Mother. Author. Speaker. Brand Ambassador. Survivor.
How I started my journey:
Memorial Day weekend 2008, I was visiting with my mom who was recovering from her battle with brain cancer. I told her I was having some achiness in my left breast that was abnormal for me. My mom immediately asked if I could be pregnant, and if not, to give myself a breast exam. Immediately, I felt a lump under my left armpit.
So, I met with my OB-GYN. She told me I was over-reacting, but with my persistence she ordered a mammogram. The day of my mammogram, the tech saw something suspicious, so I had an immediate ultrasound. The doctor came in to say they found an 8MM nodule, and I heard those dreaded words, at the young age of 31, “you have cancer”. I remember thinking how was this possible, I just was the caregiver to mom, and I had two young children ages 6 and 4. Would I be here to raise them?
I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, and 6 months of chemotherapy. During chemotherapy, I will never forget this moment I shared with my daughter. I was completely exhausted, sick, and tired from the treatments, and all my daughter wanted was for me to tuck her into bed. She said, “Mommy you are always tired and sick, and you never tuck me into bed anymore”. So, I asked god to give me the strength to get up the stairs and tuck her into bed. And as I proceeded down the hallway, I can see her little body, kneeling down by her bedside, and her sweet little voice asking “Dear God, please give mommy the strength to fight breast cancer.” Immediately, I fell to my knees with tears rolling down my face. I then too, asked God for the strength to fight cancer.
And, I did. I hit my 3 year milestone. I felt some swelling under my left breast, and had a series of tests, and scans, which all came back inconclusive. So my doctor suggested we watch the area, and I was to call if anything changed. That was in July of 2011.
January 2012, I woke up and felt like someone kicked me hard right in the rib. So I called my doctor and spoke to the nurse who had said the only test left to do was a PET scan, and that it would be extremely difficult to get that covered by insurance and I may need to pay out of pocket. Of course, I told her I would because I felt so strongly about what my body was telling me. Within hours of having my PET scan, my oncologist called me to say that while the area of concern was clear, they did in fact find another area deep within my left chest wall that was a mass that needed to be removed.
I had surgery to remove that mass, implant, and portion of my chestwall.
While recovering from surgery I had a conversation over the phone with a doctor I had known from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He suggested I come meet with some of his colleagues for a second opinion. I told him the mass seemed very localized, and that in fact surgery went better than expected. But, with his persistence I took his recommendation. And, I thank God I did.
I was scheduled for a number of tests, scans and appointments with doctors. My first appointment was with a radiation oncologist who did a body exam and immediately sent me for an ultrasound. At that time, she never mentioned to me that she felt swelling in my neck area. The ultrasound turned into an immediate biopsy, and 10 minutes later, on February 17th 2012, my life at the young age of 35, changed again. I heard those dreaded words “you have cancer”. At that very moment, as tears rolled down my face I remember thinking of a conversation I had with my children prior to my departure to MD Anderson. I had promised them I had no more cancer in my body, that the surgery took it all out, and the only reason I was going to Houston was to have a second opinion for next steps. I lied to them. I had cancer again, and how was I going to go home and face them. I had every emotion a cancer patient feels when they are diagnosed.
Lack of control
So many people ask me what gives me strength:
Sharing my story – It allows me to encourage people to be an advocate for themselves and to trust what your body is telling you.
Having my children tell me how strong I am, and how proud they are of me. And, that their prayers for my recovery everyday will hopefully be forever.
My Job – I have finally found my passion, and my purpose, and I am so grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to be the voice for so many patients that do not have one.
I have also implemented a community grassroots project called “Thoughtful Thursdays”. The purpose of this project was to not only distract my children during my treatment process, but to teach them how to be kind, and “thoughtful” of others. Some of the projects we did were, holding lemonade stands and donating the money to charity, writing letters to our service men & women, and making fleece-tied blankets to provide cancer patients comfort & warmth during a most difficult cancer journey. We have given over 750 blankets to cancer patients at local cancer centers.
As you can see cancer has not defined me. It has given me the strength I never knew I had. It has given me the courage to continue my fight every day.
I also remember these 3 pieces of advice my Medical Oncologist shared with me when I asked him how to overcome the fears, lack of control, and uncertainty, a diagnosis like mine can bring.
Have Faith – I am a medical doctor, and I can do everything possible medically, but the man above has the final say.
Hope – there are lots of drugs in research coming to market every day.
Go home and celebrate with a glass of Champaign and live every day to the fullest.
“Together, WE CAN make a difference in lives of patients. People just like me.”™