My family is stronger than ever. I allow myself to take the time that I need to be healthy. I don't feel obligated to do things anymore, but choose to focus on what is best for me and my family. I have developed a network of over 25 women that have been diagnosed and use each other as a support system.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2019. I was 41, very active, and very healthy. There were no aches, no pains, no feeling of illness or something being wrong leading up to this. My body gave me one signal, one that I paid immediate attention to, of my left nipple starting to retract. Which lead to an ultrasound, diagnostic mammogram, and biopsy.
With any cancer diagnosis, there is a lot of waiting. Waiting for biopsy results, for MRIs, pathology, Onco type scores, for surgery, and many other fear ridden tests and procedures.
A cancer diagnosis also comes with an overwhelming amount of fear. Fear about both what is happening and what could happen and fear of the unknown. The first day I spent at City of Hope for my consult, I was struck by the hundreds of people that cancer affects. All ages, nationalities, ranging in various stages. And on that day, for the first time since my biopsy, when I met the doctors that would become my team, I was finally able to breathe.
I began to then prepare for what laid ahead, my double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. However, you can’t fully prepare for something like this until you experience it. I could have never known how hard it would be physically to recover from these surgeries. I lost my independence and relied on my husband to bathe me, clothe me, do my wound and drain care, and pretty much anything else that I needed for weeks. He was amazing at it, but I didn’t want to not be able to do things on my own, I had to wait for help. We had a tremendous outpouring of help from our community. Driving my kids, feeding my family, coming over to sit with me, if my husband had to go somewhere, praying for me and with me, we were constantly surrounded by support and love.
And it was still so hard. The hardest physical fight, as someone who has run half marathons and spent hours working out and playing tennis, ever had to endure. And I could have never prepared for the emotional and mental anguish of what happened to me and what came with a cancer diagnosis. It was so hard. I had to grieve and I had to come to terms that while I was trying so hard to get back to normal, I would never be the same.
I spent a year undergoing 3 surgeries: a double mastectomy, an emergency surgery due to infection, and reconstructive surgery. Due to my infection I had to have a PICC line and around the clock IV antibiotics for 4 weeks. It was determined that my Onco score was low enough, it would not be beneficial for me to go through chemo therapy and it was determined that my lymph node involvement was also low enough that I would not need radiation. I was put on an estrogen blocker, Tamoxifen, that I take every day for 10 years. I still see my oncologist every 3 months, and rotate between my surgeons for check ups every few months. They are constant reminders that I had breast cancer and constant reminders that I survived it.
I cannot say enough about how many people have come into my life because of my cancer and became such important people to me. My Physical Therapist, friends that were there for me in a way I never knew I needed, and my amazing team of doctors and nurses at City of Hope.
Cancer put me on the path of what I was born to do: help others going through a traumatic experience. I help survivors understand the importance of health and discover a new version of themselves that can accomplish what their soul wants to in this lifetime.
Cancer made me wake up and realize the bigger picture of life. It has brought me to my purpose - to help survivors recover from cancer and to help rebuild their immunity, make healthy lifestyle changes, and to help prevent recurrence. Cancer taught me how strong I actually am, how to face my fears, and ultimately how important overall health is. There is no life to live without your health and well-being!