This is a first for Three Times the Giggles – a guest blog post. It’s something I’ve wanted to do, but never really felt like I had any direction or nudging as to who to ask. Early this month though I thought of just exactly the person – my friend Jennifer.
Jennifer is in a mom’s group I co-lead and I’m so glad I know her. The way she has handled her battle with breast cancer has left me speechless and inspired. More than that though, it’s because of her that I now am diligent when it comes to self-exams. I’ve only ever know two other women who had breast cancer – my paternal grandmother and an aunt on my dad’s side. Knowing a woman so close to my age, with young children at home, who was diagnosed with breast cancer was such a wake-up call to me. Please ladies, check yourselves monthly!
When Helen asked me if I would be willing to do a guest post for her blog I thought of several reasons I should say no, but my heart told me I needed to do this. If I can inspire at least one woman to start doing breast self-exams, get a mammogram, or have “that lump” checked, then it will have been worth it.
We hear about breast cancer all the time and we all probably know someone who has battled it. It is still a shock to hear the words “it is cancer,” especially being only 32 years old. It was the end of April that my world was turned upside down. I had found a lump while breastfeeding my daughter and made an appointment to have it checked. The nurse practitioner who examined me told me that it was “just fibrocystic changes” and nothing to be concerned about. I left the office relieved and eager to pack for our trip to visit my family in Oregon that weekend. During the three weeks we were gone, I kept feeling the lump and had a nagging feeling that something was not right.
Upon returning home the lump felt bigger so I made another call to my doctor. They scheduled me for an ultrasound. After the ultrasound, I was told that the radiologist wanted a mammogram as well. It wasn’t until they called me back so the radiologist could speak with me that I got scared. He told me that the calcifications evident on the mammogram were most likely malignancies and stressed that I needed to have a biopsy right away, because in young women they tended to be very aggressive.
As I left the office with tears streaming down my face, I could only think of my children. My two sweet, beautiful children who needed their Mommy. My son, Finn had just turned 3 in February, and my daughter, Lilly, was 8 months old. I sobbed thinking that although Finn may have some vague memories of me, Lilly would never remember her Mommy. I thought of all of the special times I would not be there for as they grew up – first days of school, learning to ride a bike, soccer & baseball games, dance recitals, and all of the birthdays, Christmases, and other holiday celebrations. I thought of all of the simple, everyday moments that I would miss – packing lunches, walks to the park, good-morning kisses and bedtime stories. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to be there to raise my children. I prayed that no matter how difficult my treatments were going to be, that I would be strong, and that I would survive!
During the next nine days, I saw a breast surgeon and had a biopsy that confirmed I had cancer – stage 3 cancer in my right breast and 4 lymph nodes. I saw an oncologist, had a PET scan, blood work, an echocardiogram, a MRI, chemo education, surgery to place my port, and my first chemotherapy treatment. It was a very difficult time, but I have amazing doctors, and they gave me a plan, and with that, hope.
Now it is October and I am getting ready to start radiation treatment in one week. It will last through the middle to end of December. So far I have endured 18 chemotherapy treatments, injections to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, and a bilateral mastectomy and lymph node dissection. Not to mention the loss of my hair, numerous prescription medications that have made it difficult to sleep, echocardiograms, MRIs, a hospital stay due to a fever, getting breast forms, physical therapy, and too many doctor’s visits to count.
However, these past 6 months I have also experienced gymnastics classes, swimming lessons, swimming at our neighborhood pool, playdates with friends, visits from family & friends, walking a 5K three days after having surgery, Lilly’s first birthday party, Finn starting preschool, and a visit to the pumpkin patch. I have received countless cards, letters, emails, phone calls, gifts, meals for our family, and help watching my children when I had appointments. My mother was able to stay with us for the summer to help out which was a huge blessing to us. I feel all of the prayers being said on my behalf working, and am so thankful for them.
I hear many people say that cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them. I am not at that point right now, but I do know that even though this summer was not what I had planned, good things have come of this. My faith has been strengthened, and I am trying to trust in God’s plan for me. I have strengthened old friendships, reconnected with people I had lost touch with, and built new friendships as well. My family has been amazing, and I know how truly blessed I am to have them all in my life. Breast Cancer Awareness month has a whole new meaning for me this year. The statistics say that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. I urge you to be diligent about doing self breast-exams, as early detection increases the chance of survival! There is a lot of information on the internet, but one site that I have found to be helpful is http://ww5.komen.org/.
My tumor responded well to the chemotherapy treatment, so my doctors are hopeful about my chance of survival. I know that with cancer there are no guarantees, so there will always be the fear that the cancer will return. On the hard days I try to remember that, at least “I am here!” I hold my children tighter, snuggle longer, read that one more story, and try not to worry about the little things. Because, really, none of us knows, cancer diagnosis or not, what our future holds. The important thing is to make the time we have count.