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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Prioritizing Myself

By Danielle Brandt


I would never have thought that an active 33-year-old who was doing CrossFit 6 days a week, performed monthly breast exams, had no family history would be diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer. The day before I found my lump, I was snowshoeing in the Berkshires and loving life and just remember a constant irritation with my sports bra on my left breast and that was it. It wasn’t until we got home that Sunday night (Valentine’s Day) that I felt a hard small lump that was not palpable.


After watching my mom fight colon cancer, my sisters and I have always taken our health very seriously and first thing Monday morning I called and got an appointment with my primary. My hospital is a teaching hospital and a resident examined me initially and asked the nurse practitioner to come in and share her thoughts. She didn’t like how it felt and knowing that I never had kids or had been pregnant concerned her more. She ordered a rush mammogram and ultrasound for that afternoon.


As I was waiting in the waiting room for my mammogram, I just remembered looking around the room of women of all ages and wondering what their story was. The mammogram was painless and then it was time for my ultrasound. It felt like my heart was racing and about to jump out of my chest. I kept looking at the monitor trying to figure out if it was anything serious. The tech finished my scan and said the radiologist just needed to check as it was routine.


It was not routine and again a medical student came first and scanned my chest again and spoke to the radiologist before she repeated the scan. It was at that moment she told me it was 90 percent likely cancer due to all the calcifications they were seeing.


To say, I was a complete mess would be an understatement, but I knew after watching my mom go through cancer what I needed to ask for.


Somehow, I found my voice and asked for a biopsy that day and explained that my grandmother had just passed the day before and that Wednesday I was leaving for New York for her funeral. That Wednesday was also the 7-year anniversary of my mom’s passing.


The radiologist was amazing and asked people to stay late and perform my biopsy that day and I actually met my breast surgeon as well (at the time I didn’t know who she was as I was in complete shock). After meeting my breast surgeon, they put me in a room while I waited for my biopsy, and I called my husband and just broke down. Covid was still very active at this time, and they didn’t like visitors or spouses with you, but the nurse allowed my husband to meet me.


As we were walking out of the hospital, the only thing I could say was “I don’t want to die.” I had always thought that if I got the big “C” I wouldn’t tell anyone right away and give myself time to process, but the issue with that is I am putting my family at risk. I decided on the way home to have my identical twin sister set-up a family zoom call and I told my sisters, my dad, my uncle, and my aunt. If I had tested positive for any of the gene mutations it would have meant that my twin sister had a 100 percent chance of getting cancer as well.


By telling my family, it allowed my sisters to get checked along with my cousin.

That Wednesday February 17th, my dad and little sister flew in, so we drove to my grandmother’s funeral together and it was also the day I got my biopsy results confirming it was cancer.


My cancer is ER+, PR+, and Her2- with grade 3 cells and no genetic mutations. I met with my breast surgeon again in person and told her I wanted a double mastectomy; it wasn’t even a thought for me. I just wanted my breast gone as they were trying to kill me. I really liked my breast surgeon and now it was the time to build the rest of my team. I met with an oncologist initially and didn’t really connect with her as I found her cold. Living in Boston gave me access to some of the top hospitals in the country and I got multiple second opinions to make sure I was happy with my game plan and team. It was at this point that I researched and asked for the Director of Oncology to be my oncologist and my plastic surgeon was chosen.


It is so important that you feel comfortable with your team of doctors and their game plan. My plastic surgeon was diagnosed with Colon Cancer at the age of 38 and understood my fears which made me feel like I was being heard.


My breast surgeon and plastic surgeon told it me that due to schedule issues I wouldn’t be able to get my double mastectomy for another month, but I just wanted my breast gone and for the next week I would call daily and speak to both of their admins and asked if there were any cancellations.


It was a Friday, and I was on a work call when I received the call from my plastic surgeon admin that they had a cancellation for March 10th (the next Tuesday) and asked if that was too soon and I responded absolutely not! I immediately called my manager and HR department and told them that I would be going out on medical leave beginning that Tuesday.


Again, due to Covid, my husband couldn’t be with me, and I had to face the biggest scariest surgery of my life all alone. I woke up on March 11th boobless and in tremendous pain... not exactly how I thought I would be spending my 34th birthday.


After my double mastectomy, my oncologist told me that my oncotype score was a 15 which usually doesn’t recommend chemo but due to my age and the grade of my cancer the cancer board felt like I should consider it. Again, I got multiple opinions from other oncologists, and all agreed that they would have a similar treatment plan.


On April 10th, 2021, I got my port and would begin TC chemotherapy the next day. Prior to starting chemo, I did a lot of research and packed my chemo bag with ice gloves, ice booties, lemonheads, a blanket, and a giant water jug. Supposedly using ice gloves and booties would help prevent neuropathy and sucking on lemonheads would help with my taste buds. I also read that keeping active during chemo would help my recovery. During my 4 cycles of chemo, I stayed active and didn’t experience any major side effects. I was lucky and grateful to get through my surgery and chemo, but didn’t realize that after you are done with all of the above is when the fear really sets in.


I was no longer going to the hospital every week and being seen; I was now just going once a month for my Zoladex shot and seeing my oncologist every 6 months. This is when my anxiety took over and I started worrying about a recurrence and having to take hormonal medicine really didn’t help either as I gained weight during chemo and now felt completely uncomfortable in my own skin.


I am now a year and 8 months out from my double mastectomy, and I worry constantly about the cancer coming back, but I have also learned to appreciate life more.


Every day, I get to see the sunrise and set is a good day for me and I have learned to prioritize myself more. I quit my job that had me working 60 plus hours a week and found a company who focused more on work life balance. I make it a point to workout or go for a walk every day and I am still learning how to deal with my anxiety and fear of a possible recurrence, but I am living and learning to take it one day at a time.


--


Connect with Danielle on IG: @life_of_a_cancer_patient



Thank you for sharing your story, Danielle. SBC loves you!


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