I no longer sweat the small stuff. I also feel like I appreciate the small moments more now and just see life through a more beautiful lens. My faith in there being so many good people in our world was restored!
In 2016 at the advice of my OB/GYN, I underwent genetic testing because of a history of breast and ovarian cancer in my family.
Thank goodness I had this testing done because I found out that I carry the PALB2 gene, which puts me at a much higher risk of breast cancer, as well as ovarian and pancreatic cancers.
To be more proactive I started seeing a breast oncologist and was told I need to be screened every 6 months with a combination of mammograms, MRIs and Ultrasounds. I was 37 at the time.
Fast forward to 2022. In late February I went in to see my breast oncologist for a routine checkup and she felt two lumps in my left breast. When she put my fingers on them, I could easily feel them too, but I had not been doing my self exams.
The following week I went in for a mammogram and ultrasound.
My mammogram was actually clear, but the ultrasound confirmed that there were two suspicious masses. The following week I went in for a breast biopsy.
On March 16th I got the call that no one wants to get: “Deidre, I have some bad news, you have breast cancer.”
The very next day we were scheduled to go on a family ski trip. We thought about cancelling, but we had been looking forward to the trip and did not want to upset the kids, so we decided we would go and not tell the kids about my diagnosis yet.
I woke up early every morning on that trip and would just cry. I remember feeling terrified about what waited for me when I got home. By the time everyone else woke up, I was all smiles and ready to spend the day skiing and enjoying myself, which I did! I think that family vacation was therapeutic for me during that initial week when I was trying to process my diagnosis.
When I got back it was appointment after appointment, test after test. There was one week where I had 9 different appointments! Oncologists, breast surgeons, reconstruction surgeons, radiologists, genetic counselors, social workers, nutritionists….you name it I saw them!
I remember sitting there in those appointments thinking: this isn’t really happening to me, it can’t be…but it was.
We decided to wait and tell the kids and our family until I had a treatment plan and knew more. I had only told a few friends who had already been through it. There are so many decisions you have to make after a cancer diagnosis, and each one has a pro and con. This was the hardest part in those first few weeks.
I decided that I would move forward with a bilateral mastectomy even though the cancer was only in one breast. This was unanimously agreed upon by every doctor due to my genetic mutation.
My grandmother was a two-time breast cancer survivor. She got it at age 50, and had a single mastectomy, and got it again 30 years later at age 80 in the other breast. I was in my late 20s when she got it that second time and I can vividly remember her saying to me: “if this happens to you, take them both! You don’t let them take just one!”
After finally deciding who my surgeons would be, my surgery was scheduled for April 19.
It was at this point I finally decided to tell my kids and family.
We told the kids first when it was just the 4 of us, and I decided I would tell the rest over a family dinner so that I could tell them all at once and didn’t have to explain it all over and over again.
Looking the people who love you most in the eyes while you break their hearts doesn’t feel good. That was another one of the hardest days of my life!
Once the surgery was scheduled and my family knew about my diagnosis, I felt relief, and the tears finally slowed down for a little while.
I had my team. I had my plan. I had my family. I would get through this.
I lived my life pretty normally during those next few weeks. I kept up with my workouts, my job, and my mom duties, although every morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach.
Then my surgery day arrived and went well. I was never in too much pain and had my husband and wonderful family to take care of me. I will also say that strong abs really help when you cannot use your upper body at all!
Each week I started feeling better and better - until the next blow came.
After my surgery, everything was sent out for final pathology and when it came back, it wasn’t the good news I expected. Although my lymph nodes were technically clear, final pathology showed that I had isolated cancer cells in them in the left side, and that my tumors were both grade 3 (the highest) and my Onco type (which determines your rate of recurrence) was in the high “grey” zone. So it was recommended that I go through chemotherapy.
And then the tears started to flow again. Being diagnosed with cancer was like being punched in the face, and then being told I needed chemo was like being punched in the gut right after!
I remember sitting in the cancer center for my chemo education the week before and thinking, this can’t be happening, it’s a bad dream, but it was unfortunately my reality.
Of course being in health and wellness as my career, I considered not doing chemo and trying a more “natural” route. I mean to put something in my body that would make me feel terrible just went against everything that I stood for, but I knew that if I didn’t do it and my cancer came back I would never forgive myself for not trying.
So after numerous delays, including a severe allergic reaction to one of the first chemo drugs at my first treatment (one of the scariest things that’s happened to me), and then one of my surgery incisions opening up, then getting that virus that starts with C, I FINALLY had my first chemo treatment in July. By October I was done!
I started a hormone blocker afterwards which will probably kick me in to early menopause, but like the chemo, it will reduce my risk of this cancer going back, and I do not want to go through this again!
I hope to be able to close this chapter and never reopen it again!
No matter how long I live, this diagnosis makes me vey conscious of wanting to live like the memory I want to be - a kinder, gentler version of myself.
Cancer made me truly appreciate life and gave me a perspective of how fortunate I am to be alive, especially as I came so close to death.