. That day, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. My doctor carefully explained my new "team members" would be a breast surgeon and an oncologist who would begin the process of "staging," which would require more diagnostic testing.
After the overwhelming amount of tests, scans, and doctor appointments. It was determined the tumor in my left breast was just shy of stage 2 by 0.3 centimeters. After a long heart to heart with my breast surgeon, she and I agreed a lumpectomy was a good option for me. She explained she would also remove two lymph nodes to be certain the cancer had not spread. On January 30, 2017, as I was being wheeled into surgery, I prayed, ‘God, I don’t want to wake up from this surgery. I’m tired of fighting.’ I had just spent five years recovering and adjusting to my new normal after suffering a stroke on February 2, 2011, which required extensive physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies.
From the day I received my breast cancer diagnosis to the moment I was being wheeled into surgery, I was never afraid of dying from breast cancer. I was afraid of what it would take to live through breast cancer. Just before the anesthesia kicked in, I heard softly in my spirit, “If you promise to wake up, I promise to carry you through.”
The results of the pathology report indicated my tumor was high grade, ER+. My breast surgeon and oncologist hoped I would be able to bypass chemotherapy and begin radiation four weeks after surgery. However, the results from my Oncotype Test determined chemotherapy would also be a part of my treatment plan. That day, I cried.
For the entire year, I would go on to complete what I now call my, “Breast Cancer World Tour 2017.” I met some amazing people along the way and have a medical team that has become family to me. I did six months of chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation, and was prescribed Anastrozole to take for five years. Chemotherapy was as hard as I thought it would be. Radiation, though not invasive, left me feeling like I had the flu on steroids. Not to mention the painful burns that occurred during the last week of treatments. On January 12, 2019 I suffered another stroke. Though milder than the first in 2011, I was taken off of the Anastrozole immediately, because of the associated risk of stroke.
Two and half years later, I don’t know that I would say I am a breast cancer “survivor.” Warrior, seems a much better word for all of us that get up each day and fight an enemy we cannot see with our eyes, but know is lurking in the shadows. I’ve discovered recovery and healing from such a viscous disease and its treatments is a lifetime process. Each morning that I open my eyes, I am so very grateful that I woke up!